Recently resurrected newspaper accounts of a February 1845 weekend incident in Atkinson, Maine, involving Ellen Harmon (later married to James White), James White, Dorinda Baker, Israel Dammon, and others, call into question the reliability of Ellen White's autobiographical sketches.
The earliest existing eyewitness accounts of Ellen Harmon in vision are accounts that include as part of sworn courtroom testimony the activities that led to Dammon's arrest. The most historically significant find was an article in the 7 March 1845 Piscataquis Farmer under the heading "Trial of Elder I. Dammon." This Dover , Maine , weekly newspaper provided a 124-column-inch abridgment of the court reporter's transcript of Dammon's February 17 and 18 arraignment and trial.
Small pockets of believers were scattered throughout the northeast. The meetings (attended by Miss Harmon), who met almost exclusively in private homes, were characterized by the "holy" salutation kiss , loud shouting and singing, physical prostration's , promiscuous (mixed) foot-washing , multiple baptisms by immersion, odd exhibitions of voluntary humility (i.e. crawling and barking).
(Read that last sentence again - kissing, crawling and barking.) Did you say, "barking?" A woman, at the meeting, got on her hands and knees, and crept over the floor like a child. A man, in the same position, followed her, butting her occasionally with his head. Another man threw himself at full length upon his back on the bed, and presently three women crossed him with their bodies. " Ellen Harmon moved continuously among these Adventist extremists.
The meeting was presided over by a former sea captain from Exeter, Israel Dammon, and featured two visionaries: Miss Dorinda Baker of Orrington, and Miss Ellen Harmon of Portland, as well as Elders Hall, White and Wood. Prosecution witness William Crosby, a 37 year old attorney who attended the Saturday night meeting, described it in court two days later:
"They would at times all be talking at once, halloing at the top of their voices... A woman on the floor lay on her back with a pillow under her head; she would occasionally arouse up and tell a vision which she said was revealed to her... By spells it was the most noisy assembly I ever attended - there was no order or regularity , nor anything that resembled any other meeting I ever attended..."
Before she met Israel Dammon, Ellen Harmon's first vision (December 1844) clearly indicates that she believed in "washing one another's feet and saluting the brethren with a holy kiss."
What Mrs. White wrote Joseph Bates of the Exeter meeting with Dammon, James, and others obviously was not intended as a description of the meeting as a whole; but what she did portray had the flavor of a charismatic service . She and Sister Durben were both "struck down" or "slain upon the floor." And Durben was shouting while Harmon was in vision.
Witnesses at the Dammon trial agreed that for several weeks he had been presiding over meetings at Garland, Exeter, and Atkinson; and that he was teaching and practicing no more salvation for sinners, "holy kissing", foot-washing, creeping, and rebaptism.
Jeremiah B. Green, under oath, said: "I attended an afternoon meeting a fortnight ago yesterday (Sunday, 2 February 1845 )...elder Dammon was the presiding elder." There Green witnessed foot-washing and "saw Dammon kiss Mrs. Osborn."
Deputy sheriff Moulton testified that when he notified Dammon that he was under arrest, "a number of woman jumped on him - he clung to them, and they to him." Moulton said that "so great was the resistance" that he had to send twice for reinforcements to help him and the three assistants who accompanied him. "We were resisted by both men and women."
Witnesses at Dammon's trial testified that Miss Harmon presented some individuals visiting the James Ayer, Jr. home that Saturday evening with painful alternatives: they could undergo an icy baptism (in the middle of winter) that very night or "go to hell." Loton Lambert informed the court that Harmon:
"told her vision to a cousin of mine, that she must be baptized that night or go to hell - she objected, because she had once been baptized."
Isley Osborn, a friendly witness, stated:
"She told them their cases had been made known to her by the Lord, and if they were not baptized that evening, they would go to hell. We believed her..."
The Holy Kiss
The New England populace was scandalized by newspaper accounts of the promiscuous public kissing that attended the home meetings of fanatical, post-disappointment Millerites.
The subject of kissing came up repeatedly at the trial of Israel Dammon, with variations on the word (e.g. kiss, kissed, kissing) occurring at least twenty-six times . Witnesses for the accused stoutly defended the practice.
One particular instance of this "exercise" that received so much attention at the trial had more the flavor of a make-up kiss than a holy kiss. Dorinda Baker, the other visionist present, approached Joel Doore saying, "You have refused me before." Doore recalled Miss Baker saying that he "had thought hard of her." Doore became "satisfied of my error, and...we kissed each other with the holy kiss." Loton Lambert was watching and testified that Miss Baker had said, "that feels good." Joel Doore remembered, "When she kissed me, she said there was light ahead."
Job Moody testified that "kissing is a salutation of love...we have got positive scripture for it...." And Isley Osborn added, "It is a part of our faith."
Ellen White later wrote in agreement. Including herself among the 144,000 she stated:
"Then it was that the synagogue of Satan 'fallen Adventists', who had given up 1844 as a mistake, and 'the nominal churches' knew that God loved us who could...salute the brethren with a holy kiss, and they worshipped at our feet." (Curiously, the highlighted words were omitted from the sixth edition of Spiritual Gifts 2.)
James Ayer, Jr., the man in whose Atkinson home Dammon was arrested, witnessed to the court that "it is a part of our faith to kiss each other - brothers kiss sisters and sisters kiss brothers, I think we have biblical authority for that." Mrs. White concurred, citing 1 Thess. 5:26. In fact, all of the specific instances of kissing mentioned in the Dammon trial abridgment were kisses between members of the opposite sex : Joel Doore with Dorinda Baker , Israel Dammon with Mrs. Isley Osborn, and Dammon with Mrs. George Woodbury.
AN ACTUAL WITNESS
Mrs. Lucinda Bodge Burdick published the following in an 1874 issue of The World's Crisis . Mrs. Burdick had become well acquainted with Ellen Harmon and James White when the three of them stayed together several times in 1845 at the home of Josiah Little (Burdick's uncle) in South Windham, Maine:
"At the time of my first acquaintance with them (James White and Ellen Harmon) in early 1845 they were in a wild fanaticism , - used to sit on the floor instead of chairs, and creep around the floor like little children. They were NOT MARRIED BUT TRAVELING TOGETHER. Considerable scandal was created by the intimacy of this man and woman, but the "talk" gradually subsided after their marriage in 1846."
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