Topsham, Maine is situated about 25 miles North of Portland on the Androscoggin River just across from Brunswick, Maine. In the 1840’s Topsham had a population of around 2000 residents and the principal industry in the area centered around mill factories that dotted the banks of the river.
Despite its relatively small population (Portland had a population of just over 15,000 in 1840), Topsham became one of the most important hubs for early Sabbatarian Adventism. Much of this activity centered around the homes of three families; the Howlands, the Curtis’ and the Pattens.
In 1845, before her marriage to James White, Ellen Harmon attended meetings in each of these three homes. During the formative years of Adventism, between 1845 and 1850 the homes of Stockbridge Howland and Robert Curtis were two of the most important meeting places of Sabbatarian Adventists living in the state of Maine.
On one occasion while at a meeting in the home of Robert and Mercy Curtis, Ellen Harmon had a vision for two hours during which she held the large Curtis family Bible at a 45-degree angle for much of the time. It was also in the Curtis home, in November 1846 that Ellen received her vision of the various planets. It was this vision that convinced Joseph Bates of her calling as a prophet.
In the Spring of 1845, Ellen Harmon and James White confronted the “holy flesh” movement, which was a group of fanatics who had extreme views regarding sanctification. William Hyde, the 17-year-old son of a Portland painter had become entangled with this group and had been taken to one of their homes. Here he came down with a serious, life-threatening illness described as “bloody dysentery”. He asked to be visited by James White and Ellen Harmon, and when they arrived requested that they pray for him. At Ellen Harmon’s request, he left the home of the fanatics and made the four-mile trip to Robert Patten’s home where he was prayed for and received healing.
However, of the three Adventist families that resided in Topsham, it was the Howlands that developed the closest connection with James and Ellen White. In the Spring of 1845, Ellen Harmon was staying in the Howland home when their eldest daughter, Frances was extremely ill with rheumatic fever. Ellen was deeply concerned for Frances, who had become a close friend and she joined Mercy Curtis and others in prayer for Frances. Once the season of prayer had ended Mercy Curtis was deeply convicted to go upstairs to Frances’ room. Once there she took Frances’ hand with the words “Sister Frances, in the name of the Lord arise and be whole!”. Frances immediately rose from her bed completely healed.
A few years later in April 1847, while staying with the Howlands, Ellen had a vision of the heavenly sanctuary, where she saw the ark of the covenant opened and the ten commandments nestled inside. As she took a closer look she saw a halo of light encircling the Sabbath commandment.
Later that year the Howlands invited James and Ellen white to live with them and the Whites gladly accepted the invitation. They moved into the second floor of the Howland home and set up house with borrowed furniture. During this time James worked hauling stone for the railroads and cutting cordwood for 50 cents a day to help the family make ends meet.
In October 1848, the Howland home in Topsham was the location of one of the 6 major Sabbath conferences. It was after this conference that the Whites realized that they couldn’t take their young son Henry with them during their travels and he spent the next few years in the Howland home. It was only after the Whites had relocated to Rochester, New York that Henry was able to live with his parents full time again.
In the fall of 1863, the Whites stayed in the Howland home while working in Northern New England. Henry was 16 years old at the time and was assisting with the completion of the 1863 prophetic chart. Henry’s job was to glue the freshly printed charts onto their cloth backing. While he was engaged in this work he caught a cold that turned into pneumonia resulting in his sudden and tragic death.
His funeral was held in the Baptist Church across the street from the Howland home and later in Battle Creek where he was laid to rest. It was a deep and terrible blow for the White family to bear but God comforted them in their grief and their faith sustained them to continue their labors for the Lord. It was Henry’s final wish to be buried beside his brother, John Herbert so that on the morning of the resurrection they could come up together.