One of the several religions that had its birth right here in the Burned Over District is known as the Millerites. While many of you have probably never heard of the Millerites, we would guess you have probably at least heard of Seventh-day Adventism. While technically the first Seventh-day Adventist Church is not in New York State (it is thought to be in New Hampshire), the entire evolution of the Millerites to the religion of Seventh-day Adventism did happen right here in Upstate New York. The history of this evolution is quite lengthy and involves many people and because of this, Chris and I have visited several sites related to the Millerites/Seventh-day Adventists and decided to bring this history to you in two separate blog posts. As you will see in both posts, some pictures are in snow and others are not, so this may tell you how long we have been exploring these sites related to this history.
You know what else is a pretty interesting thing to explore? Barns. Yes, barns…those forgotten, dilapidated buildings you see on the side of the road or maybe off in a distant field. If barns could talk I would expect they would have one heck of a history to share, going back well before the founding of this country. However, if you had told us two years ago before we started this blog that we’d be exploring some broken down barns, and I will speak for Chris here, we would have told you that is a crazy idea. (By the way, there is already a book out there exploring barns in Upstate, New York that is a pretty cool read). That is exactly what this post is going to share with you as we went and explored the barn on the former farm of Hiram Edson in Port Gibson, New York and also the now ramshackle barn formally belonging to David Arnold in Volney, New York. In order for you to understand the significance of these two places, we have to give you the history of Mr. William Miller, the originator of modern day Adventism.
William Miller was born on February 15, 1782 and he grew up on the eastern edge of New York State. Miller was raised as a Baptist and he attended and completed the equivalent of his high school studies but never attended any more formal education after this. As Miller became his own man he was elected to many civil offices and eventually rejected his Baptist heritage and became a Deist. The War of 1812 then began to break out, of which Miller became intimately involved. Miller saw fighting at the Battle of Plattsburgh, where the smaller American forces overcame the much larger force of British soldiers. Through Miller’s own writings from that time, Miller struggled to comprehend how not only he had survived this battle, but that the Americans had won and he determined that only the force of a higher power could have made this happen.
After the war came to an end and Miller was discharged from the Army, Miller slowly began to regain some of his old Baptists beliefs and at first tried to combine his Deists beliefs with Baptism. However, one day Miller was attending a Baptists service and was asked to read a sermon aloud to the congregation. It was from this point forward that Miller regained his Baptists faith, but also began to believe in the Second Coming (or Second Advent) of Christ and that His coming was revealed in Bible prophecy. Miller ardently began to study the Bible and eventually developed the ‘day-year principle’ which is the idea that every day (or 24-hour period) in prophecy is actually one calendar year. Miller also determined that the calculations must start from the year 457 BCE, since this is when Artaxerxes I of Persia issued the decree to rebuild Jerusalem; and from here it was easy math. In 1822, William Miller officially declared that the Second Coming of Christ was definitely going to happen between the years of 1843-1844. Miller did not begin to evangelize and preach his new found beliefs until the year 1831. What’s important to understand is that Miller never set out to start a new religion and really did not. He remained a Baptist that for the most part was really just preaching a different message, that of the Second Coming of Christ. Miller began to tour the country sharing his message with anybody that wanted to attend and would often hold these meetings in tents. Chris gave you a bit of this “tent meeting’ history from his post about the Advent Christian Church in Penfield (found here), which is also a bit ironic since the Advent Christian Church is the second biggest off-shoot of the Millerites , underneath the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The reason for tents is because many congregations were unsure about Miller’s message and did not necessarily accept what he had to say with open arms. However, like it or not, Miller was coming and over the years, he started to attract a very large following, so after a while shelter was needed for all these people…a la tent meetings. Miller’s followers started to be colloquially referred to as Millerites, but it was not in and of itself its own religion. Most Millerites still belonged to their Congregationalist, Baptist, Presbyterian or Methodist churches, and in addition believed Christ’s Second Coming was going to happen by the year 1844. Miller eventually narrowed down when the Second Advent would occur and said, “My principles in brief, are, that Jesus Christ will come again to this earth, cleanse, purify, and take possession of the same, with all the saints, sometime between March 21, 1843, and March 21, 1844.” However, March 21, 1844 came and went without incident and Miller quickly adopted a new date of April 18, 1844. Once April 18, 1844 passed without Christ’s return, Miller scrambled for help. Due to the help of one of his followers, a new and ABSOLUTELY FOR SURE THIS TIME date of October 22, 1844 was determined.
Sitting at his farm, Hiram Edson and his MIllerite Adventist friends and associates waited for Christ to appear during the night of October 22 into the 23rd. When Christ did not appear, Edson is quoted as saying, “”Our fondest hopes and expectations were blasted, and such a spirit of weeping came over us as I never experienced before. It seemed that the loss of all earthly friends could have been no comparison. We wept, and wept, till the day dawn.” Edson and his friends that began to have doubts as to the validity of Miller’s preaching’s and this event became known as the Great Disappointment. By this time, Miller’s health was already deteriorating and while he never gave up on his belief of Christ’s Second Coming, Miller died on December 20, 1849.
Not knowing what to do next, Hiram Edson and his Adventist friends began to pray about it. Over the next few years, Edson and other Adventists found themselves at Edson’s barn discussing their beliefs, how the disappointment happened and how to move forward. During these meetings, Edson and friends also began to discuss the emerging Sabbatarian Movement that was taking place, which in essence was the belief that according to the Bible, the Sabbath occurs on the seventh day and is observed from Friday at sunset until Saturday at sunset. While there were many important historical figures that attended these meetings at Edson’s barn, the married couple of James and Ellen G. White are probably the best well known, and Ellen White even more so than her husband due to her gift of prophecy. During this time, this group of Adventists was just that…a group. They really had no name for themselves; plus some were Sabbatarians and some were not. This loose association of Sabbatarian Adventists met for several years with each other, often in Edson’s barn. However, it was Ellen White who is reported to have experienced the gift of prophecy and it is she who shared with the group her visions and how to move forward. (We will give a much lengthier history of Ellen White in our second post of Seventh-day Adventism, so make sure to come back). The first significant Sabbatarian Adventist event in New York State was actually held in the barn of Adventist David Arnold in Volney, New York on August 18-20, 1848. While other Sabbatarian Adventist conferences had taken place in other states before this meeting in New York, the movement was progressively “picking up steam” and becoming more and more organized. Several important people of the time, including the Whites, came to this meeting in Volney and due to the meetings success, a second conference was then scheduled to take place in Hiram Edson’s barn the following week.
It was on August 27 and 28, 1848, that Edson’s farm became the site for this second evangelistic Sabbath Conference (by this time, Edson himself was a believer of the Sabbath occurring on the seventh day). It was at this very conference that Ellen White reiterated her vision of prophecy about the way to move forward and the Sabbatarian Adventist movement officially came into being, which would soon become the Seventh-day Adventist Church. It is because of this meeting that Edson’s Farm is considered the “spiritual birth place” of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and is also the reason why Ellen White of often credited as being the founder of the religion (even though technically she did not do it on her own). From that point moving forward, several Sabbatarian Adventist groups and churches began to emerge across New York State and into New England. One of these churches built during this time was the Roosevelt Seventh-day Adventist Church in Fulton, New York, built in 1858. However, it was not until two years later in 1860 that the official name of the denomination became the Seventh-day Adventist Church. As this new religion began to grow, organization became needed; therefore the New York State Conference was established, with David Arnold as the President and Hiram Edson as the Trustee.
Chris and I have collectively read a lot of this early history of the Millerites and Adventism and have always been intrigued by it. Plus, it is amazing to us how close in proximity Edson’s Farm, the spiritual birth place of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is to the birth place of Spiritualism in Hydesville, New York, and then only a few more miles is also the birth place of Mormonism in Palmyra, New York. This area of New York is literally the epicenter of some serious spiritual energy! Chris and I had always wanted to make a trip out to the Edson Farm because we wanted to be able to stand in the exact spot where the Great Disappointment took place. So on one random Saturday we got the itch to go explore, I packed up my 13-month old baby and the three of us set off. We eventually got to where Edson’s barn is, drove a little bit down a gravel driveway and parked in between a house and the actual barn. Thankfully the baby was asleep at this time so we left the doors open, got out and immediately had a Great Disappointment of our own. The barn that is now a museum was closed! Not to be deterred, we decided to walk around anyway and see if we could see in the windows or at least somehow get something out of the trip. And just as we were perched on a ledge trying to see inside the barn, we heard a ‘Hello?? Can I help you??’ We spun around to find a very nice, kind older woman who explained she was the current caretaker and tour guide of the place and she actually lived in the upstairs of the next door house, which is also a museum on the lower level. Grateful that it was no longer a waste of a trip, we began our usual barrage of questioning. Thankfully this woman was very patient with us and actually seemed to love the fact that she had visitors. She explained to us that Edson’s Farm is actually a tourist destination for busloads of Seventh-day Adventists and that there is actually a tour of Seventh-day sites that goes across New York State, which includes David Arnold’s barn and the Roosevelt Church. This woman explained to us the history of the Great Disappointment and Edson’s Barn which I shared with you above. She also brought us inside the small museum to show us some original historical artifacts. The average person would probably spend no longer than 30 minutes there and could see everything, but I would say we were probably there for close to an hour and my baby slept through the whole thing, yay! We thanked the woman for her time, made sure to give a donation and then proceeded to leave.
Even though it was only a few miles away, Chris and I actually did not go see David Arnold’s barn at this time. We ended up seeing the Arnold barn months before, when Oswego County held its yearly Open Sites tour. See, the thing about the Arnold barn is that it really looks like an old falling down barn…because it is. The Arnold barn is literally dangerous to walk in and if you did, it would probably fall down on top of you. We were shocked that such a historic piece of Seventh-day Adventist history has been allowed to fall into such disrepair. All of the other Seventh-day historic sites have been bought up by the National Church in order to be preserved for tourist purposes, but not the Arnold barn. In fact, the barn sits on property owned by who-the-heck knows. You literally would have no idea the historical significance of the place just driving by, but thankfully Chris and I are in the know and knew exactly where it was. Once we pulled up to the property and we saw the state of disrepair of not only the barn but the house as well, we had no idea if someone actually lived there. I made the decision to just walk up to the house and knock on the door to see if someone was home. When I received no answer I tried to look through a window to see if it was even inhabited. It is at this point that I can neither confirm nor deny whether or not I walked further onto the property to get a closer look at the barn. However, we did get pictures, which may have been taken next to the barn or with a really good zoom lens from the road…but either way, here they are.
This is not the end of the story though. Our next post of Seventh-day Adventist history will give a greater explanation of Ellen White, their short time living in Rochester, New York and the history of the Roosevelt Seventh-day Adventist Church…so stay tuned!