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I Was Canright's Secretary
by Carrie Johnson

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20. The Fading Image of D. M. Canright

WHILE ASSOCIATING occasionally with his Adventist friends, attending their meetings when he could, and declaring to them that he would like to come back to the church but that it was too late, Mr. Canright at the same time kept up a bold front with the Baptists and with such members of his now scattered family as he saw from time to time.

Naturally he wanted to be thought well of.

Since rumors of his softening attitude toward the Adventists could be devastating to the sale of his books, Mr. Canright, in an endeavor to maintain a consistent image, kept affirming and reaffirming his position—that he never regretted withdrawing from the Adventist denomination.

His book, The Lord's Day From Neither Catholics nor Pagans, was published in late 1915. The title page states that this is "an Answer to Seventh-day Adventism on this Subject." Canright sent a copy for critical reading to an old Adventist friend, Elder J. H. Morrison. Morrison was about to attend a session of the Lake Union Conference to be held in Battle Creek, March 7-12, 1916. He wrote Canright, inviting him to attend, and proposed that they could examine the book together there. Morrison was happy to received the following reply:

Your hope to be at Battle Creek next week decides me to go there too. Be sure to come. It will be our last chance to see each other. You are seventy-five and I am seventy-six. I have read your criticisms with deep interest and profit. It is only this way that the real facts and truth can be found.

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I have eight of the very oldest publications of Seventh-day Adventists, from 1847-1851. So far as I know there are five of them which no one else has.Note 1 Would like you to see them. Come if you can. Your old friend . . . same as forty years ago. D. M. C.

Mr. Canright's reunion with Elder J. H. Morrison was a happy one. The two attended the session of the Lake Union Conference held in the Tabernacle.

Of this Elder Morrison wrote in his privately published book, issued a few months after the visit:Note 2 "We met and visited as friends." He then described a very serious accident that happened to Canright: "A few minutes after our last interview a sad and it was feared a fatal accident befell him. He fell and broke an arm and a limb. After he was taken to the hospital, I visited him every day while I stayed in Battle Creek."—Pages 2, 3.

Seemingly, the incident was of no interest to the public press, for no report of the accident appeared. There are some discrepancies regarding details of the occurrence. All agree that there was such an accident, and as to its seriousness. The hospital records sustain this.

As I visited with Canright's niece, Marie Wright, a few years after his death, she told me that her uncle, Dudley Canright, carried a key to the basement door of the Baptist church in Battle Creek, where he had a desk, and was privileged to come and go at will. Mr. Cornell told me of this while I was working with Mr. Canright.

Not having been to the church for some time, he was unaware that extensive remodeling was under way and that the steps leading down from the basement door had been removed. That Friday evening, March 10, 1916, Canright stepped inside the door and fell to the basement, landing on top of a heap of rubbish. He lay there badly injured until the following Sunday morning, when he was found by the janitor, more dead than alive.

Sanitarium records specify that he was admitted for care on Monday, March 13. This would tend to substantiate his

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niece's memory that he was taken first to the city hospital, then transferred to the Battle Creek Sanitarium Hospital at his own request.

Other reports indicate that he fell on the stairs of the Tabernacle. While the exact location of the accident may be disputed, the facts are that, in mid-March, 1916, D. M. Canright sustained a fall, was badly hurt, and some thought fatally injured. The contemporary Morrison publication and the Battle Creek Sanitarium records sustain this fact.

Several operations ensued during his stay of more than two months at the Sanitarium. His leg was amputated. Mr. Canright suffered intensely, but made gradual recovery.

Elder Morrison, who had intended to review with Canright criticisms made at the author's request of the Lord's Day book, informs us that because "he was suffering I thought I better withhold them and as he lingered and suffered so much I have never sent them to him." He proposed to place them in Canright's hand at a later time. It is obvious that this was done, for he printed his report in October, 1916.

In his criticism Morrison pointed out many weaknesses, inaccuracies, and misused historical quotations in Canright's book. He had occasion to comment on Mr. Canright's assertion that he felt the Lord had especially prepared him to write it, through his experience of twenty-eight years in the Seventh-day Adventist church. He asked what Canright had accomplished during his subsequent twenty-eight years spent in opposing the church. He dwelt on Canright's repeated prediction that the church would soon go to pieces.

Perhaps Morrison's language is a bit strong, but it makes his point clear. We quote again from his 1916 book as follows:

When you left us we had about 20,000 members, we have over 120,000 now. We had two or three advanced schools, now we have nearly one hundred. We had about twenty-five teachers, now we have about seven hundred. We had then two or three sanitariums, now we have over forty-five. We had only about twelve doctors, now we have about one hundred forty. We had in our advanced schools about five hundred enrolled, now we have about 9,000. . . . Elder, you must call for help if you expect to down us.

Now, I do not offer this as proof that we are right. I give it to you for your reflection when you are thinking how God has so signally prepared you for this work. First by making you a great and mighty man to build it up,

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so He could give you a special commission and work for the rest of your life to tear it down, as you say, "you are prepared to answer them (us) as no other man could."

Now, Elder, do you not think that the law of consistency would compel you to conclude, if God had any hand in it whatever, instead of allowing you to start off such a huge system of error the first half of your life, then authorize you to tear it down, that he would have set you to cultivating fruits instead. Surely God would have been further on in his work if your book is his work.

You firmly believe God has wonderfully preserved you for this work. What does this faith of yours say I was preserved for? I am only about one year behind you in age and I still have both eyes to see and both limbs to walk, for which I am thankful.

But how do you know, but God intended you to feel that in the loss of that eye that you should realize that you had lost half of your spiritual eyesight, and that you were in great danger of being dumped into the ditch? How do you know but he intended you to have more sober and deeper reflections, that you were treading in a dangerous path by allowing that accident to befall you, which occasioned the loss of your limb a few minutes after our very interesting visit and interview, the first after long years of separation?—Some Correspondence With Elder Canright, pp. 115, 116.

Battle Creek Sanitarium records indicate that Mr. Canright was released from the institution early in June. His niece informed me that he was taken by ambulance to the home of his daughter Genevieve, in Hillsdale, Michigan. She was a Christian Scientist and did not favor the attendance of physicians or nurses. Therefore Mr. Canright could not always have enjoyed the care that one of his age and in his condition should have had.

For three years Canright lived on. His relatives report that he was confined to a wheel chair. He recovered sufficiently so that he could, at times, return to his home in Grand Rapids. With help of an ex-Seventh-day Adventist minister he was able to bring the work on his book Life of Mrs. E. G. White to completion. His manuscript was submitted to the Standard Publishing Company, and the records of that organization show that on July 15, 1918, D. M. Canright signed a contract for its publication. It was published July, 1919.

On May 12, 1919 Dudley M. Canright died of a paralytic stroke at Hillsdale, Michigan, in the home of his daughter Genevieve to which he had come the preceding December.

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There are conflicting accounts concerning the funeral services held for Mr. Canright. His niece, Mrs. Marie Wright, nine years after his death, told me that no funeral service was held and that there was only a committal at the cemetery conducted by a Christian Science Reader, Mr. J. C. MacDonald. She further stated that the service was attended only by members of the family.

However, the Otsego Union of May 22, 1919, describes his funeral service in these words: "Six ministers were in attendance at the funeral, which was held at the Baptist church. . . . Five were present from Grand Rapids, where he labored successfully for many years."

Dudley M. Canright was buried in the Mountain Home Cemetery at Otsego, by the side of his second wife, Lucy. The grave is marked with a fairly modern stone. It reads:


SEPT. 22, 1840 - MAY 12, 1919



DEC. 22, 1855 - JAN. 2, 1913.


The title Elder has for many years been baffling to Baptists and Adventists alike. Canright died a Baptist. The term "Elder" is an Adventist title, not the title employed by the Baptists when referring to their ministers. It may be observed that the nearby graves of his children who died shortly after he left the Adventist ministry carry markers indicating that they were the children of "Rev. D. M. Canright."

The last phrase "A Mother to Us All" is strongly reminiscent of the one Canright employed in his wife's obituary, which he dictated to me in May, 1913, some five months after her death (see pp. 130, 131). I heard him employ these words on several occasions as I took up work with him immediately after Lucy's death. The adulation "An author of World Renown" sounds strangely like a Canright composition. Some have wondered, Could it be that he himself chose the wording for the stone to mark his resting place? And if so, was it he—feeling closer to the Adventists than to the Baptists—who

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Photograph of Mrs Johnson at Canright's grave.

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selected the Adventist title Elder rather than the Baptist title Reverend?

This is what, in 1968, I found to be the case. After many attempts that failed to yield the information, I found the widow of the undertaker who had taken care of Mr. Canright's funeral. She was an attendant at the funeral home at the time of his death, and clearly remembered the details. She related that Mr. Canright had, not long before his death, made appropriate arrangements with her husband. A sealed envelope with instructions concerning the tombstone, with the wording, was provided by Mr. Canright. This letter was left unopened till funds from the estate made possible its erection. As pointed out, other obligations of first priority waited many, many years. The stone was erected in 1939, hence its modern appearance.

Be this as it may, Mr. Canright was buried with little immediate notice, and his grave stood unmarked for twenty years. I discovered that the Baptist church nearby, which he had pastored, knew nothing of his resting place. Nor was it known, even to his nephew, who lived in Otsego, not two miles from the cemetery.

As already observed, a note on the back page of the Review and Herald carried to Seventh-day Adventists the knowledge of his death.

A belated death and funeral notice also appeared on June 1, 1919, in the Grand Rapids Herald. Reference is made to his life and his work, to the esteem of his fellow church members, and to "a horrible fall downstairs." The readers are assured that "he died in the faith in which he had lived and labored."

Canright left a will drawn up April 3, 1916, soon after his accident. His children were remembered, and certain residue of the estate and accruing incomes from royalties of his books were willed to the Berean Baptist church. The estate, however, as I have pointed out, was not settled until some twenty years after his death. Court records indicate that there was a scarcity of means. The inventories list a few personal items totaling in value only $75. Scaled-down hospital bills remained unpaid, and the Battle Creek Sanitarium did not receive its money until nine years after treating Mr. Canright.

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This is difficult to understand, if we may credit the statements he published of his affluence and of the income reported from the sale of lots.

Back taxes on his property, the allotment of $12.50 a week to his daughter Genevieve, which was remuneration for his care, besides two or three notes that were outstanding, added together with the scaled—down hospital bill, almost consumed the returns from the disposition of the real estate made by the court. There was left some $3,000, which was divided among the heirs. The records of the court bear mute and embarrassing witness.

Thus at the age of seventy-eight the life of D. M. Canright came to a close.

We do not wish to seem unkind to a man who suffered much in his last years and died almost in obscurity, a man who spent the last half of his life attempting to tear down that which during the first half of his life he had built up. We feel, however, that it is not out of place to observe that Ellen G. White, whom he once accepted as a prophet of God, but whom he later bitterly opposed as a false prophet, had predicted in a letter of warning to him, "You have wanted to be too much, and make a show and noise in the world, and as the result your sun will surely set in obscurity." Every available record indicates that in spite of his earnest effort to prevent its fulfillment, the tragic prediction came true.

These chapters have been written with no animosity or ill will. They portray the sad story of a man who seemingly had sold his soul—a man who by his own testimony could not say what he wanted to say—a man who longed to return to his former ways and fellowship, but who realized that he had gone beyond the point of no return. The story is sustained by many witnesses and contemporary evidence. Yet, being a proud man, he did all he could to preserve the image of a happy, satisfied Baptist minister. The thoughtful reader may judge for himself whether the circle in which he chose to cast his lot during the latter part of life ever really accepted him. Personally, I am convinced that the careful reader will be cautious about accepting the testimony of such a witness.

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Photographs shown in the Foreword and Introduction pages to this online book

End Notes

1. As to the exclusive ownership Canright was mistaken, and within recent decades all have been republished in facsimile form so all who wish copies may have them. [back to text]

2. "Some Correspondence With Elder Canright, Concerning his Late Book, 'The Lord's Day,' With Some Criticisms" (1916). [back to text]

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