Footprints of the Pioneers


Chapter 7—The Potato Patch Preaches

Leonard Hastings

NEAR the southern border of New Hampshire is the village of New Ipswich. Did you ever hear of New Ipswich, It was once an important town, business center of towns and cities which have now outstripped it, in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. And it was a center of Seventh-day Adventist influence, there being within a radius of ten miles as many towns holding believers of this faith. Leonard Hastings, farmer and preacher, was the leader. The Webber family lived ill town (this very house where we stayed overnight), Father Webber being a tailor; and their house was the common stopping place of workers and pilgrims, sometimes holding overnight as many as twenty or thirty persons. Up an ascending street were several houses, one still remaining, which the citizens called Advent Row, where Seventh-day Adventists lived. But now Mrs. Genevieve Webber Hastings and her (laughter Mildred are our only representatives there. Union Hall, in the town, is reputedly the place where Elder S. N. Haskell organized the first conference-wide Tract Society. FOPI 67.2

If you will go to Ellen G. White’s Life Sketches, you will find a story of early New Ipswich. “We found Brother Leonard Hastings’ family in deep affliction.” Mrs. Hastings had a baby boy, eight weeks old, who cried continually, wearing away the strength of the mother, who was already weak. They prayed and anointed the babe. His cries ceased, and James and Ellen White left the parents deeply grateful. “Our interview with that dear family was very precious. Our hearts were knit together. Especially was the heart of Sister Hastings knit with mine, as were those of David and Jonathan. Our union was not marred while she lived”-which was not long, for a year later word reached them in Oswego that Sister Hastings had died suddenly-of what was then called bilious fever, appendicitis. “This news fell upon me with crushing weight. It was difficult to be reconciled to it. She was capable of doing much good in the cause of God. She was a pillar in the cause of truth.” 36 That infant was Fred Hastings. And it was his widow in whose home we were now visiting. FOPI 68.1

Miss Mildred went with us on a drive three miles, up and up, to the site of the old Hastings home, where Brother and Sister White found them. The view from that high rolling land is beautiful, away out over the valleys in three directions, with the mountain behind. The house is gone, and only the crumbling cellar remains. But the potato patch is there, and when we visited, there were potatoes growing in it! FOPI 69.1

The potato patch figures in more than one case of Adventists in 1844. It appears that an infectious disease, causing rot, attacked the crop in the fall or the winter of 1844-1845; and so devastating was it that in the spring seed potatoes sold for as much as $5 a bushel. But, of course, in the early autumn of 1844 no one knew it was going to be that way. FOPI 70.1

Leonard Hastings was a believer in the message that the Lord was coming on October 22, 1844. His main business was pasturing and caring for cattle which were driven up from Massachusetts for the summer. But he grew enough produce to supply his family, and a potato crop for sale. FOPI 70.2

Right next to his house he had a large field of potatoes. It came time to dig them, in September or October, but he did not dig them. His neighbors-they were not very close neighbors, but they got around, especially to the “Advent’s”-they came and said, “Aren’t you going to dig your potatoes?” FOPI 70.3

“No,” said Leonard Hastings, “I’ll not want them. The Lord is coming.” FOPI 70.4

“We’ll dig them for you,” they offered. FOPI 70.5

“No,” he answered. “I’m going to let that field of potatoes preach my faith in the Lord’s soon coming.” FOPI 70.6

“Old fool!” they said behind his back, “He’ll find out he needs his potatoes.” FOPI 70.7

Well, of course the day passed, and the Lord did not come. But the potatoes were saved, and so they preached a sermon of the reward of faith, even if the larger faith was disappointed. Loughborough says, “As the fall ‘Was mild, and Mr. Hastings’ potatoes were left in the ground until November ... he had an abundant supply for himself and his unfortunate neighbors.” 37 Mrs. Genevieve Hastings says this is true; so it seems that the rot attacked the early dug potatoes but not those dug later. FOPI 70.8

In another case, however, the potatoes stayed in the ground until spring. Elder James Shultz told us this story of Silas Guilford, William Miller’s brother-in-law, who had moved from Dresden to near Oswego, New York. There he and his boys, on their farm, planted a twelve-acre field of potatoes in the spring of 1844. It will be recalled that Adventists had their first disappointment over the Lord’s not coming in April of 1844. Then came, the “tarrying time.” At first they set no other date; and so, seeing nothing certainly in the future, they planted their spring crops. But during the summer came the “‘ ‘midnight’ cry,” with October 22 set as the day of the Advent, Thus it occurred that Adventists, without denying their faith, planted their crops, but some of them at least would not harvest them. FOPI 71.1

Guilford and his family put every dollar they could get into the cause of the Second Advent, and he mortgaged his farm, and put in that money too. He also left his potatoes in the ground that fall, that they might preach his faith in the Lord’s coming. The snows came early in his section, and covered them up, so they stayed over the winter. When it came spring, and the snow was gone, Silas Guilford said to his wife, “I’m going up to the potato field and see if there are any potatoes that are good.” FOPI 71.2

“Oh, don’t, Silas,” said his wife. “You’ve been ridiculed so much. And now if they see you up there trying to dig potatoes, it will be just too much.” FOPI 71.3

“Well,” he said, “the boys and I are going up anyway.” Irving, the oldest boy, told this to Shultz when the latter was a lad. FOPI 71.4

“I went up with father,” he said. “The ground was thawed out nicely. Father put his fork in. The very first hill he dug up-wonderfully nice potatoes! He felt of them; they were solid, not frozen at all, and not a bit of rot. The next hill too! And then he sent me racing back for the other boys, and we dug those whole twelve acres-a fine yield. We got $4.50 a bushel for them, enough to pay off the mortgage and leave a tidy sum. FOPI 71.5

J. O. Corliss relates a similar story concerning Joseph Bates and his potatoes. 38 I suppose there were other potato patches that preached in 1844, but these are all I have heard of. FOPI 72.1