Magazine Article

J. N. Loughborough

Last of the Adventist pioneers

Brian Strayer
J. N. Loughborough
J. N. Loughborough Photo courtesy of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Archives.

In 1832 John Loofborough was born in Victor, New York. When John was 7, his father died, and his mother sent him to live with his grandparents. John attended a Presbyterian school where he learned to “eat slow and chew your food fine.” His interest in diet would later lead him to write many articles on health topics. He also developed a love of astronomy that would inspire him to paint “wonders of the heavens” charts of God’s end-time heavenly signs. 

As a boy, however, John felt he was predestined to hell. The Millerite movement delivered him from that fear, only to be replaced by taunting neighbors when October 22, 1844, passed. John secretly read his Bible in the coal shed and, in 1848, he was baptized into the Advent Christian Church in the Erie Canal. In Rochester, New York, he met Mary Walker, a seamstress. On October 14, 1851, they were married, and he changed his name from Loofborough to Loughborough. 

Ministry Begins

John found many Bible texts confusing and made a list of them. Then on September 26, 1852, he attended an Adventist meeting and heard J. N. Andrews explain every text on his list in the order he had written them. This and other miraculous events led John to join the Sabbatarian Adventists. He began preaching with Hiram Edson in New York and Pennsylvania, then joined James and Ellen White for an evangelistic tour of Michigan. James White ordained him in 1853, and for three months M. E. Cornell and Loughborough preached in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Indiana. In fact, in 1854 Loughborough and Cornell were the first preachers to use a tent for evangelistic meetings. Unafraid to innovate, John was also the first Adventist preacher to sell tracts at his meetings.

In 1857 he and Mary moved into a home in Battle Creek provided by Adventist friends. Here Teresa was born in 1858 and Delmer in 1864 (Teresa would die only two years later, in 1860). The 1860s saw Loughborough organize local churches and conferences in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Illinois, and he helped write the General Conference constitution in 1863. Loughborough was also auditor of the publishing association, president of the Michigan Conference, and a General Conference officer during the 1860s. 

Following Ellen White’s 1863 health reform vision, John and Mary gave up meat and salty, sweet, and greasy foods, becoming model health reformers. John later helped organize the Health Reform Institute and start its journal, the Health Reformer.

In 1867, after 16 years of marriage, Mary had a bad fall and died. “Oh! How lonely!” John lamented in his diary. Soon he met a brunette named Maggie Newman, and two weeks after their wedding John, Maggie, Delmer, and baby Mary left New York City for a 6,000-mile voyage to San Francisco. At the time the West Coast of the United States was considered a mission field.

On the Mission Field

During his 10 years in California (1868-1878) Loughborough started the California Missionary and Tract Society; sponsored Sabbath school conventions; and organized quarterly music conventions.

When his second wife, Maggie, died of tuberculosis early in 1875, leaving behind three young children, John began courting Annie Driscoll, secretary-treasurer of the Pacific Publishing Association. On December 7, 1875, James White married them and told them he wanted them to open a mission in England. The Loughboroughs sailed from Boston in November 1878.

At Southampton, Loughborough and William Ings held meetings while Annie and the children settled in Stanley Cottage. In three months they preached scores of sermons, visited 300 families, and distributed thousands of Signs of the Times to ships in the harbor. In addition, they gave Bible studies, started a Sunday school for children, and established a Sabbath school at Ravenswood mansion. 

By 1883 Loughborough and his associates had established three churches with 70 Adventist members. The British Tract and Missionary Society was mailing thousands of Signs of the Times magazines and placing literature on hundreds of ships. That year the General Conference decided to bring the Loughboroughs home.

Upon their return they settled in Oakland, California. Ellen White and Loughborough preached at camp meetings across California, Washington, and Oregon. Church leaders also sent him across the United States to share his early experiences. In 1892 he wrote Rise and Progress of the Seventh-day Adventists, the first history of the church. 

 In 1896 the church sent him on a preaching tour of Europe. He traveled 19,000 miles across England, Sweden, Norway, Germany, Switzerland, and Denmark, preaching 270 sermons to 16 language groups, attending 370 meetings, and making 76 home visits. In the late 1890s John and Annie spent 15 months in Europe, where he preached at meetings in England, Ireland, Wales, France, Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland.   

Retirement Years

At their home in Oakland the Loughboroughs raised Rhode Island Reds and collies, and planted a vegetable garden. John loved sharing stories with students at church schools, academies, and Healdsburg College, and addressing the patients at St. Helena Sanitarium. He also enjoyed buggy rides, exploring caves, and attending picnics. In 1905 he completed The Great Second Advent Movement, which Missionary Volunteer members studied to earn the Standard of Achievement Award in Adventist history.

When John was 72, he and Annie built a house in Mountain View, California, but Mary died only two years later, on May 31, 1907, of pericarditis. John continued working in the garden, visiting museums, taking automobile rides, and reading 21 papers everyweek!

Although he had retired in 1895, he remained active. When he was 76, the General Conference sent John on a tour of Fiji, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, England, Switzerland, and France. He also typed comprehensive indexes to 18 of Ellen White’s books and made a list of 104 fulfilled predictions she made.

John moved into a room on the fifth floor of St. Helena Sanitarium in 1916. He hiked the mountains near St. Helena daily, fed the birds at his birdfeeder, gathered acorns for the deer, and attended band concerts. But recognizing his days were numbered, he planned his funeral. He would be buried in his Prince Albert suit with a red rose in his right hand and over his heart the motto “My trust is in Christ, the rose of Sharon.” 

He died on April 7, 1924, and was buried in St. Helena Cemetery between Maggie and Annie (Mary lies in Battle Creek). He awaits the call of the Life-giver on that great Second Advent morning he had written so much about for 70 years.

Brian Strayer

Brian Strayer is professor emeritus of history at Andrews University. To read more about John Loughborough, visit