Rochester, New York was a decently sized city in the early 1850’s, depending largely on flour production and the Erie Canal to keep it afloat. It was also an important center for Millerite Adventism both before and after 1844.
In 1852 James and Ellen White moved to Rochester while relocating the publishing operation of the Advent Review and Sabbath Herald. The Review and Herald was first published in Paris Hill, Maine in November 1850 before being relocated by James White to Saratoga Springs, New York in August 1851.
By February of 1852, White realized that it was time for Sabbatarian Adventist to own their own printing press. Up to that point, the Review and Herald had been printed by a commercial printer who did much of their printing on the Sabbath. In addition to that, printing the paper themselves would also significantly cut publishing costs. Given all this, at a conference held in the home of Jesse Thompson just outside of Ballston Spa, New York, it was decided that the a printing press should be purchased and that the publishing and printing operation should relocate to Rochester.
Thanks to several generous donations James White was able to procure a Washington hand press and successfully move the publishing work to 124, Mount Hope Avenue, Rochester. When they moved to Rochester the Whites were as poor as church mice and struggling with ill health. During the three and a half years that they lived in Rochester, James and Ellen White endured severe physical, mental and spiritual hardship. They set up their home with two old bedsteads purchased for 24 cents and six assorted chairs purchased for 62 cents.
Soon they had a houseful of over a dozen workers and a handful of others living with them. They couldn’t afford potatoes so they ate Turnips, and they used fruit sauce instead of butter. They also ate a lot of beans, which didn’t excite Uriah Smith very much. Uriah sacrificed a lucrative job in order to work for the fledgling Adventist publishing house and he was offered only room and board as payment.
But they were a happy bunch. On May 6, 1852, the Review and Herald was printed on an Adventist press operated by Adventist workers for the first time. The publishing house was staffed by James White as publisher and Editor in Chief, Annie and Uriah Smith, J.N. Loughborough, George Amadon, Stephen Belden, Oswald Stowell, and others. James White also employed Lumen V. Masten to supervise the printing work. Masten was not a Christian but he had quite a bit of experience as a printer and made a happy addition to the growing family on Mount Hope Avenue.
Soon they were publishing 2000 copies of the Review and Herald and mailing them to 1600 homes. They also began publishing the Youth’s Instructor which had a circulation of 1000. The work had a decidedly evangelistic effect as well, introducing the Sabbath and other Bible truths to thousands of people for the first time. However though the work grew rapidly, the money from the subscriptions was slow to come in and the expenditure outpaced the inflow of income.
By 1855 James White was heavily in debt because of the publishing work and he was also broken in health, having contracted Tuberculosis. He was not the only one to suffer ill health. In 1852 a cholera epidemic spread through Rochester and 3-year-old Edson White came down with it. Ellen White took her child in her arms and rebuked the diseases providing the little boy with immediate relief. Lumen Masten came down with Cholera around the same time but recovered as well. The process led him to become a Christian and a Sabbatarian Adventist. Sadly he died 18 months later of Tuberculosis.
James White’s brother and sister Nathaniel and Anna White moved to Rochester around 1852 but they both died of Tuberculosis shortly after. Annie Smith contracted Tuberculosis from the White siblings and she too passed away in July 1855.
Finally, in October 1855 the publishing work was moved to Battle Creek, Michigan. The time in Rochester had been both rewarding and devastating. The workers had experienced many highs but they had also been laid low by numerous trials and even death. The only consistent pattern was their faith and determination to keep the work moving forward regardless of the circumstances around them. What was it that kept them pressing forward? As Annie Smith wrote in her classic hymn “tis this alone, the blessed hope!”