Daniel R. Palmer was a prosperous shopkeeper noted for generous support of the Adventist movement.
Born in 1817 in Sodus, Wayne County, New York, Palmer helped on the family farm as a youth and worked as a blacksmith.
He married Abigail Wilmoth (1823-1902) and they had three children: Albert (died at age two), Adelaide (b. 1849), and Emory (b. 1853). Dan moved his family to Jackson, Michigan, where he and his brother Joshua opened a blacksmith and carriage shop. Dan and Abigail accepted the Millerite message that Christ’s coming would occur on October 22, 1844. When that date passed, the Palmers formed a study group in their home, attended by nine former Millerites.
In July 1849, Joseph Bates (1792-1872), acting on a dream he had received while preaching in South Bend, Indiana, took a stagecoach to Jackson. When Bates asked the proprietor of the boarding house if there were any former Millerites in town, the man directed Bates to Palmer’s blacksmith shop. While Daniel was working at his anvil and forge, Bates gave him Bible studies on the Sabbath, Sanctuary, and Second Coming of Christ. Palmer then invited Bates into his home, and by the end of the following week, Bates had baptized fifteen converts. In August they formed the first Sabbath-keeping Adventist congregation in the Midwest.
One of two prosperous blacksmiths in the Jackson church (Heman S. Gurney was the other), Dan Palmer became the congregation's largest donor to the Adventist cause. Between 1851 and 1857, he donated over $250 to the cause, about 63% of the total funds given by the Jackson church.
In 1853 Palmer and three other men paid all the expenses for J. N. Loughborough (1832-1924) and Merritt E. Cornell (1827-1893) to go on a two-month preaching tour through Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin. For decades, the Palmers boarded nearly all the traveling ministers who came through Jackson. Joseph Bates, J. N. Loughborough, and James (1821-1881) and Ellen White (1827-1915) frequently stayed in their home, and Dan typically handed each preacher a five dollar gold piece.
James White called Palmer one of the “brethren here who feel that they are the Lord’s stewards…to help sustain the cause with their means.”1 The Palmers donated the land for the building of the first three meetinghouses in Jackson in the spring of 1854, in 1890, and again in 1911. Likewise, Dan joined three other men in giving $200 each to purchase the first evangelistic tent used by Loughborough and Cornell in Battle Creek in 1854. In 1855 Palmer donated $300 to erect the Review and Herald press building in Battle Creek.
Recognizing his financial acumen, leaders appointed Palmer to the Review and Herald Finance Committee (1855), the Michigan Finance Committee (1857), and the Missionary Book Fund Committee (1859) to provide money for tent evangelists. In 1859 Palmer gave another $400 to the Review and Herald press, saying, “I must have an investment in that.”2 In addition, he and Abigail provided free subscriptions to the Review for those who could not afford one; helped Moses Hull (1836-1907) buy a home in Iowa; and assisted B. F. Snook in publishing one of his tracts. In 1870 Palmer sent $100 to Adventist missionary Michael Belina Czechowski (1818-1876) to assist him in his work in central Europe. Two years later, he gave another $100 to help the California Mission purchase a power press for what would become Pacific Press Publishing Association.
Besides being the clerk of the Jackson Adventist Church for decades, during the 1870s, Palmer served on the General Conference Executive Committee, the Michigan Conference nominating committee, the Western Health Reform Institute board (forerunner of Battle Creek Sanitarium), and the Michigan Conference Auditing Committee. For many years, district and quarterly (communion) services were held in the parlor of the Palmer home.
When he retired from blacksmithing at the age of 60, Dan Palmer told Jackson church treasurer T. P. Butcher: “I have given more to the cause than all I am worth [today], and I would like to see a little one horse blacksmith that has prospered more than I have.”3 In 1877 the Palmers converted the Spalding family of Brooklyn, Michigan, whose son, Arthur W. Spalding (1877-1953), would grow up to write many well-known books on the history of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. As he grew older, Dan Palmer became still more generous. In 1877-78 he joined the top donor group of those who gave $1.20 a week to erect the Dime Tabernacle. In 1891 the Palmers contributed $1000 for the James White Memorial Home for the Aged in Battle Creek, and Dan served on its board of trustees. Altogether, over half a century, the Palmers gave over $8000 to advance the cause of Adventism.
Dan Palmer died January 18, 1896 at 79 years of age, leaving behind his wife Abigail, 74 years old, his son Emory, seven grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. So highly respected was he among Jackson’s citizens that Adventist, Baptist, and Congregationalist pastors officiated at his funeral. Abigail died in November 1902 at 79 years of age, and was buried beside her husband in what is today the Roman Catholic section of Woodlawn Cemetery on Francis Street in Jackson. Their tombstone has an open Bible carved on its top with Genesis 2:2-3 and Exodus 20:8-10 (the seventh-day Sabbath) etched into its surface.
Between 1850 and 1897, Daniel R. Palmer’s generous philanthropic giving advanced the cause of Adventism in Jackson, in Michigan, throughout the Midwest, across the United States, and even in Europe. In addition, his financial acumen benefited the church through his service on numerous local, conference, General Conference, and institutional boards.
Michigan. Jackson, Ward 4. 1870 United States Census. Image: 259844.
Knight, George. Joseph Bates: The Real Founder of Seventh-day Adventism. Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 2004.
“Palmer, Dan R.” Denis Fortin and Jerry Moon, eds. The Ellen G. White Encyclopedia. Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 2013.
Schwarz, Richard W. John Harvey Kellogg: Pioneering Health Reformer. Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 2006.
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Spalding, Arthur W. Origin and History of Seventh-day Adventists. Volume 1. Washington, DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1961.
Spalding, Arthur W. 1962. Origin and History of Seventh-day Adventists. Volume 2. Washington, DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1962.
Strayer, Brian E. “Advent Waymarks in Jackson (Michigan), 1849-1999.” Unpublished typed manuscript. Center for Adventist Research. James White Library. Andrews University, 1999.
Strayer, Brian E. “Blacksmith on the Battle Ground.” Typed 10-page manuscript in the author’s possession, 1989.
Strayer, Brian E. John Byington: First General Conference President, Circuit-Riding Preacher, and Radical Reformer. Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 2017.
White, Arthur W. Ellen G. White, Volume 1: The Early Years, 1827-1862. Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1985.
White, James. “Western Tour.” ARH, June 9, 1853.