Joseph Bates And The Beginnings of Adventist Printing

In the aftermath of the great disappointment, Sabbatarian Adventists struggled to get their message out. They were the subjects of numerous jokes and had to fend off hecklers in their local communities for months. No one wanted to have anything to do with a movement that sprang out of Millerite Adventism and prejudice ran high. In addition to this many Adventists had sold their properties and livelihoods and upended their lives in preparation for the second coming. After the disappointment, they were mostly poor and had limited resources at their disposal to use for spreading the truths about the Sabbath and the Sanctuary.

Being Millerites, Sabbatarian Adventists naturally gravitated towards using the printed page as a means of disseminating the new truths they were discovering. Printing and publishing was something that the Millerites had done regularly and done well. Accordingly, in the Spring of 1846, Ellen White’s first vision was printed and published as a broadside and distributed among the scattered remnants of the Millerite movement. The cost of printing the 250 copies that were distributed was jointly met by James White and H.S. Gurney.

Joseph Bates also felt the need to use publishing as a vehicle to share the new truths he was discovering and to correct errors that were beginning to crop up among his fellow Adventists. In May 1846 he published a forty-page tract titled “The Opening Heavens” which was particularly geared towards addressing those who were teaching that Christ had come spiritually in 1844. Bates had limited funds but he went forward in faith and the money to pay for the tracts was donated by an Adventist lady who had recently sold a handmade rag carpet. Her donation covered Bates’ first printing bill. It was the first of many providences that Joseph Bates experienced as he forged ahead with his work of printing and publishing.

Next, Bates sat down to prepare a tract on the Sabbath. He was broke but that didn’t matter, he sat down to write it anyway. While he was writing his wife came to inform him that she needed more flour to finish the day’s baking. Bates asked her how much flour she needed and Prudence Bates responded that she needed about four pounds. Joseph Bates shifted uneasily in his seat. He knew that the only cash in hand he had available to him was a single york shilling which amounted to about 12.5 cents. The york shilling would just about cover for the flour and a few other items that Prudence went on to add to her grocery list but after he had purchased those items he would be stone broke.

When Bates got home with his shopping in hand Prudence was aghast. She couldn’t believe that he had gone down to the store and bought just four pounds of flour. Gently Bates broke the news to her that he had bought the meager provisions with the last bit of money he had. Prudence embarrassment gave way to despair and she tearfully asked her husband what they would do for cash. Without a moment’s hesitation, Bates informed her that he would finish writing his tract and would wait upon God to provide for their personal needs.

Prudence Bates was sobbing by this time and she wailed “That’s what you always say!” in response to his comment about waiting upon the Lord to provide. A few moments after his wife had left the room Bates was impressed that a letter was waiting for him at the post office. Believing that God was guiding him and never one to hesitate at such moments he immediately set off to see the Postmaster. Sure enough, when he got to the post office there was a letter there waiting for him. The letter didn’t carry any postage and Bates told the postmaster that he had no money to pay for the postage. The postmaster was more than happy to let Bates take the letter and pay for the postage later but Bates wouldn’t hear of it. After a moment’s thought, he said to Postmaster Drew “I feel impressed that there is money in that envelope. Please open it and if this is so, take the postage out first and give me the rest”

Reluctantly the Postmaster opened the envelope and found a $10 bill inside. He took the postage fee and handed over the rest of the money to Bates who promptly went down to the local grocery store and bought a cart load of household supplies. He then proceeded to the printer to arrange for the printing of his tract on the Sabbath. He had no money to cover the costs but he was sure that God would provide the funds for that as well. When he got home his astonished wife asked him where the provisions that had just been unloaded onto their front porch had come from. Smiling Bates simply said, “the Lord sent them”. “That’s what you always say!” Prudence retorted. Bates then showed her the letter that he had picked up at the post office.

The money to pay the printer for the tracts arrived just as mysteriously. Bates received small amounts at unexpected times which he was able to put towards the final bill. When Bates went to make the final payment he was told that the account had been settled. He never discovered that his last donor had been his close friend H.S. Gurney, who had paid Bates’ printing bill with money he had just received for a long overdue debt that was owed him.

Bates kept writing and God kept miraculously providing. In 1847 he revised and enlarged the Sabbath tract and later he prepared a review of the Millerite experience that was designed to inspire faith in God’s leading of that movement. The tract was titled “Second Advent Waymarks and High Heaps”. Bates didn’t have the money to run it through the printer but he finished writing it anyway. When it was finally ready for printing a widow, who was selling her little cottage to move in with her in-laws, gave Bates a portion of her earnings to publish his tracts. This experience continued with subsequent tracts over the next three years.

In the late Spring of 1847, the first joint publication between James and Ellen White and Joseph Bates hit the press. The pamphlet was titled “A Word To The Little Flock”  and was specifically written for Adventists. It contained several of Ellen White’s visions, an endorsement of the visions by Bates and an article by James White which dealt with the seven last plagues and the events surrounding Christ’s coming. The purpose of this pamphlet was to strengthen the faith of the Advent believers and to encourage them to hold on to the special experience they had had in 1844 as they looked for more light on the path ahead.

A Little Paper

Sabbatarian Adventists soon became aware of a growing need to publish a periodical. They felt that there was a need for some means of communicating with the growing numbers of Adventists who were scattered across the country on a regular basis. This was especially highlighted during the 1848 Sabbath Conferences, as leaders of the movement realized that they needed a way to communicate information regarding future conferences and also share with other believers the outcomes of the days they had spent in study and prayer.

During the October conference in Topsham, Maine the delegates made the matter of publishing their growing views the subject of special prayer. The more they thought about it the more it seemed that the difficulties far outweighed the opportunities. The believers couldn’t figure out how they were going to manage such a venture. They decided to study and pray over the matter more when they met the following month at the home of Otis Nichols in Dorchester, Massachusetts.

During the meeting at Dorchester, Ellen White was given a vision about the Sabbath and its role during the sealing of God’s people. During the same vision, she was shown that the time had come to start a little paper to send out to the people. She also made it known that God had called her husband James White to pioneer the work. White was willing but he didn’t have the money to make it happen. He and Ellen were so broke that when they stopped in a town for a few weeks he would work on the railroad hauling stone or as a farm laborer in order to make some money. But by 1849, James White was so convicted that he needed to start publishing that he decided to mow hay to pay for the expenses. At the time the Whites were living in the home of Albert Belden in Rocky Hill, Connecticut. As James was heading out of the house to town to buy a scythe Ellen fainted. James prayed for her and after his prayer Ellen regained consciousness. She was immediately taken off in vision. During the vision, she was told that it was not James’ job to mow hay and raise money. The only thing he needed to focus on was writing and publishing. God would provide the money that they needed to get the paper out.

James found a printer eight miles away in Middletown and the man agreed to print 1000 copies of an eight-page paper titled The Present Truth. He also agreed to do it on credit. The first issue focused mainly on the Sabbath and it was ready for circulation in July of 1849. The printed sheets were driven to the Belden home in Albert Belden’s wagon where they were folded and addressed to people who might be interested in reading the material they contained. The little group then placed the folded papers in the middle of the room and prayed earnestly over them, dedicating the entire operation to God. James White then loaded up as many papers as he could carry into an old carpet bag and walked the eight miles to Middletown to post them.

James White received enough funds to defray the costs associated with printing and this encouraged him to continue publishing. In the fall of 1849, the Whites decided to shift to Oswego, New York, where James White would no longer have to walk eight miles each way to get to a printer. Oswego was also more centrally located making it easier to mail papers into the old North West of America where Joseph Bates was already hard at work preaching the truths about the Sabbath and Sanctuary to former Millerites.

But publishing was not an easy task and James White was regularly pressed down with discouragement. In December of 1849 he issued two numbers of The Present Truth but then he allowed the publication to lapse for a period of time as he battled a shortage of funds and opposition from the brethren including Elder Bates.

Bates was opposed to publishing a periodical because he believed that this had been the practice of Millerites who had given up much of their 1844 experience. It was strange logic but Captain Bates was vehement in his opposition. He also thought that capable preachers like White should be out in the field actively preaching the message rather than chaining themselves to an editor’s desk. James White looked up to Bates and so his criticism was discouraging.

But Ellen White wouldn’t let her husband quit. She wrote “I saw that God did not want James to stop yet, but he must write, write, write, write and spread the message and let it go” Subsequently in the Spring of 1850 four more issues of The Present Truth came out before the Whites were forced to suspend publication while they traveled throughout the summer.

The Good Ol’ Review

By the midsummer of 1850, James White was working on a new publishing venture. It was the brainchild of James and Ellen White and was a way of addressing and dealing with the criticism that was being aimed at them by mainline Adventists. They decided to issue a paper which would contain large extracts from the pre-disappointment Millerite press. This was designed to show mainline Adventists that Sabbatarian Adventists alone continued to see the Millerite movement as God-directed and designed.

Four issues of the sixteen page Advent Review, as it was called, were published in Auburn, New York during the Summer and Fall of 1850. In early fall the Whites felt the need to visit the believers in Paris Hill, Maine. Paris was the home of the Stockbridge Howland family and the William Andrews family. While they were there James White discovered an inexpensive and convenient printer located in Paris. He decided to remain and carry out his publishing venture surrounded by friendly brethren who were willing to support his work. While here White published the final issues of The Present Truth and Advent Review in November 1850. That same month a new periodical was born which combined the purpose of the previous two papers.

The new periodical was named The Second Advent Review and Sabbath Herald and it became the official paper of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. But Paris Hill was not a suitable location to permanently set up their printing operation in. It was too far from the center of Sabbatarian Adventism. James White began to look at New York as a prospective location. A few months before in early 1851 a conference of Advent believers in Paris Hill had formed a committee to help Elder White with the burdens of publishing. The committee included Joseph Bates, Samuel Rhodes and J.N. Andrews. At 21 Andrews became one of the leading writers for the Review and Herald. In May 1851 he prepared a five page article for the May 1851 issue that detailed the Adventist understanding of Revelation 13, identifying the two-horned lamb-like beast as the United States.

By the mid-summer of 1851, the publishing work had moved to Saratoga Springs, New York. Here James White published Ellen White’s first book titled “A Sketch Of The Christian Experiences And Views of Ellen G. White”. While they were in Saratoga Springs the Whites were joined by Ellen’s sister Sarah and her husband Stephen Belden. Annie Smith arrived shortly after from New Hampshire to serve as copy editor and proofreader. Soon James White began to think about establishing an independent Adventist Press. On March 12, 1852, Bates, Rhodes, Edson, Andrews and others gathered with the Whites at the home of Jesse Thompson in Saratoga Springs. After study and prayer, they decided to purchase a press and type. Edson loaned White $650 to purchase a Washington Hand Press and relocate the printing operation to Rochester, New York. Rochester was a city better suited for the effective distribution of the paper. By October 1852 the Review and Herald Printing Office was born. The office remained in Rochester for 3 years where it grew and expanded. In August 1852 James White launched The Youth’s Instructor, an eight page monthly geared towards providing weekly Sabbath School lessons on doctrinal topics to instruct children.

By winter of that year, a 1000 copies were being mailed out every months at a cost of 25 cents each. In addition to this 2000 copies of The Review  were going out every two weeks. The Review not only made a difference in the lives of Sabbatarian Adventists it served as a soul winning mechanism to draw people to the truths of the Sabbath and the Sanctuary. John Byington read an issue of The Review  in his home in upstate New York that led the farmer-preacher on an investigation of the Sabbath truth. Byington hadn’t been particularly impressed with the lectures he heard in 1844 but he now accepted the truth and joined the ranks of Sabbatarian Adventists in 1852. Three years later he built one of the first SDA churches near his home in Buck’s Bridge, New York and went on to become the first president of the General Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists.  

A combination of reading an issue of The Review  and a personal visit from Joseph Bates, led Roswell F. Cottrell to join the Sabbatarian Adventists in 1851. Cottrell came from an old Huguenot family and had roots in the Seventh-Day Baptist faith. He had heard Millerite preaching but had not joined the Millerite movement because he felt that they did no follow the whole law of God.

In 1853 The Review began printing a little tract titled “Elihu on the Sabbath”  which played an important role in the conversion of Stephen Haskell to Sabbatarian Adventism.

In May of 1853, Uriah Smith joined the staff of the Review and Herald. After James White, Smith would play the greatest part in the development and growth of The Review and Herald. Interestingly one of Uriah’s first jobs was trimming the edges of the tracts that were published at the office. He used a penknife to do it and his hands were frequently blistered. Later he would recall that the tracts were square in doctrine even if their pages were not.

The Review and Herald played a huge part in bringing about cohesion, encouragement and doctrinal unity to the fledgling Sabbatarian Adventist movement. During the first few years, it was published The Review was devoted to printing articles that highlighted the major, distinctive doctrines that developed in the years after 1844. The articles focused on the Sabbath, the law of God, Bible Prophecy and the sanctuary. By the mid 1850s articles dealing with spiritualism and the state of the dead also became prominent.

At first, the articles were largely written by James White but over the course of the 1850s, other contributors such as J.N. Andrews, J.H. Waggoner, R.F. Cottrell and Uriah Smith were also featured. A section titled communications was added to include letters from roving missionaries like Bates and from the scattered group of believers who frequently shared their testimonies.

The Review also served to carry information regarding the movements of itinerant ministers and announced the time and place of General Conferences sessions.

As the staff at the Review office increased James White had less technical chores to manage on his own but it also meant that by 1854 James and Ellen White had to feed and house 15-20 workers out of their own pockets. Frequently board and room were all the staff received for months at a time. Despite the fact that they were working 14-18 hours day White found it increasingly difficult to make ends meet and the workload began to take a toll on his health. He realised that he would need help in order for the operation to continue to be sustainable.

Feeling the need to move the publishing operation to a locality where there were more Adventists James White began to look at Michigan and Vermont as potentials. Finally, after much prayer and discussion, he accepted the offer of Dan Palmer, J.P. Kellogg, Henry Lyon and Cyrenius Smith to advance $300 for the construction of a printing plant in Battle Creek, Michigan. Kellogg, Lyon and Smith sold their farms to raise the cash.

James White was also determined that the Review office should be recognised as the property and responsibility of the entire body of Adventist believers. His attitude stemmed partly from a desire to share the administrative and financial burdens of the work and partly to stem  the tide of gossip that was circulating. The gossip mongers were alleging that James White was profiting from the printing business. As a result in 1855, the church appointed a committee to oversee the financing and distribution of The Review. The committee was made up of Palmer, Lyon and Cyrenius Smith.  The committee was assisted by delegates from various states. Uriah Smith was elected resident Editor at the age of 23 and James White, J.N. Andrews, J.H. Waggoner, R.F Cottrell and Stephen Pierce of Vermont were elected as contributing editors.

In December of 1855, the first issue The Review and Herald came off the press for circulation in Battle Creek. Shortly after an investigating committee cleared James White of the charges of profiteering and arranged to pay the debts he had incurred on behalf of the office. The move to Battle Creek freed the Whites from the responsibility of housing and feeding 20 workers. Elder White continued as a kind of General Manager of Review and began to plan ways in which to grow the work.

In 1857 he began to champion the purchase of a steam powered press to handle the increasing volume of business. At the time the press was taking three days just to print The Review  which had become a weekly paper in 1856. The needed to raise $2500 during a time of national depression which was no mean undertaking. White called for pledges and many of the believers responded positively.

One believer who contributed significantly was Richard Godsmark, a farmer who lived in Battle Creek. Godsmark sold his pair of work oxen and donated the money towards the new press. After the press has been purchased and installed Godsmark would frequently stop by the Review office and listen to the clickety clack of the press. He would smile in satisfaction and mutter “Old Buck and Betsy are pullin’ away; they’re puuuullin away!”

And so it was that James White, almost single handedly and guided by the visions given to his wife by God, established the Seventh-Day Adventist publishing operation against formidable odds.

Further Reading and Citations

  • Maxwell, C.M. (1976) – Tell It To The World – The Story of Seventh-Day Adventists
  • Collins, N.J. (2005) – Heartwarming Stories of Adventist Pioneers (Book 1)
  • Burt, M.D. (2011) – Adventist Pioneer Places (New York and New England)

Recommended Listening 

  • Pathways of The Pioneers (1998) – Volume 9, Episode 6 – Founding the Good Old Review
  • Pathways of The Pioneers (1998) – Volume 10, Episode 1 – Move To Rochester
  • Pathways of The Pioneers (1998) – Volume 10, Episode 2 – Sickness and Death In Rochester