No. 448
Crime, Eccentricity, and the Sporting Life in 19th Century America.
November 16, 2019

The Great Disappointment.

March 8, 2011
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For Sommersett must love Essex faire wife by wich his deerest servant lost his life. losse upon losse, all things grow cleane contrary and thus our sinfull times themselves doe vary. –From a 17th century libel On this date in 1615, Anne Turner hanged at Tyburn for a shocking society murder remembered as the Overbury […]
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Executed Today - 11/15/2019

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Lizzie’s Old School Chum, Augusta Poole (Mrs. Cyrus Tripp) Shelley M. Dziedzic, October 2019 (all rights reserved) During the hot …

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Lizzie Borden: Warps and Wefts - 10/19/2019

Renoir, "Luncheon of the Boating Party" It's time for yet another Link Dump! Everybody dance! Loie Fuller's serpentine dance. Communal coffins and burial clubs. The face of a female Viking. This week in Russian Weird looks at a Napoleon expert's gruesome Waterloo.  Not to mention the flying cat understudy. The kind of thing that happened when you got on Queen Christina's bad side.
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Strange Company - 11/15/2019
Jeff and Joe Soapy Smith buries Joe Simmons The Illustrated Police News April 9, 1892 (Click image to enlarge) oe Simmons was a tall, slender gambler known to many as “Gambler Joe” Simmons, a member of the Soap Gang who managed Soapy Smith's Tivoli Club in Denver, 1890, and Soapy's Orleans Club in Creede, 1892. According to William Devere’s poem "Two Little Busted Shoes," Simmons
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Soapy Smith's Soap Box - 3/25/2019
Scene of the Debbins murder Walter R. Debbins was shot twice in the back, in broad daylight, on Highland Street in Medford, Massachusetts, on the afternoon of Saturday, March 27, 1897. Though no one saw the murder or heard the gunshots, there was enough traffic on Highland Street that afternoon for the police to precisely pinpoint the time of the shooting to between 1:00 and 1:05. But
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Murder By Gaslight - 11/16/2019

No, not today’s MSG in the gritty West 30s. This is the second of the four versions of Madison Square Garden, the Moorish-Beaux Arts arena designed by Stanford White on 26th Street and Madison Avenue in 1890. At the time this postcard was made in roughly 1907, White’s Madison Square Garden was one of the […]
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Ephemeral New York - 11/10/2019
[Editor’s note: Guest writer, Peter Dickson, lives in West Sussex, England and has been working with microfilm copies of The Duncan Campbell Papers from the State Library of NSW, Sydney, Australia. The following are some of his analyses of what he has discovered from reading these papers. Dickson has contributed many transcriptions to the Jamaica Family […]
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Early American Crime - 2/7/2019
Chorus Girls in a Panic | The Badger Game.

The Great Disappointment.

In 1843 the world did not end. This was extremely disappointing to the followers of William Miller, who had predicted 1843 as the year Jesus would return to earth and fulfill the prophecies of the Book of Revelation. But the Millerites did not lose faith and when the recalibrated, and more specific, date of October 22, 1844, was proposed for the apocalypse, thousands of people prepared for judgment day. When that day came and went with the world still intact, it would be remembered by Adventists as The Great Disappointment.

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William Miller

Though he came from a line of Baptist preachers, William Miller was not particularly religious as a young man. In fact, he embraced deism for a time, believing that God created the world but did not participate in it. This view changed after the War of 1812 Battle of Plattsburg where Miller was one of 4000 volunteers who defeated 15,000 British troops. He saw the hand of God in the victory and returned to the Baptist church.

He also began an exhaustive study of the Bible. He worked in seclusion for fourteen years then in 1831 began to preach that the Second Advent of Christ was imminent –first locally in eastern New York then throughout New York and New England.  In 1839 he was joined by Joshua Himes, a prominent Boston abolitionist who converted to Adventism. Hines was a skillful organizer and promoter, and under his guidance, Miller’s following grew rapidly.

The time and place of the movement’s origin could not have been more advantageous to growth.  The 1830s and 1840s were known as the Second Great Awakening—characterized by the rise of evangelists preaching individual salvation and preparation for the Second Coming. The center of this movement was Central and Western New York State, an area that evangelistic pioneer Charles Finney referred to as the “Burned Over District” because there were no souls there left to convert. In addition to Adventism, The Burned-Over District saw the birth of Mormonism, Spiritualism, the Shakers, the Oneida community and other millennial movements.

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Millerite Tent Banner

What made Miller different from his contemporaries was that he was willing to put a date to the Advent. Using information from the scriptures, specifically the book of Daniel and the book of Revelations and applying complex calculations, he was able to determine that Christ would return “sometime in 1843.” In early 1843 he modified this to “the Jewish year 1843” which to Miller meant the period from March 21, 1843 to March 21, 1844.

The reasoning behind his prediction was conveyed in the form of illustrated charts which were fanciful and confusing but conveyed the message that something big was coming and his knowledge came from more than idle speculation. They were distributed in pamphlets and newspapers and displayed on posters.  Joshua Hine’s had a mammoth tent created, 55 feet high at the center and 300 feet in circumference that would hold 3000 to 4000 people.  The walls of the tent were covered with massive canvass reproductions of Miller’s charts.

By 1843 the Millerites numbered over 10,000, and Himes had made Miller’s name a household word. As the millennial date approached the newspapers began to take notice. In New York City, Gordon Bennett’s New York Herald attacked and ridiculed the Millerites’ “prophetic fevers and millennium inflammations.”  Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune took a different tack, devoting an entire issue to rebutting Miller’s claims. 

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Anti-Millerite Cartoon

When March 21, 1844, came and went with no appearance by Jesus, Miller acknowledged his mistake and set a new date, April 18, 1844. When this date passed, the Millerite movement was thrown into disarray. Bitterly disappointed, members began leaving and Miller himself became depressed and ill.

 Then, in August 1844, while preaching at a camp meeting in Exeter, New Hampshire, Samuel S. Snow delivered what became known as the “seventh month message” or the “true midnight cry.” Drawing from the book of Daniel, Snow concluded that Christ would return on the seventh month of the current year—the date he determined would be October 21, 1844. Miller was reluctant to endorse the new calculation, but the date rapidly took hold in Adventist circles, and on Himes’s recommendation Miller finally agreed.

Failure of the second prophecy was truly the Great Disappointment, leaving followers of Miller utterly devastated. In addition to their personal sorrow, they had to endure public ridicule. A rapid increase of inmates was reported at the time by New York and New England lunatic asylums, but the truth of this is still debated. Other myths, such as Millerites donning white “ascension robes” and waiting on hilltops, or that they sold or abandoned all their property, have been debunked.

There was a jump in membership in the Shakers and other millennialist movements after the Great Disappointment but most returned to mainstream Protestantism. A small group remained true to Miller’s teachings; they grew into the Seventh-day Adventist Church.  Miller himself never truly recovered; he died in 1849 at the age of 67.

 


  • Barkun, Michael. Crucible of the millennium: the burned-over district of New York in the 1840s. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1986.
  • Cross, Whitney R. The Burned-over District; the social and intellectual history of enthusiastic religion in western New York, 1800-1850. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1950.

The Jenks Collection of Adventual Materials

Millerite Insanity