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The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 4

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    II. Camp Meetings Introduce New Era in Cause

    The village of East Kingston, in southern New Hampshire, but near Lowell, Massachusetts, was the scene of the first Millerite camp meeting in the States. Its grove of stately hemlocks formed an ideal setting. But a venture of this magnitude was really an audacious move, for the Millerites were as yet limited in numbers and means. It was a venture in faith. But. large congregations of earnest Christians of all denominations assembled, coming by stage and horse and buggy, though chiefly by train. They poured in literally by the thousands. It was in every sense a great gathering.PFF4 644.2

    There was so much of novelty and contagious attraction in these Millerite meetings—along with earnest preaching, stirring singing, and stimulating personal testimonies in the smaller “social” or testimony meetings, which were then a new feature in religious circles—that vast crowds thronged the camp. And this continued on in the other camps that followed in almost unbroken succession. The interest swept like a rising tide from State to State. So the actual success of the camp meetings led this agency to become a characteristic feature of the Millerite movement.PFF4 645.1

    Since the Methodists and other religious groups had been conducting camp meetings for forty years, the public was already aware of the camp meeting idea. Many of the Millerite camps had tents of sufficient size to accommodate the crowds. But in others the larger public services had to be conducted in the open, since no canvas was large enough to hold them.PFF4 645.2


    That the Millerite leaders were conscious of the significance of this new venture is indicated by the initial report on this East Kingston camp, with its astonishing week-end attendance of a “vast multitude” of “probably ten or fifteen thousand,” according to both public press and Millerite reports. Apollos Hale, the camp secretary, definitely declared in his opening sentence, “The holding of Second Advent Camp-meetings may be regarded as the commencement of a new era in the Second Advent cause.” 3Signs of the Times, July 13, 1842, p. 116. And this they proved to be. They were recognized as “an effectual plan to wake up the slumbering in the churches, and the careless sinner.”PFF4 645.3

    This first camp in the States was ideally located close to the Boston and Portland Railroad, and accessible to several cities. There was an abundance of cool shade from the tall hemlocks, and a plentiful supply of cold water. There were secluded groves for prayer and meditation—and friendly neighbors. Despite huge crowds, excellent order prevailed, with no accidents and no incidents of rowdyism. All parts of New England and Canada were represented, and even Old England. Adherents of nearly all creeds were to be found among those present, with many who had been remarkably converted from Deism, infidelity, and Universalism. They had been won to the advent cause by various means—but chiefly through literature, preaching, and personal appeal. However, the bulk of the crowds were just people interested in what the Millerites had to say, or had followed the crowd just from curiosity. There were but naturally some disturbers, and at the later Chicopee meeting it was found necessary to ask the sheriff and his deputies to keep order.PFF4 646.1


    While there were numerous Adventist preachers who participated at the East Kingston camp, Miller was the leading speaker, giving a full series of connected addresses. Seven main features marked these camp meeting exercises-preaching, exhorting, praying, singing, the communion service, the offering, and the parting scene or ceremony. The preaching was dynamic and persuasive, and reached the hearts of people. The singing made the camp ring with its fervor, and enforced the oral message. The offerings of gold, silver, and other valuables amounted to one thousand dollars—a large sum for that time, when an average day’s work netted only seventy-five cents.PFF4 646.2

    And the parting scene of these camps was unforgettable. United by the bonds of a common faith, and drawn together by a common hope in the soon coming of Christ, they formed a giant circle, hand clasping hand, in solemn leave-taking. During the camp they had passed certain resolutions by unanimous vote. These pertained to the fast-fulfilling signs of the times, and the prophecies that indicated the nearness of the second coming of Christ. They stressed their belief in “1843” as “the time of His coming, of the resurrection, and the judgment.” 4Ibid. And they laid aggressive plans for spreading this vital news to all men.PFF4 646.3

    They recognized that the demands of the hour called for complete personal consecration. They looked upon their acceptance of the advent hope as a solemn summons to share their faith with the Christian church at large, and to warn the world of this transcendent coming event. They voted for other camp meetings to follow, as “a most efficient means for spreading the truth on this subject, and for preparing those who embrace it for the coming of the Lord.” They called for means to meet the multiplying calls for second advent lecturers and to circulate second advent publications, especially the Signs of the Times, as widely as possible. So this initial camp came to its close. The “beautiful village of tents” was soon taken down, and the company separated in the earnest hope of meeting at the Saviour’s appearance.PFF4 647.1


    At East Kingston some thirty community tents were erected, representing Boston, East Kingston, Exeter, Portsmouth, New Market, Haverhill, Nashua, Portland, Lowell, Newburyport, et cetera. Each community tent served as headquarters for an entire church. Friendly press reports appeared in various periodicals, stressing the orderliness of the camp, together with such items as that the women were seated decorously on one side and the men on the other, and commented on the punctuality of the meetings and the meals. They stressed the propriety and solemnity that prevailed-each tent being under the supervision of a tent master, responsible for its order, with lights kept burning throughout the night. 5Signs of the Times, July 13, 1842, p. 114.PFF4 647.2

    The Boston press gave a similar appraisal. The Daily Mail stated that not fewer than seven hundred clergymen were then preaching the second advent, a portion of whom were not clear as to the precise year, but believed the advent near. Having rejected the philosophy of a temporal millennium, or one without the previous advent of Christ, they threw their influence with the Millerites in the premillennial emphasis. The number of individuals who shared that general sentiment was by this paper placed at not less than a million. The Mail also stated that it was spreading rapidly. The only criticism that it voiced was on the camp regulations which precluded public controversy, or debate by those of “opposite sentiments,” but which, the Millerites held, would only create dissension and defeat the very purpose of the meeting. 6Ibid.PFF4 648.1


    The impressive prophetic charts, devised by Charles Fitch, portraying the mystic symbols of the prophecies of Daniel and of John the revelator were used with telling effect. The distinguished writer and poet, John G. Whittier, was present, and later penned his candid impressions, including this chart feature. Written from the viewpoint of an outside observer, it is a classic description, and worth repeating here:PFF4 648.2

    “Three or four years ago, on my way eastward, I spent an hour or two at a campground of the second advent in East Kingston. The spot was well chosen. A tall growth of pine and hemlock threw its melancholy shadow over the multitude, who were arranged upon rough seats of boards and logs. Several hundred-perhaps a thousand people—were present, and more were rapidly coming. Drawn about in a circle, forming a background of snowy whiteness to the dark masses of men and foliage, were the white tents, and back of them the provision stalls and cook shops. When I reached the ground, a hymn, the words of which I could not distinguish, was pealing through the dim aisles of the forest. I could readily perceive that it had its effect upon the multitude before me, kindling to higher intensity their already excited enthusiasm. The preachers were placed in a rude pulpit of rough boards, carpeted only by the dead forest leaves and flowers, and tasselled, not with silk and velvet, but with the green boughs of the sombre hemlocks around it. One of them followed the music in an earnest exhortation on the duty of preparing for the great event. Occasionally he was really eloquent, and his description of the last day had the ghastly distinctness of Anelli’s painting of the End of the World.PFF4 648.3

    “Suspended from the front of the rude pulpit were two broad sheets of canvas, upon one of which was the figure of a man, the head of gold, the breast and arms of silver, the belly of brass, the legs of iron, and feet of clay,-the dream of Nebuchadnezzar. On the other were depicted the wonders of the Apocalyptic visions—the beasts, the dragons, the scarlet woman seen by the seer of Patmos, Oriental types, figures, and mystic symbols, translated into staring Yankee realities, and exhibited like the beasts of a traveling menagerie. One horrible image, with its hideous heads and scaly caudal extremity, reminded me of the tremendous line of Milton, who, in speaking of the same evil dragon describes him as ‘Swinging the scaly horrors of his folded tail.” To an imaginative mind the scene was full of novel interest. The white circle of tents; the dim wood arches; the upturned, earnest faces; the loud voices of the speakers, burdened with the awful symbolic language of the Bible; the smoke from the fires, rising like incense,—carried me back to those days, of primitive worship which tradition faintly whispers of, when on hilltops and in the shade of old woods Religion had her first altars, with every man for her priest and the whole universe for her temple.” 7John Greenleaf Whittier, Prose Works, vol. 1, pp. 425, 426.PFF4 649.1


    A regular program was followed, a bell announcing the larger meetings for the main assemblies. Other smaller meetings were held in the interim. A lodging tent for strangers was also prepared. And at the appointed times campers made their way to the large dining tent. Shelter for the horses was likewise available. And as the number and size of the later camps increased, trains made special fare concessions and stopped at temporary canvas depots near the grounds. The complete set of regulations, operative at the big Newark camp meeting in November, 1842, was largely followed in the other camps. Refreshment stands, opened near the camp as a commercial venture, were a source of constant annoyance, as liquor was sold at some of them. As a result, such places formed the springboard for, irreligious mischief-makers, and gangs of rowdies sometimes attempted to make trouble. But the camp meeting superintendent, HIRAM MUNGER, 8HIRAM MONGER (1806-1902), born in Massachusetts, became famous as the outstanding camp meeting superintendent for the Millerites in their great series of over 125 camps in 1842-1844. He had formerly served the Methodist encampment at Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts, in similar capacity. In fact, he accepted the advent faith at the giant Milterite camp meeting at Chicopee Falls just following the Methodist camp on the same grounds. He was a singular character, with giant frame and powerful physique. Rough and ready and full of wit, he was nevertheless of a systematic and helpful disposition. He was six and * half feet tall in his stocking feet, somewhat careless in appearance and a bit coarse in expression. And he was as eccentric as Lorenzo Dow or Peter Cartright. But on the campground he maintained order competently and strenuously, and any misbehavior by the sons of Cain,” as he—called them, received vigorous treatment. of powerful physique, who had charge of many of the Millerite camps, was usually more than a match for them. 9Life and Religious Experience of Hiram Munger, pp. 55-57. (A fascinating account of many of the happenings appears here.)PFF4 649.2

    The Methodist camp meetings had been quite informal, and were often highly emotional, as they were frequently held among the frontiersmen. This had drawn considerable criticism from the dignified and conservative Easterners, as it is often but a step from emotional worship to fanaticism. But the Millerite leaders were steadfastly set against any such excesses, and dealt with it vigorously wherever it sought to inject itself. Theirs was primarily expository, instructional preaching, and devoid of excesses. This was the fundamental difference.PFF4 650.1


    By the middle of the year 1843, Timothy Cole, chairman of the camp meeting committee, sought to reduce the number of camps. He called for more efficient planning, holding that too much labor was being lost. The same controlling policy prevailed in 1844. 10Signs of the Times, June 28, 1843, p. 136; July 5, 1843, p. 144; Advent Herald, Aug. 7, 1844, p. 3. Notwithstanding, the meetings continued to grow in number. During 1842, the first year, there were about thirty in four months. In 1843, some forty were held, and during 1844, the final year, there was a total of at least fifty-four 11Midnight Cry, Nov. 17, 1842, p. 3. -a recorded minimum of approximately 124 in all. In 1844 many notices of camp meetings appeared with the proviso, “providence permitting,” or “if time lingers.” 12In files of Midnight Cry, Advent Herald, and other Millerite papers, such as Voice of Truth, Second Advent of Christ, Western Midnight Cry, etc.PFF4 650.2

    The estimated attendance at the various camps ranged from four thousand up to ten thousand on the largest day, the record customarily being taken on Sunday. Possibly two thousand were resident on the grounds throughout the camp. In a few instances the number of fifteen thousand is given for the Sunday attendance, and only in a very few cases has an estimate of less than four thousand been recorded. 13Signs of the Times, Sept. 28, 1842, p. 16; Nov. 9, 1842, p. 59; Midnight Cry, Aug. 29, 1844, p. 61. It was believed that a half million persons attended these Millerite camps during 1842, 1843, and 1844.PFF4 650.3

    The expense of the larger camp meetings was heavy for those days. At some of the meetings considerable sums were collected in the form of jewelry. Thus at the Taunton camp meeting the women stripped off rings, earrings, and other jewelry. 14Joseph Bates, Autobiography, p. 265. At the Rochester camp one minister told how literature had been distributed in Boston by the aid of the women’s gold rings. Elon Galusha, a leading Baptist, and formerly president of the Baptist Anti-Slavery Society, at once placed a ring in the hands of the speaker. A veritable procession followed his example, with rings, brooches, gold beads, earrings, and other adornments. 15Midnight Cry, Aug. 1, 1844, p. 22. The abiding emphasis was on the coming of the Lord and individual preparation of heart to meet the Lord.PFF4 651.1


    At the close of each camp meeting it was the Millerite practice to form a huge circle and take leave one of another in an impressive “parting” ceremony. An earnest prayer of committal was offered, and a hymn-like “What, Never Part Again?”—appropriate to the occasion, was sung. The Lord might come before another annual camp could convene, so each farewell was an occasion of deep solemnity. Strong feelings marked this “parting circle” pageant. A giant circle was formed of all present, completely encompassing the entire camp. Then, at a given point, the line was broken, and two circles formed, an outer and an inner line, the two facing each other. The outer line facing inward stood still, Awhile the inner line continued to file past them until each one had shaken hands with every one else.PFF4 651.2

    These farewells were never-to-be-forgotten scenes, and presented many a moving spectacle. Brethren and sisters from all points of the compass—many of whom had never seen each other before—were separating after a brief acquaintance amid the hallowed scenes and searching sermons of the camp. They were parting, they felt, perhaps never to meet again until Gabriel should sound the trump of God at the impending day of expectation. As hands were firmly grasped and shaken, the words of courage, comfort, or Godspeed spoken to each other, tears often streamed down the cheeks of strong men and pious women. Voices were choked with emotion as they exhorted one another to remain steadfast until the coming of the Lord of glory. Sobs frequently commingled with earnest prayers that, though they might not meet again in this mortal state, they would meet as an unbroken heavenly circle, where all tears are wiped away. And with this avowed expectation of meeting in the kingdom everlasting uppermost in mind, they made their way slowly homeward. 16Signs of the Times, Nov. 16, 1842, p. 70; Oct. 26, 1842, p. 44; July 13, 1842, p. Midnight Cry, Aug. 1, 1844, p. 24. The camp was over.PFF4 652.1

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