8. Canright Boards the Phantom Ship
WELL ALONG in the 1880's, the perils that endangered Elder Canright were opened to Mrs.
Ellen G. White in symbolic representation. The warning was passed on the him in the
Dear Brother Canright:Note 1
I had an impressive dream last night. I thought that you were on a strong
vessel, sailing on very rough waters. Sometimes the waves beat over the top, and you
were drenched with water. You said: "I shall get off; this vessel is going
"No," said one who appeared to be the captain, "this vessel sails
into the harbor. She will never go down."
But you answered: "I shall be washed overboard. As I am neither captain or
mate, who cares? I shall take my chances on that vessel you see yonder."
Said the captain: "I shall not let you go there, for I know that vessel will
strike the rocks before she reaches the harbor."
You straightened yourself up, and said with great positiveness: "This vessel
will become a wreck; I can see it just as plain as can be."Note
The captain looked upon you with piercing eye, and said firmly: "I shall not
permit you to lose your life by taking that boat. The timbers of her framework are
worm-eaten, and she is a deceptive craft. If you had more knowledge you could
discern between the spurious and the genuine, the holy and that appointed to utter
I awoke, but it is this dream that leads me to write to you. I was feeling
deeply over some of these things when a letter came, saying that you were "under
great temptation and trial." What is it, Brother Canright? Is Satan
tempting you again? Is God permitting you to be brought to the same
place where you have failed before? Will you now let unbelief take possession of your
soul? Will you fail every time, as did the children of Israel? God help you to
resist the evil and to come forth stronger from every trial of your faith!
Be careful how you move. Make straight paths for your feet. Close the
door to unbelief and make God your strength. If perplexed, hold still; make no move
in the dark. I am deeply concerned for your soul. This may be the last trial
that God will grant you. Advance not one step in the downward road to
perdition. Wait, and God will help you. Be patient, and the clear light will
appear. If you yield to impressions you will lose your soul, and the soul is of
great value with God.Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 571.
But he could not wait. In January, 1887, he took the position that he would
be a Seventh-day Adventist no longer. He informed his old friend Elder George I.
Butler, president of the Michigan Conference and of the General Conference, of his
On February 17, 1887, Elder Canright in a formal way took the step he had been
counseled and warned not to take. He left the "strong vessel" to board a
phantom craft, which, it seem to him, gave greater promise.
In his statement made at the business meeting of the Otsego church upon which its
action was based, Elder Canright made it plain:
That he had come to a point where he no longer believed that the Ten Commandments
were binding upon Christians and had given up the Law, the Sabbath, the Messages, the
Sanctuary, our position upon [the] U[nited] S[tates] in prophecy, the Testimonies, health
reform, the ordinances of humility. He also said that he did not believe the Papacy
had changed the Sabbath. And though he did not directly state it, his language intimated
that he would probably keep Sunday.
He thinks that Seventh-day Adventists are too narrow in their ideas, and that in
quoting so much as they do from the Old Testament are going back into the moonlight rather
than experiencing the sunlight of the gospel of Christ. He thought we were exalting
the law above Christ. Also has no faith in the missionary work as conducted by our
people, feels as if it is not the way God designed to do the work.
He still claimed to believe that the coming of Christ was near, making the same
application of Daniel 2 and 7 and Matthew 24 that he always had, but did not believe that
there was to be any special message preceding Christ's second coming in the sense in which
Seventh-day Adventists teach.Church clerk's record, Feb. 17, 1887, Otsego, Michigan, SDA
The church could do no other than drop his name on the grounds of apostasy.
His wife, Lucy, who took nearly the same position, was also dropped.
Elder Butler's report of the meeting, over which he presided, reflects the careful
spirit in which the matter was handled:
February 17, he [D. M. Canright] gave his reasons in public before the Otsego
church, of which he was a member. The writer was present. In his remarks
concerning our people and the treatment he had received among us, he was very kind and
conciliatory. He stated that he thought there was a larger percentage of true
Christians among our people than among any other denomination with which he was
acquainted. He expressed a high appreciation of, and confidence in, some of our
leading men, believing them to be honest, devoted servants of Christ. He said he was
perfectly satisfied with the treatment he had received among Seventh-day Adventists.
He had no fault to find with them on that score, and felt that they had used him in all
respects as well as Christians should.Review and Herald Extra, December,
Ellen G. White was still in Europe when Canright took his fateful step. She
immediately wrote to him, and he replied. A portion of his letter, with emphasis
supplied, is quoted:
March 18, 1887
Mrs. E. G. White
Your kind and friendly letter was received some days since. . . . Thank you for
your efforts to help me. You have learned before this the position which I have
taken. I know it will grieve you as it has my friends in America. It cost me a
terrible struggle to do it. Of course it would be of no use for either of us to
argue the question now. My mind is fully settled and my course decided.
Whether I have decided right or wrong the judgment must tell. Sister White, believe
me when I say I wish you and our people well and hope that you may help to save some and
reach eternal life with them.
Of course I have to think you are mistaken in some things, though thoroughly
sincere in it. For my part I earnestly wish that there might continue to be a
friendly feeling between me and our people. On my part it shall be so. . . .
My wife and family go with me. . . .
Yours in hope,
D. M. Canright
Lucy, it is true, followed her husband out of the Adventist church. But her
husband recorded that "she cried when circumstances separated her from these old
ties" (Review and Herald, June 12, 1913).
As to Elder Canright's future plans, Elder Butler reported that "he expected
to unite with the Methodists, Baptists, or some other evangelical denomination, and
continue to labor in the ministry as long as he lived" (Ibid., Extra,
Perhaps it is well to observe that Canright, now an ex-Seventh-day Adventist, was
not certain as to which flag he would, in the future, sail under. It might be the
Methodist, Baptist, or some other. He soon chose the Baptist banner.
On March 5, 1887, Mr. and Mrs. Canright and their daughter Veva (Genevieve)
applied for membership in the Otsego, Michigan, Baptist church and were accepted. On
March 6 he occupied the pulpit and on March 17 was given a license by them to
preach. He was ordained as a Baptist minister on April 19, and served the local
When Canright left the Adventist church and joined the Baptists, his elderly
mother, living in Colorado, was deeply grieved. W. A. Spicer, who had been
acquainted with D. M. Canright from 1884 on, in recounting experiences of earlier days
wrote of this:
She was one of the old-line Seventh-day Adventists, right in Christian experience, happy in the blessed hope, the hope of the second coming of Christ to gather His people, which was the joy and rejoicing of the apostle Paul and all new Testament believers. While
our former minister was representing to the people of the great churches that he was
finding great blessing in being free from "legalism," as he called obedience to
the commandments of God, would he not want this good old mother to have the same
experience. Not at all. Apparently our old associate had no inclination to lead that
mother of his into the new way.Ibid., Jan. 13, 1949.
The turning aside of the son never caused the mother's faith to waver. She
lived to a ripe old age, falling asleep in Christ in 1904.
The local newspaper, the Otsego Union, of May 20 carried a D. M. Canright article entitled "The Reason Why," in which he explained to his neighbors and friends in
community his change of allegiance from Seventh-day Adventism to the Baptist
church. In a series of Sunday night meetings during May and June he dealt with
the Sabbath, the historical evidence for keeping Sunday, and on June 17 announced that he
would speak the next Sunday evening on "Mrs. White and the Visions."
The congregation evidently was pleased with Canright's performance, and on July
3, 1887, engaged him for a year as their pastor, the members subscribing to a plan to pay
him ten dollars a week.
He was invited to speak in nearby communities against the Adventists. C. A.
Russell recounts how just at this time Mr. Canright came to their vicinity near Allegan,
Michigan, where shortly before his apostasy he had helped to bind off a small evangelistic
effort and had baptized several into the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Now a
Baptist, he was hired by the Disciples group to come back and preach against the
Adventists. Russell reports:
He delivered three lectures. Father went to hear him all through. I
didn't go, but father felt that if he didn't go the neighbors would say, "Russell
didn't dare to go and hear on the other side." The third night he devoted
almost exclusively to Sister White and her work, called her an Adventist pope, a deceiver
of the people, an imposter [sic], and holding her up to ridicule in every way that one
could think of. . . .
When the harangue was over, but just before dismissal, a rough old fellow sitting
in the back of the congregation, blurted out, "Well, Elder, how do you think old
Mother White will come out in the judgment anyhow?"
Father said Canright stood there for a full minute and never said a word.
He didn't seem to know what to say and then he said this: "I believe she is a good
woman and will be saved in the kingdom of God, and I only wish I were as good a man as she
is a woman." I have never forgotten the exact words as father repeated them to
us that night.C. A. Russel Statement to W. C. White, Feb. 18, 1935.
Records of the time would seem to indicate that Mr. Canright was at first well received
by his Baptist friends in the local community. Favorable testimonials, such as the
following, appeared in newspapers:
Otsego, Michigan, May 6, 1888
This is to certify that Rev. D. M. Canright has been a faithful and efficient pastor for
us the past year, and that God, through him, has accomplished
a glorious work for
our church. He won the love and confidence of his people. We were glad to
secure his services for another year.
Done by the order of the church.
Mrs. Ida M. Wheeler, Clerk
The circumstances that would call for such statements in the public press are
difficult to imagine, unless for some reason Canright felt insecure in his new
environment. No such lauditory [sic] published notices ever appeared while he was
with the Adventists. From this time on, however, the record shows that there was a
flow of testimonials, the wording of which often sounds strangely like Canright's
phraseology. These testimonials were early to figure in certain discussions
involving Canright and his relationships. But more of that later.
He continued to pastor the Otsego church and in 1888 accepted a renewal of his
contract. After serving a few months in his second term, he asked to be relieved of
his pastorate as of October 1, 1888. The reason given, he explained, was that he
might have more time to devote to his writing in his anti-Adventist crusade.
However, there seem to be indications that all may not have been going well with
Canright in his relationships with the Baptists. It was only natural that these
relationships were watched with interest by his former Adventist brethren and fellow
ministers, who were so well acquainted with him, and, quite naturally, as Canright entered
upon a work of opposing Seventh-day Adventists, information on his relationships with his
new friends was frequently conveyed from one to another in personal correspondence.
Elder E. J. Waggoner, careful and responsible editor of the Signs of the Times, wrote as
From a letter in my possession dated Jan. 18, 1889, written by Elder I. D. Van
Horn, president of the Michigan Conference, I quote the following concerning Mr. Canright:
"He is certainly losing influence among his own [Baptist] people. The
first evidence I had of this was about one year ago. He went to Grand Rapids and
made application for the first Baptist church, to speak against Seventh Day Adventism, and
the pastor, Rev. Mr. Tupper, one of the first men in his denomination in the State, with
the deacons of his church, decided against him, and would not let him into the house for
that purpose. I have it
direct from one of the deacons, Mr. Buchanan, a dentist in that
city. I went to see him personally and he was free to tell me all about it.
"Another evidence I have from a Baptist minister, about six months ago, who
then lived in Otsego, and who had formerly been pastor of the church of which Canright was
pastor for a year and a half, the fact that Canright was losing the confidence of his
members, by trying to enforce the tithing system on them, and for showing no special
regard for Baptist usages, and because of which many of his members were leaving.
"From another source I heard that this congregation had come down from 200
to 25, and he was obliged to resign his pastorate, which he did some five or six months
ago. There were only twenty-five present to hear his farewell sermon.
"Another evidence is from Sister Oviatt (whose husband is now a Baptist
minister)Note 3 of Hastings,
Michigan, through Elder L. G. Moore, one of our most faithful brethren, who has long lived
in Hastings, we have the fact that Sister Oviatt has heard at different times very
disparaging remarks about Canright, from some of the leading Baptist ministers, as they
have been at her house talking with her husband. Some of these remarks showed the
feeling of these ministers that Canright seemed so important and overbearing."
Now about that testimonial which Mr. Canright published from the clerk of the
church in Otsego. Whoever will look at his articleNote 4 will see that that testimonial is not dated: but the same thing is given in
his book, where it bears date May, 1888, nearly a year ago. But that doesn't matter
much anyway, as it is not a very difficult thing for anybody to get testimonials.
The polity of the Baptists is such that if a preacher can find a single society, or part
of a society, that will acknowledge him, he cannot be shaken off, although he may be
despised by the great body of Baptists. It is often unfortunate for the Baptist's
denomination that such is the case, but so it is. Mr. Canright was wise in selecting
that body when he left the Adventists.
One thing more about his resignation from the Baptist church in Otsego. He
himself has never told anybody here why he resigned, but you have the reasons in Elder Van
Horn's letter. In corroboration of that statement, I will state that shortly before
his resignation, a part of his church went to the Seventh-day Adventists in Otsego, to get
their house of worship so that they could hold a separate meeting. Perhaps Mr.
Canright can tell a plausible story to explain why they could not worship with him, but
the fact is that he was very soon seized with a spirit of resignation. . . .
"I did not make my statements rashly. I have given my evidence, and it
will stand although Mr. Canright may rail against it."E. J. Waggoner, in Healdsburg
Enterprise, Feb. 27, 1889.
That same number of the Enterprise carries another strong testimonial in Elder Canright's defense signed by Mrs. Wheeler, of the Otsego Baptist church.
Pains were taken by Mr. Canright to secure other testimonials from neighbors,
friends, and business acquaintances, attesting to his good character and his integrity in
business transactions. However, it should be noted that these points had not been
challenged by his former brethren. Yet, to him they apparently seemed essential in
the light of the course he had taken. Subsequently these testimonials were
frequently seen in the press and in introductions to his published works.
Residing in Otsego, he at times preached and served otherwise in the church when
at home, and was on several occasions delegated by his church to represent them in certain
general meetings. At such times he served on temporary committees and at least once
acted as chairman.
In late September, 1890, D. M. Canright with his family moved to Grand Rapids,
Michigan. He had been unable to sell his Otsego home and held this for another two
years, until it was purchased by his father-in-law.
The Otsego church commended the Canright family to the Wealthy Avenue Baptist
church in Grand Rapids. Apparently Mr. Canright had spent some time in Grand
Rapids. There are references to his assisting in meetings being held in the north
part of the city and then going to a church that was organized on June 5, 1892, with 50
charter members who had transferred from the Fountain Street Baptist church. It took
the name Berean Baptist church, and they claimed the "Rev. D. M. Canright" as
their "first pastor." In this capacity he served for one year and a
half. The reasons for his resignation at that time are not known, but two years
later he served for another year, again as pastor, from October, 1895, to October, 1896.
(History of Grand Rapids and Grand Rapids Church Directory, p. 1170.) Doubtless the
intervening years were spent largely in the preparation of articles for publication and in
the handling and distribution of his book Seventh-day Adventism Renounced.
After his second term as pastor of the Berean Baptist church closed in October,
1896, he moved to South Bend,
Indiana, and then to Toledo, Ohio, where he engaged in door-to-door selling of religious books. Three years later he returned to Grand Rapids.
The records indicate that in that year he was listed as an ordained Baptist minister in
the State of Michigan, who, though not holding a pastorate, was issued yearly credentials,
a practice followed subsequently, except possibly during the interval between 1904 and
1907. While members of the Berean Baptist church, and members of the Canright family
have testified that his counsel was often sought by the Baptist brethren, there is no
record that Canright served actively for the Baptists after 1897, when he should have been
in his prime.
It thus becomes increasingly clear that, as Mr. Canright sailed his phantom craft
in the Baptist fleet, he was never called to the bridge of the flagship, nor to any
position beyond that of a locally elected pastor of two medium-sized congregations.
He proudly displayed, in carefully worded testimonials, the positions of responsibility to
which he had been elevated by Seventh-day Adventistsauthor, teacher, committeeman,
executivebut under his new flag those with whom he associated never saw fit to honor him
with any office higher than that of local church pastor, and this for only brief periods
of time. The thoughtful reader may ponder why Mr. Canright, who held positions of
trust as an Adventist and served the Baptists in two communities, was not considered by
the latter as one to whom some major position in the Baptist church should be
entrusted. Instead, we find him in his later years gaining a livelihood by going
from door to door selling and laboring with his hands.
The Baptists should be commended for their method of handling the case of the man who sailed a phantom craft under their banner. He was treated as a brother and
elected pastor of two local churches for a little less than four years. He also
represented these two churches at Baptist conferences; but he was never trusted at the
helm of any major interest of that denomination.
1. The initial "M" in place of the name is used in the
letter as published in the "Testimonies," vol. 5, p. 571. [back to
2. A phrase often employed by D. M. Canright in conversation. [back to text]
3. Note: D. B. Oviatt was ordained a Baptist minister the same
day as was D. M. Canright. [back to text]
4. For the circumstances of statements from D. M. Canright and E.
J. Waggoner published in the Healdsburg Enterprise see reference to Canright's trip West
in early 1889, his debate with Wm. Healey, and the reports of the public press. See
pages 95, 96. While this must have been the case with the copy which Waggoner saw,
other copies are dated. [back to text]