The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 4


III. Captain Bates-Pioneer in Southern Territory

JOSEPH BATES (1792-1872) sprang from a Congregational background, spending his childhood in Massachusetts not far from the landing place of the Pilgrim Fathers. When he was but a lad his father, who had been a captain in the Revolutionary War, moved to New Bedford, which was divided during the War of 1812, the eastern part (across the Acushnet River) being renamed Fairhaven. Joseph early took to sea, sailing for Europe as a cabin boy in 1807. Many thrilling adventures marked his life at sea-collision with an iceberg; commandeered as a gunner on the H.M.S. Rodney; on blockade duty in the war between England and Spain against France, with attempts to escape, and recapture; a prisoner of war for two and a half years; and finally reaching home after six years’ absence. But he continued to ply the seven seas, and rose to rank of captain in 1821. 49 (His picture appears on p. 529.) PFF4 545.3

During his first trip as captain he forbade the drinking of “ardent spirits” aboard ship. On the next he resolved personally to drink no wine, and later even gave up smoking. In 1826, just before starting on another voyage, his wife placed in his trunk a New Testament, which proved to be the beginning of a genuine spiritual awakening. The sickness of one of the crew intensified Bates’s unrest. After a struggle he began to pray. Then the death of the stricken crew member, and his own responsibility, as captain, for the funeral service, brought him still closer to God, and he surrendered to Christ and began daily Bible study and prayer. Upon reaching home he was baptized and joined the New Bedford Christian Church. But the minister who administered the rite strangely refused to join him in the fight against liquor. So he turned to the Congregationalist minister in Fairhaven, who helped him form the Fair-haven Temperance Society. He even gave up the use of tea and coffee. PFF4 546.1

Bates had strong and sturdy convictions. On shipboard he gathered his crew and read the rules for the trip-no intoxicants, no swearing, no washing of clothes on Sunday, and daily worship. Two men were converted on the voyage. Then Bates retired from sea service in 1826 with a comfortable fortune. He now turned his attention to serious church work and reform movements, ever taking the side of the oppressed. And each time he took up a new reform movement he lost some friends. Despite opposition and denunciation, he formed an antislavery society. Then he projected a manual training school. To provide labor, he planned to produce silk for market, and planted three mulberry orchards. These activities, of course, covered a number of years. PFF4 546.2

Just at this time, in 1839, a ministerial friend invited him to attend a lecture on the second advent of Christ. After hearing it through he exclaimed, “That is the truth!” He had been associated somewhat with J. V. Himes in various reform activities. And now Himes himself had become interested in Miller’s views on the second advent. Bates obtained a copy of Miller’s Lectures, and shortly thereafter fully accepted their teaching, regarding premillennialism as the “fountainhead of reform” for the time. When the call for the first General Conference at Boston, for ministers interested in the second advent, was issued by sixteen men, Bates was one of the authorizing committee. At his earnest solicitation Miller held a series of meetings in Fairhaven in March, 1841. In 1842, while delayed at the Salem railway station, Bates led out in the singing of advent hymns. Such interest was created by this unusual venture that Silas Hawley, a Presbyterian minister who had but recently accepted Millerism, was invited to preach the next Sunday to an estimated audience of seven thousand. PFF4 547.1

Bates soon became an active and successful Millerite minister. He continued his participation in various General Conferences, and by May, 1842, was chosen chairman of one of the most important of the conferences—the one that authorized the lithographing of Fitch’s famous “1843 Chart,” and approved the conducting of camp meetings, which were destined to be such a noteworthy success. PFF4 547.2

Bates attended various camp meetings, and was a prominent member of different important committees. However, opposition to the advent message by members of his Fairhaven Christian Church led him to withdraw from its membership. In 1843 he sold his home, and most of his other real estate, and prepared to go where needed to herald the second coming of Christ. He had a burden to go down to the slaveholding States of the South, where other lecturers had been driven out by hostile inhabitants. Bates was warned that he would probably be killed because of his well-known abolitionist principles. 50 Undeterred, he went into Maryland and preached to large numbers, H. S. Gurney, baritone singer, accompanying him. This very success aroused resentment and opposition, and a fiery Methodist class leader threatened to have them ridden out of town on a rail. Bates made the instant but telling rejoinder, “If you will put a saddle on it, we would rather ride than walk.” This nimble reply disconcerted the man, and Bates continued: PFF4 547.3

“You must not think that we have come six hundred miles through the ice and snow, at our own expense, to give you the Midnight Cry, without first sitting down and counting the cost. And now, if the Lord has no more for us to do, we had as life lie at the bottom of the Chesapeake Bay as anywhere else until the Lord comes. But if he has any more work for us to do, you can’t touch us! 51 PFF4 548.1

The Baltimore Patriot learned of the episode and after relating the story, said significantly: “The crush of matter and the wreck of worlds would be nothing to such men.” 52 PFF4 548.2

In another incident in a little Maryland town, Bates made this reply: PFF4 548.3

“Yes, Judge, I am an abolitionist, and have come to get your slaves, and you too! As to getting your slaves from you, we have no such intention; for if you should give us all you have (and I was informed he owned quite a number), we should not know what to do with them. We teach that Christ is coming, and we want you all saved.” 53 PFF4 548.4

Completing their mission, they turned homeward again by boat. No time or opportunity was to be lost, so on shipboard they hung up their prophetic chart, sang an advent hymn, and proceeded to give a lecture on the coming crisis. When the passengers transferred to the train at the port, Bates even continued his lecture on the train. He visited the many islands scattered along the Massachusetts coast, leading many to accept the second advent faith. PFF4 548.5

Bates was one of the important leaders in the Exeter (New Hampshire) camp meeting in August, 1844, when the “true midnight cry” was first presented. Bates, it happened, was the preacher chosen for that morning’s service at the camp. He was exhorting his hearers to be faithful and calmly assuring them that God was simply testing them, that they were in the tarrying time, and similar sentiments, when Samuel S. Snow rode into the camp on horseback. Taking a seat beside his sister, Mrs. John Couch, Snow reiterated his conviction that Christ would appear at the time appointed. Greatly stirred, Mrs. Couch startled the audience by rising and declaring, “Here is a man with a message from God!” (The full story appears in chapter 38.) PFF4 549.1

There the eyes of all were turned to the date October 22, and conviction gripped the camp that this would be the day of Christ’s emergence from the heaven of heavens, or holy of holies. From this encampment men went forth everywhere with the zeal of crusaders to warn men in the few weeks that remained. Bates’s later activities—his acceptance and proclamation of the seventh-day Sabbath, his participation in the 1848 Sabbath conferences, and related matters, must be reserved for their chronological place. He was a great trail blazer, holding key positions all through the Advent Movement, from 1840 on. His Second Advent Way Marks and High Heaps (1847) was a short history of the advent cause from 1840 to 1847, the first of its kind. PFF4 549.2