John Byington

First General Conference 



October 8, 1798 - January 7, 1887 

     John Byington was a Methodist circuit rider before he became a Seventh-day Adventist preacher. He was also a vigorous opponent of slavery and his home was said to have been a station on the old underground railroad that offered shelter for slaves who escaped from the South and sought their freedom. He did not accept the Seventh-day Adventist message until he was past fifty. Then he became a vigorous preacher of the truth. He helped organize one of the first Seventh-day Adventist churches, in Buck's Bridge, New York. He was a practical man and helped to build several early Seventh-day Adventist churches.  

     In May, 1863, representatives of the Sabbath-keeping Adventists were sent to Battle Creek for the first General Conference Session. Twenty delegates came, representing six conferences. An executive committee of three was named. Elder John Byington, on May 21, was chosen the first president of the General Conference. 

     The church in Buck's Bridge, where Byington made his home, was built in 1855, the same year the first church was built in Battle Creek. But the Buck's Bridge church was probably built earlier. It was not a large church, about twenty by thirty feet with a fifteen-foot extension in the rear. The foundation stones, scattered but still lying on the scene, testify to the beautiful situation of this old, historic landmark.  

     The Buck's Bridge church school was apparently started in the year 1854. This church school was founded two years before the first elementary church school in Battle Creek. John's daughter, Martha, taught this school. She married George Amadon, who was well known at the Review and Herald in Battle Creek as a foreman and a printer. Byington lived to see the church he helped to establish become a missionary church with a work begun on several continents. He died when he was 88 years old. 

Interesting Facts About John Byington

     We do not have much information about John Byington. We know that he was elderly in comparison with the younger workers like John Andrews, Uriah Smith, John Loughborough, Myron Cornell, Stephen Haskell, George Butler, James White, Ellen White, etc. 

     In the early days of our church there was a trio of venerable pioneers who were older in years and much respected. They were Hiram Edson, John Byington, and Joseph Bates. These men were benign, vigorous leaders and counselors.  

     In 1857 John Byington moved from New York to Michigan. He did evangelistic work, criss-crossing the country with horse and buggy. People would say, "No one knows Michigan like John Byington." 

     He was a courageous man. We see him joining the James Whites at Round Grove, Illinois, and calling a conference of believers there in November, 1856. He brought strength to the Whites who were journeying through to Waukon, Iowa, in bad weather, there to recover several ministers who had become discouraged. 

     His son, John F. Byington, taught church school in Battle Creek in 1860 and became a physician. In fact, he and Dr. H. S. Lay were the first physicians of the Western Health Reform Institute, our first Seventh-day Adventist medical institution.   

     A great granddaughter, Mrs. F. F. Oster, served in the Middle East with valor. (See Christ's Last Legion, pages 460, 461-2) The missionary blood of the rugged Methodist circuit rider, who became and Adventist preacher, came down through the fourth generation.


From Bro. Bates

     DEAR BRO. WHITE: - I arrived home on the 12th, after an absence of three months, and found my family well. Thanks to God for his preserving care of us, in these perilous times.  

     My last, (published in No. 17,) was from Buck's Bridge, St. Lawrence Co., N. Y. The conference there was held at the house of Bro. John Byington, who but a short time since was a Wesleyan Methodist Preacher. After an examination of the third angel's message, [Rev.xiv,9-12,] himself and all his family have volunteered to stand for the long neglected and trodden down Sabbath of the Lord our God. The meeting was a blessing to God's dear children, others listened with candor. One brother, who had been examining the Sabbath question for several months, took a decided stand.

February 3, 1853 JWe, ARSH 151

     BRO. J. Byington writes from Buck's Bridge, N. Y., Jan. 7th, 1853: - "I would say that we are trying to keep our faces set for the land of rest. I feel clear as to the truth of the Sabbath, and am also satisfied that keeping the Sabbath cannot save us, unless other duties, and self-denial are attended to in their place, and that nothing can be done right unless we have help from God. The apostles labored to have men leave their sins by repentance, and to walk with God in meekness, and this by the power of the Spirit.  

     Several have embraced the Sabbath truth here of late. I think the good work is on the advance. It does us good to hear from brethren abroad. I hope they will not only write of their joys, but of their trials also; then we can the better pray for one another."

January 20, 1853 JWe, ARSH 143

From Bro. Byington

DEAR BRO. WHITE: - Bro. Pennoyer and myself attended meeting last Sabbath and First-day in Bangor where Bro. Lawrence resides, who has labored hard to keep the seed of truth alive in that place, and not without effect.  

     The church there, though small, have the truth at heart. They are building upon the rock of present truth and holiness, and I believe, will succeed. Six were baptized, all of them but one having recently been converted, under a conviction of the present truth, and were children of believing parents. Truth is mighty and will prevail. Our meeting was a good one. The ordinances were administered, and all felt that God, by his Spirit, was with us. There were some present, who for the first time, confessed the Sabbath truth, and who, I think, will soon keep it.


     Buck's Bridge, N. Y., June 6th, 1853.  

June 23, 1853 JWe, ARSH 23

     POTTSDAM CONFERENCE. This meeting was held at the house of Bro. John Byington. A convenient shade was prepared in front of the house where about three hundred persons could be seated. This, with Bro. B's house, was sufficient to convene a large congregation. It was an excellent place for the worship of God.

September 13, 1853 JWe, ARSH 84

     There were about eighty brethren and sisters present. Two sisters came sixty-five miles, and felt abundantly paid for the fatigue of the long journey with their private carriage. The congregation on First-day was large, considering the bitter opposition in the vicinity, who listened to the word with good attention. 

     We were happy to meet Brn. Andrews and Edson at this meeting. Being much fatigued by labor and want of suitable hours of sleep before we left Rochester, and also by the journey, we were unprepared to speak to the people; but by the blessing of God, Bro. Andrews spoke to them with clearness and liberty. We were delighted with his discourses. The congregation was held in perfect order and silence, and the scattered saints feasted on the bread of heaven.    

     The evening following First-day, the meeting was moved about two miles to the Wesleyan Meeting-house in Morley. The Spirit of God seemed to go with us. As the people were coming in, the brethren sung with the Spirit and understanding also. The place was heavenly. God's Spirit rested down upon us. Bro. Andrews then gave an excellent discourse from Titus ii,13. He spoke with freedom of the "blessed hope" and of the period when it would be realized. The congregation was large and attentive.   

     Hitherto there has been the greatest prejudice against our views in the minds of the people in that vicinity; but it is evidently giving way; and we believe that a blow has been struck that will hereafter tell for the cause in that community. Some for the first time confessed the truth, and others, we trust, will soon.

September 13, 1853 JWe, ARSH 84, 85

     BRO. MATLACK: - Will you permit me, through the Wesleyan, to address a few lines to your correspondent, J. M., of Cleveland, Ohio.   

     DEAR BROTHER: - Feeling a deep interest in your communications in the Wesleyan, on the moral law of God, leads me to address these few lines to you. And as I am a stranger, perhaps you will indulge me in a brief statement of my past experience. My father, Justus Byington, was converted under the labors of Lorenzo Dow, in Vermont, about the year 1800. He soon became a traveling preacher in the M. E. Church, where he remained until the P. M. Church was formed, with which he became connected, and remained until his death.  

     I was converted at the age of eighteen. Soon became a member of the M. E. Church - for many years was a class-leader and exhorter in the church - felt much interest in building Meeting-houses, and Parsonage-houses, thinking that when this was accomplished, religion would be prosperous. But being satisfied that this church, by her traditions and her Slavery, made the commandments of God of none effect, I sought a home in the Wesleyan Church. Here I have found many faithful and tried spirits. Some have gone to rest; others I hope will keep the narrow way, cost what it will.     For some time past, I have thought much of the word of prophecy concerning that Man of sin, spoken of by Daniel and St. Paul, which to a great extent has now become history. You have been particular in exposing the errors of Popery which relate to the three first items of the Decalogue. On the fourth commandment you remark: "The introduction of saints' days and festivals has tended to reduce the Christian Sabbath to a day of amusement and dissipation." Now on this subject will you permit a few plain questions, which I hope you will be free to answer.  

     Was not the first day of the week, which is now called the Christian Sabbath, first introduced into the church as a holiday, while the seventh day, the Sabbath, was still held sacred?  

     As corruption increased, and Church and State united, and the Man of sin continued his work, was it not then that laws were made to observe the first day as holy time, and, of course, to tread down the seventh-day, the Bible Sabbath? 

     Do not Romans tell us, Protestants are inconsistent, while they profess the Bible to be the only rule of practice, and yet have nothing but the tradition of the church for the first day as holy time? 

     Is it consistent to call Sunday the Sabbath?  

     Will you give us the origin of the name, Sunday, as attached to the first day of the week?  

     Do we learn from the word of God of any other day being hallowed, blessed and set apart as a weekly Sabbath, but the seventh day? 

     However trying it may be to flesh and blood, when the word of God is brought to us, must we not obey it?

Respectfully yours, JOHN BYINGTON.

Buck's Bridge, N. Y., Apr. 21st, 1853.    

    P. S. BRO. MATLACK: - If you will give these few lines a place in the Wesleyan, please do it soon, and you may be as particular as you please in placing the responsibility upon myself. J. B.

December 20, 1853 JWe, ARSH 188

From Bro. Byington

     TO THE SAINTS SCATTERED ABROAD:- Our heavenly Father says to us, "Be ye holy; for I am holy." We have no confidence that the traditions of our fathers, or creeds of men, will ever accomplish this work. It must be done through the agency of the Holy Spirit applying the sanctifying power of truth to our hearts, and to all our lives. We profess faith in the Son of God, and also to walk as he walked. But are we careful to know that God means all he says in his Holy Word? Without me, says Jesus, ye can do nothing. If so, we should always be looking unto him by earnest prayer, till our hearts melt and humbly bow before the Lord. Does the rule our Saviour has given us, [Matt.xii,36,] govern us in all our conversation? Please turn to it and read it. Add to this our Saviour's words, "Let your yea be yea, and your nay, nay; for whatsoever is more than these, cometh of evil." Oh how much evil is done by jesting, foolish-talking, and evil-speaking, and the pride of life! Dear brethren, do we escape this snare of the Devil?  

     Milo Stowe, of Weybridge, in writing to a brother here, (who is somewhat convicted by the present truth,) says: "The seventh-day people are as proud as members of other churches." Will Bro. Everts, or some other brother ask Mr. Stowe where he discovers pride among us. By so doing we may convince him of his wrong, or be led to see our own; and if so, confess our faults by forsaking them. We must walk humbly before God and exemplary before the world.   

     Have any of us thought it is very convenient to have our paper sent to us free, without considering the burden those have had to bear who send it? There are the worthy poor, and I am glad they can have the paper free; but let us remember there is an honest claim on us here if we can consistently meet it. Every half-dollar spent for needless articles of dress, tea, tobacco, etc., could be put to a better use. Dear brethren, let us think of these things; and then let these words be written on our hearts: "Be ye holy; for I am holy." JOHN BYINGTON.  

Buck's Bridge, N. Y., Jan. 4th, 1854.  

January 24, 1854 JWe, ARSH 7


     From Bro. Byington

     DEAR BRO. SMITH: I spent the last Sabbath and First-day at Norfolk, St. Lawrence Co., N. Y. Brn. Bates and Phillips held a few meetings there, on their way east, which were not without good effect. Just as they left, they visited brother Edson Dow, whose wife for some months has been on a bed of sickness, and some of the time given up to die. She had become a little more comfortable, but unable to walk. But in answer to prayer, she was enabled to rise from her bed and walk the house, and with a strong voice pray and praise God. She rode a mile and a half to the place of our meeting on the Sabbath, took part in the meeting, and on her return found an increase of strength of body and mind. I trust the blessings with which the church have been favored in Norfolk the week past, will move them to greater union and faithfulness in the work of God. Brother Lawrence also was present at these meetings, and is doing all he can in the cause of truth. I would say to those dear brethren in different places in Mich., with whom I have met the Fall and Winter past, and had sweet seasons of refreshing that I have not forgotten them, but would be glad to meet with them again if the Lord will. If we meet no more here, I hope we may meet on Mt. Zion, where the weary will be at rest.  


Morley, March 29th, 1858.

April 15, 1858 UrSe, ARSH 176


John Byington

     IT IS but a dot on the map now, it never was much more than a long right-angling street, and its bucolic name would have shut it off from the distinction of a metropolis; but for us it has the romance of first things. There was built the first Seventh-day Adventist church; there was begun our first church school; there lived the man who became the first president of the General Conference. Buck's Bridge! north side of New York State, near the Canadian border, in the elbow of lazy Grass River.  

     We came to Buck's Bridge in the fading light of a spent September afternoon. It was a hard place to find on the map, or to find maps that had it-only one of three in our possession and that in the smallest type, at a little round circle like the period some querulous penmen make. We had driven up from the lower reaches of the State, across the northern corner of the beautiful Adirondacks, and caught the cast-west road at Malone. A few miles toward the sunset, and we were at West Bangor, for a short visit with Miss Emma Lawrence, daughter of a pioneer, Elder Horace W. Lawrence, a man of faith and power. He accepted the truth in March, 1852, in Bangor, which was our first church up here, and which still remains. He preached the message; he raised up churches; he healed the sick through prayer; he put his hands on the heads of boys like Charlie Lewis and Frank Wilcox, destined for great service. Regretfully we left Miss Emma and her nieces, and went on to Madrid. Three miles beyond lies Buck's Bridge. 

     John Byington was a Methodist minister when he accepted the Seventh-day Adventist faith in May, 1852, under the labors of George W. Holt and Hiram Edson. 94 He is reported then by Holt and, the next year, by James White, to have been living in Potsdam, 95 which is some ten miles southeast; but Amadon, in Byington's obituary, says that he accepted the faith while living in Buck's Bridge, 97 he himself writes from Buck's Bridge on January 7, 1853  and White says that the town of Motley was about two miles from Byington's house, which would be true of Buck's Bridge but not of the town of Potsdam. Joseph Bates, in January, 1853, reports a meeting at Buck's Bridge, where "The conference . . . was held in the home of Brother John Byington, who but a short time since was a Wesleyan Methodist preacher. After an examination of the third angel's message, himself and all his family have volunteered to stand for the long neglected and trodden-down Sabbath of the Lord our God."  

     It would appear, then, that all reference to his residence in Potsdam means the community of Buck's Bridge in the township of Potsdam, and that he lived all the time at the little town. His home at Buck's Bridge was just around the corner from the Methodist church, where the road turns sharply to go to Motley; but his house is there no more-there is only a field. There are, in fact, but a dozen houses in the village, and they are nearly all farm houses. But a hundred years ago it was more populous; and while we must not suppose that all the Seventh-day Adventist church members of that time lived in the village, there were half a hundred or more of them. Emma Lawrence told us her father brought forty into the Buck's Bridge church at one time. But the first company evidently grew up around John Byington.

     So many old landmarks have melancholy associations of thought; but this we could make no wailing wall. Perhaps it was the cheerful aura of Mr. Clayton Haley, and also the very friendly attitude of the nearer neighbors; anyway, despite the rain and the meager photographic results, we felt a glow of good cheer as we contemplated the spot where the first General Conference president built the first Seventh-day Adventist church. Of course he did not become president for a dozen years after that. There was no General Conference and no general church organization in the 50's.  

1947 AWS, FOPI 129-131

     Another first was the first church school, apparently started in the year 1854. This was prior to the great general church school movement by forty-three years; it was two years before the first elementary church school in Battle Creek. This Buck's Bridge school was taught by Martha Byington, John's daughter, who afterward married George Amadon. He, as a boy, left the towpath of the Erie Canal, to enter on apprenticeship in the little Review and Herald office at Rochester, New York, and he went on with it to Battle Creek, where he became a foreman, a deacon, a key worker in Sabbath school and church, a man of deep piety and happy memories. Mrs. Martha Amadon also furnishes us reminiscences of Sister White and other early workers. 

     Whether the school was held in the church, or elsewhere, no one tells us. The tiny church might contain the congregation, well packed in, but it would hardly seem adequate for a school full of children. And remember, those Buck's Bridge people "had a lot of children." We do not know how many pupils Miss Martha had, nor how long the school continued, but it was the first. John Byington, with his family, removed to Michigan in 1858. Buck's Bridge church continued for many years, but evidently, according to the testimony of Mr. Haley, it had ceased to exist in the early 1900's.

     We crossed the bridge, too, to look at the "baptizing place." Across a rail fence, the meadow slopes gradually down to the still waters; and through the misty rain we beheld as it were a great company assembled, standing on the gentle slope, the townspeople mingled with the church members, to watch the candidates-children, youth, and new converts-going down into the water to be buried with their Lord in baptism, while the congregation sang:

"I will follow Thee, my Savior," and

"Just as I am without one plea," and

"Shall we gather at the river?"

Where bright angel feet have trod,

With its crystal tide forever

Flowing by the throne of God?

"Yes, we'll gather at the river,

The beautiful, the beautiful river;

Gather with the saints at the river

That flows by the throne of God."

 1947 AWS, FOPI 135-137