Being an adventist on this board I thought some of you might like to read this 1844 is often reffered as the great dissapointement to Adventists until now.
It was Autumn. Roadside aspens and hickories were already lean and spiky. Leaves lay in the waggon ruts, and grass in the field was still damp late in the afternoon.
This field was at Phoenixville, on the south bankof the Schuylkill. In 1844, the year this was, the riverleft the woods hereto flow through the rich plains of middle Pennsylvania. The meadow was owned by Josiah Levitt. The Levitt family had invited friends to pass a day there, in prayer, though it was not the Sabbath but a monday.
Nearly twenty families arrived, most shortly before dusk. They were not late, because a day for these folk was measured from sundown to sundown. some had come from Vermont, some from New Jersey. The waggons and the sulkies were drawn into a circle. Horses were halter or hobble, were turned out to graze steaming by the stream.
Some of these folk had not met before. Newcomers were welcomed with the words "Brother" and "Sister", and with familiar phrases from the Bible. There was greater warmth here than was usual in people who valued solemnity. On this day solemnity was an effort. Adults graced each other with their smiles. Shy children held hands. All were joyful for themselves and for one another. When they looked about they swaw only the glad faces of the servants of God.
This was the twenty -second day in October. Everyone was here to watch the second coming of Christ and to be drawn up into the heavenly throng.
The evening was cold, and many had brought only their Sabbath clothing. Some had dressed in white muslin robes they thought suitable for an Ascension. There was little food, for most beleived they would be well provided for. Elder Joshua Himes had said: "Go not into your houses to take anything out, Leave everything upon the Alter of God, and if He wants any part of it He will take care of it." The sceptics among them brought fruit and water for the journey.
Night passed with hymns and recitations from the testaments. No one wnated to spend the last mortal night in sleep. Their singing swelled. Sara Amollett, after consulting with her husband, asked if their voices might not drown out the approach of the Heavenly Choir, but it was generally thought more important to give than receive, and the verses rolled on.
The darkness was parted, not yet by angelic light, but by the advent of a pale sunrising behind the woods. Children stretched, and crawled out from underneath the carriages. The sun found everyone bright and warm, a condition they all recognized as curious. Nathaniel Brett said this was a sign.
The year had been full of signs. Most were warnings of destruction to a sinful world. The month of March had seen earthquakes close to the southern seaboard. Towns in the Caribbean splintered, and American ships were hurled up on the shores of Texas. A comet was bright in the New England skies. Beneath it the northern weather had begun to change. IT snowed in Philadelphia on the summer solstice. Boston was covered with frost on 21st July. Cold in Austinburgh had killed an entire season of buckwheat. A God who would confiscate the summer would send his faithful a sign.
So they sang. They arranged to face the east , since that was from where their sign had come.
Mad Mary Chase, wife of Captain Chase, who now refused to be seen with her , sat next to her daughters. Four of these she placed in a line of diminishing size, but held the fifth in her lap because it was twelve weeks old. Old Amos and Martha Gower, childless all their seventy years of marriage, chose to be surrounded by the children of others. Matthew Lockitt, a fruit vendor, sat happily in his empt box-cart. Matthew was a seller of toffeed apples until last August, when he set up his stall in a washington park near an Advent meeting. By the time the preacher finished, Matthew had given all his apples awayto the crowd. His cart had been empty since.
Behind Adin Shortbridge sat in company, though with a space on his left. He would allow no one to fill it . Adin's brother William had died while awaiting this Advent on a mistaken date. The Boston Liberator reported that William Climed a high tree, and mantled in his long white ascention robe he made one aspiring effort, but was precipitated to the ground, and instantly died from a broken neck. The space on Adin's left was for the use of William Shortbridge at the time appointed for the dead to rise.
That time was brought closer by the passing of the sun overhead. It also brought sightseers from Phoenixville township and from the Inquirer newspaper in Philadelphia. The toenspeople leaned on the fence. A persistent wit loudly counted the dissipation of time. The reporter took a notebook from his pocket. He made across the grass just as the startingly resolute voice of young Hannah Ballou began Psalm 23. He made , too, an effort to seriously compose his face, to better his chances of an interview with somebody.
The friends in Levitts green meadow were well accustomed to the presence of those that troubled them. Adventist meetings in the cities were often disrupted by volleys of detonating firecrackers. Howling youths pranced the aisles in white sheets. On winsy days, smirking men loosened the pegs on the marquee in which Adventists prayed, so that the poles tottered and the canvas fellin. Their quiet children were jeered in the streets. Cartoonists lampooned their earnest faces in the press.
Threat of intrusion b the press retreated now with the sudden appearance, from somewhere behind a cartwheel, of the Ballous mastiff. With no command from anyone, it set the man from the inquirer over the fence. Hannah finished her verses, then wondered aloud what sort of man could so merrily count down the time to his own destruction, as did the wag on the rails. The severe wisdom of the child, and the dog, stiffened their backs and their resolve. The day was growing cold, but no winter was ahead of them.
"And Jesus said: "If thou shalt not watch , I will come on thee as a thief , and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee." Third Revelations, three.'
"Yes , Brother. Watch for Him. He will come in the clouds of Heaven."
"And with them that are raised from the dead." First Corinthians, fifteen fifty - two."
"And first Thessalonians, four sixteen, Sister,"
There was but half an hour to sunset. The portly Moses Clark, who had once been chairman of the land commissioners at Landoff, suggested they should form the waggons in a cross. This was accomplished without the help of their discarded horses. They had the advantage that rows of the seated now faced each of the quarters of the compass, and wondered why they had not thought of it before. Nathaniel Brett took up the count down that was once the delight of the wag by the fence. Old Amos and Martha Gower held each other's sparce hands. Mad Mary Chase prettied her little ones. They sang andd they sang , and the sun absconded with their dreams.
Darkness fell silent. Adin Shortbridge rested his hand on the empty space beside him. George Florida, a blacksmith whose hot trade had numbed the breath in his throat so he had been able to sing, fingered his collar. Within a week the Boston Liberator will report that he has hung himself with a chain. MAd Mary Chase nursed the youngest three of her daughters all together. Already she had started to cry. The same newspaper will record her finding under the dray, tomorrow morning, the bodies of the other two children dead from the cold.
Hiram Edson will recall , in a memoir, the way thay passed the long night. They wept until the dawn came up.
The same sunlight falls on New Hampton. There is a small church. The forest walls here are cut back only far enough to allow for a sacrarium tiled with fallen leaves. This gives the pleasing impression that the church is the prespytery within a greater tabernacle. The trees ae straight as organ flutes.
Two wooden dwellings share the ground here. Both belong to a family by the name of Miller. It was for this church that William Miller felled timber , drove pegs and carved plans into the blaze of a tree. It was also by Millers calibrations that the time was set for the second comming of Christ.
Eleven families are here now. All were joined to the event by Millers persuasive teaching. They sit on the porches and in the doorways. The most common expressions are of resolution and piety, but this hides a deep spirit of dejection. It is a time they will later call the Great Disappointment.
Continued silence from the church is an increasing distraction for them all. An hour after sundown , William Miller strode inside, alone, and has not yet come out. His brow was heavy. The corn of the Adventist farmers stands unshucked in the field because he advised them so . Potatoes lie wet in the ground, their unweaned heifers follow irritable cows, their store - rooms are dark and empty, their windows are boarded over. They are in the eyes of the world , a people jilted by their Redeemer.