MORNING STAR riverboat
Reconstruction, the time after the Civil War when the
federal government undertook the rebuilding of the
South, Ellen White urged church leaders to go to work in
that troubled area. “There is a great work to be done in
the Southern field. This is one of the barren places of
the earth to be worked” (Manuscript Releases, vol. 19,
years of further urging and chiding by pen and voice,
even from faraway Australia, her own son, Edson, heard
the call. Ellen White gave her son counsel as he shared
vision of building a missionary boat: “I see no reason
why a boat should not be utilized in bringing to those
in darkness the light of Him who is ‘the bright and
(Manuscript Releases, vol. 3, p. 270).
his good friend, Will Palmer, supervised the building of
the boat in Allegan, Michigan, on the banks of the
Kalamazoo River. They hired a crew and sailed to
Douglass, a port on the east side of Lake Michigan. They
then set out for Chicago, assisted by a fruit steamer,
the Bon Ami. It was a night’s journey, and they ran
into a severe storm. They struggled for 14 hours, but
captain of the boat that assisted them said it was more
than human power that brought them through. The rest of
the journey south was less perilous. But these young
missionaries did not know very much about the dangers
White, though insisting that it was the Lord’s will that
they go, at the same time warned them of the
difficulties they would have to face in the Deep South.
They would be looked on as Yankees, carpetbaggers, and
troublemakers. The local people did not want an invasion
of do-gooders teaching Black people to read and write
and thus making them more difficult to control. Also the
Black clergy would become upset when the former slaves
were taught that Saturday was the Sabbath. The
establishment of churches and meetinghouses threatened
their power and influence.
White people from Michigan were bold enough to have
Blacks as crew eating and sleeping on the same boat.
they docked at Vicksburg, Mississippi, a town still
bitter about General Grant’s merciless siege of their
proud city during the war. My interest in this is quite
personal: my mother was a girl of about 14 at the time.
Her family—mother, aunts, uncles, and cousins—came to
see this strange sight—a
boat that was a church, schoolhouse, occasional clinic,
deck was 105 feet long and 24 feet across. There was a
boiler room and printing presses, two staterooms, and a
had two paddle wheels. The people flocked to see it. The
presses were kept busy publishing tracts and
schoolbooks. Some of the people became firm believers in
the message of hope and salvation they heard and saw on
there were bumps in the road. At times the Morning Star
people were forced to change their venue, once just to
escape a dynamite threat. They did move to Yazoo City.
I know there were converts there, because my aunt Lucy
Kincaid and her daughter, Henrietta, were among them.
ignore the Oakwood School connection. Several of the
first 16 students were Morning Star converts.
was a priority. Edson White encouraged the young
people to enroll at the Oakwood School. In fact,
theMorning Star team started church schools in the
Mississippi delta and throughout the South, and until
this day, Oakwood College has supplied teachers for
from Ellen White to her son is extremely insightful—even
prophetic: “Dear Son Edson: In answer to your question
as to whether it would be well to fit up your steamer
Morning Star, to be used for the conveyance of
missionary workers to places that otherwise they could
not reach, I will say that I have been shown how, when
you first went to the Southern field, you used this boat
as your home, and as a place on which to receive those
interested in the truth. The novelty of the idea excited
curiosity, and many came to see and hear. I know that,
through the agency of this boat, places have been
reached where till then the light of truth had never
shone—places represented to me as ‘the hedges’”
Manuscript Releases, vol. 3, p. 269).
Morning Star has been instrumental in sowing the seeds
of truth in many hearts, and there are those who
have first seen the light of truth while on this boat.
On it angel feet have trodden. (Manuscript
Releases, vol. 3, p. 269).
The Morning Star Legacy
Very recently I attended a celebration of 110 years of
continuous church school operation at the Ephesus
Seventh-day Adventist Church in Birmingham, Alabama,
which was founded by sons and daughters of slaves.
What I found interesting
is about nine people, representing
five generations, were present for the celebration. They
came from all parts of the United States. Their
ancestors were Morning Star children. This family for
more than a century has sent its sons and daughters to
educational institutions that are indebted to the
Morning Star for their very existence!
There is yet another
reason for my personal connection with the Morning Star.
Here it is: If a hand sketch of the Morning Star
published in the Gospel Herald is to be trusted, the
boat’s emblem, a large metal star, was suspended between
the smokestacks at the bow. The star is now a cherished
possession of Oakwood College in Huntsville, Alabama.
As an upperclassman at
Oakwood College, I had the privilege with a few other
ministerial students of making a little former
schoolhouse our home. That big metal star hung over the
front door of this mini dorm.
We cannot truly teach
denominational history without giving recognition to
Edson White’s boat and the rivers of blessings that
ripple out from Vicksburg and Yazoo City and places
unnamed. One of these ripples carried my mother, Etta
Littlejohn Bradford, from Vicksburg to the Oakwood
School—she was one of the first 16 students to enroll—on
up to the Boston,
Massachusetts, area where
she received her nurses training at Melrose Sanitarium.
It was here that she attended Ellen White as a student
nurse, and had the rare privilege of observing Dr. J. H.
Kellogg in surgery. Mother
carried out the Morning Star tradition as she
accompanied her preacher husband, Robert L. Bradford, in
ministry in many places in the United States, always
“bringing to those in darkness the light of Him who is
‘the bright and morning Star” (Manuscript
Releases, vol. 3, p. 270).
Etta also started the
nurses training course at Oakwood College.
The story is gripping, it
is the stuff that legend is made of, but more than that
it is a part of salvation history, a part of that noble
effort by scores of young northern Christians of many
denominations to bring hope and meaning to a people
disfranchised and marginalized by the system.
Please do not despise or
overlook the day of small beginnings!
CHARLES E. BRADFORD,
president retired, Seventh-day Adventist Church in North
America; founder, Sabbath in Africa Study Group. He
writes and fills speaking appointments from his home in
Spring Hill, Florida.
*Texts credited to Clear
Word are from The Clear Word, copyrightŠ1994, 2000,
2003, 2004 by Review and Herald Publishing Association.
All rights reserved.
This 36"model of the Morning Star steamboat is being
built for a private organization. Construction
started in Dec. 2014 and completed in March
2015. Please let us know if you want one
built for you. Thank you.