The Potato Patch Preachers

Leonard Hastings stood at his farmhouse window eyeing his field of potatoes. Outside it was a brilliant spring day in New Ipswich, New Hampshire. Leonard’s mind went back over the events of the past year, especially what had taken place in the fall of 1844. Even now he felt a deep pang of emotion as he remembered that fateful day, October 22, 1844, and the terrible heartbreak that had followed in its wake.

The second coming of Jesus had been the most treasured hope of the small group of Advent believers. They had listened with rapt attention as William Miller and others had preached on the prophecies of Daniel that pointed to Christ’s soon return. Eagerly they had thumbed through their own Bibles, carefully studying the arguments for themselves, point by painstaking point. They had been sure. As sure as they were that the Bible was the Word of God, they had been sure that Jesus would come in 1844. And they had been filled with the sweetest joy at the thought. To each of them, Jesus was a personal Friend and Saviour and the thought of seeing Him, face to face thrilled their hearts with unutterable excitement.

Lessons Of Love From A Potato Patch

Leonard had been determined to act out his faith in the soon return of Jesus by choosing to leave his crop of potatoes in the ground. His neighbours had been concerned. It’s one thing to believe this nonsense about the end of the world, they thought, but it is entirely another thing to take such drastic measures that could potentially lead to ruin. They offered to dig up the potatoes for him and store them in his barn. He politely and firmly declined.

They thought he was crazy.

Then when October 22 came and went without even a murmur of the Lord’s return they knew he was crazy and did not hesitate to tell him so.

Hastings was so heartsick over the disappointment that he just let the potatoes lie. He had bigger issues to deal with, issues like figuring out what had happened and why? Wrestling through questions like “Is the Bible true?” “Have we followed a lie?” “Is there no God? No Heaven? No Hope?” It had been a dark time for Hastings and other advent believers, probably the darkest time of their lives. And then there were the hecklers. Every smart-mouthed sceptic on the eastern seaboard seemed to congregate within shouting distance of known Adventist homes to catcall and harangue their neighbours. It was the darkest, most humiliating experience they had endured.

But as fall turned into winter and winter melted into spring, God sent the Advent believers the comfort and hope they so desperately needed and even though their numbers dwindled, the faith of those who remained grew and strengthened.

At this point, Leonard remembered his potatoes.

And so it was in the spring of 1845 that Leonard Hastings went out to his field to dig his potatoes out of the ground. A terrible potato blight had spread across the eastern coast of the United States in early 1843 and by 1845 had spread as far as Illinois and Nova Scotia. Almost every potato farmer and his crop had been affected except, as it turned out, for Leonard Hastings. When he dug up his crop in the spring of 1845, not only were his potatoes perfect, they also proved to be an amazing cache of seed crop which sold for an extremely good price.

Silas Guildford’s Potatoes

Much like Leonard Hastings, Silas Guilford (William Miller’s brother-in-law) had planted a 22-acre field near Oswego, New York in the spring of 1844. He too had been prostrated by the pain and darkness of the great disappointment and he too allowed his potatoes to stay in the ground through the winter. When he finally decided to dig them out of the ground his wife begged him not to. “We’ve been the laughing stock of the entire town for so long” she pleaded “if people see you digging around in your potato field they’re going to start heckling us again! Besides” she added, “the potatoes will have frozen solid by now and they’ll be completely rotten. Just leave them, Silas!”

But Silas would not be deterred. He took out his hoe and went into his field to dig up his potatoes. As it turned out, the potatoes were in perfect condition and he too was able to sell them for quite a pretty little packet of money which gave him enough funds to pay off his mortgage and settle down with quite a little nest egg to boot.

The stories of men like Leonard Hastings and Silas Guildford serve as reminders of the providential care of God for His people. Even in the darkest and trying times of our lives, when the very core of our faith is shaken, we can be sure that God is watching over us. We can be sure that He knows how to keep the feet of His saints (1 Samuel 2:9) and provide for their every need (Philippians 4:19). When God allows us to go through the darkest hours of our lives may we hold fast to that assurance and find comfort.

Citations and Further Reading

  • Spalding, A.W. (1947) – Footprints of The Pioneers
  • Maxwell, C.M. (1976) – Tell it to the World: The Story of Seventh-Day Adventists
  • Burt, M.D. (2011) – Adventist Pioneer Places (New York and New England)
  • Collins, N.J. (2005) – Heartwarming Stories of Adventist Pioneers (Book 2)