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The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 4

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    IV. The “Big Tent” Becomes a Major Asset

    The holding of large camp meetings had at first been considered a hazardous undertaking for the relatively small group. But the results were so gratifying that the daring proposal was made at the East Kingston camp meeting of securing a giant tent-a great canvas pavilion, a “big top,” large enough, to accommodate several thousand people. This would be used in cities where no churches or halls were open for Millerite lectures. The churches were now fast closing against the Millerite preachers, and the crowds were too large for permanent buildings, which usually were jammed to suffocation. With the big tent the lecturers would have only to secure the ground and erect the large canvas pavilion. There would be no embarrassing incidents of ejection from halls by irate owners. And there were no restrictive city ordinances in those days. The plan met with instant favor, and the proposal was carried out with characteristic vigor. Himes undertook the task, 18Litch, “The Rise and Progress of Adventism,” Advent Shield, May,1844, p. 69; Wellcome, of. cit., pp. 242, 243. and before the camp broke up hundreds of dollars were subscribed toward this enterprise. The idea originated with Ezekiel Hale, Jr. 19Suit, In Equity, Ezekiel Hile, Jr., Vs. E. J. M. Hale, p. 206.PFF4 655.2

    This drawing, Appearing in the daily press, Shows the original 120-foot size, Soon enlarged to 120 by 160 Feet by adding a 40-foot splice
    Page 656
    PFF4 656

    The Big Tent, popularly so called because of its size, as it was the largest in America, was indeed unique. It was made of heavy canvas, with a center pole fifty-five or sixty feet high, and a spread that covered a circle twenty-five rods in circumference. When closely seated, it would accommodate four thousand. An additional two thousand could crowd around it. But even this proved too small. So a forty-foot splice was later added between the two great poles. Its ultimate size was thus 120 by 160 feet. With this enlargement two thousand more could be crowded in, or a total seating capacity of some six thousand. It had the advantage of novelty. It was much publicized in the press, and people flocked to see it. It was used also as the main pavilion for the larger camp meetings. And when these giant meetings were in session under the canvas, several times a day, a streamer was suspended between the two poles bearing the significant words, “Thy Kingdom Come.” 20Signs of the Times, Aug. 24, 1842, p. 164. J. V. Himes preserved a piece of this unique banner, and later wrote this description of it: “An Interesting and Valuable Relic”PFF4 656.1

    “A fragment of the Flag of the mammoth Advent Tabernacle in which William Miller and J. V. Himes, and others, preached the doctrine of the Second Advent of Christ to take place in 1844. It was pitched in all the great cities of the Union, including Washington, D.C., from 1840 [1842] to 1844.PFF4 657.1

    “The Tent was 120 feet in diameter, 60 feet at the mast head, and held from 5000 to 6000 people. It was generally crowded when it was known that William Miller and his associates, J. V. Himes and others, were to preach.PFF4 657.2

    “This Flag floated over the big Tabernacle when meetings were in session, in the sight of all, on which was the prayer, ‘Thy Kingdom Come.’... “JOSHUA VAUGHAN HIMES,
    “The Friend and Helper of Father Miller.
    PFF4 657.3

    “Battle Creek, Michigan, August 30, 1894.” 21Original in Advent Source Collection. The wording is printed directly on the fragment.PFF4 657.4

    But even such an immense spread of canvas was unable to accommodate the tremendous numbers that gathered. The crowds on Sunday were so huge that they not only filled the place of assembly and the surrounding circle of community tents but overflowed out over the grounds. So, under the shade of great trees, groups often gathered to hear various lecturers explain the Adventist faith and expectation.PFF4 657.5

    The Big Tent was manufactured by Captain Edward C. Williams, 22Captain EDWARD C. WILLIAMS (1815-1868), listed in the Directory of the City of Rochester from 1840-1844 as an extensive tent and sail maker and ship’ chandler, espoused the advent message about 1840. He invited Miller and Himes to come to this thriving western city of 23,000, offering to make and seat a giant canvas tent, since they had stated that they had _no money to hire an auditorium of sufficient size to hold the crowds that usually came. Williams had been furnishing flags and tents for national conventions, and in 1842 manufactured this largest tent in America for the Millerite meetings. This was his distinctive contribution to the advent cause. tentmaker, of Rochester, New York, and was first pitched on an eminence at the rear of the State House at Concord, New Hampshire, in July, 1842. Before it was used it was first dedicated to the service of God. Then began its unique contribution to the advent cause. Millerism was at last under canvas. It was the first time they had had their own portable pavilion. The plan proved highly serviceable for the propagation of the advent faith, as there was no exorbitant rent to be met. Moreover, the Concord meeting was a combination of camp meeting and series of special lectures.PFF4 657.6

    It was a successful venture. The interest awakened surpassed even that of the regular Adventist camp meetings, and. the gatherings were immense. The Great Tent was next pitched at Albany, New York, then at Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts, in connection with another camp meeting; next at Springfield, Massachusetts, then Ben ton, Vermont, Claremont, New Hampshire, and Salem, Massachusetts, with the last location for the summer of 1842 at Newark, New Jersey. The next year it was pitched at other points, chiefly farther west and south.PFF4 658.1

    Despite poor transportation facilities, the Great Tent was pitched, used, taken down, and transported eight times-hundreds of miles apart each time-between July 27 and November 3, 1842. 23Midnight Cry, Nov. 17, 1842, p. 3; cf. F. D. Nichol, The Midnight Cry, p. 121. It seems almost unbelievable, but such is the record. The speed with which the Millerites moved this huge pavilion from place to place with the primitive transportation facilities available, is astonishing. For example, the Concord meeting closed Monday, August 8, at 4 P.M., and it was transported and all pitched ready for the next appointment on Wednesday, August 10—a truly remarkable feat. 24Signs of the Times, Aug. 17, 1842, pp. 156, 157. At Concord, the wind leveled the tent to the ground, so it was pitched again in a more sheltered place. One publicity notice in a local newspaper, the Albany Evening Journal, will be of interest to us, just as it was to the public when it appeared on August 9, 1842. It read:
    “Second Advent Tent Meeting”
    PFF4 658.2

    “This meeting (the Lord willing) will commence in this city Wednesday, August 10th, at 10 A.M. The Great Tent will be set on Arbor Hill at the head of Third and Lumber Streets. This place has been selected as the best we could secure. If the wind should be heavy, we shall be obliged to furl our tent and repair to the most convenient place where we can be sheltered. Meetings to be continued one week.PFF4 658.3

    “Mr. Miller is expected to be present during part of the meeting; also Elder J. V. Himes, Boston, and Rev. Chas. Fitch, Haverhill, Mass.PFF4 659.1

    “The object of this meeting, like those which have already been held, is to arouse both the church and a world to a sense of their peril by sounding the Midnight Cry.PFF4 659.2

    “There will be no room for debate on this or any other subject at this meeting, but all who participate in its exercises will have one great object, their own and other’s salvation, before them, and direct their lives to that one point.PFF4 659.3

    “All who love the APPEARING of our Lord Jesus Christ are requested to rally at this feast of Tabernacles. Our time is growing shorter and shorter each day, and what is done must be soon done.PFF4 659.4

    “Preaching each day at 10 o’clock in the morning, at 2 in the afternoon, and seven in the evening.
    “J. V. Himes
    Philip Burnap
    Abraham Covert
    Joshua C. Stoddard
    George Storrs.” 25Albany Evening Journal, Aug. 9; repeated on 11, 12, 1842.
    PFF4 659.5

    The city was stirred. Thousands attended, and the meetings became the theme of city-wide conversation on the street and in the home. Charles Fitch was the principal preacher, 26Signs of the Times, Aug. 24, 1842, p. 164. and an effective one. The tent company, responsible for the canvas, comprised four persons, and the moving of the tent by train, steamer, or wagon naturally entailed considerable expense, 27Ibid., Aug. 17, 1842, p. 156. as transportation costs were high.PFF4 659.6

    Another combination camp meeting followed at Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts, near Springfield. Here also the Great Tent, seating thousands, protected them from rain or shine, with the seating extended for quite a distance outside the tent walls. The plan had now developed into an effective combination camp and Big Tent meeting. The tent would be pitched in a favorable location, and the people would flock in from the community. But even the great spread of the Big Tent could not accommodate the tremendous crowds at the Salem, Massachusetts, camp meeting. But again in the space between the Big Tent and the circle of surrounding tents, the overflow gathered in groups in the groves, where other ministers explained the prophecies from the “1843” charts hung up on the trees. 28Joseph Bates, Autobiography, pp. 266, 267.PFF4 659.7

    The camp was the scene of restless activity, with large concourses of people—some ten thousand people on the final Sunday. Sizable dining and lodging tents were necessary. Between sessions prayer services and social meetings were held in the smaller tents. And candidates for baptism received this solemn rite. 29Ibid. There were altar calls, but the meetings were conducted with decorum, and confusion kept to a minimum. At the time of the huge Salem camp the Salem Gazette commended the conduct of the meetings, and noted favorably the absence of rowdyism and fanaticism. It spoke highly of the talent of the ministers and the spiritual tone of the services. Many who went to scoff remained to pray.PFF4 660.1

    On November 3 the Big Tent was pitched for the last time in the season of 1842, in a field at Newark, New Jersey. It caused a great stir in the city, and an extended account appeared in the Newark Daily Advertiser. There was a detailed description of the tent, and how prayer preceded the work of raising the great canvas. The center pole was secured by chains and posts. The smaller poles, around the outer wall of the tent, were about eight feet tall. And a canvas wall, surrounding these, completed the enclosure, with space left for the people to pass completely around the walls of the interior. There were six “doors,” or entrances, in this canvas wall, and stoves were installed for heating the tent at this late time in the season. Miller, Litch, Himes, and other ministers were in attendance. Miller arrived on the seventh and gave fifteen discourses up to the fourteenth. Ten to twelve thousand persons were on the ground the first Sunday.PFF4 660.2

    The last five days the weather was so inclement that the tent had to be lowered, and the large Free Presbyterian Church used on weekdays, while on Sunday, November 13, the Mechanics’ Hall was secured, but proved too small for the crowd. So, in the afternoon, Miller addressed a crowd of five thousand from the steps of the courthouse. The press reported that the meeting was a thrilling and powerful occasion. 30Newark Daily Advertiser, Nov. 4, 7, 17, 1842; also Midnight Cry, Nov. 17, 1842; Sings of the Times, Oct. 19, 1842, p. 40; Nov. 23, 1842, p. 77. The storm passed, and the tent was re-erected. Then a second rainstorm drove them to a large iron foundry, which had a capacity of five thousand. Thus there were problems.PFF4 661.1

    Early in the spring of 1843 the Big Tent was again set in motion, but this time started westward. It was first unfurled in Rochester, New York, on June 23, in connection with a large camp meeting. But the very next day, while T. F. Berry was preaching, a severe rainstorm blew the Big Tent over. Although a large audience was under the canvas, fortunately not a single person was injured-owing to the quick thinking and fast action of those in charge. When the squall struck the tent, fifteen of the heavy guy chains and ropes parted. Quickly the windward side was pressed in toward the audience, and by pressure of the wind the leeward side was raised, and the crowd passed on out without harm.PFF4 661.2

    The tent company almost despaired of repitching it, because of the great expense of repairing and raising it again. But the citizens of the community were interested, and offered to meet the expense of repairing, erecting, and refitting. So the damaged tent was reduced to 100 feet in diameter, and its total capacity consequently reduced to 3,500. 31Signs of the Times, July 12, 1843, p. 152; Aug. 16, 1843, p. 191. While the tent was down, Himes gave three addresses to several thousand people who had gathered in from the surrounding country, and who stood throughout the eight hours that measured the time of his three discourses. 32Ibid., July 12, 1843, p. 152.PFF4 661.3

    It was in connection with these meetings that The Glad Tidings of the Kingdom was published at Rochester, continuing for thirteen weeks, and was scattered widely over the city, the surrounding country, and even on the canal boats. Its pages were largely reprints from the Signs of the Times and the Midnight Cry. Then, during the summer of 1844, the Big Tent was again pitched in various places in Ohio, Indiana, and finally in Louisville, Kentucky, where a series of lectures was begun on September 25, less than a month before the expected second advent. Of these note will be taken later.PFF4 662.1

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