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Merritt Gardner Kellogg (Part 1): First to Preach in California

MediaRecorder MagazineMerritt Gardner Kellogg (Part 1): First to Preach in California
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The author finds the gravestone for Merritt G. Kellogg.

A good find

“Did you say his initials were M. G. K.?”

Lonnie’s question quickened my pulse. Could three years of sorting time-stained documents have just paid off?

He bit his lip, hesitant, but a tremor of hope rolled through his words: “What was his birth year?”

The tiny white headstone read, “M. G. K. 1833 – 1921.” That was almost right; he was born in 1832.

My brother and 13-year-old daughter, Kara, were searching with me for the long-lost grave of Merritt Gardner Kellogg—the first person to preach the Adventist message in California. 1John N. Loughborough, “Sketches of the Past—No. 139,” Pacific Union Recorder, vol. 12, no. 47 (June 19, 1913), pp. 2-3.We had found it! A dusty old cemetery file for that grave number confirmed it.

Why does Merritt Kellogg matter? Let me tell you his story.

Westward journey
It is time to go west, Merritt resolved. His stack of liberty-head pennies was woefully short.2Harold Oliver McCumber, Pioneering the Message in the Golden West (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1946), p. 34. To weather the financial Panic of 1857,3James L. Huston, The Panic of 1857 and the Coming of the Civil War (Baton Rouge, LA: LSU Press, 1999), pp. 14-24. either his farm would have to adapt to long-distance domestic trade4“1800-1860: Business and the Economy: Overview,” Encyclopedia.com (accessed December 2020). or he would need a new job. Merritt chose the greater gamble. This was not surprising, given his family culture.

The Kelloggs dripped with creativity and lacked the usual dose of risk aversion. Merritt’s father, John Preston Kellogg, led a station on the Underground Railroad, smuggling escaped slaves to freedom5Merritt Gardner Kellogg, Notes Concerning the Kelloggs (Battle Creek, MI: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1927), p. 51.—and later pioneered westward from Massachusetts to Michigan.6Kellogg, Notes Concerning the Kelloggs, pp. 10-11. Merritt’s stepmother, Ann (née Stanley), proved equally fearless in domestic ventures—such as step-mothering five kids at age 18 and later raising 11 of her own.7Kellogg, Notes Concerning the Kelloggs, pp. 19-20. Merritt’s kid brother John built a whirlwind of sanitariums across the globe, leaving a flurry of inventions in his wake.88Richard W. Schwartz, John Harvey Kellogg: Pioneering Health Reformer, Adventist Pioneer Series, George R. Knight, ed. (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 2006). Their brother Will, the “Corn Flakes King,”9“Corn Flakes King to Make Home in State,” Healdsburg Tribune (July 2, 1925), p. 4. built a cereal empire.

This Kellogg family culture spawned Merritt—a man who would shape Adventism in California and beyond, from little more than tracts and the mist of the San Francisco Bay.10Kellogg, Notes Concerning the Kelloggs, pp. 53-59. Almost penniless, at age 26, Merritt rode the pioneer wind westward from Michigan.11McCumber, p. 34. Along the way, he built his carpentry trade, taking jobs to pay for the trip.12Kellogg, Notes Concerning the Kelloggs, p. 63. Merritt’s wife, Louisa, rode in the lumbering oxcart with toddler Charles, while Merritt and two older kids, Alvin and Anna, walked. The year was 1859, and their aim was the booming lands of Pike’s Peak.13McCumber, pp. 35-36.

In a hapless attempt at good planning, Merritt bought two pairs of new shoes for the journey. Alas, the soles were fastened with wooden pegs, which fell out as he trudged beside the wagon, leaving him to limp barefoot for hundreds of miles. Buffalo hide moccasins finally brought relief.14Kellogg, Notes Concerning the Kelloggs, p. 90.

Scrambling west in the stream of fifty-niners set for “Pike’s Peak or Bust!”15Robert L. Brown, The Great Pikes Peak Gold Rush (Caldwell, ID: Caxton Press, 1985). soon lost its glow. After one too many tangles with the rougher sort, Louisa and Merritt took their family farther west to California,16Kellogg, Notes Concerning the Kelloggs, pp. 77-82. where they settled in the cool breeze of San Francisco.17Loughborough, “Sketches of the Past—No. 139,” p. 3.

California mission
Merritt’s carpentry craft paid the bills, but his distant gaze lit on grander hopes. He had embraced the Advent Movement18John N. Loughborough, The Great Second Advent Movement: Its Rise and Progress (Nashville, TN: Southern Pub. Assn., 1905). six years before19Schwartz, p. 16. and was determined to share it. Repurposing his skills as the first Sabbath School Superintendent in Battle Creek,20191. Dr. Merritt G. Kellogg. Database on-line. Center for Adventist Research Image Database. http://centerforadventistresearch.org/photos (accessed Dec. 2, 2020). he held two evangelistic series—one in a courtroom and the other in a rented hall—which netted 14 converts.21McCumber, p. 52. Still he dreamed of more.

Merritt penned letters to Battle Creek, begging for a minister to be sent to California. He was a mere layman, after all. James White replied that they had no one to send,22John N. Loughborough, Miracles in My Life: Autobiography of Adventist Pioneer J. N. Loughborough (College Place, WA: Heritage Publications), pp. 42-43. but Merritt persisted; he kept asking and praying.

God heard Merritt Kellogg’s prayers. In late 1867, John Loughborough dreamed that he boarded a ship in New York and sailed to California, where he pitched a carnival tent and commenced to preach. The next night, he had the same dream again, then again, and again, and again—at least 20 times that winter.23Loughborough, Miracles in My Life, p. 43. At the 1868 General Conference Session, when Merritt made a rousing plea for help in California, the deal was done.24Ibid. For much of the next five decades, Merritt Kellogg and John Loughborough would be the duo who built the California Adventist mission—making it the second great center of Adventism after Battle Creek, Michigan.

Kellogg had made sure he would be at that 1868 Session by temporarily moving back East, where he occupied himself in earning a medical degree. Back in California, as he and Loughborough preached from town to town, Doctor Merritt Kellogg gave health talks and provided free healthcare to locals. He also designed beautiful lithographs to illustrate the salvation story—such as his famous The Way of Life: From Paradise Lost to Paradise Restored.25Merritt Gardner Kellogg, The Way of Life: From Paradise Lost to Paradise Restored (Battle Creek, MI: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1873).

A vivid example of Dr. Kellogg’s evangelistic impact occurred while he and Loughborough worked in Bloomfield, near Santa Rosa. Part way through an evangelistic series, smallpox roiled the town. Residents fled in fear, leaving the sick to fend for themselves. Merritt and John didn’t run. They called at each home, and Merritt cared for the sick. When the plague abated and they resumed preaching, the grateful town showed up.26Loughborough, Miracles in My Life, p. 51. Dr. Kellogg’s kindness had won hearts to the gospel.

Mission structures
We can feel the true force of Merritt’s impact on Adventist mission when we realize the range of his influence. In the early days of Seventh-day Adventism, five structures emerged to keep the mission moving.

The first two were local churches and conferences. In this sphere, Merritt planted churches and helped start the California Conference. The remaining structures formed a trifecta of support systems for mission expansion: institutions of healthcare, education, and publishing. Merritt’s heart and hands were all in—editing and writing, doctoring and evangelizing through medical work, training nurses and helping start a college.

In 1874, Merritt helped plan, build, and serve the Pacific Press in Oakland—also writing a tall stack of books and articles himself.27J. J. Wessels, “California Medical Missionary and Benevolent Association Annual Report of Manager,” Pacific Union Recorder, vol. 13, no. 35 (April 2, 1914), p. 1.

Next, “on the tenth day of September, 1877, with pick and shovel, Dr. M. G. Kellogg broke the sod on the site,” built the road, made bricks, milled lumber, framed rooms and windows, tapped the spring, and everything else needed to raise a world-class sanitarium (now Adventist Health St. Helena) from the earth and timber of the land.28Wessels, p. 2.

He also started training nurses at the sanitarium and then, in 1882, was on hand to help launch Healdsburg College (now Pacific Union College).29Sydney Brownsberger, “Healdsburg Academy,” Signs of the Times, vol. 8, no. 17 (April 27, 1882), p. 199-200. There were even a few carpentry tasks to do.30“Healdsburg School,” Signs of the Times, vol. 8, no. 26 (July 13, 1882), p. 307. Later, in retirement, Merritt settled two blocks from the college, where he frequented campus31M. G. Kellogg to W. C. White, May 29, 1906. and regaled students with firsthand mission stories.

As one can see, besides pioneering churches and the local conference, Merritt Kellogg played formative roles in publishing, healthcare, and educational institutions—rounding out his influence on every arena of Adventist mission.

Conclusion
Here in the West, we owe Merritt Gardner Kellogg our thanks each time we worship at an Adventist church or visit an Adventist hospital or attend an Adventist school or read a publication like this one. He lit the torch that burns here today.

I will share more of his story in next month’s issue. For now, let us resolve to carry that torch and fan its flame. Let the light of this beautiful Adventist faith shine as brightly as it did in Merritt’s day.
_____________________________________
James Wibberding is Professor of Applied Theology and Biblical Studies at Pacific Union College

  • 1
    John N. Loughborough, “Sketches of the Past—No. 139,” Pacific Union Recorder, vol. 12, no. 47 (June 19, 1913), pp. 2-3.
  • 2
    Harold Oliver McCumber, Pioneering the Message in the Golden West (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1946), p. 34.
  • 3
    James L. Huston, The Panic of 1857 and the Coming of the Civil War (Baton Rouge, LA: LSU Press, 1999), pp. 14-24.
  • 4
    “1800-1860: Business and the Economy: Overview,” Encyclopedia.com (accessed December 2020).
  • 5
    Merritt Gardner Kellogg, Notes Concerning the Kelloggs (Battle Creek, MI: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1927), p. 51.
  • 6
    Kellogg, Notes Concerning the Kelloggs, pp. 10-11.
  • 7
    Kellogg, Notes Concerning the Kelloggs, pp. 19-20.
  • 8
    Richard W. Schwartz, John Harvey Kellogg: Pioneering Health Reformer, Adventist Pioneer Series, George R. Knight, ed. (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 2006).
  • 9
    “Corn Flakes King to Make Home in State,” Healdsburg Tribune (July 2, 1925), p. 4.
  • 10
    Kellogg, Notes Concerning the Kelloggs, pp. 53-59.
  • 11
    McCumber, p. 34.
  • 12
    Kellogg, Notes Concerning the Kelloggs, p. 63.
  • 13
    McCumber, pp. 35-36.
  • 14
    Kellogg, Notes Concerning the Kelloggs, p. 90.
  • 15
    Robert L. Brown, The Great Pikes Peak Gold Rush (Caldwell, ID: Caxton Press, 1985).
  • 16
    Kellogg, Notes Concerning the Kelloggs, pp. 77-82.
  • 17
    Loughborough, “Sketches of the Past—No. 139,” p. 3.
  • 18
    John N. Loughborough, The Great Second Advent Movement: Its Rise and Progress (Nashville, TN: Southern Pub. Assn., 1905).
  • 19
    Schwartz, p. 16.
  • 20
    191. Dr. Merritt G. Kellogg. Database on-line. Center for Adventist Research Image Database. http://centerforadventistresearch.org/photos (accessed Dec. 2, 2020).
  • 21
    McCumber, p. 52.
  • 22
    John N. Loughborough, Miracles in My Life: Autobiography of Adventist Pioneer J. N. Loughborough (College Place, WA: Heritage Publications), pp. 42-43.
  • 23
    Loughborough, Miracles in My Life, p. 43.
  • 24
    Ibid.
  • 25
    Merritt Gardner Kellogg, The Way of Life: From Paradise Lost to Paradise Restored (Battle Creek, MI: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1873).
  • 26
    Loughborough, Miracles in My Life, p. 51.
  • 27
    J. J. Wessels, “California Medical Missionary and Benevolent Association Annual Report of Manager,” Pacific Union Recorder, vol. 13, no. 35 (April 2, 1914), p. 1.
  • 28
    Wessels, p. 2.
  • 29
    Sydney Brownsberger, “Healdsburg Academy,” Signs of the Times, vol. 8, no. 17 (April 27, 1882), p. 199-200.
  • 30
    “Healdsburg School,” Signs of the Times, vol. 8, no. 26 (July 13, 1882), p. 307.
  • 31
    M. G. Kellogg to W. C. White, May 29, 1906.

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