William Miller and The Herald Reporter

There was a nip in the air and the reporter tugged his coat more firmly around his body for protection. It was a chilly day in Newark and he was curious to see who would be gathered at the great tent.

It was not the most exciting story to cover. The Millerites had come to town and he had been despatched by The New York Herald to cover it. Arriving at the large field where the tent was pitched he paused to flip open his little leather-bound notebook. Pulling out his small stubby pencil he scratched the date on the top right-hand corner of the page; November 3rd 1842. He then proceeded to write a short description of his surroundings and what the tent looked like.

He was expecting crowds of people to descend on this series of meetings which was scheduled to be the last for the 1842 season of Millerite meetings. He made a few more comments in the notebook, somewhat flippant and slightly sacrilegious, before pocketing it and stride out across the field towards the imposing structure.

He had heard that it had been commissioned by  Joshua Himes and had the capacity to seat 3000 people. Narrowing his eyes he took in the entire scene before him, a small smile tugging at the corner of his mouth; this was going to be an interesting week.

Live From The Big Tent

“Saturday, November 5th 1842

The excitement is gradually but surely increasing in this place in relation to the second advent. Those who think that one of these Millerite meetings resembles a Methodist camp meeting are greatly mistaken; there is much more order and decorum and intellectual argument in these Miller meetings. Up to the present time, there has not been a disorderly person upon the ground”

The meeting schedule was gruelling, even for a reporter. He found himself waking at the crack of dawn and bouncing from meeting to meeting for pretty much the entire day. When the Sunday rolled around the numbers swelled to six thousand people at any given time throughout the day. He was expecting a riot, preparing for it but it didn’t come. The level of order and decorum caught his attention.

They were different, he decided, these Millerites. There was something about them. Pulling out his notebook he perched on a nearby log and scribbled;

“There is no doubt of the piety and sincerity of these people, and that they have as keen a sense of propriety as anybody else and as much or more morality but this is a queer way of showing it.”

He watched in amusement as the ministers of all the churches in the city preached blistering sermons, denouncing Miller as a great humbug. As far as he was concerned, Miller seemed to be quite sincere despite the fact that he was yankee.

By the middle of the week, the railing and ranting against Miller cranked up a notch when a visiting preacher swept into town to hold meetings aimed at decimating Miller’s arguments. The man, Dr. Brownlee, drew crowds but his presence also drew attention to the Millerite meetings, acting as free publicity for Father Miller and his great tent.

All in all, while they were in Newark in 1842, the Millerites managed to weather two storms, preach in one of the churches, despite the tide of somewhat virulent hostility and convert three ministers. It was a successful end to a busy 1842 season.

Preparing to enter one of the final meetings, to be held in a large iron foundry, with a seating capacity of 5000, our trust Herald reporter paused to jot down a somewhat personal observation;

I have to attend these meetings morning, noon and night until I feel completely fagged out. Some days I scarcely have time to get my meals and write out my report between the acts. I thought the Methodists were pretty indefatigable at camp meetings, but these people can beat ‘em hollow!”

Further Reading and Citations

  • Nichol F.D. (1944) – The Midnight Cry
  • Fiedler D. (1996) – Hindsight

Suki Goonatilleke lives in Melbourne, Australia with her husband and two daughters. She is passionate about winning people for Jesus and has served in full-time ministry at Gateway Adventist Center. Her current ministry endeavors include being a stay-at-home mom by day and writer by night.