Warren County Historical Society Presents …

The Digital Version “REWIND”

February 1, 2019

 

Washington County Man Has Tremendous

Influence on the Nation

 

        One could arguably say William Miller from this area – Washington County – had a stronger influence on more people than most anyone else who ever lived in upstate New York.  His influence stretched across the country, and even today, it has spread world-wide.  Remember his name:  WILLIAM MILLER!

               William Miller was born on February 15, 1782 in Pittsfield, Massachusetts to a veteran of the Revolutionary War and Paulina Pelps Miller.  By 1786 the family moved to Low Hampton, New York, the area between Skenesborough (now Whitehall) and Fair Haven, Vermont.  His mother was an ardent Baptist and she had much influence on her son’s religious beliefs.

          William was schooled at home by his mother until he was nine, at which time he attended school in the newly established East Poultney District School in Vermont.  It is said he read voraciously and had access to several private libraries of dignitaries in the area.

          In 1803 he married Lucy Smith of Poultney and moved there where he took up farming.  Once established in Poultney, Miller began serving his community, first as constable, then deputy sheriff and later, as Justice of the Peace.  He also served in the Vermont militia and earned the rank of lieutenant.

The Miller farmstead in Low Hampton, New York

          Shortly after moving to Poultney, William gave up his Baptist heritage and became a Deist.  Influenced by several men in the Poultney community whom Miller thought were “good citizens and of a moral and serious deportment…who put into my hands the works of Voltaire, Hume, Thomas Paine and Ethan Allen, and other deistical writers.”  [Simply stated, Deist philosophy recognizes the existence of God and the belief that God created the universe, but beyond that, God does not interfere with the created world – with miracles, for example.  Typically raised as Christians, and believers of one God, Diests had become disenchanted with organized religion.]

          At the outbreak of the War of 1812, Miller’s leadership skills allowed him to raise a company of local men.  He eventually transferred into the regular army and served as a recruiter for much of the time.

          The first action he saw was at the Battle of Plattsburgh (where, if you remember your history, vastly outnumbered American forces overcame the British).  The fort where Miller was stationed was bombarded by bombs, rockets, and shrapnel.  One of these shots exploded two feet from William, wounding three of his men and killing another, but he escaped without a scratch.  Miller came to view the outcome of this battle as miraculous – which put him at odds with his Diest view of a distant God.

          He wrote, “It seemed to me that the Supreme Being must have watched over the interests of this country in an especial manner, and delivered us from the hands of our enemies…So surprising a result, against such odds, did seem to me like the work of a mightier power than man.”

          Following his discharge from the army, Miller returned to Poultney, but shortly moved his family back to Low Hampton, New York, where he purchased a farm that today, because of William Miller, is an historic site.

The chapel on the Miller property

            It was during this time that Miller was concerned with the question of death and whether or not there was an afterlife.   He took steps to regain his Baptist faith.  At times, having the opportunity to participate in the Baptist service, Miller had a change of mind.

          His Deist friends challenged him to justify his newfound faith.  He found his answers in the Bible.  His study of the Good Book convinced Miller that postmillennialism was unbiblical and that the time of Christ’s Second Coming was revealed in the Bible prophecy.

          Through study and calculations, Miller had some life-changing ideas.  What he did was predict the end of the world.  His interpretations of the Bible and calculations are interesting for he records his reasoning for seeing the end of the world on or before 1843.

          Without getting into the many details of his reasoning for predicting the end of the world, he based it on his interpretation of the Bible.  He ultimately spent years identifying and re-calculating the date.  For Miller, he determined the date to be the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

          Although he was convinced of his calculations by 1818, he spent many years continuing to study to make sure he was correct.  It wasn’t until August of 1831 that he began lecturing on the coming of the end of the world – starting in the Town of Dresden, Washington County, New York.

A poster that shows William Miller’s process for determining the end of the world

          His message was so well received, he published a 64-page paper called, “Evidence from the Scripture of the Second Coming of Christ, about the Year 1844:  Exhibited in a Course of Lectures.”

“The Millerites and Millerism”

          From about 1840 the followers of William Miller were referred to as Millerites.  His plan became known as Millerism.  His ideas  moved from a local, regional movement in Warren, Washington, and Essex Counties to a national campaign.

          Up to this point, Miller did not predict an exact date for the end of the world.  At the urging of his followers, asking for an exact date, Miller 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.”

          Needless to say, the first date came without incident, so further study and discussion resulted in a new date:  April 18, 1844.  When that date passed with no fanfare, he wrote, “I confess my error, and acknowledge my disappointment; yet I still believe that the day of the Lord is near, even at the door.”  Again the date for the end of the world was changed, this time to October 22, 1844.

          With the passing of that date, it became known as “The Great Disappointment.”  People flocked to Low Hampton, New York to be with William Miller when the end came.  If you visit the home site today, you can hear the story from volunteers and stand at the place where Miller was standing when he thought the end was imminent.

          William Miller’s influence:  the Millerites eventually became the Advent Christian Church and the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

           William 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.  He was buried near his home in Low Hampton, New York.

 

Another view of the Miller property near the Vermont boarder in Low Hampton, New York

 

 

 

          Today the Miller property is owned and operated as a museum by Adventist Heritage Ministry.  It is a National Historic Landmark close to the New York-Vermont border just east of Whitehall, New York.

 

          One can visit the William Miller National Historic Landmark by traveling east out of Whitehall, NY on Route 4 and making a left turn just before approaching the Vermont boarder.  There is a little sign that points to the William Miller chapel.  During the summer months, the museum is open to the public and is staffed by volunteers from all over the country who come to spend time sharing the William Miller story.

 

Sources:  Photos are from the internet; Written sources are from Wikipedia and material in the author’s personal collection.

 

 

This article was prepared by Stan Cianfarano, Warren County Historian, for the Warren County Historical Society.

 

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