Footprints of the Pioneers

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Chapter 4—The Lone York Shilling

Joseph Bates

IT WAS the second visit I had made to New Bedford town, southern port of Massachusetts; but the former had been twenty years before, and my memories were dim. New Bedford is no obscure town, though comparatively little among the thousands of America. It boasts only a little over a hundred thousand inhabitants, but its history is long, as histories go in these United States. A whaling town back in the days when Yankee shipping saw the seven seas and in particular cruised the banks of the North to harpoon the great sea mammals that furnished most of the illuminating oil, the lubricating oil, and even some of the edible oil that the world knew. Not only whalers but merchantmen sailed from New Bedford to European ports, to South America, east coast, west coast, to China, to Australia, even to Japan after Perry had opened it to commerce in 1854. FOPI 39.5

But New Bedford, with its junior sister Fairhaven (ten thousand) across the Acushnet River, carries a more intimate interest to us, because here was the home, of Joseph Bates, the oldest of the three founders of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination. Fairhaven of old was simply called East New Bedford, but in the War of 1812 it gained corporate separation, and while using the same estuary of the Acushnet River for harbor, since that river separates the two towns, it was henceforth known as Fairhaven. Yet so involved is its history with the larger town that often is New Bedford named when Fairhaven is meant. 16 FOPI 40.1

Here, in 1793, came to live, when less than a year old, the boy Joseph Bates. His father, also named Joseph, made his residence on the “Meadow Farm,” the house still standing. The salt marsh meadow, a part of his holdings, is now contained in a city park, as is also the mill pond which adjoined it. FOPI 41.1

The elder Joseph Bates was one of sixteen men who, in 1798, banded together to build the Fairhaven Academy, which opened in 1800 and continued into the 1840’s. Joseph Bates the younger doubtless attended this academy, which still stands, under the care of a historical society. We entered, and saw in one room the school as it then appeared, with its wooden desks in two triple-decked companies opposing each other, and the teacher’s high desk in the corner. Here, with little doubt, the boy Joseph attended school from his eighth to his fifteenth years. FOPI 41.2

But “in my schoolboy days,” he says, “my most ardent desire was to become a sailor.” 17 Accordingly, in 1807, Joseph Bates, in his fifteenth year, sailed on his maiden voyage to England. On the way he had a spill into the sea where, on the other side ship, swam serene and unknowing the shark that had followed them for days. And from here, on his second voyage, two years later, he sailed into the grip of Danish privateers, tools of Bonaparte in his fight against all merchandising with Britain. And though, escaping from this capture, he reached England, he was not to see home; for before ever he returned he had spent five years of servitude in King George’s fighting ships and as prisoner of war when America and England came to grips in the War of 1812. FOPI 42.1

From hence, also, after his return in full manhood, he sailed as second mate, first mate, master of ships, first to Europe, then in successful adventurous voyages to South America, coming at last to be captain, supercargo, and part owner of vessels, whereby he made his modest fortune, twelve thousand dollars, and retired. Converted in solitude aboard his ship-through fears and spiritual struggles more than converted-reformed from evil habits of drinking, smoking, swearing, he became a model of health reform and spiritual power for a people and a cause as yet he did not know. 18 FOPI 42.2

It was 1828 when Joseph Bates, home from a voyage to South America, left the sea, twenty-one years from the time when he first sailed as cabin boy. Six weeks before his return his noble, devoted father had died, in his will bidding his son Joseph to help his mother settle the estate. Within a year his mother died also, leaving him the Meadow Farm, where he dwelt for three years. It is well established that the house on this farm is the present residence of Mr. James H. C. Marstoti, at 191 Main Street. Here is the house, sitting back from the road, suggestive of its former ample grounds, and still occupied by those whose ownership is traced by records from Joseph Bates. He sold the property to his brother Timothy, who sold to the parents of Ann Hathaway, from whom it came by direct inheritance to the present owners. 19 FOPI 42.3

Joseph Bates had a faithful and devoted wife, who as a girl was Prudence Nye. Of all the Nyes that Joseph Bates knew! Mother, and uncles, and neighbors, and sea mates, and friends! Prudence he had known while still a youth; and when in 1818 they were married, it was to walk the road of life together for fifty-two years. For the first ten of these years she was the typical sea captain’s wife, waiting through long voyages in hope, happily in her case never disappointed, of seeing him again. She planted a Bible in his sea chest, and other books of devotion that really brought him to his Savior. And while he doubted his acceptance, she hailed the evidence of his letters and his diaries as proof of his conversion, and she encouraged him to know that he was accepted of Christ. So when he came to land before his last voyage, he joined her church, the Christian, 20 which held to believer’s baptism. His honored and aged father wistfully remarked that he had had him baptized into his own church, the Congregational, when he was a baby. “But,” said Joseph, “the Bible says, ‘Believe and be baptized,’ and I was too young then to believe.” FOPI 43.1

Now, when in 1831 he sold his first residence to his brother, he joined with three other members of his church to build a Christian meeting house on Washington Street, in which he kept an interest until a change of views in 1839 induced him to dispose of it. That church building, on the corner of Washington and Walnut Streets, is now used for a boys’ club. 21 FOPI 44.1

In that same year he bought another piece of land, which he called his “1ittle farm,” and began, in 1832, to build thereon a residence and farm buildings. He planted there a grove of mulberry trees, intending to start a silk industry. Another building he constructed for a schoolhouse, hoping to employ the students in his business. A quick succession of events changed these plans, when the Second Advent message seized upon him in 1839. FOPI 44.2

But the site of his house is well known. It is on the corner of Christian and Mulberry streets in old Fairhaven. When he built, it was a two-story-and-attic, fourteen-room house; now remodeled, it is a story-and-a-half house of seven rooms. The one room unchanged in it, so the lady of the house, Mrs. Baker, assured us, is Joseph Bates’ study, their present dining room. We stood there, ruminating upon the past. We imagined Joseph Bates sitting at his desk that summer day of 1846, beginning to write his “book,” (a pamphlet of 48 pages) The Seventh Day Sabbath a Perpetual Sign, and being interrupted by his wife’s request to get her enough flour to finish her baking. All the Adventist guides have, for these twenty years and more, assured me that this was the house where he wrote his book. And so I reverently meditated. FOPI 44.3

Without doubt Joseph Bates wrote in that room. But, alas for treasured tradition, it was not, probably, where he wrote his Sabbath book. For I have since learned, through the research of the old records by Mr. Harris, that Joseph Bates sold this property in 1844 to Noah Spooner; and this comports with Bates’ own statement in his autobiography, 22 that he disposed of most of his property, including his place of residence, in that year, just before he and Gurney went on their Second Advent mission to Maryland. And that was in February, 1844. So, alas! I do not know where he lived when on that memorable morning in 1846 he sat down to write his book, with a single York shilling, the remnant of his fortune, in his pocket, and rose to spend his shilling for four pounds of flour. It was not this house, unless, most improbably, he repurchased it after the Disappointment, or made some arrangement to live there. He lived in Fairhaven until 1858, when he moved with his family to Michigan; but where he lived for those fourteen years I do not know. FOPI 46.1

“Joseph,” said his wife, coming in from the kitchen, “I haven’t enough flour to finish my baking.” FOPI 46.2

“That so?” commented her husband. “How much flour do you lack?” FOPI 46.3

“Oh, about four pounds,” said she. FOPI 46.4

“All right.” And shortly he rose and went out, and buying four pounds of flour, came in and left it on the kitchen table while she was temporarily out. But immediately she was at his door again, I fancy with a suspicion which she hoped he might disprove. FOPI 46.5

“Joseph, where did this flour come from?” FOPI 46.6

“I bought it. Isn’t that what you wanted?” FOPI 46.7

“Yes; but have you, Captain Joseph Bates, a man who has sailed with cargoes worth thousands of dollars, gone out and bought just four pounds of flour?” FOPI 46.8

“Wife, for those four pounds of flour I spent the last money I have on earth.” FOPI 47.1

It was true, then! Prudence Bates was a devoted wife. She had approved of her husband’s spending his money in the cause of the coming Christ, for she held with him in that. But she left finances in his hands; and as their fortunes dwindled, she pressed back the fear and the question of how much he had left. Now she knew. Moreover, she was not with him in this new Sabbath truth, nor was she for yet four years. During that time he used to drive with her to her Christian church on Sunday, go home, and come back to get her after service, for he would not keep the pope’s Sabbath; he kept the Lord’s Sabbath. In 1850 she followed him into the third angel’s message, with its Sabbath truth, and for twenty years, until her death, she was a devoted and beautiful Sabbath keeping Christian worker. But now! FOPI 47.2

Her apron flew to her eyes, as the tears flowed, and with sobbing voice she cried, “What are we going to do?” FOPI 47.3

Joseph Bates rose to his full height. “I am going to write a book on the Sabbath, and distribute it everywhere, to carry the truth to the people,” he said. FOPI 47.4

“Yes, but what are we going to live on?” FOPI 47.5

“Oh, the Lord will provide.” FOPI 47.6

“Yes! ‘The Lord will provide’! That’s what you always say.” Exit, with sobs and tears. FOPI 47.7

Well, Joseph Bates couldn’t do anything about it, that he knew. So he turned from his husbandly duties to his apostleship duties, and began to write. Within half an hour he was impressed that he should go to the post office, for a letter with money in it. He went, and found the letter, which contained a ten-dollar bill, from a man who said he felt impressed that Elder Bates needed money. With this he purchased ample supplies, sending them ahead to a surprised wife. When he arrived at home, she excitedly demanded to know where they came from. FOPI 47.8

“Oh,” said he, “the Lord sent them.” FOPI 48.1

“What do you mean, ‘The Lord sent them? ’” FOPI 48.2

“Prudy,” said he, “read this letter, and you will know how the Lord provides.” FOPI 48.3

Prudence Bates read it; and then she went in and had another good cry, but for a different reason. 23 And the message of the Sabbath went over the land. Today six hundred thousand believers throughout the world are the result, in part, of that message. And all the world knows the message. Somewhere in Fairhaven, if not on this spot, Joseph Bates paid his lone York shilling as an act of faith that he was the servant of Jehovah-jirah, the Lord who would provide. And he believed not in vain. FOPI 48.4