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  • Writer's pictureSabrina Riley


After all of the time I spent on my Nantucket Origins post, I hadn't planned to write again so soon about my New England ancestors. Instead I planned to return to my Medical Cadet Corps research. As I develop my theoretical foundation for the MCC project, I'm exploring the roots of many Seventh-day Adventist pioneers and this research led me back to my own family in a surprising way.

My great-great-grandfather, Daniel Cornell Wood, was the nephew of Ezra Cornell (see Nantucket Origins). Knowing of this Cornell connection in my family tree, whenever I've seen the name Merritt E. Cornell in Adventist church history I've wondered if we were related but didn't think it was worth pursuing. But that all changed when I began looking at Cornell's family origins. In fact, with very little effort I discovered that he was descended from Thomas and Rebecca Briggs Cornell, believed to be the first Cornells in America. Those names immediately caught my interest because they were already in my family tree.

Merritt Eaton Cornell (1827-1893) was the eldest child of Isaac Cornell of New York. He and his wife Angeline became Sabbatarian Adventists in 1852 under the influence of Joseph Bates. In 1856 Merritt's brother Myron (who had married Angeline's sister Cornelia in 1853) became Sabbatarian Adventists as well. A third brother, James also joined the Adventists. All three brothers were acquainted with James and Ellen White, founders of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination. Myron in particular appears to have been a close friend of the Whites and was one of the first two local elders appointed by the congregation of the Battle Creek Tabernacle. Merritt, however, was the more prominent member of the family as a successful evangelist. Merritt along with John Loughborough held the first tent meetings in Battle Creek, Michigan. He also pioneered church work in Wisconsin, Iowa, and California. Merritt lived his final years in Battle Creek, Michigan where he died in 1893. James Cornell died in Boulder, Colorado in 1897. Myron lived until 1920, also in Battle Creek.

Daniel Wood and his first wife, Lydia Ann, became Adventists in early 1876 when they were baptized into the Alma, Michigan church. Lydia died of tuberculosis just a year later, on January 11, 1877. He later married Laura Maxine Travis (who died in 1885) and then Isabelle Johnson. Growing up, Grandma and Great-Aunt Maxine would talk about their Grandpa Wood being an elder in the church. Until recently, I though this simply met he was a local church elder (which he was for 30 years). But not long ago, I discovered that his name appears repeatedly in news of the business of the East Michigan Conference of Seventh-day Adventist. Obviously there was more to the story.

Although I'm unclear why, Wood held a missionary licentiate from the East Michigan Conference from 1906 to 1908, it may have been for his colporteuring activities as the Lake Union Herald in 1911 reported that "Daniel Wood and his wife of Alma are considering canvassing in their spare time during the summer." From 1908 to 1914, Wood held various positions associated with the East Michigan Conference, including a trustee for the East Michigan Conference Association, a member of the executive, auditing and nominating committees, and academy board member (most likely Adelphian Academy, a secondary boarding school operated by the Seventh-day Adventist). Wood was one of the conference delegates to the Lake Union Conference meeting in 1914 and to the General Conference Session in San Francisco, California in 1918.

It is entirely possible that at some point the paths of either Myron or Merritt Cornell and Daniel Wood crossed, but would they have known they were fifth cousins? Probably not. To find their common ancestor, one must go back five generations to my 7th great-grandparents, Stephen and Hannah Mosher Cornell of Newport County, Rhode Island.

Stephen Cornell's grandparents, Thomas and Rebecca Briggs Cornell immigrated to Massachusetts Bay Colony about 1638 as part of the Great Puritan Migration and during the heated conflict between Anne Hutchinson and the Bay Colony leaders. It's uncertain as to what influence Anne Hutchinson had on the Cornells before they moved to Rhode Island. Rebecca's brother John Briggs certainly was a follower of Hutchinson. And certainly they were all neighbors in Rhode Island and later New York. In the same Native American attack in which Hutchinson and members of her family died, the Cornells lost property although none of the family members were harmed.

Thomas died a natural death in February 1655 in Rhode Island, presumably still a Puritan. But that same year the first Quakers arrived in Rhode Island and Rebecca soon joined this new faith. Although her son, Thomas, Jr. did not join her in this religious conversion, her grandson Stephen (1656-1716) did. I'm discovering that a great many of my originally Puritan ancestors followed the paths of Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson out of Massachusetts to Rhode Island and later became Quakers. A trend which Eva LaPlante also notes, quoting Helen Campbell: "Becoming Quaker...was for many Hutchinsonians ' the natural ending'...because 'the heart of Anne Hutchinson's doctrine [was] a belief in the 'Inward Light'" (224).

Stephen Cornell's children are where the genealogy of my Cornell-Woods ancestors diverge from that of Merritt Cornell and his brothers. And yet there are important parallels. Both branches of the family moved west with the Yankee migration, first to New York and then Michigan. Both remained Quaker for several generations.

The Cornell-Wood branch of the family descends from Stephen and Hannah Mosher Cornell's son Stephen who married Ruth Pierce and lived in Swansea, Massachusetts. Stephen and Ruth's son Elijah married Sarah Miller, still in Swansea. While there was fluidity in residence and property ownership between Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New York (and even New Jersey for a few members of the family), it was the younger Elijah Cornell (1772-1862) who finally settled in New York upon his marriage to the Quakeress Eunice Barnard, thus introducing the origin of my Nantucket roots into the family. Their most famous son, Ezra, left the Quakers when he married. However, according to Bessie Eunice Packard, both the Cornells and Woods stayed with the Quakers until at least the next generation. Of my great-great-great grandparents James and Deborah Cornell Woods' children, son Corydon Wood "became a prominent minister in the United Brethren church (Packard, 7) after an aborted opportunity to attend Uncle Ezra's Cornell University. My own great-great grandfather, Daniel Wood was either not interested or not offered the opportunity for college, although other siblings were sponsored at Albion College (Michigan) as well as Cornell University. Daniel instead took up farming in Gratiot County and married Lydia Ann Johnson.

The Cornell brothers, Merritt, Myron, and James are descended from Stephen and Hannah's son William Cornell who married Mehitable Fish and settled in Dartmouth, Massachusetts. Their son Daniel married Elizabeth Allen also in Massachusetts, but sometime between 1751 and 1767 they moved to New York. Their son Zebulon was a Quaker minister. He married Ruth (last name unknown) and their son Joseph married Abigail Allen. Joseph and Abigail's son Isaac became the father of the Cornell brothers who are the subject of this post. Isaac moved his family to Michigan between 1832 and 1836 where they settled in Tyrone Township, Livingston Livingston County. This means they were much earlier arrivals than their distant cousin Daniel Wood who did not arrive with his parents until 1855.

While there are parallels in immigration pattern and religious experience, the towns in which they lived in each state, the timeframes for relocation, and the degree of relationship (fifth cousin) most likely preclude an awareness of a relationship if Daniel Wood and any of the Cornell brothers ever met.


Burkholder, H. H. and Tillie E. Barr. "East Michigan: Report of Conference Proceedings." Lake Union Herald. V. 4 No. 35 (August 28, 1912) 1-2.

Clark, A. J. "East Michigan Conference: General Conference." Lake Union Herald. V. 10 No. 13 (March 27, 1918) 6.

Cornell, Rhonda L. Legacy of the Cornell Family Name. Lexington, KY: [n. p.], 2014.

"East Michigan Conference." Lake Union Herald. V. 6 No. 26 (July 1, 1914) 4.

"East Michigan Conference: Camp-Meeting Assignments." Lake Union Herald. V. 6 No. 20 (May 26, 1914) 3.

Fortin, Denis and Jerry Moon, editors. The Ellen G. White Encyclopedia. Hagerstown, MD: Review & Herald, 2013.

Guthrie, William. "Delegates to Union Conference." Lake Union Herald. V. 6 No. 11 (March 18, 1914) 4.

Guthrie, William and Daniel Wood. "East Michigan Conference Association Meeting." Lake Union Herald. V. 6 No. 19 (May 13, 1914) 13.

Hiner, Frank. "East Michigan Conference." Lake Union Herald. V. 5 No. 41 (October 15, 1913) 12-14.

LaPlante, Eva. American Jezebel: The Uncommon Life of Anne Hutchinson, the Woman Who Defied the Puritans. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2004.

Nelson, F. "Obituary Notices." Advent Review and Sabbath Herald. V. 49 No. 6 (February 8, 1877) 47.

"News Notes." Lake Union Herald. V. 3 No. 15 (April 12, 1911) 6.

Packard, Bessie Eunice. The Edson and Eunice Cornell Packards. (December 1, 1945) [manuscript distributed to family members as a Christmas gift].

Russell, C. A. "Delegates in Attendance at Lake Union Conference." Lake Union Herald. V. 6 No. 19 (May 13, 1914) 1-10.

Seventh-day Adventist Yearbooks. General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research.

Slade, E. K. and E. I. Beebe. "East Michigan: Further Report of Conference Proceedings." Lake Union Herald V. 3 No. 39 (September 27, 1911) 5-6.

Summerville, T. M. "Wood [obituary]." Lake Union Herald. V. 16 No. 44 (November 5, 1924) 10.

Wood, Daniel. "Alma." Lake Union Herald. V. 4 No. 49 (December 4, 1912) 6.

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