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Dartmouth College Library Bulletin

The End of the World

GARY E. WAIT

Miller, who predicts the approaching millenium in 1843, is busily engaged in New England (at this time in this state) lecturing from place to place, and is gaining many followers, among which are some of the most influential men. A week or two since, one of his adherents was in Hanover, and gave a lecture in the Methodist Church. I did not hear him but learned that his address had a serious effect upon the minds of many in favor of his doctrine, and that many of his arguments appeared irrefutable. 1

So wrote Eli Mosley Barnum, Dartmouth College Class of 1845, in a letter to his parents in Ohio during the summer of 1842. Like many of his classmates in the first half of the 1840s, Barnum was fascinated, if not necessarily convinced, by the predictions that were sweeping New England that, sometime between the spring of 1843 and the spring of 1844, human history would come to an end in the fulfillment of the biblical prophesies and the second coming of Christ. In Hanover, as elsewhere throughout the Northeast, the convinced and the curious gathered on campgrounds, in churches, and in lecture halls to hear the gospel of the Second Advent. Stories spread that converts were settling up their affairs and providing themselves with suitable garments in anticipation of the fateful day. The susceptible were said to be on the verge of emotional collapse with fearful--or joyful--anticipation. And as if Nature herself were conspiring to lend support to the Adventists' apocalyptical predictions, early in 1843 a brilliant comet appeared in the western sky. "It will add new stimulus to those deluded persons, the Millerites," commented a skeptic of the Dartmouth Class of 1844, noting in a more scientific vein that "the length of the luminous trail or tail extends by Professor Young's calculations a distance of 90deg. and is constantly increasing."2

The source of this millennial anticipation, or "hysteria," as his opponents called it, was a Baptist lay preacher named William Miller. Born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, the son of a Revolutionary War veteran and a Baptist preacher's daughter in 1782, Miller grew up on a farm in Hampton, New York, just across the border from Poultney, Vermont. Taught to read by his mother, William, like many another farm lad of the day, attended a few terms of the district grammar school when not wanted on the farm. He developed a taste for reading, and, much to the distress of his pious mother, inclined particularly to the then fashionable deistical books of Thomas Paine and of his neighbor Ethan Allen, works that cast doubts on the validity of revealed religion and questioned the authority of the Bible. Like many another young man of literary bent, Miller also began to write poetry and to cultivate a way with words. During the War of 1812, he served first as recruiting agent for western Vermont, then as captain of an ill-disciplined company at the Battle of Plattsburg. In a letter to his wife, written soon after the battle, Miller has left a description of the fighting that anticipates his later graphic predictions of the end of the world:

How grand, how noble, and yet how aweful! The roaring of cannon, the bursting of bombs, the whizzing of balls, the popping of small arms, the cracking of timbers, the shrieks of the dying; the groans of the wounded . . . the swearing of soldiers -- the smoke, the fire, everything conspires to make the scene of . . . battle aweful and grand.3

Perhaps it also set Miller thinking about his own fate -- and about what might well await the deistical skeptic when death plucked at his own sleeve. Was death, as deists taught, but an annihilation of consciousness, or did some system of reward and punishment embrace the soul in the world beyond death?

Veterans held reunions then as surely as now, and in September, 1816, Captain William Miller, still scorning religion and the inconsistencies of the Bible, traveled to Fairhaven, Vermont, for a reunion of the veterans of Plattsburg. In those days it was customary to open such occasions with a religious service that included a sermon. Something the preacher said that day must have hit where no enemy bullet could: William Miller the scoffer came away from the meeting a convert. The following Sunday, as he read from the scriptures at the little Baptist chapel near his home, he was so overcome with emotion that his voice broke and he could not go on. For another year he struggled with the tension between faith and reason, unable to reconcile that apparent conflict of scripture and history with his newfound faith. So, he bought a study Bible with concordance and historical notes and set himself the task of making sense of it all. Commenting later on this period of his life, Miller notes that in the intervals of his farming, he searched the Bible "with great delight, [losing] all taste for other reading, and [applying his] heart to get wisdom from God." 4 His method was simplicity itself:

I commenced with Genesis, and read verse by verse.... Whenever I found anything obscure, my practice was to compare it with all collateral passages; . . . Then by letting every word have its proper bearing on the subject . . . I pursued the study of the Bible . . . and was fully satisfied that it is its own interpreter.5

This straightforward approach was not without obstacles, however, for it soon became obvious that not everything in the prophetic books could be interpreted literally. As a way through these difficulties, Miller evolved a set of "common- sense" rules for deciding which passages to construe in a literal, and which in a figurative sense. "If it makes good sense as it stands, and does no violence to the simple laws of nature," he postulated, "then it must be understood literally; if not [then] figuratively." 6 Even this did not solve all his problems. It soon became evident that some words must have more than one symbolic meaning. "Day," for example, might mean, in addition to its literal twenty- four hour unit of time, and "indefinite" period, the definite period of one year, or the definite period of a thousand years. One chose the interpretation that best agreed with the known facts of history and brought consistency between the passage of scripture under consideration and the rest of the biblical text.

When not engaged in farming, Miller labored on in this manner for about five years, struggling to resolve the apparent inconsistencies in the text and to make sense of the biblical prophesies. Gradually a pattern of prophetic fulfillment seemed to emerge, and Miller was startled to discover that according to his calculations, the culmination of all prophesy--the return of Christ and the end of history--was surprisingly near. Anxious to systematize his discoveries, he evolved a set of statements, which he began to discuss with his neighbors and eventually published in pamphlet form. Summarizing from one of his many subsequent statements of his views, Miller propounded the following creed:

I believe that Jesus Christ will come again to this earth, [and that] he will come in the clouds of heaven.

I believe that he will then receive his kingdom which will be eternal, [and that] the saints will then possess the kingdom forever.

I believe at Christ's second coming the body of every departed saint will be raised . . . that the righteous who are living on the earth when he comes, will be changed from mortal to immortal bodies, and . . . will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air . . .

I believe that when Christ comes he will destroy the bodies of the living wicked by fire . . .

I believe, when the earth is cleansed by fire, that Christ and his saints will then take possession of the earth, and dwell therein forever.

I believe God has revealled the time [when this will happen] . . . [and that] the time can be known by all who desire to understand and to be ready for his coming. And I am fully convinced that some time between March 21st, 1843, and March 21st, 1844, according to the Jewish mode of computation of time, Christ will come.7

In his anticipation of Christ's physical return to earth to judge all souls, living and dead, to punish the wicked and establish an eternal reign of righteousness, there was nothing particularly radical in Miller's discoveries. Virtually every Christian denomination, except Quaker and Universalist, embraced some form of that doctrine as part of their orthodox theology. But to assert that the momentous event loomed little more than a decade off was startling, indeed. Miller, himself, seems to have been wary of accepting his own findings, and he initially shrank from making them public.

Diffident about his abilities as a public speaker, and unsure of his responsibility to proclaim the tidings of his discovery about the approaching end of the world, Miller might never have published his views beyond the neighborhood of his own town, had not the Baptist minister of the hamlet of Dresden, New York, a tiny village that lay in the valley between Lake George and Lake Champlain, had to absent himself from his pulpit in the summer of 1831. Hearing that Miller had sometimes conducted religious services in his native village of Hampton, the Baptists of Dresden invited him to supply the pulpit of their absent pastor. With no other subject in mind, Miller proclaimed his discoveries about the imminent second coming of Christ and the end of the world -- and was startled to discover that he had awakened a religious revival in the community. At the church's invitation, he remained in Dresden for a week to lecture on the subject, and presently invitations to lecture were coming in from other nearby towns. At first tentatively, and then like wildfire, news of the approaching end of the world spread. By 1835 Miller had largely abandoned farming to his sons and was lecturing as often as his indifferent health would permit, chiefly in northern New York and western Vermont. Especially among Congregationalists, Baptists, and Methodists -- and among the backslidden of all denominations -- Miller found a ready and sympathetic audience, and according to his own testimony he was able to comply with more than half of "the most pressing invitations." 8 Typical of Miller's effect, even at second hand, is the testimony of the Reverend William Camp, who first heard of Miller's preaching as a youth living near Thetford, Vermont:

About this time, I heard that a man named Miller was preaching that in a short time Christ was coming to destroy the wicked and dwell among the righteous. I began to pray earnestly that I might be a righteous boy.9

By September of 1833, heartened by such successes, Miller applied for and was granted a license to preach by the Baptist Church of Hampton and Whitehall, New York. In the same year he published his lectures in a 64- page pamphlet entitled Evidences from Scripture and History of the Second Coming of Christ, about the Year 1843; Exhibited in a Course of Lectures (Brandon, Vt.: Telegraph Office, 1833). By 1839, according to his own estimate, he had given more than 800 lectures, for which he had received little beyond his own expenses, mostly in New York and Vermont, but with extensive forays into Lower Canada, Ohio, Michigan, and Massachusetts. That even conservative clergy carefully trained in theology -- to say nothing of the theologically unsophisticated -- should have fallen under the spell of this prophet from the north is surprising in the light of contemporary accounts of William Miller. Even the most sympathetic journalists described Miller's pulpit presence as unemotional and unprepossessing. Here was no sleek smooth-talking charlatan, but a plain-mannered farmer of about 60, round of face and florid of countenance "not unlike in appearance one of our old-fashioned cider-drinking farmers," as one New Haven reporter would subsequently describe him. 10 He was troubled by erysipelas and other physical complaints, his hands shook with a persistent tremor so pronounced that it could be "observed across the house," according to the New- Hampshire Sentinel,11 and he was often hoarse from the effects of much speaking and chronic pulmonary complaints. His presentation was straightforward and, as more than one detractor observed, he butchered the rules of grammar, but his speech was clear and compelling. For all that, few denied his power to hold his audience "chaired" at attention for up to two hours at a stretch. And all agreed that in what he proclaimed he was utterly sincere, and that in the mastery of his subject, few--even among the university- trained--could match him point for point.

In 1839 Miller made his first foray into New Hampshire, lecturing at Exeter between the eleventh and the nineteenth of November, and it was this visit that would propel Miller and his Second Advent gospel into national prominence. He was invited to speak before a convention of the Christian Baptist connection; his audience included the Rev. Joshua V. Himes, reform-minded minister of the Chardon Street Chapel in Boston. Himes was completely won over. A man of prompt action, and already a skilled publicist for such current "isms" as abolition and temperance, Himes engaged Miller to lecture at Chardon Street and at other Boston and Cambridge churches in December and January -- and Himes himself assumed the role of Second Advent impresario. It soon became evident to the practical Himes that with now no more than three years of human history remaining, much more must be done to spread the warning gospel than could be accomplished by one old man and a small pamphlet edition of his lectures. So, together Himes and Miller set out to do it. Adopting the typical reformer's measures of the day, Himes founded a newspaper, Signs of the Times, in March of 1840, the first of several such monthlies, weeklies, and even dailies as the fateful time drew near, to serve as vehicles for Miller's views and for the refutation of his detractors and critics. In the next two years alone, 50,000 numbers of Signs of the Times were distributed in the United States and Europe, and it was not long before the little newssheet began to attract the attention, and often the scorn, of the secular press. 12

Greeting the appearance of a second Millerite journal, The Midnight Cry, launched in New York in November, 1842, the Concord, New Hampshire, Congregational Journal sneered that Elder Himes had made a profitable business out of frightening people, adding wryly that

. . . though the world's doom is announced to be the 13th of next month, his prospectus covers thirteen weeks, for which period he does not hesitate to take payments in advance! 13

Undeterred by accusations that he was profiteering from the movement, Himes also began to publish a "Second Advent Library," a series of tracts and booklets by Miller, himself, and other converts to present the biblical and historical evidence for their position and to refute the increasingly vocal claque of detractors and serious critics. 14 That this publishing venture made money cannot be denied, but the proceeds flowed not into the pockets of Miller and Himes, but were plowed back into the movement itself. Conferences of believers were organized. The first, held in Boston in October of 1840, sought to regularize the message being proclaimed by the now numerous Millerite preachers and lecturers, and to define the relations of converts to established religious sects. Converts were urged to remain within the established churches, to purify their lives, and to calmly carry on their daily affairs in a sane and ethical way until the end.

Himes also urged upon the early conferences of "Believers in the Second Advent Near" the prevailing evangelistical techniques of the day: protracted meetings in churches and lecture halls and outdoor camp meetings. Presently he had scheduled Miller and other Advent preachers for appearances all over the Northeast. Typified by fervent exhortations from the preachers, by excesses of emotionalism in preacher and audience alike, by the groans and writhing of the conscience- stricken, the shouts of the converted, and the throbbing hymns of the faithful, camp meetings were roundly condemned by the "respectable" churches of the day. But for all that, they got results. Drawn by the sociability, in a day when there were few enough emotional outlets for laboring folk, people -- whole families of them -- came by wagon and afoot, came by hundreds and thousands, planning to stay for perhaps several days; to get religion and the news of their neighbors. Such opportunities were not to be missed, and during the first week of July, 1842, Himes organized the first Millerite camp meeting at East Kingston, New Hampshire. Special cars were run from Exeter, Dover, and Newmarket, and according to Nathaniel Shute, who walked there from Exeter, there were upwards of 10,000 in attendance on the third of July. 15 But conspicuously absent were the excesses of emotionalism and the ranting of exhorters. Instead, according to John Greenleaf Whittier, himself no friend of Millerism, who was also in attendance, there had gathered a reverent assembly of believers--and the curious -- who sang, prayed, and listened to closely reasoned exhortations in a sober and decorous way. At intervals, Miller, Himes, or one of their lieutenants would gather the conscience-stricken into orderly groups to discuss serious things. On the last day, as the New Hampshire Statesman and State Journal reported, a human ring was formed around the circumference of the camp; those present bade each other a fond -- and perhaps last -- farewell. They listened to a statement from Himes about the urgency of reaching their brethren with the news of the impending end.16

A collection was also taken to buy a tent that was to be the biggest ever raised on the North American continent. Constructed at a cost of $800, it was 115 feet in diameter and approximately 60 feet high at the center, and its capacity was estimated at anywhere from 3,000 to 8,000 persons, depending on the reporter's penchant for exaggeration. According to the Norwich (Connecticut) Aurora, the circular tent was

secured by stout ropes, stays, chains and tackle. The canvas has six square doors which are said to resemble those in the tents of the Israelites. The tent is provided with stoves, and every necessary arrangement is made for the coolness of the season. 17

The "big tent," as it came to be called, was first raised in Concord, New Hampshire, the last week of July, 1842, under climatic conditions that augured poorly for its future success. Erected first on a high hill "in the rear of the town" on Wednesday, 28 July, it was promptly flattened by a high wind before the afternoon service of consecration could be held. On the following day it was moved to a more sheltered location in "the valley of humiliation" to the westward. Throughout the five-day meeting, the weather continued stormy, and by Saturday afternoon such a storm had arisen that the big tent was taken down, though groups of the faithful "remained in the smaller tents, shouting, singing, praying and groaning" until nearly eleven p.m. When, according to the New Hampshire Patriot and State Gazette,

they were finally compelled to abandon the tents and seek refuge...in the village...Such a collection of men and women, with such an appearance of drenched and dirty dresses and woe-begone countenances, never before paraded the streets of Concord.18

Throughout the night and the following day the rains continued, but the faithful and the curious remained undeterred. On Sunday morning a fire engine was employed to draw off the waters from the flooded campground, and upwards of 4,000 were reported in attendance, with the total for the five days estimated at 10,000 -- "mostly from curiosity," as one commentator sneered. l9

The scoffers notwithstanding, the first Millerite tent meeting had left its mark on the community, and thereafter even sneering journalists had to take the Second Advent seriously. Beginning with the last issue for 1842, the Sentinel commenced a series of lengthy articles in which the pros and cons of Millerism were debated and Miller was described. At first sympathetic to the meliorating effects of Second Advent preaching on the social order, the Sentinel soon adopted a decidedly adversarial stance and lost no opportunity to retail every negative anecdote, even the most apocryphal, about the movement and its leaders. While admitting that Miller, Himes, and their followers might be sincere though deluded, the Sentinel and its Concord ally the Congregational Journal, did not scruple to hint that Himes was profiteering from his publishing activities, asserting that:

It is much to the credit of the people of Concord, that this operation of Miller and his associates was a signal failure, [and that] the good sense, the sobriety, and the intelligence of our citizens were an overmatch for the rant, the howlings, and trances . . . of their motly visitants.

The Congregational Journal, nevertheless, felt compelled to devote three columns on the front page of its 12th August issue to a refutation of the Second Advent gospel and, later in the year, to reprint a lengthy refutation of Miller's Lectures by Nathaniel Wells. 20

But far more common than the reasoned discussion of the biblical and philosophical issues raised by the Millerites were the widely reprinted potshots characterizing the Millerites as fanatics and their leaders as irresponsible fear-mongers. According to widely circulated reports, one of the selectmen of a conveniently unidentified town in New Hampshire "resigned his office, that he may appropriate the rest of the year to the work of setting his house in order, in anticipation of the burning up of the globe." More specific is this item that appears to have originated in the Sentinel:

Our Secretary of State has received two Justices commissions, returned from a "Squire" Hersey, Melvin village, and E. G. Colby of Wakefield, Carroll Co., N.H., both expecting to go up with the Millerites . . . and so have no further use for them. 21

Even suicides were laid at Miller's doorstep, often on the flimsiest evidence. Not untypical of this type of anecdote is a notice reprinted by the Sentinel from the Boston Evening Journal, with the notation "doubted by the Portsmouth Journal":

END OF THE WORLD -- Died in Pelham, N.H. 15th ult., John H. Shortridge, aged about 55.-- Mr. S. was formerly a merchant of respectable standing in Portsmouth, but, by misfortunes in business, had...suffered much from almost incessant mental derangement. On the day of his death he was imagining the time of the second advent was to take place. He had a garb made for the occasion, and with this he was waiting: until becoming impatient, he climbed to the top of a high tree. There, mantled in his long white ascension robe, he made one aspiring effort, but was precipitated to the ground, and instantly died from a broken neck. 22

Stories such as this were widely reprinted in newspapers throughout the Northeast, and nobody cared to spoil them by checking the facts. Few troubled to point out that even where such instances of fanaticism had some foundation in fact, the individual's emotional instability, or reputation for being credulous, often antedated involvement with Millerism, or stemmed, as in the above instance, from causes other than Second Advent preaching. 23

Nevertheless, in New Hampshire, as throughout New England, journalists sold newspapers by asserting that Miller and his disciples

Frighten[ed] old women by scores into fits
And young and old children half out of their wits.

During the year of the Millerites' expectation of the Second Coming, the New Hampshire Asylum for the Insane was in its first year of operation. Opened in Concord in October 1842, it was, according to the Congregational Journal of 9 February 1843, already filling up with unfortunates driven insane by Millerism, "bereft of reason . . . filling their cells with their midnight shrieks, and anticipating the approaching day of doom with the horror of dispair." Reference to the official testimony of the superintendent, Dr. Chandler, however, reveals that as of June 1843, out of 76 persons admitted, 21 were admitted because of some form of "religious excitement." Of these, it would appear that between eight and twelve cases were attributable to Millerism. The superintendent's report for June 1844, covering the period of greatest excitement and the terminal date (21 March 1844) of the fateful year, is even more revealing. Of the 104 persons admitted during the report year, six cases only are attributed to religious causes, and of these three are blamed on Millerism. Still more illuminating, when compared with the assertions of the Congregational Journal and its ilk, is this comment from Dr. Chandler's 1843 report on the emotional state of the Millerites under his care:

No one, as far as I have seen, of those who truly believe in the speedy coming of Christ, has been made sad or melancholy. Some patients who have been disturbed and perplexed by these startling theories, and yet have doubts and fears of their reality, come to us sad and desponding. The believers are joyful and confident, but those who doubt are sorrowful and timid. Those who believe and who continue in their belief after coming, manifest all the hope and confidence such inspiring anticipations are calculated to produce. They sing and pray aloud for the coming day. 24

Reference to the reports of the Connecticut Asylum at Hartford and the Massachusetts State Hospital at Worcester tell much the same story. Throughout the century, in fact in every period of religious fervor, some among the anxious and the unstable inevitably lost their emotional equilibrium due in whole or in part to religious causes. But for all the publicity given to the few documentable and the many apocryphal instances of suicide, fanaticism, or insanity attributed to, or associated with, the Second Advent phenomenon, there is little ground for the contemporary assertion of wholesale insanity or panic attendant upon Miller's predictions.

In fact, in New Hampshire, as elsewhere, editors eager to ridicule the movement found themselves facing both ways as they retailed any good story told at the Millerites' expense that crossed their desks. In New Haven, for example, the Columbian Register of 31 December 1843 soberly assured its readers that Miller's preaching had produced "some good fruits," offering as evidence of this ironic praise the case of the colored man, near Concord, N.H. "who, converted to Millerism, traveled 37 miles on a cold day, to confess the theft of $13." One suspects the New Haven editor of welcoming any opportunity to divert attention from his own city's embarrassing encounter with Millerism. In the wake of Miller's lectures in that city, a fire had broken out during a late December snowstorm, and the entire city had been thrown into an apocalyptical panic by the lurid reflection of the flames in the clouds. Even Horace Greeley's lecture was interrupted by cries that the end of the world was at hand, a story that was gleefully reported from Philadelphia to Danville, Vermont!

Admitting that conversion to Millerism did occasionally show beneficial effects in the lives of its adherents, enterprising journalists were quick to turn this newfound ethic to practical and humorous advantage. Citing the claim made by the New England Farmer that two recent converts whose consciences had been quickened by the nearness of Judgment Day had sent in some $63 in back subscriptions, the editor of the Congregational Journal of 22 July 1842 urged his delinquent subscribers to follow their good example, just in case the world should not survive one of its "hairbreadth" escapes from the doom Miller prophesied. Satirical calculations of the date for the second coming, of course, proliferated in the secular press of New Hampshire, as elsewhere. Miller and his associates were widely satirized in the heavy-handed humor of the day. Typical of the genre, if not altogether tasteful by twentieth-century standards of racial fairness, was a dialect spoof printed in Hills New Hampshire Patriot, in which "Deacon Snowball" expounded his version of the Millerite gospel.25

Despite the jibes of the journalists and the refutation of sounder critics, the big tent moved on to successful stands in Albany, New York, Claremont, New Hampshire (where hooligans attempted to bring it down by soaking the ropes in sulfuric acid), and Newark, New Jersey, where the crowds it drew prompted the New York Herald to issue an "Extra" describing the meeting. Throughout the summer and fall of 1842 and 1843, camp meetings were held throughout New Hampshire. Not everyone was attracted to them, of course. Noting that a camp meeting had been going on for a week on Captain Willard's land in New Ipswich, Mary Bennett remarked with true Yankee simplicity, "We did not attend, for we do not believe in that doctrine."26 But thousands did, and converts were won from laity and clergy alike. The Reverend D. L. Robinson, a Methodist preacher stationed at Portsmouth, for example, attended Miller's lecture there in 1840 in order to refute him. But he found himself confounded and convinced, and like many another across New England, he began to preach the Second Advent doctrine himself. Enterprising publishers, like George W. Peavey of Exeter, found a ready market for Second Advent tracts. In 1842 he issued a small collection of Second Advent Hymns to supplement Himes's "official" Millennial Harp for use at camp meetings. And in the same year, A. R. Brown of Exeter got out a pamphlet entitled Voice in New Hampshire, in which its author, identified simply as "A Female," defended Millerism in tones of unlettered fervor.

But for critic and convert alike time rolled inexorably on toward the fateful day. Miller's year of the Second Advent dawned with the appearance of the most brilliant comet anyone could remember. Despite the impression it made on young Adino Brackett in Hanover and the learned discussions it prompted from Professor Young at Dartmouth and Noah Webster in New Haven, Miller himself made little of the phenomenon. But for the credulous, and for those disposed to mock, every atmospheric disturbance, every meteor shower, every instance of northern lights merely added to an already blazing fire of anticipation. And so, the fateful year passed, but the twentysecond day of March 1844 dawned with none of the consequences so hopefully predicted by the Adventists and so gleefully parodied by their foes. For Miller himself it was an occasion of deep disappointment. Heartbroken, yet still convinced that the end was near -- perhaps there had been some slight miscalculation -- he published a touching apology in a letter to Himes, a general address to his followers, and a poignant poem:

How tedious and lonesome the hours,

While Jesus, my Saviour delays!

I have sought him in solitude's bowers,

And looked for him all the long days.

Yet he lingers--I pray tell me why

His chariot no sooner returns?

To see him in clouds in the sky,

My soul with intensity burns.

I long to be with him at home,

My heart swallowed up in his love,

On the fields of New Eden to roam,

And to dwell with my Savior above.27

Convinced like Miller himself of the essential truth of their gospel, his followers set about checking and analyzing his calculations. Believing that they had resolved a problem in the calculations, several of his disciples fixed on a new date, the 22/23rd of October, 1844, for the fateful day. Miller himself had always resisted the fixing of a particular date for the consummation of his predictions, but convinced by his own disciples' logic -- or zeal -- he, too, eventually endorsed the date.

And so it happened that in Boston and Hartford, in Philadelphia and Cincinnati, in Hanover and Montpelier, in Portsmouth and Exeter and Concord--in churches and auditoriums, on campgrounds and in schoolrooms -- perhaps, as their enemies averred, in graveyards and on housetops, the faithful gathered in the afternoon of 23rd October to greet the end: at midnight -- at dawn -- at noon -- perhaps at sundown. But the day closed as it had begun, with the Adventists still waiting. In some places they waited on for a day to two, and in the days and weeks that followed, the true believers sought to regroup in the face of ridicule and disillusionment. Miller, himself, would live on in puzzled but confident anticipation until his death in 1849. Himes went on issuing the Advent Herald well into the 1850s, and then went West, where he ended his days as an Episcopal priest. But for many -- for the weak, or perhaps the wiser -- the day of the Second Advent had passed, as it did for Washington Morse of Northfield, Vermont:

The day came and passed, and the darkness of another night closed in upon the world. But with that darkness came a pang of disappointment to the advent believers that can find a parallel only in the sorrow of the disciples after the crucifixion of their Lord. The passing of the time was a bitter disappointment. True believers had given up all for Christ, and had shared His presence as never before. The love of Jesus filled every soul; and with inexpressible desire they prayed, "Come, Lord Jesus, and come quickly;" but He did not come. And now, to turn again to the cares, perplexities, and dangers of life, in full view of jeering and reviling unbelievers, who scoffed as never before, was a terrible trial of faith and patience. When Elder Himes visited Waterbury, Vt., a short time after the passing of the time and stated that the brethren should prepare for another cold winter, my feelings were almost uncontrollable. I left the place of meeting and wept like a child. 28


1. Eli Mosley Barnum, letter, 18-20 July 1842, Hanover, New Hampshire, to his parents in Florence, Ohio. Dartmouth College Library, Special Collections, Ms. 842418.

2. Adino Nye Brackett, letter, 19 March 1843, Hanover, New Hampshire, to James S. Brackett of Lancaster, New Hampshire. Dartmouth College Library, Special Collections, Ms. 8432l9.

3. Cited in A Brief History of William Miller, the Great Pioneer of Adventual Faith (Boston: Advent Christian Publication Society, 1895), p. 52.

4. Brief History of William Miller, p. 73.

5. Cited in Sylvester Bliss, Memoirs of William Miller, Generally Known as a Lecturer on the Prophesies, and the Second Coming of Christ (Boston J. V. Himes, 1853), p. 69.

6. Brief History of William Miller, p. 81. This is Rule XI.

7. William Miller, Synopsis of Millers Views (Boston: J. V. Himes, 1843), pp. 1-18.

8. Bliss, Memoirs, p. 99.

9. William Camp, The Green Mountain Preacher (Fitchhurg, Mass. Printed for the Author, 1853), p. 29.

10. New Haven Daily Herald, 2l November 1842, p. 2.

11.New-Hampshire Sentinel, 8 February 1843, p. 1.

12. The Dartmouth College Library has but a single issue, Vol. I, no. 3 (I May 1840) in its newspaper collection. Special Collections, however, holds an extensive collection of Millerite tracts, both Himes's "official" publications, and works issued by the defenders and detractors of William Miller.

13. Congregational Journal, 13 March 1843, p. 2.

14. Among the latter were Two Discourses on the Second Advent of the Redeemer, with Special Reference to the year 1843 (Burlington: C. Goodrich, 1843) by Bishop John Henry Hopkins (Episcopal) of Vermont that went through several editions; and a pair of widely circulated sermons by Samuel Farmar Jarvis of Middletown, Connecticut, to whom a publisher promised a sale of 10,000 copies.

15. Nathaniel Shute, "Diary, 1838-1844." Unpublished manuscript in the author's collection.

16. New Hampshire Statesman and State Journal, 15 July 1842, p. 3, gives an extensive description of this meeting. For Whittier's recollections of the meeting, see his Literary Recreations (Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1854).

17. Norwich Aurora, 9 November 1842, p. 3. The reporter for the Congregational Journal, 22 July 1842, p. 2, estimated the capacity at between 4,000 and 5000.

18. New Hampshire Patriot and State Gazette, 28 July I842, p. 2, and 4 August 1842; New Hampshire Sentinel 10 August I842, p. 1. The unhappy fate of the big tent at its inaugural trial was noted as far away as Philadelphia, with the Public Ledger of 6 August 1842, commenting wryly: "The Millerites do not find the quarters under the "big tent" quite as comfortable as they imagined."

19. New Hampshire Sentinel, 10 August 1842, p. 1; and Nathaniel Bouton, The History of Concord(Concord B. W Sanborn, 1856), pp. 447-448.

20. Congregational Journal, 12 August 1842, p.1; 22 December 1842, p. 1.

21. Congregational Journal, 24 June 1842, p. 2; and New Hampshire Sentinel, 16 October 1844, p. 3.

22. New Hampshire Sentinel, 15 March 1843, p. 2.

23. Francis D. Nichol, who, to be sure, had an interest in vindicating the reputation of Miller and his followers, has nevertheless provided a convincing refutation of the Shortridge story and many similar in his The Midnight Cry. A Defense of the Character and Conduct of William Miller and the Millerites (Washington Review and Herald Publishing Co., 1944), pp. 377-379,et passim.

24. New Hampshire Asylum for the Insane. Annual Reports for 1843 and 1844. These reports are also excerpted in the New Hampshire Sentinel, 5 July 1843, p. 2, and 26 June 1844, p 3.

25. Hill's New Hampshire Patriot, 3 November, 1842, p. 4.

26. Mary Bennett, letter, 26 September 1842, New Ipswich, New Hampshire, to Olivia Adams of Dayton, Ohio. Unpublished manuscript in the author's collection.

27. Brief History of William Miller, p. 232

28. Washington Morse, "Remembrance of Former Days," Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, 7 May 1901, p. 291, as cited in Nichol, The Midnight Cry, p. 248.