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John Humphrey Noyes—founder of the utopian Oneida Community: “ The whole world seems to be looking for a Revolution. Some expect an orthodox Millennium; others a golden age of phrenology; others still, a psychological regeneration of the human race; and not a few are awaiting, in anxious or hopeful suspense, the trump of the Second Advent, and the day of judgment .” John Humphrey Noyes, The Berean , 52.
From 1840 onwards, Millerism was transformed from an “obscure, regional movement into a national campaign.” Richard L. Rogers, "Millennialism and American Culture: The Adventist Movement," Comparative Social Research 13 (1991): 110. The key figure in this transformation was Joshua V. Himes—the pastor of Chardon Street Chapel in Boston, and an able and experienced publisher. Though Himes did not fully accept Miller’s ideas until 1842, he established the fortnightly paper Signs of the Times to publicize them. The first edition was published on February 28, 1840, with Himes as editor, and was probably intended as a single issue.
The printers, Dow & Jackson, saw a business opportunity in the paper and proposed to continue printing issues, assuming all financial risk, if Himes continued as editor and furnished the content. Himes agreed, and the February 28 issue was reissued dated March 20, issues were then published on the first and third Wednesdays of every month. It continues to be published by the SDA Church as a monthly evangelistic magazine under the same name. (The name was changed to the Advent Herald —first issue dated February, 14, 1844. On June 4, 1874, under the editorship of James White; the name reverted to Signs of the Time .)
Periodical literature played a very important part in the rapid and widespread dissemination of Millerite beliefs. “From first to last the power of the press, in this particular form, was one of the foremost factors in the success of this now vigorous, expanding movement.” Le Roy Edwin Froom, The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers Volume IV , 4 vols. (Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1954), 621. In addition to the Signs of the Times based in Boston, Millerite papers were published numerous cities including New York, Philadelphia, Rochester, Cleveland, and Montreal. According to Bliss, there were at least 48 Millerite periodicals that would circulate in the period leading up to the Great Disappointment.
As the various dates of Christ’s predicted return approached, Millerite publishing went into high gear. In May, 1843, 21,000 copies of the various Millerite papers were published for distribution each week. In New York alone, in the five month period ending April 1843, 600,000 copies of various publications were distributed. In December 1843, Himes proposed the publication of one million tracts; while in May 1844, he announced that five million copies of Millerite publications had been distributed up to that time. D ick, William Miller and the Advent Crisis , 76.
Ruth Alden Doan examined the geographical distribution of correspondents to the Millerite periodical Signs of the Times / Advent Herald from 1840 to 1847. Out of a total of 615 correspondents, she found that the 131 correspondents from New York state provided the largest group. Vermont provided another 107; with New England (excluding Vermont) accounting for a further 279. Outside of these areas, representation was sparse—twenty-three in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland combined; just sixty-five from the west—including twenty from Ohio; and only ten from the Southern states. Doan, The Miller Heresy, Millennialism, and American Culture , 231.
While it seems then, that the vast majority of Miller’s followers were of local origin, his message was not limited to his local area—nor even to America. Miller preached across the border in Canada’s Eastern Townships on at least three occasions: in 1835, 1838, and 1840. He made a number of converts there and gained the support of some of the local clergy. At least five Millerite papers were published in Canada. Jack I. Little, "Millennial Invasion: Millerism in the Eastern Townships of Lower Canada," in Anglo-American MIllennialism, From Milton to the Millerites , ed. Richard Connors and Andrew Colin Gow (Leiden: Brill, 2004), 182.
Miller also gained converts in Great Britain, though he never travelled there himself. From 1841, Millerite evangelists appeared in Great Britain. Many were travellers or emigrants to the United States who had heard the Second Advent message there, and returned to their home districts to preach.
Millerite converts were also made in Australia, Hawaii, Chile, and Norway via the distribution of Millerite literature.
In addition to their periodical literature, the Millerites utilized the traditional religious meetings of the time. Ezekiel Hale, Jr., was chairman of the committee created by the Boston conference of the Millerites to make plans for a camp meeting. The committee had a report ready on the ninth of June, 1842.
“ The principal object of the meeting is to awake sinners and purify Christians by giving the midnight cry, viz., to hold up the immediate coming of Christ to judge the world. We therefore inform all our Christian friends, by the permission of Divine Providence, that the meeting will be held at East Kingston…in a fine grove near the railroad, leading to Exeter. Commencing Tuesday, June 28, and continuing to July 5th, brethren and friends of the cause are affectionately invited to come and participate with us in this great feast of tabernacles, and bring their families and unconverted friends, with them. The object of the meeting is not controversy, the brethren and friends will understand that none will take part in public speaking except those who are believers in the second coming of Christ, near, even at the door.”
The notice stated that those who were coming to stay on the grounds should bring their own bedding, that the cost of “board and lodging in tents” would be “$2 per week.” However, the committee “recommended to churches and brethren to club together and provide for themselves.”
The camp-meeting in East Kingston, New Hampshire was not the first Millerite camp-meeting. A few weeks earlier, Josiah Litch had arranged a camp-meeting in Hatley, Quebec, Canada that began on June 21, 1842.
The camp meeting idea was not a new one in 1842. Methodists and others had been conducting them for over forty years. They had originated in the frontier region of South Carolina, Kentucky and Tennessee in the 1790’s.
These camp-meetings did however, open a new era in Millerite evangelism. Approximately 7-10 thousand attended the East Kingston camp-meeting. Many of those who attended returned to their own homes at night, for there were no accommodations to care for such a large population—there were only twenty-six large family tents pitched. It was the custom in those days at camp meetings for a church or for a group of families to use jointly a large tent. This could be conveniently subdivided as needed. The public services of those early camp meetings were generally conducted in the open. A basic platform was constructed for the speakers and benches for the congregation. Around the meeting area stood the wide circle of tents.
On the last morning of the camp meeting an impressive service was held. Gathered in a large circle, each clasping the hand of the one beside him, stood the campers; in their midst a minister, reading a series of resolutions. These resolutions reaffirmed the conviction that the great day of the Lord might be expected in 1843, “that other meetings of the same character should be encouraged,” “that the numerous and urgent calls from all parts of the land for lecturers demand that we should furnish such means as may be needed to sustain” such workers, and that wide circulation should be given to the Second Advent publications. The resolutions were fervently voted. Then Himes, who was superintendent of the meeting, made a few remarks, “and the circle dispersed to take breakfast.”
“ Three or four years ago, on my way eastward, I spent an hour or two at a campground of the Second Advent in East Kingston. The spot was well chosen. A tall growth of pine and hemlock threw its melancholy shadow over the multitude, who were arranged upon rough seats of boards and logs. Several hundred-perhaps a thousand people-were present, and more were rapidly coming. Drawn about in a circle, forming a background of snowy whiteness to the dark masses of men and foliage, were the white tents, and back of them the provision stalls and cook shops.”
“ When I reached the ground, a hymn, the words of which I could not distinguish, was pealing through the dim aisles of the forest. I could readily perceive that it had its effect upon the multitude before me, kindling to higher intensity their already excited enthusiasm. The preachers were placed in a rude pulpit of rough boards, carpeted only by the dead forest leaves and flowers.”
“ Suspended from the front of the rude pulpit were two broad sheets of canvas, upon one of which was the figure of a man, the head of gold, the breast and arms of silver, the belly of brass, the legs of iron, and feet of clay, the dream of Nebuchadnezzar. On the other were depicted the wonders of the Apocalyptic vision—the beasts, the dragons, the scarlet woman seen by the seer of Patmos, Oriental types, figures, and mystic symbols, translated into staring Yankee realities, and exhibited like the beasts of a travelling menagerie. One horrible image, with its hideous heads and scaly caudal extremity, reminded me of the tremendous line of Milton, who, in speaking of the same evil dragon describes him as ‘Swindling the scaly horrors of his folded tail.’”
“ To an imaginative mind the scene was full of novel interest. The white circle of tents; the dim wood arches; the upturned, earnest faces; the loud voices of the speakers, burdened with the awful symbolic language of the Bible.” John Greenleaf Whittier
At the East Kingston camp-meeting, a resolution was passed calling for more camp-meetings to be held. Furthermore, it was proposed to purchase a large tent at a cost of $800—this would enable such meetings to continue during bad weather. The tent purchased was said to have been the biggest in the country and was pitched for the first time on July 26 at Concord, New Hampshire. A day later, the wind blew it to the ground. It was repitched in the protection of a nearby hill. The tent gained fame as “The Great Tent.” It seated 4,000 and an additional 2,000 could be crammed into the aisles. It was pitched eight times in 1842.
Camp-meetings continued to be held throughout 1843 and 1844 with great success. In 1842, thirty-one camp-meetings were held in four months. In 1843, at least forty were held, while in 1844, there were at least fifty-four held. It is estimated that at least half a million people attended Millerite camp-meetings prior to Oct. 22, 1844.
Other meetings: Grove meetings. Exact nature is unclear. Smaller outdoor meetings where most people returned to their homes to sleep.
In addition to the Great Tent, as the Millerites organised themselves more formally, they built other permanent meeting places. Organisation into a separate denomination was never one of William Miller’s goals. It only took place as the Millerites were expelled from their home churches.
The Boston Tabernacle. Built in 1843, it could hold up to 10,000 people. It was destroyed by fire in 1846.
The Millerites and the black population. Such work is not highlighted in Millerite publications. There is some evidence that blacks did attend Millerite meetings and some were converted. The Millerites were predominately a NE movement and the majority of the black population was found in the south.
In 1842, there were problems with local vandals who “tore down the tent of the colored people” at a Millerite camp-meeting. In mid 1843, Charles Fitch made a motion that collection to support a minister to work “among our colored brethren” be taken. This was done, and John W. Lewis, “a highly esteemed colored preacher” was sent to work full time. In February 1844, Himes reported that “many of the colored people have received the doctrine in Philadelphia.” This group included an entire black congregation and their minister.
A second black Millerite lecturer was William E. Foy. Black Millerite preachers did preach to mixed audiences.
Sojourner Truth (Isabella Van Wagener), the famous abolitionist, spoke at Millerite gatherings, though it does not appear that she accepted Millerite teachings.
REFERENCES: Louis Billington, "The Millerite Adventists in Great Britain, 1840-1850.“ Journal of American Studies 1: 2 (1967), 191-212. Everett N. Dick, “William Miller and the Advent Crisis Berrien Springs: Andrews University Press, 1994. Ruth Alden Doan, The Miller Heresy, Millennialism, and American Culture . Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1987. Le Roy Edwin Froom, The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers Volume IV , 4 vols. Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1954. Jack I. Little. "Millennial Invasion: Millerism in the Eastern Townships of Lower Canada." In Anglo-American Millennialism, From Milton to the Millerites , ed. Richard Connors and Andrew Colin Gow, 177-204. Leiden: Brill, 2004. William Miller, Apology and Defence . Boston, MT: Joshua V. Himes, 1845. Everett N. Dick, “Adventist Camp Meetings in the 1840’s,” Adventist Heritage 4:2 (1977), 3-10. Richard W. Schwartz, Lightbearers to the Remnant . Mountain View: Pacific Press, 1979, 118-133, 198-206. Arthur W. Spalding, Origin and Progress of Seventh-day Adventists. Washington DC: Review and Herald, 1961-1962, Vol. I: 47-65; Vol. II: 111-128.
This PowerPoint presentation has been produced by Jeff Crocombe for a class on SDA Church History at Helderberg College in Semester 1, 2007. It should not be used without giving credit to its compiler, nor reproduced in any way without permission. You may contact Jeff Crocombe at: [email_address]