Ten Days in Texas:
D. M. Canright’s 1876 Visit to Texas
Southwestern Adventist University: RLGN 320, Ellen White’s Writings
D. M. Canright visited Texas from May 5–15, 1876. During that time, he organized the Dallas Seventh-day Adventist Church, which had 28 members by the time he left, and a 32-member Tract and Missionary Society. On May 15, he wrote a letter to James White; in the letter, he suggested that the Whites spend the winter in Texas. Canright was only one voice out of many, however, and it is unlikely that his was the major influence behind the Whites’ 1878–1879 trip to Texas.
- Canright: An Overview
- Canright’s Trip to Texas
- Canright’s Influence over the Whites’ 1878–1879 Trip to Texas
Dudley M. Canright is best known for rejecting the Seventh-day Adventist Church, along with Ellen White’s messages. But before he left the church, he was an effective evangelist and administrator. He was one of three members of the General Conference Committee in 1876 and 1877.1 Like the other leaders of the Adventist church at his time, Canright traveled extensively, working, he claimed, “in every State where we have churches, from Maine to California, from Texas to Minnesota.”2 This paper will explore Canright’s experiences in Texas and his role in James and Ellen White’s 1878–1879 trip to Texas.
Canright: An Overview
Dudley Marvin Canright was born in Coldwater, Michigan, on September 22, 1840. In 1859, at age 18 or 19, Canright attended meetings that James and Ellen White conducted and was baptized. Three years later, he visited James White, wanting to enter the ministry. James White consented, saying, “Go out and try it.” Canright was ordained on May 29, 1865; he was 24 years old.3
Canright’s experiences in the church were sometimes tumultuous. In 1873, he and his wife Lucretia were invited to join the Whites in Colorado for some much-needed rest. While there, they had a disagreement with the Whites, prompting a letter from Ellen White on August 12 dealing with their character flaws.4 The Canrights were deeply offended and refused to be reconciled. They moved instead to California, where he almost gave up the faith. On November 8, they wrote a letter to the Whites seeking reconciliation. Shortly thereafter, Canright’s and James White’s differences were completely patched up.5
Despite Canright’s character flaws, he usually maintained a close relationship with James White. Johnson points out that James White “admired his [Canright’s] drive and accomplishments. White cited Canright . . . as an example among the ministers who ‘have laid their plans wisely and well, and have labored with vigilance to execute them,’ and as one with the ability ‘to establish the work in new fields.’ ”6
Canright’s Trip to Texas
M. Ellsworth Olsen writes that in 1875, M. E. Cornell visited Texas and preached a series in the First Baptist Church of Dallas. Five people were converted before Cornell left. Some time later, “the new converts were pleading for help, and D. M. Canright was sent to answer the call.”7 Canright had been working in California for more than two years. In late 1875 we find him working in Michigan, and then planting a church in Maryland.8 Where he was when he received the call to Texas is unclear.
In an article in the Review and Herald, written on May 16, 1876 from Little Rock, Arkansas, Canright described his experiences during his ten days in Texas. He arrived in Dallas on Friday, May 5. The next day, he organized a church of 18 members; twenty-five people attended the Sabbath-morning service.9 It seems that M. E. Cornell’s converts had been active during the past year.
Sunday, May 7, saw the baptism of eleven people in Long Lake.10 These eleven people were part of the eighteen charter members, although they had not yet become members when the church was organized. According to Canright, this was the first baptism conducted by Adventists in Texas.11 This seems incongruous; most likely, M. E. Cornell had baptized his converts a year earlier. Cornell’s five and Canright’s eleven leaves two members unaccounted for. If Cornell did not baptize his converts, we are left with seven members of unknown status. One possible explanation is that they had already been baptized by immersion by their previous churches. An examination of the attitudes in the Adventist church toward baptism and church membership during this time period might shed some light on this issue.
Sometime between Sunday, May 7 and Wednesday, May 10, Canright visited A. B. Rust in his home roughly twelve miles west of Dallas. Rust would later become a prominent figure in the Adventist work in Texas. As a result of this visit, Canright returned to Rust’s home on Thursday, May 11 to conduct a meeting for Rust’s neighbors. The turnout was larger than he expected.12
Two experiences that week prompted Canright to spend a significant portion of his article in a call for someone to work exclusively for the freedmen. During the meeting he held at A. B. Rust’s home, he noticed racial divisions: While the Whites entered Rust’s house, the Blacks stayed out and listened as best they could. Also, sometime during that week, Canright visited a literacy school for freedmen taught by Eddie Capman. His report does not give any further details about what he saw while he was there.13 It would be interesting to discover what role, if any, Canright’s appeal played in eventually beginning the work for the freedmen.
On the following Sabbath (May 13), about forty people attended church. That afternoon, six people were baptized and four joined the church through some other means. There were then 28 members in the Dallas church. On Sunday, May 14, Canright organized a Tract and Missionary Society with 32 charter members.14
Canright’s meetings were well-received. Church attendance and the attendance at his meeting in A. B. Rust’s home attest to that. In addition, press coverage was favorable. The Daily Commercial reported that his meetings, which apparently were mainly held on the weekends, were very encouraging. It added that Canright worked very hard while in Texas.15
On Monday, May 15, Canright wrote a letter from Dallas to James White. Part of the letter described Texas:
So far as I can tell, Texas is just as good a field of labor as any of the Western states. In the Northern part the people are about half northern men. Further south it is different. A tent could be run here all the year by using a stone occasionally. It is really the most beautiful country I ever saw. The land is very rich. . . . I never saw such fine fields of wheat. Harvest has begun here now. Strawberries, blackberries, peas, new cabbage, &c., &c. . . . The climate is delightful. We have a cool breeze from the Gulf every day but no fogs as in California. Does not get sultry in the summer nor cold in the winter. Land is marvelously cheap—from $1.50 to $10 per acre in the country. Poor schools and bad water are the drawbacks. There is no good water in the state. Hard, warm lime water and roily at that is all you can get. The only remedy for this is large cisterns and these are being built now.16
It is clear that Canright was terribly misinformed about the weather. He had only arrived ten days before, and he already was describing summer and winter in terms those who live in Dallas wish were true. He was probably experiencing a form of culture shock, and he had doubtless received false reports from the locals. Nevertheless, this is the report that reached the James and Ellen White.
Later in his letter, Canright mentioned A. B. Rust and suggested that a Brother King would benefit the work in Texas. Then he remarked, “It would be a splendid place for you to spend the winter and be ready to [sic] for early camp meetings in the South.”17
Canright’s letter to James White was dated May 15 from Dallas, while his article in the Review and Herald was dated May 16, from Little Rock, Arkansas. I do not know how he traveled to Little Rock, a distance of 319 miles by today’s highways.18 Quite possibly, he wrote the letter and/or the article while he was traveling between Dallas and Little Rock. Otherwise, there does not appear to be enough time for the trip.
Canright’s Influence over the Whites’ 1878–1879 Trip to Texas
While D. M. Canright was clearly an influential leader in the church, his contribution to the Whites’ 1878–1879 trip to the Southwest appears to be minimal. In May 1876, Canright recommended that the Whites winter in Texas. However, after Canright visited Texas, the work began increasing rapidly. For example, the Review and Herald mentioned Texas on average several times per month during 1877—especially once R. M. Kilgore arrived in May.
There were many subsequent references to Texas that likely had as strong an influence over the Whites as did Canright. The following three quotes, all from the Review and Herald in 1877, illustrate this.
“The influence of the work in Texas will be widely felt: and if it is wholly a good influence, it may accomplish much good.”19
“The climate [of Texas] is delightful, and well adapted [sic] to benefit those coming from the North who have weak lungs. . . . To those who are inquiring about the advantages, products, etc., I would say, If you are poor, and desire change for financial reasons and from a worldly point of view, you had better stay where you are. . . . There is a large field opening up here, which should be occupied by devoted, self-sacrificing S. D. Adventists.”20
“The following petition [came] from Hillsboro. . . : ‘We, the undersigned citizens of Hillsboro and vicinity, most respectfully request Rev. Kilgore to preach a series of sermons at Hillsboro after he has ended his engagement at Peoria. . . .’ A very strong appeal comes from Towash . . . and another from Prairie Valley . . . . These are excellent openings for the truth; but how can I be at all of these places at the same time? I wish I could be, and still be efficient.”21
Despite appeals such as these, it was not until October 14, 1878 that the General Conference sent the Whites to attend a camp meeting in Texas. While Canright’s letter to James White and his article in the Review and Herald may have played a role in the Whites’ decision, it appears to be only one voice among many.
There is a dearth of information regarding Canright’s trip to Texas. Several questions remain unanswered. What was Canright doing immediately before he visited Texas? What method (or methods) of travel did he use? We only know a few of his activities from May 8–12, 1876. How did he spend that time? It would be helpful if Canright’s diaries could be located. How did Canright’s appeal for the freedmen impact the church’s later work in the South?
What we do know, however, is significant: Dudley M. Canright organized the first Adventist church in Texas, and in doing so made a positive impact on the people of Dallas and the surrounding area. Although Canright went astray in his latter years, Adventists in Texas can be thankful that he was once a dedicated missionary.
Canright, D. M. “A Plain Talk to the Murmurers—Some Facts for Those Who Are Not in Harmony with the Body.” Quoted in Johnson, pp. 172-182.
—. Letter to James White, May 15, 1876. Heritage Room, Chan Shun Centennial Library, Keene, TX.
—. “My Present Standing.” Section in the introductory material of Seventh-day Adventism Renounced, 14th ed. 1914. <http://web2.iadfw.net/billtod/stand.txt>.
—. “Texas.” Review and Herald 47:21 (May 25, 1876), p. 100.
Clarke, Jos. “Texas.” Review and Herald 50:4 (July 19, 1877), p. 31.
Daily Commercial. Quoted in Review and Herald 47:24 (June 15, 1876), p. 190.
Dallas Herald. “The Grove Meetings.” Quoted in Review and Herald 47:24 (June 15, 1876), p. 190.
Johnson, Carrie. I Was Canright’s Secretary. Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1971.
Kilgore, R. M. “About Texas.” Review and Herald 50:12 (September 13, 1877), p. 93.
—. “Texas Tent.” Review and Herald 50:17 (October 25, 1877), p. 134.
Olsen, M. Ellsworth. A History of the Origin and Progress of Seventh-day Adventists. Takoma Park: Review and Herald, 1925.
Rand McNally. The Road Atlas. 2001 ed. Rand McNally, 2001.
White, Arthur L. “The Story of Two Men: D. M. Canright—A. G. Daniells.” Folder DF 351, “Canright, D. M.—Misc.” Heritage Room, Chan Shun Centennial Library, Keene, TX.
White, Ellen G. Testimonies for the Church, vol. 3. Mountain View: Pacific Press, 1948.
Canright, “A Plain Talk to the Murmurers—Some Facts for Those Who Are Not in Harmony with the Body.” Quoted in Carrie Johnson, I Was Canright’s Secretary (Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1971), p. 172. ↩
Arthur L. White, “The Story of Two Men: D. M. Canright—A. G. Daniells.” (Folder DF 351, “Canright, D. M.—Misc.” Heritage Room, Chan Shun Centennial Library, Keene, TX). ↩
This letter appears in volume 3 of Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View: Pacific Press, 1948) on pages 304–329. ↩
Johnson, pp. 36–39. ↩
Johnson, p. 44. ↩
M. Ellsworth Olsen, A History of the Origin and Progress of Seventh-day Adventists (Takoma Park: Review and Herald, 1925), p. 297. ↩
Johnson, p. 43. ↩
Canright, “Texas.” Review and Herald 47:21 (May 25, 1876), p. 100. ↩
Dallas Herald. “The Grove Meetings.” Quoted in Review and Herald 47:24 (June 15, 1876), p. 190. I have been unable to discover the location of this lake. ↩
Canright, “Texas.” ↩
Canright, “Texas.” ↩
Canright, “Texas.” ↩
Canright, “Texas.” ↩
Daily Commercial. Quoted in Review and Herald 47:24 (June 15, 1876), p. 190. ↩
Canright, letter to James White, May 15, 1876 (Heritage Room, Chan Shun Centennial Library, Keene, TX). ↩
Canright, letter. ↩
Rand McNally, The Road Atlas, 2001 ed. (Rand McNally, 2001), p. 140. ↩
Jos. Clarke, “Texas.” Review and Herald 50:4 (July 19, 1877), p. 31. ↩
R. M. Kilgore, “About Texas.” Review and Herald 50:12 (September 13, 1877), p. 93. ↩
Kilgore, “Texas Tent.” Review and Herald 50:17 (October 25, 1877), p. 134. ↩