Our First Home – By W.C. White – 1936

Sketches and Memories of James and Ellen G. White

XXX. Early Memories of Our First Home


(At the beginning of their time at Battle Creek, 1859, the boys ages were: Henry, 11; Edson, 9; and Willie, 4.)

DURING the first two years of their residence in Battle Creek, the White family occupied a cottage on the south side of Van Buren Street, nearly opposite the home of David Hewitt. They found that a larger house was needed to enable them to entertain traveling ministers; and they needed more outdoor space where their three boys could work and play. They decided to avoid, if possible, the monthly payment of rent, which was a financial burden. So search was made for a place that could be bought with their limited means.

The bighearted men who invited James White to bring the Review office to Michigan, and who had provided a home for the publishing work, were now ready to help in getting him a home. At the northwestern corner of the village, about half a mile from the Review office, was found some uncleared land for sale at a very low price, and a plot of one and a half acres was secured for $200.

Kindhearted brethren gave their labor and cleared the land, all except a little grove of second growth oak in the northeast corner, which, at father’s request, was left as a place for retirement and prayer.

The brethren who had seen father’s effort to keep down the expense of the printing work, and knew that in that effort he was drawing less than half pay for his labor in the Review office, knew that he had but little money to put into a house, so they decided to help him build one. A few contributed money, and many gave labor; so, with the little that James White could invest, a six-room cottage was built. It was one and two-thirds stories high and faced east on Wood Street, just at the end of Champion Street.

The front room on the first floor was both parlor and sitting room. Back of this was a small bedroom to the north, and to the south a kitchen, which was used also as a dining room.

Upstairs the front room was broad and roomy, about eight feet high in the center and sloping to four feet at the north and south sides. There were two windows on the east. Back of this large front room were two bedrooms and the stairway. ,

The moving in was quickly accomplished, and almost immediately a twelve-foot lean-to was built on the south side. This was known through * the years as the boys’ room. Later a similar lean-to was built on the north side. This room served many purposes. For a short time it was the residence of my mother’s parents, Robert and Eunice Harmon; later on, after they had moved to a cottage of their own, it was occupied by my father’s parents, John and Betsy White. James and Ellen White greatly enjoyed having their parents near them.

The Neighborhood Well

One of the pleasant features of the new location, was the well of clear, cool water on the southern line of the property. Our neighbor on the south was Jonah R. Lewis, a Sabbathkeeper who with his family had come from Comstock to Battle Creek in 1855. As land was cheap, he purchased four village lots, and built a board and batten house on the northwest corner of Wood and Van Buren Streets.

One of the first things he did after the White family settled near him, was to dig a good well close to the line between his property and that of James White. He also made a pathway from the well to Wood Street, so that all the neighbors in the vicinity could come in and draw water from the well. I remember clearly its wooden curb and windlass and its oaken bucket, and how good the water tasted to thirsty boys. A few rods west from the well and on the north-west corner of his tract, was his barn and cow stable. To the well-built haymow he repaired in those early years three times a day to pray.

White Family Discipline

Not long after this the Kelsey family, from LeRoy, came for a visit one Sabbath, following the afternoon meeting, and remained during a portion of the evening. I had gone to bed in the near-by boys’ room. The singing of advent hymns in those days invariably constituted a part of the social intercourse of devoted Adventist families, and on this occasion, after the family and the visitors had exchanged items of news and words of encouragement, they all joined in song.

The family discipline of both my father and mother was kind but firm. I well remember punishment administered to me by my father in my childhood days, and from my mother I learned of punishment she administered when I refused to obey her and showed a spirit of angry rebellion, when I was a mere babe.

Grandfather White and Sunday Work

Having our grandparents as neighbors was a source of joy to us boys. I well remember one experience with my Grandfather White. For a long time after he came to live in our house, he was in much perplexity over the Sabbath question. He saw that the Bible clearly taught the observance of the seventh day, but he had enjoyed so many experiences of blessed meetings on Sunday that it was hard to relinquish his reverence for that day. Therefore, for several months after coming to Battle Creek, he observed both Sabbath and Sunday as days of rest.

He continued to follow his trade as a shoemaker. With his bench standing near the front door of the long room which constituted his home, he worked several hours a day. One Sunday morning I was surprised to find him at the bench pegging shoes. “O grandpa!” I exclaimed, “don’t you know that this is Sunday?” He answered, “Yes, Willie, but I have decided that one Sabbath each week is enough, and I shall from this time on observe the Sabbath of the fourth commandment.”

The Daily Program

With but little variation, the daily program of the White family was something like this: At six o’clock all were up. Often mother had been writing for two or three hours, and the cook had been busy in the kitchen since five o’clock. By six-thirty breakfast was ready. Mother would frequently mention at the breakfast table that she had written six-eight, or more pages, and sometimes she would relate to the family some interesting portions of what she had written. Father would sometimes tell us of the work in which he was engaged, or relate interesting incidents regarding the progress of the cause, east and west.

At seven o’clock, all assembled in the parlor for morning worship. Father would read an appropriate scripture, with comments, and then lead in the morning song of praise or supplication, in which all joined. The hymn most frequently used was:

“Lord, in the morning Thou shalt hear

My voice ascending high;
To Thee will I direct my prayer.
To Thee lift up mine eye.”

This or some other song of a somewhat similar character was sung with hearty vigor, and then father prayed. He did not offer a prayer, he prayed with earnestness and with solemn reverence. He pleaded for those blessings most needed by himself and his family, and for the prosperity of the cause of God. Any one present not accustomed to such seasons of prayer would be deeply impressed with the seriousness and solemnity of the occasion. To us children, who grew up in the atmosphere of reverence and prayer, this was the common routine, yet we always regarded this hour with solemn seriousness.

When father was away from home, mother conducted the family worship. If both were gone, the one in charge of the home led out. The worship hour was as regularly observed as the hours for breakfast and dinner.

After breakfast, father left promptly for his work in the Review office, except when detained by mother, with a request that he listen to what she had been writing.

After father had left the house, mother enjoyed spending half an hour in her flower garden during those portions of the year when flowers could be cultivated. In this her children were encouraged to work with her. Then she would devote three or four hours to her writing. Her afternoons were usually occupied with a variety of activities, sewing, mending, knitting, darning, and working in her flower garden, with occasional shopping trips to town or visits to-the sick.

If there was no evening meeting, between seven and eight o’clock or later, the whole family would assemble again for worship. If the day’s work permitted us to be called to prayers early, we listened to mother as she read some interesting and instructive article from religious papers or books. Then father, if present, read a chapter from the Bible and prayed, thanking God for the blessings of the day, and committing the family to God’s care for the night.

Review and Herald, February 13, 1936,


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