William Miller (1782-1840)
I mentioned this man in my first book The Sum Total: William Miller (1782-1849)–the founder of the Millerite Movement or Millerism in the 1840s. It was during the time of the Great Awakening, and a number of revivals were underway at the time. Miller was a big item in Ohio in the 1840s when my Clay/Klee ancestors lived there. So I mentioned him briefly in my book along with other events taking place at the time, and then I went on from there. I forgot all about him until today.
I was working on Dad’s Cline/Clyne line–a line that has been very difficult to trace. My great-grandfather, Alonzo Inman (1842-1912), married Caroline Elizabeth Waiste (1842-1933). Caroline was the daughter of Uri Smith Waiste (1814-1873) and Polly Cline (1813-1886). And Polly Cline was the daughter of Jacob Cline/Clyne (1771-1853) and Polly Chelson/Chilson (1777-1865)–the Cline line I am currently researching.
My third great-grandparents, Jacob Cline/Clyne and Polly Chelson/Chilson, are buried in the William Miller Farm/Cemetery in Low Hampton, Washington County, New York! William Miller is buried there as well.
Okay–so who was William Miller? I wondered as I stared at the cemetery page. After all, five years had passed since I wrote that book. His Find-a-Grave Memorial jogged my memory, and when I discovered his photo on the internet, I knew I had visited him before. Only now, he had a direct connection with some of my ancestors!
Who Was William Miller?
After bumping into William Miller again–this time so closely associated with family members– I had to order a book about him. It has been shipped, but I may not receive it until sometime in late November or early December. For now, I will rely on a brief synopsis of from the Wikipedia site and expand it more fully after the book arrives:
William Miller was born on February 15, 1782, in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. His parents were Captain William Miller, a veteran of the American Revolution, and Paulina, the daughter of Elnathan Phelps. When he was four years old, his family moved to rural Low Hampton, New York. Miller was educated at home by his mother until the age of nine, when he attended the newly established East Poultney District School. Miller is not known to have undertaken any type of formal study after the age of eighteen, though he continued to read widely and voraciously. As a youth, he had access to the private libraries of Judge James Witherell and Congressman Matthew Lyon in nearby Fair Haven, Vermont, as well as that of Alexander Cruikshanks of Whitehall, New York. In 1803, Miller married Lucy Smith and moved to her nearby hometown of Poultney, where he took up farming. While in Poultney, Miller was elected to a number of civil offices, starting with the office of Constable. In 1809 he was elected to the office of Deputy Sheriff and at an unknown date was elected Justice of the Peace. Miller served in the Vermont militia and was commissioned a lieutenant on July 21, 1810. He was reasonably well off, owning a house, land, and at least two horses.
Shortly after his move to Poultney, Miller rejected his Baptist heritage and became a Deist. In his biography Miller records his conversion: “I became acquainted with the principal men in that village [Poultney, Vermont], who were professedly Deists; but they were good citizens, and of a moral and serious deportment. They put into my hands the works of Voltaire, [David] Hume, Thomas Paine, Ethan Allen, and other deistical writers”(1)
To make a long story short, after Miller became a Deist, he joined the military and after he was discharged from his military service, he returned to Low Hampton, Washington County, New York. He bought a farm there, and the William Miller Cemetery where he and my ancestors are buried is located in the area. When he returned to Low Hampton, he attempted regaining his Baptist faith. But his early attempt failed when he tried to regain his Baptist faith by remaining a Deist.
That didn’t work out too well.
In Miller’s words:
“Suddenly the character of a Savior was vividly impressed upon my mind. It seemed that there might be a Being so good and compassionate as to Himself atone for our transgressions, and thereby save us from suffering the penalty of sin. I immediately felt how lovely such a Being must be; and imagined that I could cast myself into the arms of, and trust in the mercy of, such a One”(2).
After his conversion, his father (who was a Deist) challenged him to prove it. So Miller compiled a calculation of the exact date when Christ would return–the Second Coming. Some writers indicate that Miller did not actually release the date to the public himself. The announcement was made by a Congregational minister in Boston. The result was a religious fervor that got out of control, ending in The Great Disappointment:
After the failure of Miller’s expectations for October 22, 1844, the date became known as the Millerites’ Great Disappointment. Hiram Edson recorded that “Our fondest hopes and expectations were blasted, and such a spirit of weeping came over us as I never experienced before… We wept, and wept, till the day dawn.” Following the Great Disappointment most Millerites simply gave up their beliefs. Some did not and viewpoints and explanations proliferated. Miller initially seems to have thought that Christ’s Second Coming was still going to take place—that “the year of expectation was according to prophecy; but…that there might be an error in Bible chronology, which was of human origin, that could throw the date off somewhat and account for the discrepancy.” Miller never gave up his belief in the Second Coming of Christ; he died on December 20, 1849, still convinced that the Second Coming was imminent. Miller is buried near his home in Low Hampton, NY and his home is a registered National Historic Landmark and preserved as a museum: William Miller’s Home(3).
Repercussions followed The Great Disappointment:
The Millerites had to deal with their own shattered expectations, as well as considerable criticism and even violence from the public. Many followers had given up their possessions in expectation of Christ’s return. On November 18, 1844, Miller wrote to Himes about his experiences:
“Some are tauntingly enquiring, ‘Have you not gone up?’ Even little children in the streets are shouting continually to passersby, ‘Have you a ticket to go up?’ The public prints, of the most fashionable and popular kind…are caricaturing in the most shameful manner of the ‘white robes of the saints,’ Revelation 6:11, the ‘going up,’ and the great day of ‘burning.’ Even the pulpits are desecrated by the repetition of scandalous and false reports concerning the ‘ascension robes’, and priests are using their powers and pens to fill the catalogue of scoffing in the most scandalous periodicals of the day.”
There were also the instances of violence: a Millerite church was burned in Ithaca, and two were vandalized in Dansville and Scottsville. In Loraine, Illinois, a mob attacked the Millerite congregation with clubs and knives, while a group in Toronto was tarred and feathered. Shots were fired at another Canadian group meeting in a private house.
Both Millerite leaders and followers were left generally bewildered and disillusioned. Responses varied: some continued to look daily for Christ’s return, while others predicted different dates—among them April, July, and October 1845. Some theorized that the world had entered the seventh millennium—the “Great Sabbath”, and that therefore, the saved should not work. Others acted as children, basing their belief on Jesus’ words in Mark 10:15: “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” Millerite O. J. D. Pickands used Revelation to teach that Christ was now sitting on a white cloud and must be prayed down. Probably the majority, however, simply gave up their beliefs and attempted to rebuild their lives. Some members rejoined their previous denominations. A substantial number joined the Shakers(4).
A number of denominations emerged from this event including the Shakers, the Seventh-Day Adventists, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses. My third great grandparents were Millerite Baptists, and they remained loyal with the original group.
I just hope they weren’t sitting on top of their roof, dressed in white sheets!
(1) William Miller, Preacher. From the Wikipedia site. Last modified: 15 Sep 2015. Date Accessed: 25 Oct 2015. Available online at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Miller_%28preacher%29
(2) William Miller, Preacher. From the Wikipedia site. Last modified: 15 Sep 2015. Date Accessed: 25 Oct 2015. Available online at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Miller_%28preacher%29
(3) William Miller, Preacher. From the Wikipedia site. Last modified: 15 Sep 2015. Date Accessed: 25 Oct 2015. Available online at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Miller_%28preacher%29
(4) Great Disappointment. From the Wikipedia site. Last modified: 27 Jul 2015. Date Accessed: 25 Oct 2015. Available online at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Disappointment