Footprints of the Pioneers

Chapter 2—Go and Tell It to the World

William Miller

YOU cross the river, a little stream, as you go west from Rutland and out of Vermont into the State of New York; and lo! you are in Hampton. They called it Low Hampton in the old days, but we do not find anyone there who gives it that name now. It is, however, in the town-that is to say, the township-of Hampton, and at its lower end, going north, and so perhaps properly it is Low Hampton. The Poultney River, a brawling brook here, makes a loop in this tiny thumb of eastern New York, doubling back south and crooking once again to run into the head of Lake Champlain. Whitehall, the county seat, lies, so the inhabitants say, at the head of the lake; but so narrow is the water here for a score of miles clown-that is, north-that some maps still name it Poultney River, now a river indeed. West of Whitehall about a mile is a very respectable expanse of water, called South Bay, which is connected with Champlain by a small channel; and he who would pass on and down the lakeside must cross this South Bay by the long bridge that carries the road. FOPI 17.2

Here at Low Hampton is the farm home that, a hundred and more years ago, was William Miller’s. I had always supposed, from accounts I had read, that Low Hampton and Miller’s home lay on or near the southern shore of Lake Champlain; but the “near” is a matter of at least eight miles. This (to me a discovery) revises my conception and some of my writing. Forty years ago a survivor of those century-distant scenes, Hiram S. Guilford, wrote me of the ride his brother Irving made on that Saturday morning, sixteen miles to Low Hampton, to call Uncle William Miller into his first public proclamation of the Lord’s coming. He told me that Irving rode his horse only part of the way, then took a boat to row, as I understood, across the end of the lake to his uncle’s home. So I pictured the sixteen-year-old stripling bending his back to the oars across the broad shining surface of the lake to a gravelly beach a few rods from Uncle William’s home, and striding up the bank to knock at the door and announce, “Father says our Baptist minister is away this Sunday, and he wants you to come over and preach about the Lord’s coming.” 5 FOPI 18.1

But it cannot have been that way; for the head of the lake is a slender river at Whitehall and even farther down (that is, up north) than the Guilford’s home town, and to row anywhere on it would be much slower than to go galloping along the lakeshore, around by Whitehall and on to Low Hampton; and even so, the boat would leave him stranded several miles from his destination. So I am faint to conclude that Irving rode his brown mare all the way to Low Hampton, perhaps over the old wooden bridge on South Bay, the approaches to which still remain. And then we must suppose that William. Miller, after his initial struggle and surrender, hitched up his horse to his buggy, and they two rode back, leading the mare. FOPI 19.1

The story Is too familiar to you to require detailed repetition here: how William Miller, after fifteen years’ intensive study of the prophecies, and through that study reaching the conclusion that Christ would come sometime in the year 1843-1844, had now reached the point where he was battling against the conviction that he himself must go out and proclaim it. So, sitting in that east study of his sturdy farmhouse that Saturday morning, second in August, 1831, he at last promised the Lord that if the way should open, he would go. FOPI 19.2

“What do you mean by the way opening?” FOPI 20.1

“Why, if someone should come without my initiative, and ask me to go out and sound the message, I should say the way was open.” FOPI 20.2

And then Irving at the front door, rapping, and giving his father’s message, “Come and teach our people that the Lord is coming.” FOPI 20.3

William Miller tells the tale himself in brief, as quoted by White in his Life of William Miller; how that “a son of Mr. Guilford” brought him the word just after he had given his promise. 6 But Miller does not tell much of the story; the rest is left to the account Hiram. Guilford gave me nearly half a century ago: the names of the youth Irving, of the father and mother, Silas and Sylvia Guilford, the latter William Miller’s sister, of Patience, the oldest girl, who after discussion at family worship about calling Uncle William, came and announced breakfast as Irving rushed off to saddle up, and then rode galloping away to Uncle William Miller’s without his breakfast. 7 FOPI 20.4

Elder James Shultz, at whose house we paused on the Mohawk Trail in western Massachusetts, told me that as a lad he lived with Hiram Guilford, in Ohio. He gave me the names of the children in the family of Silas and Sylvia: Patience, Irving, Ransom, Hiram, Oscar, and perhaps there were another brother and a sister whose names he did not remember. FOPI 21.1

William Miller was thunderstruck by this sudden call. He answered the boy not a word, but turning on his heel, he strode out the back door and down the little slope on the west side and up again into the maple grove, where often he went to pray. But all the way along the path a Voice was thundering in his ears: “Go and tell it! Go and tell it! Go and tell it to the world!” In his maple grove(still standing, with several patriarchs of the time and some younger trees) he fell upon his knees and cried, “Lord, I can’t go! I can’t! I’m only a farmer, not a preacher; how can I carry a message like Noah?” But all he could hear was, “Will you break a promise so soon after you have made it? Go and tell it to the world!” FOPI 21.2

At last he gave up, crying, “Lord, I don’t know how I can do it; but if you will go with me, I will go.” FOPI 21.3

At once the burden lifted. His spirits soared. He sprang to his feet-this staid old farmer of middle age-and leaped up and down, clapping his hands and shouting, “Glory! Hallelujah!” FOPI 21.4

Lucy, his littlest daughter, his almost constant companion, had followed him as he hastened down the path; and now, standing aside, she watched his prayer and his triumph. Amazed at such an outburst as she had never before seen in her father, she ran back to the house, crying, “Mother, Mother, come quick! Father’s down in the grove, and he’s gone crazy!” It was what the world said of him later, but Lucy came to revise her judgment and to follow his teachings to the end of her days. Returning to the house, William Miller found Irving still patiently waiting for an answer. And he promised, “After dinner, Irving, I’ll go with you.” And so they went. Following their presumed and almost certain path, we rode in the auto the eight miles to Whitehall, crossed the bridge, and turning north went on over the hilly, winding road, following the course of the river or lake to Dresden Township. How vividly the pictures of that memorable century and an eighth ago crowded our imaginations as our car reeled off the swift miles that took them hours to travel. FOPI 21.5

We could not find from any present-day inhabitants where the Guilfords lived at that time. Dresden it was, as all accounts agree; but Dresden is a township, and the identity of this particular farm is lost. The Guilfords moved away from it before 1844 to the vicinity of Oswego, and after the Disappointment they moved to Michigan. The principal village in the township of Dresden is Clemons, which, however, by the location of the cemetery and the church, as well as by local report, is Dresden town, though now there is a station of that name, and not much else, two miles farther on. Striking for Dresden Station, we overran it, and stopped at a farmhouse to inquire if there was an old Baptist church in that vicinity. FOPI 22.1

An old man and a younger woman sat on the porch The lady referred us to the patriarch. Yes, he said, there was such a church, back a mile it proved to be three miles. When he learned that we were on the trail of Miller, he exclaimed, “Oh, Prophet Miller! Sure! Prophet Miller preached here!” Rising, he followed us off the porch, stamping with his cane, and crying, “Let me tell you something about Prophet Miller.” And then followed one of the foolish tales so thoroughly refuted in F. D. Nichol’s book The Midnight Cry. “That’s the truth, the gospel truth,” the old man exclaimed in answer to our skeptical smiles. And we left him in his smug assurance that he had added to our lore of the Advent message. FOPI 22.2

We rode back, and found the church, nearly opposite the ancient cemetery. It sits up on a high embankment on the side of a hill south of the town center, Clemons, embowered by trees, and still in occasional use, a neat white-painted structure in good repair. Next door, a few steps toward the village, a lady assured us of the antiquity of the building, where she knew her father and mother had worshiped as early as 1836, and she was sure it was older than that. Yes, it was the Baptist church, of that everyone assured us, and there is also a sign there. FOPI 23.1

This was without doubt the church where the Guilfords worshiped, the pastor of which, by his absence on that August week end, so opportunely opened the way for the beginning of the Second Advent message in America. But Miller did not preach in the church his first sermon or lecture. Hiram Guilford said he remembered very plainly Uncle William Miller sitting in the armchair in his father’s log house, with the big Bible on his knees, painting in word pictures to the assembled neighbors the visions of Daniel, of the beasts that meant kingdoms and the days that meant years, and reckoning out before them the close of the 2300 years to the momentous date of 1843-1844, then but twelve years away. “For Uncle,” says Hiram, “would not go to the church, because he was not a preacher.” FOPI 23.2

Miller does not tell where he gave those first lectures-for he did not close with one; at the demand of the people he stayed with them till near the end of the week. But he tells of the “house” becoming filled to overflowing, as day by day and night after night he opened the floodgates of his soul and mind, and gave them the first angel’s message. 8 The implication is that they were given in a church. So I think that after that first Sunday he yielded to the pressure and the necessity for more room, and occupied the pulpit in this rather ample Baptist church in Dresden. It is something to see, and to meditate upon, this little white church on the hillside. FOPI 23.3

We did investigate as thoroughly as possible the Miller homestead and its vicinity while we were there. The house is owned and occupied by a member of a church very inimical to our own, and it is understandable why he does not want to be bothered with visitors interested in a former occupant whose religion was not his. For some years now no Seventh-day Adventist has been permitted to inspect the inside of the house. But permission was given us to go outside and look at it, and over to the maple grove, and out to the ledge of rocks which looks over the fertile Miller farm below, the ledge where, tradition says, the friends of William Miller watched on that Expectation Day for the Lord to come, though Miller and his wife remained at home. Joshua V. Himes came to be with Miller. on that day, and possibly led the company out to the rocks. FOPI 24.1

We found, too, the site of the old Baptist chapel, a quarter mile west down the road, where Miller began to be converted while, deist though he was, he contritely read the sermons for the deacon whose imperfect delivery he had criticized, and who heaped coals of fire upon his head. It is a weed-and-bramble grown spot now, above a noble grove of trees, and only the faint outlines of, the foundations could be discovered in the riotous growth. But there it once stood. FOPI 25.1

Nearer to the Miller home is the neat chapel he built in 1848, four years after the Disappointment and but one year before his death, when his Baptist church had cast him out. The Advent Christian Church now owns it, and a memorial plate intimates that he was of their party and built it for them. A little light on Adventist history should here be let in. FOPI 25.2

After the Disappointment of October 22, 1844, when there was a scattering of believers and a confusion of beliefs, Joshua V. Himes, with Miller, Litch, Bliss, and some other leaders, sought to hold all Adventist factions together; and for this purpose called a meeting at Albany, New York, on April 29, 1845. This Albany Conference had a very considerable representation, but notable among the absentees were Joseph Marsh, editor of the Voice of Truth, in Rochester, New York; George Storrs, who had introduced to Adventists the doctrine of conditional immortality, or the sleep of the dead, and who had a paper of his own, The Bible Examiner, of New York City; and Enoch Jacobs, editor of The Day Star, of Cincinnati, Ohio. Neither was Joseph Bates there, nor James white, but the latter was young and only locally influential then. These two had not yet joined together or formed a party. Indeed, Bates had only this very month accepted the seventh-day Sabbath, and White was yet a year and a half away from that. There was no body known as Seventh-day Adventists. FOPI 25.3

The Albany Conference was only partially successful in its purpose, though Himes, and Miller for the four years he yet lived, were generally acknowledged as the leaders of the Adventists. Storrs’ party, however, definitely separated, and there were many factions besides. These all came, within a few years, to put up a common front against the “seventh-day people,” as that faith grew. FOPI 25.4

Miller in 1848, as before noted, built the chapel on his farm for the local company of Adventists, who all, if they kept his faith, believed in the natural immortality of the soul. There was no church organization among Adventists, for they held, as George Storrs put it, that organization was in itself Babylon. Nine years after Miller’s death, however, his followers under Himes and Bliss organized the American Millennial Association, afterward known as Evangelical Adventists. FOPI 26.1

The Advent Christian Church had its origin among the followers of Jonathan Cummings 9 who in 1852 made great inroads in the Adventist ranks by setting the time for Christ to come in the fall of 1853 or the spring of 1854. The doctrine of conditional immortality had by this time made much headway, and most of Cummings’ followers were of this persuasion. They established their own paper, The World’s Crisis. When Christ did not come at their set time, they were invited back into the Evangelical body, but, mainly on the question of the nature of the soul, they refused, and in 1861 completed their countrywide organization as a church. In time they came to be the chief and only significant first-day Adventist body. Himes joined them in 1864, and left them in 1875. The Evangelical Adventists dwindled, and in 1916 disappeared from the United States Census of Religious Bodies. FOPI 26.2

The Adventist company at Low Hampton, after Miller’s death, in the main adopted the doctrine of conditional immortality, and, retaining the observance of Sunday, identified themselves with the Advent Christian Church, and the little chapel remained in their possession. It was built, however, not for the Advent Christians, but for the Evangelical Adventists. William Miller belonged to no Adventist body now existing; yet, differing from all in some particulars, he is father of all. FOPI 26.3

The cemetery where lie William Miller and his wife, Lucy, is on a crossroads a quarter of a mile cast. It is in a sad state of disrepair. While the tombstones of these two stand upright, many others in the weed-grown and neglected yard are leaning or fallen. It was in disreputable contrast to the graves of D. L. Moody and his wife, on the wide sweeping slopes of shining green at the Moody Girls’ School in Northfield, Massachusetts, which we saw the next day. Although William Miller was not a Seventh-day Adventist, he was the foremost American herald of the second coming. He was in the succession of the great men of God who have held the banner aloft through all the centuries, the appointed spokesman of the prophecies of the Bible and the glorious consummation. He is our honored spiritual progenitor, and it would be to the credit of the church body which has come to fill almost the entire Adventist field, to acquire his homestead and restore it, and also to have custody of his grave. FOPI 27.1

“Angels watch the precious dust of this servant of God, and he will come forth at the sound of the last trump,” wrote Ellen G. White. 10 But while the angels watch during these last hours of time, would they not welcome the human care of his resting place by that people who have been called to be the spearhead of the Second Advent Movement? FOPI 27.2