God’s Beautiful Farm



           How it All Began

     On a peaceful day in June 1904, Edward Alexander Sutherland and Ellen White, along with two of Mrs. White’s sons, boarded the steamboat Morning Star to travel down the Cumberland River. Their mission was twofold: (1) to find a suitable location for a training school for young black workers, and (2) to find a site for the training of the white young people in the area. The latter mission was led by Sutherland and his college friend Percy Magan.

     As the steamboat neared the area of the Ferguson-Nelson farm, a site which had been considered for the training school, the boat’s machinery began to sound strange. Mrs. White noticed where they were and suggested that they go look the land over one more time, while the boat was repaired. Sutherland was not interested. He had seen the land before, and to him it held no promise. But when Mrs. White insisted he finally gave in.

     As they approached the property, Mrs. White said that she recognized this as the place she had seen in vision for the training school. Amid the protests of both Sutherland and Magan, she urged them to purchase the place. The following day the two men hired a horse and buggy and drove out to the property. The two men surveyed the land. To them it looked like an unpromising rockpile. As they fell on their knees in prayer they felt courage pour into them. Never after did they doubt that the Lord was indeed leading them. Even though the price was much more than they had planned on spending, they put their faith in God and went forward.

     Purchasing the School

     The next step was to approach the Ferguson family for the purchase agreement and the contract. But from the start this was a struggle. The Ferguson’s, especially Mrs. Ferguson, were very much against northerners, Yankees, they called them. Percy Magan struggled and prayed with her and thought that he had finally made some headway, but a few hours later she was back to her stubborn attitude. Magan finally left, saying that he would be back until they got that farm.

     In the meantime, Sutherland was in the north when he received a telegraph from Magan saying that the he had better come down because he was running into difficulty. Before Sutherland arrived Magan had another meeting with the Fergusons, and got a verbal agreement for the purchase, after a raise in price. With Mrs. White’s encouragement, they decided to pay the extra, and finally were able to get Mrs. Ferguson to sign the papers.

     Starting the School

     When the school began, the Ferguson’s refused to immediately give the plantation house over to the new residents. So those that came before the fall of the year had to live in barns and other outbuildings, in less than comfortable surroundings.

     The servants’ quarters in the stable were dubbed ‘Probation Hall’. At one time or another almost everyone of the early faculty and students lived for a time in ‘Probation Hall’.

     Their diet was very simple because their funds were so limited. They ate primarily cornpone, buttermilk, or milktoast, but few complained. They endured with cheerfulness.

     Through all the hardships they grew to be a very close knit group—faculty and students. In the evenings they gathered in the parlor of the big plantation house to sit around the fireplace and discuss various topics. But throughout their conversations ran a consistent thread of dedication to the will of God.

     By the spring of 1905 there were fifteen students, but the school was running low on funds. However the school never turned anyone down because they lacked the money to come. A number one principle at Madison was self-support. Each student was required to work to pay their tuition. The buildings which were erected for the school, were built by faculty and students.

    The students followed a ‘One-Study’ plan of education. They devoted most of each day to one major subject. They students rotated through different lines of work until they received a well-rounded approach to many lines of work.

     Through all the progress that the school had made there was a cloud hanging overhead. Sutherland was troubled that a sanitarium had still not been started.

     The Sanitarium Work

     Finally, one wonderful day, Sister White came to visit Madison. She and all the faculty were having a picnic when Sister White commented that the spot where they were would be wonderful for a sanitarium. She told them to step out in faith and mark the spot, which they did.

     Before any of the sanitarium buildings could even be built, a businessman came from Nashville asking to be treated. The women protested that they had no facilities to treat him, but on his insistence they made makeshift quarters and agreed to treat him. As a result of their successful treatment of him, as well as their successful treatment of several smallpox cases, Madison Sanitarium gained a good reputation and soon it began to add substantially to the school’s income.

      Progressing the Lord’s Work

     One very important thing in Sutherland’s life was a vegetarian diet and he instituted one at Madison.

     He wanted to create a health-food factory on campus as well. A health-food factory had been established not far from the school when it first began, but the factory was not at all successful. Now Sutherland was very impressed to purchase the machinery from the unused factory. The factory that he started on the campus greatly prospered providing one more avenue for the school’s support.

     Several students who came to Madison went on to start small schools called ‘units’ in other areas of the south. Some of these schools still remain and prosper. Three students even went to Cuba and served there as missionaries for several years.

     Over the next several years Madison continued to grow and prosper. The Lord blessed them with many workers. One in particular, Mrs. Lida Scott gave over a million dollars, as well as herself, to the work of the ‘units’ across the south.

     In 1915 the death of Ellen White brought especial grief to the Sutherlands. They rested in the wonderful friendship they had shared with her, and the hope that they would soon meet again at Christ’s second coming.

     Over the next eighteen years the school climbed to accreditation as a senior college. Madison’s influence spread far and wide. Their orchards and vineyards were flourishing on the land that had been considered hopeless, providing food to eat and can for the school.

     In 1943 the school experienced the worst drought of anything since the school began. The faculty pled with the Lord and two days later the rain poured on the parched earth. They later found out that the rain was limited to the location right around the school. The rest of the surrounding area did not get relief for ten more days!


Stephanie Highsmith