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I Was Canright's Secretary
by Carrie Johnson

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2. A Successful Seventh-day Adventist Minister

THE CANRIGHTS spent their honeymoon attending the General Conference in Battle Creek. D. M. Canright was listed as a "returned missionary" from Maine. He spoke at least once, reporting his work in that isolated State. At this conference his credentials were granted for the ensuing year. As many as eight hundred persons crowded into the new church for the meetings, with many listening outside.

A few days after the conference closed, the young couple said good-by to the Amadons, Lucretia's foster parents, with whom they had stayed, and journeyed back to New England. Since Elder J. N. Andrews had been elected president of the General Conference, the Canrights would carry the burden of the work in New England on their own young shoulders. Canright had been away from New England for three months. "It seemed very much like getting home after a long journey," he wrote, "We felt that we were indeed among our friends again."

He reported further from Norridgewock, Maine, "We have obtained rooms in the house of Brother George Barker a few rods south of the village. We think that it is the most lovely situation in all this section. It . . . furnishes a grand prospect of the mountains in the west and north as they tower up in the distance. . . . We . . . feel contented to labor here as long as the Lord wills."—Review and Herald, July 9, 1867. Soon after their return, Canright attended a weekend series of meetings in a large barn. Five hundred to six hundred interested listeners were present (Ibid.).

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Two full months after their marriage Dudley and Lucretia ate their first meal in their own home. It was late June, but early summer in Norridgewock. Lucretia was delighted to be able to unpack, settle, and become Mrs. Canright, housewife!

In July, nine new members were added to the local church. That same month Elder Canright organized a church of fifteen members in Canaan, Maine, with prospects of more in the near future. On November 1 the first Maine State conference was held in Norridgewock. Elder Canright issued the following invitation through the Review and Herald of October 8, 1867: "Let all come who can, and bring your unconverted friends with you. Come prepared with quilts, robes, &c., and we will entertain you freely. The church at Norridgewock invite all to come and partake of their hospitality, and enjoy the Conference with them. Come to labor to pray, to sing, to exhort, to be a part of the Conference."

Lucretia, always frail, and by November pregnant,Note 1 as well, may have had some reservations about so general an invitation. But the conference opened as planned. By November 4, Ellen and James White had been warmly welcomed and were staying at the Canright home. Lucretia, unable to attend many of the meetings, stayed at home and saw that her guests were well cared for.

Because she could not attend, her husband felt hurt, even though he knew she had good reason for staying home. He often admitted that he was too exacting with his young wife, yet at other times he expressed dissatisfaction because he thought Lucretia was not efficient in the performance of home duties. The young bride wept and Dudley resolved to be more considerate in the future.

In spite of all this, the young couple enjoyed the visit of the Whites, learned to love them, and expressed sorrow when they departed. The home crisis was not reflected at the conference, which was declared to have been a success. "Thus closed the religious meetings of our first Conference in Maine," Canright reported and added, "There were some

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who profess to be in the message, that would have given much to have kept Br. and Sr. White away. They thought they did not need them nor their help. . . . But, thank God, they came, and came in the Spirit of God, and came just in time to save the cause from reproach and confusion. . . . Never before did I so fully realize the great importance of the gifts in the church, and never did I have so strong faith in them as now. . . . Thank God for the Testimonies. We also realized that God has laid upon Bro. White a work that no other man can do. The cause needs all the gifts, each one in its place. . . .

"For myself, I never prized the gifts as now, never loved God's tried servants as now."—Ibid., Nov. 12, 1867. (Emphasis his.)

In an official report, thanks were tendered to the Whites for their timely visit, and their work accomplished during the meeting. (Ibid.)

The following year, 1868, marked the emergence of what would prove to be one of Canright's greatest abilities—a talent for debate. Early in the year, in New Portland, Maine, where he held a series of meetings, he met with the most bitter and determined opposition. The Methodists and Baptists united both in public and private in their efforts against the Seventh-day Adventist message (Ibid., March 10, 1868), and engaged a Universalist minister—an Elder Johnson—to confront Canright. As the debate progressed, Johnson became very excited. Realizing that he was losing the argument, he did everything in his power to break up the discussion, and raised the question "Shall Eld. Canright be allowed to proceed with his argument?" (Ibid.). A vote was taken, and Canright received a majority of forty-nine! The end result was that "the Methodists and Baptists who were so anxious for the discussion, hoping that we would be put down, received no aid nor comfort from it" (Ibid.).

From then on, when debate was brewing and Canright was available, he participated enthusiastically, "as the horse rusheth into the battle" (Jer. 8:6). It appears possible that early in his career Canright worked with, and learned to debate from, the brilliant, now ex-Adventist minister Elder Moses Hull.

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During this period of his ministry Elder Canright faced strong opposition from embattled ministers of local Protestant churches. From New Vineyard, Maine, he described how the pastor had "preached, and prayed, and exhorted against us, but with little nor no effect thus far. The people will hear for themselves. . . . We expect to stay here some time yet."—Ibid., March 17, 1868. The next week Canright stated that the "opposers have killed themselves" (Ibid., March 24, 1868). Six or eight had even decided to keep the Sabbath.

Another summer came, the busy time of year for farmers. But Canright was reaping for the Lord, and nothing stopped his visitation and work program. At Peterboro, New Hampshire, he found a refreshing group: "There are no divisions or quarrels among them; they all seem to love each other. This made me love them very much, and the Lord will bless them for it, too."—Ibid., Aug. 11, 1868.

Then follows this rather revealing expression: "I thank God that I have once more got where is not a crime to say that I believe the Testimonies. Nearly all the Sabbath-keepers in New Hampshire and Massachusetts have a strong faith in the Testimonies, and love for them. They have seen their fruits in the past, and know that they are good."—Ibid.

In September, Lucretia and Dudley Canright were sent into Massachusetts to engage in evangelistic ministry. The work in that State was relatively new and proved to be a challenge to the youthful minister. He found only eight keeping the Sabbath in Haverhill and spent a few days with them (Ibid., Sept. 1, 1868). After this he made his home for a time at South Lancaster, Massachusetts. General meetings were held there, and he met the older men of the cause in that State.

From Massachusetts he fanned out to various New England States, holding successful meetings in Vermont and Maine. He crossed the State line into New Hampshire in March, 1869, and held meetings in Union Hall at New Ipswich. Canright reported from there: "I have now held meetings at this place four weeks. The interest seems to be about as good as ever. Some have dropped off; but others have

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come in, so that yesterday I had more out to hear than had been out before on Sunday. . . . Above a dozen are keeping the Sabbath, with a good prospect of more. . . Several others who are convinced of duty will have to make a large sacrifice to keep the Sabbath, as they work in the cotton mills; yet we hope for them.

"My strength has held out beyond what I could have expected. I feel sure that God has specially helped me here. . . . My family are still gaining in health. For all these things I feel very thankful to the Lord. Pray for us."—Ibid., March 30, 1869.

By "family," Elder Canright referred to his three-month-old baby daughter Nettie, and, of course, to Lucretia, who had not been well since the baby's birth. On February 11, 1869, Canright wrote of her condition: "Lucretia has suffered exceedingly for the seven weeks I was absent, yet without a murmur or even suggesting that I should come home. Not many would have done this, I think. She is a noble woman and will sacrifice anything for the Lord's sake. God has heard us for her and has specially helped her, we know."

The baby's gain in health was brief. In the Review and Herald of April 20, 1869, we find the obituary of Baby Nettie, age "four months and four days," accompanied on the same page by two paragraphs signed by D. M. and L. C. Canright, acknowledging the kindness of friends in time of grief and affirming that "God is good, and his truth is precious, and it is sweet to work for him." Baby Nettie was buried in the South Lancaster cemetery. She could not have lived. "A post mortem examination revealed an internal malformation, showing that she did not die of disease; nor could any relief possibly have been afforded."

A month after their baby's death, the young evangelist and his wife bade farewell to New England and headed west. In Chicago they purchased a new tent, which was shipped to Iowa, where, in Sigourney, Dudley would begin work in a new field—and he did his best in new fields. The tent was thoroughly "christened." Rain fell every day for more than a week. Roads became gluey quagmires.

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Attendance and crops both suffered from the long-continued wet weather (Ibid., July 6, 1869), and Canright appealed for the prayers of God's people. Their prayers were answered. After eight weeks he reported about thirty-five Sabbath keepers in that place, and a blue sky! At the conclusion of the meetings a dry tent was taken down and sent on to the next place of labor, Richland, Iowa.

Dudley Canright now began working under the supervision of Elder George I. Butler, president of the Iowa Conference. The two men were destined to labor together for several years, first in that State, then in other parts of the gospel vineyard. During the State conference Canright was placed on important committees. Debating was a common practice in the nineteenth century in the United States, and Seventh-day Adventist ministers were often challenged to debate. Adventists and others in Iowa now learned what New England already knew—in debate, Canright was at his best. Reports appeared in the Review and Herald of victory after victory in those verbal contests. As Scripture evidence became clear to the listeners, men and women cast in their lot with Seventh-day Adventists.

The camp meeting held in Iowa in early October at Pilot Grove brought Elder and Mrs. James White and the Canrights together again. Elder White reported, "We . . . found Bro. and Sr. Canright in the work of the Lord and in the hearts of the people. May the Lord keep these, his youthful servants, from the influence of the world and the power of Satan, and make them a great blessing to the cause in Iowa."—Ibid., Oct. 26, 1869.

And Elder Butler wrote: "Bro. Canright, whose gift was new to most of the brethren, spoke several times with good acceptance."—Ibid., Nov. 9, 1869.

In December, 1869, Canright, not yet in his thirties, again demonstrated marked weaknesses of character. At Monroe, Iowa, forty had taken their stand after evangelistic meetings he had held. On Tuesday, December 28, he participated in a debate, the sixth of a series, with an Elder Johnson of the Presbyterian church. The subject was "Life and Death." Mr. Johnson frankly admitted that he could not

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meet Canright's arguments, and yielded. This had a far-reaching effect in the community. Several more joined the Seventh-day Adventists. Elder Butler attended this debate. Since the house Elder Canright was building was unfinished, the two men shared a room, probably in a hotel. Butler reported that Canright was not in good spirits the night of his success. Butler was astounded to learn that the young man was under the powerful temptation to give up religion, renounce his belief in the Scriptures, and become an out-and-out infidel.

All night long the two men talked and prayed. Neither slept. Butler reported that in the morning Canright seemed more calm and self-possessed, and a few weeks later, at the General Conference session in Battle Creek, he "made some confessions," seemed very much relieved, and again threw himself zealously into the evangelistic field. (Ibid., Extra, December, 1887.)

Dudley and Lucretia longed for a permanent home. At Monroe, in the very heart of Iowa, they hoped to be able to settle down and live, for a time at least, in their own home. From here he could fan out in his labors over the State. "I have just finished building my house," wrote the versatile husband, "and have moved into it. Have had to work very hard to do it; laboring during the day with my hands and walking to and from my lectures at evening. But we now have a home, for which we are thankful to God. This will now be my permanent address."—Review and Herald, Feb. 8, 1870. He accomplished this task during the bitter cold of an Iowa winter! In June of the following year Elder James White spent a day with the Canrights and enjoyed some of the delicious produce from their extensive fruit and vegetable gardens. (Ibid., June 13, 1871)

Although the Canrights now had a home, they must often be away. The year 1871 was a busy one for the young minister and his wife as they traveled on good roads and bad, often in the bitter cold.

Canright reported: "Jan. 19 and 20, rode sixty miles to Peru. Had an appointment at the school-house for the evening; but the Methodists put in an appointment over ours,

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and arrogantly crowded us out. We hastily fixed up our own house, and held meetings there. I spoke six times," Canright reported, "and had a good attendance. A good work is being done here. Some fifteen whole families, besides several in other families, are keeping the Sabbath."—Ibid., Feb. 14, 1871.

By late winter Canright was in Michigan and with anticipation he visited Tuscola, where five years earlier he had conducted evangelistic meetings. He described the reunion: 

"Our parting meeting five years ago was a marked and touching one. Now as I went from house to house, and inquired after the old friends, we were often melted to tears. What a change these five years have made! Some are sleeping, some have turned back, and others have become cold and silent in the blessed cause. All this is sad. On the other hand, new ones have been raised up, weak ones have become strong, and nearly all have improved much. Could we have known then what we know now, what errors and sad mistakes some of us might have avoided, and none more than I. But God is good and merciful, and we will still trust in Him."—Ibid., March 7, 1871.

That summer he and his wife traveled to State conferences and camp meetings in Missouri, Wisconsin, and Kansas, as well as Iowa, where he was stationed. Tent meetings were held, churches were built, individual decisions were made for Christ. And in the midst of her hectic life, Lucretia, from some lonely spot, penned these words:

I desire to give God unfeigned thanks for life, and for all the blessings it has brought to me. From infancy through youth to womanhood His hand had led me, and through my path has often been rough and thorny, and I have met with many disappointments, seen many sorrows, and shed many tears, I have learned to thank God for even these; for I feel they have been my heart's best discipline; and so I have nothing to complain of in the past, and as for the present, it is good, and the future bright. I desire to come out from the world and be separate; to have more of that fullness that is in Christ; to live nearer to God, to love him with all my heart, and serve Him with all my ransomed powers. Oh! That I may be a pilgrim and stranger on the earth. . .

We are in one sense of the word lonely. We have no society of believers here. No church bell summons us to the house of God when Sabbath morning dawns. No sweet communion with those of like precious faith.

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No hymns are sung only as we chant them ourselves. Still we thank God that we are not left entirely alone. We live, in one sense, as near the Fountain Head as others do, and we may hold communion with God as often as we will, and have the constant companionship of the Spirit, which is far superior to all earthly society.

I am earnestly striving by God's grace to be a child of his. To Him and to His service I consecrate the remainder of my life; to be content with whatever position He may assign me; to bear life's burdens bravely, and cheerfully, and well; and oh! is it saying too much, to say that I expect, if faithful a little longer, to hear the welcome applaudit, "Well done, good and faithful servant?" And all unworthy as I am, in God's mercy through Christ, I hope to tread the golden streets of the New Jerusalem, and wear a crown of glory, and a robe of righteousness.—Ibid., Oct. 3, 1871. (Italics supplied.)

Lucretia was, through tribulation, developing into the "saint" her husband, after her death, declared she had been during the years they spent together.

In mid-October Canright wrote, "Today I go home for a short stay, after an absence of nearly four months; shall return soon."—Ibid., Oct. 31, 1871. Just then the building of a new church at Oceola, Iowa, took precedence over the comforts of home. Lathing and plastering must be done; the meetinghouse had to be dedicated by the middle of November. Other Protestant churches were closed to him—one was actually locked! With the blessing of God, a new Adventist church would soon house the congregation raised up by Elders Canright and Butler.

Early January of 1872 found the Canrights still in Iowa and Dudley making new year's resolutions: "Again I resolve to strive harder than ever to love and obey God this year. Looking over the last year, shame, sorrow, and regret fill my heart that I did not stand the test better. Thank God, probation still continues. My health is good and courage strong."—Ibid., Jan. 9, 1872.

His hopes of a "permanent address" were short lived. That June the Canrights were called to work in Minnesota, where they seemed to make small progress. Accustomed to quick success, by August the evangelist was in despair. He appealed from Hutchinson:  "We had hoped by this time to have something favorable to report; but are sorry to say that this is not the case. This was the most favorable location

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we could find, a village of three thousand inhabitants,withagood farming country around, quite largely Americans. The truth had never been preached here and the way seemed to open favorably, so we pitched our tent and commenced meetings. The weather is good, roads are fine, good moonlight nights, and we have done all we could to advertise our meetings; and yet it is the same here as in every other place we have tried, little or no interest.

"We commenced with an audience of fifty, and this has dropped off to about thirty, with no interest in those who do come. This is the fourth time I have pitched the tent in the State this year in the most favorable locations I could find. The result has been the same every time. Nor is there any way that opens before us. No one asks for any labor; though I have been in the State several months, and have inquired, and written, and traveled, as extensively as I could, yet I have never had a single invitation from any soul—Sabbath-keepers or any one else—to come and hold meetings in their place. . . .

"If there are any friends to the cause in Minnesota, who want to labor where they are, and can obtain a house in which to hold meetings, and will board us while there, we are ready to go. If not, we shall return home; or we are ready to go to any other State where the people do want to hear. We are at your service, brethren, and we want to hear from you immediately. We cannot consent to have these fine fall months go by without some prospect of doing good."—Ibid., Aug. 27, 1872.

About two weeks later, on a Friday night, Canright preached on the subject of spiritualism. He may have known that a "trance speaker, a celebrated lecturer among the spiritualists," was coming to town the next day. In any case, the natural result of the presence of two such men in one town would be a confrontation in debate. So it happened. Canright reported: "He spoke in a trance. Our tent was crowded . . . He . . . said that God told the first lie, and the devil told the truth. . . . The congregation hissed him, upon which he called them geese and other low names. Then they laughed at him, and he got madder still and acted very unbecomingly,

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until he lost the sympathy of everybody. This made them very enthusiastic in our favor. I think I have never witnessed a better victory in a debate than the truth gained in this. He undertook to lecture in the meeting-house in the afternoon, but he only had about fifteen or twenty to hear him, while we had the tent full; and at night he had to withdraw his appointment, and so came to hear me. . . . We sold all our books on spiritualism."—Ibid., Sept.17, 1872.

From then on the situation brightened. Instead of thirty, there were sometimes as many as three hundred listeners. Farmers traveled for miles with their plodding teams to hear the young preacher. Canright was unable to cope with all the requests for house-to-house visitation (Ibid., Sept. 24, 1872). Where there had been but one believer in that area there now were eighty (Ibid., Nov. 5, 1872). In November, Canright wrote: 

"Last Sabbath, the friends in Hutchinson had an excellent meeting, in which several made their first start to become Christians. All are settling into the truth and learning to love it. Bro. Grant led the prayer-meeting here, and Mrs. Canright the Bible-class, while I attended the meeting four miles out of town, at what is called Bear Creek schoolhouse. . . .

"On Sunday, about forty brethren and sisters came together at Bro. Whitelock's, and I spent nearly all day in talking to them on practical duties, the progress of the cause, and what the Lord was doing for us. Here, we also had another good social meeting, in which several made a start for the kingdom. Preached that evening to a full house. All the American families in that neighborhood are now keeping the Sabbath. I believe there is not a single exception. . . . Many of these had, heretofore, been strongly opposed to the Advent doctrine, and would not attend the meeting, nor unite with them in Sabbath-school.

"One good sister said to me, 'Bro. Canright, we have set up here nights to hate the Adventists. Another said that if an Adventist came into his house he would set the dog on him! But we have now preached in his house several days, and have not been bitten yet. He and his whole family are obeying the truth. Another man, after attending a few of our

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meetings, being asked if he was becoming an Adventist, replied, 'When you hear that I have become one, you may set it down that I am crazy.' He and his family are now rejoicing in the truth. . . . Who can deny that this is the work of the Lord? A half dozen, or more, school teachers, are among those who have received the truth. We hope to see them becoming useful in the cause.

"This is a very new country, and, quite generally, the people have not many conveniences; yet, nearly all have homes and are industrious people. They all make us welcome to their simple fare, and seem to share with us what they have most gladly. . . .

"What we miss most is fruit, of which there is scarcely a taste."—Ibid.

About this time, Elder James White warned his fellow ministers against allowing increasing success to make them proud and unwilling to speak to small congregations. In reply Canright wrote, "No doubt there is danger of this. But I think I have had a pretty good trial of small congregations this year. At the time I read his article, I was preaching in a little, old, log school-house, in the brush, where my head almost touched the ceiling, while standing up eighteen or twenty make it comfortably full. I have preached here to congregations of six, ten, fifteen, and so on. But I kept to work till I got my whole congregation. It is just such houses as this in which I expect to labor all winter. The next one we have in view is covered with bark. So, until we have a little more room, there is not much danger of our being puffed up very high!"—Ibid.

By mid-December there were about 180 believers in Minnesota, and Canright had decided to stay through the winter. But the Christmas season ushered in a temperature reading of forty-two below zero! "Wells twenty-two feet deep froze so that water could not be drawn from them. Men froze their fingers, toes, faces, etc., while feeding their cattle." One evening Canright had to travel sixteen miles by open sleigh across open prairie, facing a bitter wind. He was hurrying to catch a train in order to meet a Sabbath appointment. The sleigh trip took three hours, and though covered

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with buffalo robes, the traveler was nearly frozen when at last he boarded the train. (Ibid., Jan. 14, 1873.) Such extreme cold, along with the fear of a smallpox epidemic, made the Canrights decide to return to Iowa.

In harmony with his habit of summarizing the events of each year at its close, the thirty-two-year-old preacher wrote concerning 1872: 

"Thus ends, with the last day of another year, my stay of about seven months in Minnesota. God has been better to us than all our fears. I am resolved not to be so cast down again under any circumstances. . . . I find myself alone in a great city, far from all friends or home. . . . Nine years, I have been laboring in this cause. . . . All along have been, here and there, bright spots and seasons of joy, yet thickly interspersed with mistakes and tears and vanished hopes. I am tired of the conflict, and sigh for the end. Looking ahead, I see only wearisome toil and wearing anxiety. . . . Home I scarcely see once a year. As soon as friends are raised up, I must leave them to again go among strangers in new places, and with the hardest fare. . . .

"Oh! That the Master would come! But in the strength of God, though tired and worn, I will gird on the armor for another year's battle."—Ibid.

January 7, 1873, found Lucretia and Dudley at their Monroe, Iowa, home, after an eight-month absence. But they were able to stay only one day! Appointments had been made for meetings in other places, and the pilgrims hurried on their way.

In March, 1873, notice appeared on the last page of the Review and Herald: "A CITY FARM FOR SALE. In the city of Monroe, population over 1000, thirty miles from Des Moines, . . . 8 acres, well fenced, new house, well, &c., over 200 fruit trees of all kinds, 200 grape vines, 1500 raspberries, one acre strawberries, besides currants, blackberries, &c., &c. On a main road and fine location. Price $2000. Payments easy. Address, D. M. CANRIGHT, Monroe, Iowa." The traveling preacher and his wife realized that the work of an Adventist evangelist made no provision for settling down. "This has been our lot for years," Canright commented, "and probably will be until the Lord comes. We feel now that we

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shall never buy another home, but live as it were, in our trunks and satchels, ready to move at any time."—Ibid., Aug. 12, 1873.

Dudley and Lucretia retained only their library, plus what portable items they could carry with them. A baby daughter, Genevieve, born at Monroe in April, 1872, added to their list of "movable possessions."

End Notes

1. This pregnancy was not carried through to term. [back to text]

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