The story of Annie Smith’s life is one of both tragedy and triumph. Her life was cut short, but she died with a firm belief in Jesus and the “blessed hope”
A gifted young woman in early Adventism
By Nathan Thomas
The story of Annie Smith’s life is one of both tragedy and triumph.
Her life was cut short, but she died with a firm belief in Jesus and the “blessed hope” for eternal life after the resurrection. Her triumph was her assurance of salvation and eternal life; her tragedy was in contracting pulmonary tuberculosis, which meant almost certain death before the days of antibiotics. She died at 27 years of age, ending a promising career as the most important poet of early Adventism, years before our church was named or organized. She will live on forever in the world of music since three of her hymns were included in The Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal.
Annie Finds the Truth
As a teenager Annie Smith accepted William Miller’s teaching and became a devout “Millerite.” When Jesus did not appear on October 22, 1844, she devoted her time to her studies and her poetry. In 1851 her mother suggested she attend one of “Father” Joseph Bates’s lectures while she was away visiting friends in another town. She was not really interested until she had a dream in which she saw a tall, elderly man lecturing and using a chart. To “please mother,” she attended the meeting, arriving late and taking the only seat left. After the meeting Bates met Annie for the first time and told her that he also had had a dream that she would be there. In a short time Annie was converted to the truth of the seventh-day Sabbath, the sanctuary doctrine, and the third angel’s message. She remained an absolute believer in that faith the rest of her life.
With her newfound faith, she started sending poems to the Advent Review and Sabbath Herald at Saratoga Springs, New York. James White, editor, quick to recognize literary talent, asked her to come and work at the Review office. She declined because of poor eyesight, but James and Ellen White, in dire need of help, replied “come any way.”
Upon arrival from her home in New Hampshire, she was prayed over and her eyesight was completely restored. Her work at the Review involved proofreading and copy editing, a job she handled quite efficiently.
Though she worked at the Review for only a couple of years, this 23-year-old young woman contributed 45 poems to the Review and to a new periodical, the Youth’s Instructor. She also was a prolific hymn writer for the Adventist cause. She borrowed the tune from a popular hit called “’Tis Midnight Hour” and turned it into the beautiful hymn “How Far From Home?” (number 439 in The Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal). Another of her popular hymns today is “I Saw One Weary” (number 441), in which she wrote specially about Joseph Bates and James White. The third person in that hymn she described could have been J. N. Andrews, or her brother, Uriah Smith. Historian Arthur Spalding is convinced that in the third stanza she was writing about herself and simply substituted the “he” for “she.”1 At any rate, the “blessed hope” of the Second Coming was always on her mind. She did a prodigious amount of writing in the four years left in her life and could have possibly surpassed Frank Belden, Ellen White’s nephew, as the most important hymn writer for our young denomination, had she lived to old age.
An Example of Her Talent
As an example of her poetic talent, Smith wrote a poem upon the death of Robert Harmon, Ellen White’s brother, who was fully converted before he passed away. Hymn no. 494 in the old Church Hymnal was first printed in the Review and later set to music as “He Sleeps in Jesus.”
“He sleeps in Jesus—peaceful rest—
No mortal strife invades his breast;
No pain, or sin, or woe, or care,
Can reach the silent slumberer there.
He lived, his Savior to adore,
And meekly all his sufferings bore.
He loved, and all resigned to God;
Nor murmured at His chastening rod.
‘Does earth attract thee here?’ they cried,
The dying Christian thus replied,
While pointing upward to the sky,
‘My treasure is laid up on high.’
He sleeps in Jesus—soon to rise,
When the last trump shall rend the skies;
Then burst the fetters of the tomb,
To wake in full, immortal bloom.
He sleeps in Jesus—cease thy grief;
Let this afford thee sweet relief—
That, freed from death’s triumphant reign,
In heaven will he live again.”
On a more romantic note, there is reason to believe that Annie was interested in John Nevins Andrews, but he ended up marrying another. If her heart was broken, she didn’t have long to sorrow, for after two years at the Review she returned home fighting a losing battle with tuberculosis, or consumption, as it was commonly called. Tuberculosis was a scourge during the nineteenth century, and both Annie Smith and John Andrews succumbed to it.
Annie Smith deserves to be called our denomination’s first important poet and hymn writer. On returning to her home, she wrote as much as her health would permit and collected her poetry those last few months of her life. She gave this collection to her brother, Uriah, who later became famous in Seventh-day Adventist circles as editor of the Review, as well as a writer and a teacher. Uriah printed the collection only a few days before she died. It is entitled Home Here, and Home in Heaven.
So Much in So Little Time
As young as she was, with only two years to establish herself as an artist, poet, songwriter, and editor, Annie Smith made an important and singular impact upon the later Seventh-day Adventist Church. For instance, when the General Conference first organized our church at Battle Creek, Michigan, on May 21, 1863, the delegates chose to sing Annie Smith’s “Long Upon the Mountains” (no. 447), which meant so much to those attending the conference of our newly formed church.
Today, after 150 years of our church hymnology, we may state that Annie has left a legacy that will go on forever. Her hope was in the return of Jesus and His salvation for all the faithful. The last stanza of the hymn “Long Upon the Mountains” could be a fitting epitaph for the young woman who lived and died with the “blessed hope” in her heart:
“Soon He comes! With clouds descending;
All His saints, entombed arise;
The redeemed, in anthems blending,
Shout their vict’ry thro’ the skies.
O, we long for Thine appearing;
Come, O Savior, quickly come!
Blessed hope! Our spirits cheering,
Take Thy ransomed children home.”
Annie Smith has won a place in our hearts and in our history. As our pioneer poet and musician she reinforced James White’s love of music and made it an integral part of the Seventh-day Adventist educational system. Seventh-day Adventist interest in music and hymn singing no doubt starts with James White and Annie Smith.
Annie died on July 26, 1855, and is buried in the family cemetery at West Wilton, New Hampshire.
1A. W. Spalding, Origin and History of Seventh-day Adventists (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1961), vol. 1, p. 245; see also appendix, p. 404.
2Ellen G. White, Spiritual Gifts (Battle Creek, Mich.: James White, Steam Press, 1860), vol. 2, pp. 164, 165.
Nathan Thomas is professor emeritus of history, Pacific Union College, Angwin, California.