John Byington was born on October 8, 1798, the sixth of ten children of Mr. and Mrs. Justus Byington of Hinesburg, Vermont. His father was a Methodist preacher and had served as a soldier in the Revolutionary War of Independence.
Most of his brothers and sisters made no profession of religion, so John had the responsibility for family worship from 12 years of age when his father was absent. Although he felt it a burden at the time, it was a help and blessing as a foundation in his religious experience.
John was baptized into the Methodist church shortly after his seventeenth birthday. Not long after he became one of the church leaders, and was given license to preach as a lay preacher. As a circuit riding pastor, he worked to support himself, rode, and preached, visiting homes of the needy in his district. Often there was greater need to supply for the physical than the spiritual.
At the age of twenty-one he suffered an almost complete collapse of health, and moved to New Haven, Connecticut, where he could be near relatives and have access to better medical help. Here he worked in the fishing industry for about three years as his health returned. When completely well, he moved back to Vermont and returned to circuit preaching and farming.
John was also very strongly an abolitionist, who actively assisted fugitive slaves along the famous Underground Railroad.
He married Mary Ferris in Vermont, and their first child, Caroline, was born in 1828. After Mary’s death, John moved to Buck’s Bridge, New York. There he married Catharine Newton from Vermont in 1830, and she was a real help-meet for John for 55 years. She gave birth to five children, the oldest being John Fletcher Byington, born in 1832. Martha was two years younger, and Teresa was born in 1837.
In 1844 he heard a Millerite sermon in Cleveland, Ohio, but was not overly impressed. Then In 1852, after reading a copy of the Review and Herald (now the Adventist Review) and attending his daughter Teresa’s funeral, at age 15, John made his decision to observe the seventh-day Sabbath.
Shortly afterward James and Ellen White visited his home. For three years he conducted Sabbath meetings in his home, then he erected and owned a church building on his property which was the first Seventh-day Adventist-built church.
In 1858 he moved to Battle Creek, Michigan and worked closely with James White and J. N. Andrews. In 1863 at the initial organization of the General Conference in Battle Creek, Michigan, he became the denomination’s first president. James White had initially been elected but declined the position.
During his term as president, 65 year old Byington visited the Adventists, held communion with them, encouraged those who had left the church to rejoin, gave public lectures, baptized new members, and organized Sabbath Schools. He spent time visiting, encouraging, preaching, giving of himself and of his means generously, he supported himself and others by selling home-churned butter, farm produce, and even fitting dentures when necessary. At the end of his term of office, he returned to his farm, but he continued to visit the churches and the members.
When John was 80 years of age, Catharine was still helping him get in loads of hay. When he was 82, they moved to Battle Creek to live with their daughter Martha, taking along their horse, cow, and chickens. At 86, he was still milking and taking the milk to the neighbors. He helped mow the neighbors’ grass, using it for feed for his horse and cow! He continued to do chores on the farm until his wife passed away of pneumonia at the age of 82, two years before his death at age 89 (he passed away January 7, 1887).
If we follow this example of godliness practiced on a lifelong daily basis, we also can have lives of peace and victory, and at last, claim with him the testimony he picked for his funeral address, “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with Me in My throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with My Father in His throne.” Revelation 3:21