(Article published in the Journal of Eastern Townships Studies, Fall 1997)

Denis Fortin

When, in 1874, B.F. Hubbard, in his history of Stanstead County, described a new Christian group as “those who had turned the world upside down,” he referred to an American millenarian movement that had truly changed the religious landscape of the Eastern Townships.[2] This movement, extending from the Second Great Awakening, had originated with a Baptist preacher named William Miller who proclaimed the end of the world and the second coming of Christ around 1843. Sweeping through like a whirlwind, Millerism, as the movement was called, created such an excitement in the Eastern Townships that many Methodist and Baptist members left their respective churches to join this new movement. As a result, these churches were shaken to their very foundations.

Although 150 years later this movement is practically forgotten, a few Adventist churches marking the landscape of the Eastern Townships trace their origins to it. A study of this millenarian movement not only unearths the history of these churches but also reveals a fascinating side of the religious heritage of the area. Who were these American preachers who turned the Eastern Townships “upside down”? How could they have such an impact upon this community? And what is their legacy to the Eastern Townships?


William Miller: The man and his message
William Miller was born in 1782 and grew up on a farm in Low Hampton, New York, south of Lake Champlain.[3] The eldest child of a poor family, Miller received no formal education. Although raised in a devout Baptist home, he became a deist soon after his marriage and his relocation to nearby Poultney, Vermont. Respected and esteemed by the people, he served as constable, justice of the peace, or deputy sheriff for much of his life.

During the war of 1812, he served as a captain in the American army. Later, reflecting on the surprising victory of the American forces in the Battle of Plattsburgh in September 1814, he became convinced that God intervenes in human history. Renouncing his deism and yielding to his conscience, he returned to the Baptist church of his youth in Low Hampton. When his influential deist friends taunted him for his decision and challenged him to prove the accuracy of the Bible on which he based his renewed faith, he accepted the challenge. Thus, in 1816, with the help of a concordance, he began a detailed study of the Bible and, after two years of research, concluded that Christ would soon return to earth.

Like many other contemporary interpreters of the Bible on both sides of the Atlantic, Miller adhered to a literal interpretation of the Bible. One passage in the book of Daniel particularly drew his attention. When he read, “Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed” (Daniel 8:14), Miller understood that the cleansing referred to was the eradication of all sin on earth at the second advent of Christ. Using the historicist rule of interpretation that one prophetic day equals one literal year, he interpreted the 2300 days as 2300 years. Matching this passage with the prophecy of the seventy weeks in Daniel 9, Miller concluded that this prophecy had started its fulfilment in 457 B.C. and would come to an end around 1843 A.D. Consequently, the end of the world, as he conceived it, would come in approximately 25 years.

Many historians have commented that Miller's complex chronologies were no different than those of his contemporaries, and many of these calculations appeared in the margins of their Bibles. However, his were more accurate, which rendered them more dramatic and the predicted event more surprising. “On two points only was he dogmatically insistent: that Christ would come, and that He would come about 1843.”[4] But Miller's teachings would in time clash with those taught in most Evangelical churches of New England. While these churches were expecting the dawning of a millennium of peace and plenty achieved through social reforms (i.e. postmillennialism), Miller predicted that the event would instead be the destruction of the kingdoms of this earth and all the wicked, to allow the establishment of God's kingdom (i.e. premillennialism). The radicalness of his teachings operated a major shift in the religious consciousness of his listeners by awakening a fear, or a hope, that he might in the end be right.

Though convinced of his beliefs, Miller was nonetheless hesitant in preaching them. Slowly he communicated his convictions to friends and pastors, hoping that one of them would take to heart the mission of warning the world of the imminent events to occur. But no one did. In the end, he felt the responsibility falling upon himself. After years of evading the task, a providential circumstance, in August 1831, finally prompted him to “go and tell it to the world” that Christ was coming soon.[5]

From the start, his premillennial preaching effected spiritual revivals in all the churches where he was invited. Halls were filled with attentive listeners. Miller's goal was not to establish a new church but simply to preach the near coming of Christ in the already established churches, hoping that people would listen and draw closer to God. Since his message was fundamentally evangelical, any church in the New England area could benefit from it. All churches believed, more or less literally, in the imminent advent of Christ or the inauguration of the millennium of peace and, therefore, could profit from this message.[6]


Millerism in the Eastern Townships
First phase: 1835-1840
For various reasons, as we will show, this movement found a receptive audience in the Eastern Townships. Hundreds of people accepted its end-of-the-world message.

William Miller had a good reason to come to the Townships in the 1830s and 1840s. Not only was he willing to preach his urgent message everywhere he could obtain an invitation, but he also wanted to visit and convince his own sister, Anna, and her husband, Joseph Atwood, in Bolton.[7] A few letters in their correspondence have been preserved and shed much light on Miller's insistence that his sister and brother-in-law prepare their souls for the coming of the Lord.

In 1825, just a few years after coming to his conclusions, Miller wrote the Atwoods a letter indicative of his evangelical beliefs. “What are your prospects for eternity?” he asked forthrightly.

Is there a land of eternal rest, beyond the confines of this world, in prospect? Do you believe that the blood of the everlasting covenant can and will cleanse you from all sin? Are you satisfied with your present evidence of an interest in that blood? That we shall die is certain; and due preparation for a better world is wisdom; and we ought, as rational beings, to make ourselves familiar with the road and acquainted with the inhabitants of said country.[8]

In May 1831, Miller wrote again to his sister. This time his emphasis on the end of the world is clear and his description of the events vivid.

Now you may depend upon it my friends, that Jesus will come within 12 years, 1843 or before, in that year the prophecies will be compleated, the dead saints or bodies will rise, those children of God who are alive then, will be changed, and caught up to meet the Lord in the air, where they will be married to him. The world and all the wicked will be burnt up (not anihilated) and then Christ will descend and reign personally with his Saints; and at the end of the 1000 years the wicked will be raised, judged and sent to everlasting punishment. (This is the second death.)[9]

Even though Miller clearly expressed his premillennial beliefs, his brother-in-law seemed to have doubted his views, believing rather in the universal salvation of all humankind.[10] In spite of this, Miller kept sharing his understanding of the prophecies and, by the spring of 1835, Joseph Atwood was convinced of at least some of his beliefs. By then Miller wished to go to Lower Canada to visit his sister's family.[11]

Miller's first sermon in the Eastern Townships was on June 21, 1835, in Bolton. This first preaching tour took him also to Hatley, Derby (Vermont), Georgeville, the Outlet, and Stanstead Plain. In three weeks he preached 24 sermons, all about the imminent parousia and judgment. It was during this tour that he received his first-ever monetary assistance when a woman gave him two half-dollars.[12]

It is difficult to know to what extent he made a favourable impression upon the people of the Eastern Townships during that first visit. However, when, a year later, Miller preached in Lansingburgh, N.Y., a number of clergymen attended his lectures and endorsed the following statement: “Having heard the above mentioned lectures, I see no way to avoid the conclusion the coming of Christ will be as soon as 1843.” Of the 21 clergymen who, thereafter, signed this certificate, two were Baptists ministers in the Eastern Townships, Edward Mitchell and Samuel B. Ryder, Jr.[13]

Miller's second visit to the Eastern Townships occurred in June 1838. This one was shorter: he spent about a week around Magog and preached twelve sermons.[14]

His most successful visit was in the summer 1840. Arriving in Hatley on June 20, he preached there the next day, then went to the Outlet for a few days. He felt his lectures did “much good ... in that place, twenty were under serious conviction[.] When I left many more wept.”[15]

On June 28 he began a series of lectures in Georgeville, where he preached to a large congregation. In eight days he lectured fifteen times.[16] According to Edward Mitchell, the Baptist pastor in Georgeville, Miller's presence was a blessing. In his November 4 report to the Canadian Baptist Association, he wrote:

A part of the present year has been a time of refreshing to us. Mr. Wm. Miller, of Hampton, N.Y., held a series of meetings in this settlement in July last. His favourite theme was the second coming of Christ. Prayer and exhortation by the saints, accompanied these exercises. The Holy Spirit, we trust, was present in his enlightening and renovating grace. Many souls felt anxious to be prepared for death, judgment, and eternity; and quite a number have manifested hopes of pardoning mercy. Since that time, thirty have been baptized and added to the Baptist Church in this settlement.[17]

As indicated by Mitchell's description of the events in Georgeville, in this early phase of Millerism in the Eastern Townships, Miller and his message were well received. Why is that? Three reasons seem plausible.

First, Miller had relatives in the Townships, a fact which provided the occasion for his visits. (There is no known evidence to indicate that he visited his sister any time before 1835.) It is possible that his sister's family may have done some preparation for his visits by spreading his message and seeking invitations for him to lecture.

Second, Miller was a Baptist preacher and his evangelical message corresponded to the belief system of most people in the townships he visited. The Georgeville Baptist church was likely not the only one to be favoured with his lectures. A correlation between his lectures as he recorded them in his "Record Book of Lectures" and lists of Baptist churches indicates that there was a Baptist church everywhere he lectured. As in the New England states, itinerant preachers were also a common occurrence in the early settlements.[18]

Third, Miller was an American. So were the great majority of the descendants of the early settlers along the border,[19] making it natural that an American Baptist revivalist would be welcomed in these communities. This cultural and religious affinity between the North Eastern United States and the Eastern Townships facilitated the implantation of Millerism in this part of Lower Canada. Although a British colony, the religious mentality and cultural ethos of the southern Eastern Townships was largely American. Miller and his associates who were also American evangelicals were successful only among other evangelical Christians like Baptists and Methodists; there are no evidence that his message made major inroads into Anglican and Presbyterian ranks.


The second phase: 1840-1844
Before 1840 Miller had lectured only in towns which had requested his presence, with the ensuing positive results we have seen. But this soon began to change after 1840. In December 1839, while giving a series of lectures in Boston, Miller met a young pastor of the Christian Connexion, Joshua V. Himes. Himes was persuaded of Miller's message and totally devoted his efforts and genius to its propagation. Soon thereafter, he became the “general manager” of the movement. Miller, who was 57 and in poor health, welcomed this new associate. Under Himes' leadership, the movement was propagated with more intensity and diversity and generated much antagonism.

At the beginning of 1842, Miller's influence from three prior visits was still being felt around Lake Memphremagog. Besides his lectures, journals and booklets distributed in the area were making a definite impact upon the population. Thomas Sutcliffe describes the situation in Northern Vermont and Lower Canada:

In several towns where he [William Miller] has lectured the citizens interested in the doctrine of the advent nigh, determine to establish Second Advent libraries. Two ministers of the M. P. [Methodist Protestant] Church, have recently come into the faith, and are now preaching it with power. They only regret that they did not enter the field earlier.[20]

To further spread the Millerite message, it was decided to organize a series of lectures in Stanstead. Dr. Josiah Litch, a Methodist Episcopal minister who had accepted Miller's views in 1838, would lecture in the Union Meeting House starting May 31.[21] Litch was an able writer and speaker and his visit greatly furthered the spread of Millerism in the Eastern Townships.

The lectures were well attended. Hundreds of people came from 12 to 15 miles around for the Sunday services on June 5. Litch had never seen anything like this in all of New England. “The seed sown by brother Miller in this vicinity in past years,” he believed, “is now springing up and bearing abundant fruit.”[22] A Free-Will Baptist minister shared with him the information that before Miller's lectures in Georgeville in 1840, the spiritual condition of the churches in the area had been low. But after Miller's visit, a revival had broken out and the Free-Will Baptist church had baptized 200 new converts.[23]

Right from the start, these revival lectures in Stanstead were a success. The enthusiasm was strong and people were determined to spread their newfound faith. Within a few days of Litch's arrival, the people were talking about holding a camp meeting.[24] This first Millerite camp meeting was set to begin on June 21, in the town of Hatley.[25]

The camp meeting schedule was typical: two lectures each day and the rest of the time spent in prayer and testimony meetings. During the service held on June 22, 50 to 60 people responded to Litch's appeal to repent and be converted. On Sunday, June 26, the crowd was estimated at 2,300 people. One attendee estimated that 500 persons had been converted all together.[26]

With the Hatley camp meeting barely over, Litch was on his way to the Outlet to lecture at the Baptist church. His lectures were just as successful, with 60 to 70 people responding to his appeals. Two days later, June 29, he began lecturing at a second camp meeting in Bolton. Although the place was not adequate for a large crowd and in spite of the miserable weather, during the last service on Sunday, July 3, 200 to 300 people responded to his appeals. The reaction was universal; he commented, “We never saw Canada shaken as it is now.”[27]

With Litch's visit to the Eastern Townships, Millerism had put down deep roots and the results would be far-reaching and long-lasting. During this intense month-long revival, Litch had seen hundreds of conversions to God. Indeed, his impressions were very positive. “In no community, probably, has the doctrine of the Second Advent at hand taken a stronger hold than in Canada.... I have never met with a more kind-hearted and affectionate people, or a more cordial welcome, than in Canada.”[28]

Still, Litch's greatest success was the winning over to Millerism of a few ministers, including a Wesleyan Methodist missionary, Rev. Richard Hutchinson. Some time later, Hutchinson severed his relation with the Wesleyan Methodist Conference and became the leader and spiritual force of Millerism in the Eastern Townships.[29]

After Litch's departure, the revival spirit continued. Thomas Sutcliffe and other ministers held a third camp meeting in September in Eaton.[30] Yet, as successful as they were, revival meetings, lectures and camp meetings were not enough to propagate the Millerite message.

The journal Signs of the Times, published in Boston by Joshua V. Himes, was the most effective means of propagation of the movement. However, because high import duties made it difficult to circulate it in Canada, Millerites in the Eastern Townships decided to publish their own journals and brochures. Already funds had been raised for literature distribution during the Hatley camp meeting.[31]

In January 1843, the editors of the Signs of the Times, Himes and Columbus Green, made an appeal on behalf of Canada. In this country, they wrote,

the cause of the second coming of Christ at hand is onward. The excitement is very great, and a subject of almost universal discourse, both among foes and friends. The Protestant Methodists, as also the Freewill Baptists, both of the clergy and laity, very generally believe and teach the doctrine.... [We have] no difficulty in getting access to the people; the chapels of the different denominations are thrown open, and the Advent brethren are made welcome.

With such a positive reception, they appealed for funds to publish a small local journal.[32]

By the end of the month, H.B. Skinner was publishing the Faithful Watchman in Sherbrooke. In a short time, it had 140 subscriptions and one thousand copies were distributed freely each week.[33]

A second Millerite journal, The Voice of Elijah, appeared in the Spring of 1843. This journal had a better success than the first and was published irregularly until fall of 1844.[34] Hutchinson began its publication, at his own expense, in Sherbrooke, then published it in Montreal and Toronto. This journal was instrumental in spreading Millerism to most of the British Empire since, at the time, journals published on British territory could be sent overseas free of charge. Within a few months, twelve thousand copies were distributed in the North American British colonies and Great Britain.[35]


The year of the end
William Miller had always been approximative on the time for the second advent of Christ, limiting himself to “about 1843.” But, as the expected year approached, excitement and enthusiasm reached unprecedented levels and believers requested a more definite date.

So Miller reckoned that the advent would occur within the Jewish calendar year. “I believe the time can be known by all who desire to understand and to be ready for his coming. And I am fully convinced that some time between March 21st, 1843, and March 21st, 1844, ... Christ will come....”[36]

For some Millerites this range of a year was still too vague and, as each believer searched the Bible, various pockets of Millerites reached their own dates. These date-setting incidents, not supported by the leadership of the movement, produced some fanaticism and, consequently, much opposition from the general public. In this manner some Millerites in the Eastern Townships set February 14, 1843, as the expected day.

This failed prediction did not escape the watchful eye of the Montreal newspapers, particularly the Montreal Transcript, which launched a furious opposition to Millerism.[37] The Transcript reported that this “delusion” had caused considerable excitement in the townships of Stanstead and Hatley. People rolled on the floor with the “struggles,” exhibiting convulsions and kicking and screaming fits. These occurrences were “looked upon as sure evidences of the immediate presence of the divinity, and were of great efficacy previous to the 14th instants, in converting the unbelievers to the faith....” The editor added, “Though disappointed in their predictions, the Millerites bate not a whit their belief in the truth of their doctrines.”[38]

Millerite preachers in the Townships felt the acrimony of the local newspapers. H.B. Skinner commented that these papers “have poured upon us with the voracity of a hungry tiger.” However, he admitted that the stories and rumours had some validity. “We have been acquainted with our brethren there [i.e., in Stanstead] since our first arrival in this country,” he explained,

and we declare it as our honest conviction, that if there are any persons on earth, who are ‘filled with faith and the Holy Ghost,’ they are to be found among the Advent brethren on Stanstead Plain. It is possible that in some of their meetings they may have been a little too enthusiastic--they do not profess to be perfect any more than others, and if ever they err by running to excess, there are no persons more willing to confess it than they are.[39]

February 14 came and went, and some Eastern Townships Millerites, not discouraged in the least, set another date for the expected event. This time it would be April 14, 1843.[40] “The 14th April was the day fixed on by them for the end of this world,” wrote George Stacey, in Ascot,

but it passed in the usual way, and with it I trust will pass this most impious doctrine. It is lamentable to witness with what avidity this pernicious theory of Mr. Miller’s, its leader, has been caught up by thousands. To such a pitch has it been carried on in these Townships, that hundreds of families have plunged themselves into difficulties, sold up everything, and are now in such a state that it will scarcely be possible to extricate them from their predicament.[41]

The secular press was not the only source of antagonism toward Millerism. There had already been some opposition from local churches during Litch’s visit in June 1842.[42] Though most churches agreed with revivalism as a means of winning souls to their flocks, not all could agree with a definite time for the Lord’s coming. Hence, specific date-setting episodes and the accompanying excesses in enthusiasm and fanaticism weakened an already hesitant support. In the end, local churches completely rejected Millerism when the movement, in the summer of 1843, began to preach that churches which did not accept a premillennial and imminent advent of the Lord were part of the Babylon of the book of Revelation. Millerites were entreated to withdraw from these “apostatized” churches to ensure their salvation.[43] The Eastern Townships churches that had so far benefited the most from Millerism were the most affected by this new trend.

When, according to Miller's calculations, the Jewish year ended on March 21, 1844, Millerites experienced another setback. “Our disappointment was great,” wrote Miller.[44] Certainly an error had been made, but which one? The Bible must have the answer. In the meantime encouragement came from the prophet Habakkuk, “For the vision is yet for an appointed time ... though it tarry, wait for it” (2:3). This “tarrying time” lasted from April to July, 1844.

Writing from Stanstead, J. Merry describes this period: “There are a few here who are looking for God to come soon, and set up his everlasting kingdom. We are determined to wait and look for the coming of the Lord until he shall appear. We have no thoughts of giving up our faith or turning back.”[45] During this waiting period, the Millerite preachers were still busy lecturing and holding a camp meeting in Stanstead.[46] And soon they got an explanation for the delay.

In July a new interpretation was proposed. As Millerites revised the anticipated end of the 2,300 years of Daniel’s prophecy, they concluded that the end of the prophecy should coincide with the Jewish Day of Atonement celebration on the tenth day of the seventh month of the Jewish calendar. This Day of Atonement was understood to be a type of the purification of the earth on the day of judgment occurring at the second advent of Christ. Thus the coming of the Lord could be expected on October 22, 1844.

This new calculation gave a new fervour to the movement; Millerism was now headed for its climax.
As the expected day grew closer, Millerites deeply searched their hearts. Many closed their businesses, forsook their animals, and gave up their jobs. Others gave away their belongings. Thousands of Millerite journals and pamphlets were freely distributed. And again the newspapers in Canada East became relentless in their attacks on Millerism.[47]

On the expected day, Millerites gathered peacefully in their homes or halls to pray and wait. They had anticipated this day for a long time, but after they waited all day and all night, the signs of Christ’s second advent did not appear. October 22, 1844 was a day like any other day. It was a great disappointment. Expressing feelings similar to those of many other Millerites, Hiram Edson, in Western New York, wrote, “Our fondest hopes and expectations were blasted and such a spirit of weeping came over us I never experienced before. It seemed that the loss of all earthly friends could have been no comparison. We wept, and wept, till the day dawn.”[48]


The end of a movement, the beginning of institutionalization
This latest disappointment was the end of Millerism but only the starting point of the institutionalization of new denominations in the Eastern Townships. In the weeks that followed October 22, thousands of Millerites throughout North America felt deceived and abandoned the movement, if not religious life altogether. However, the majority of sincere Millerites kept the essential tenets of their beliefs. This was the case for William Miller and the other prominent leaders. Many churches invited their former members to return to their folds and some chose that option. But for many Millerites this was an impossibility.

His faith unabated, Richard Hutchinson wrote in November, “The [Advent] cause is prosperous here. The last cry has been made a blessing. The Brethren are resting their faith on the word. I fear less for the Advent people, than for any other.” The day before he had lectured on the “Old Paths” and had emphasized the imminent and premillennial second advent of Christ.[49] He considered the Millerite message to be soundly biblical, although wrong in setting a specific date for this advent.

Understandably, Millerite leaders in the Eastern Townships began to rally their believers soon after the disappointment as they visited groups of believers in various parts of the Townships. After one such visit, N. Stevens commented that although some “were passing through trials,” “God’s people here are strong in the faith.”[50] To further encourage the believers, in late December, the call went out that a Second Advent Conference would be held in Waterloo, January 9 to 12, 1845. Hutchinson, Caldwell, and Stevens, all three publishers of the two Eastern Townships Millerite journals, would be present. About 300 people attended the conference.[51]

On January 13, when Hutchinson wrote a report of the activities of the last two weeks, his description caught the attention of many readers. “Persecution rages here,” he wrote, “But all tends to the furtherance of the gospel.” Two weeks earlier, on December 29, at the Frost Village schoolhouse, the mayor and a captain had come with an armed force to drive them out. “They were full of rage, and would hear no reason,” Hutchinson asserted. On the following evening, as they were assembled in a private house, about thirty guns had been fired close to the window.[52]

The evening of January 12, after the close of the Waterloo conference, Hutchinson and Caldwell went to West Shefford to lecture in the schoolhouse. Its access being denied to them for fear of mob violence, they took their large congregation to a private house. “After I had addressed the people,” Hutchinson recalled, “and brother Caldwell had delivered a short sermon, a mob of about 40 men came. Some rushed into the house with deadly weapons. Others threw stones, clubs, etc. through the windows. Three windows were entirely smashed in. Some of the brethren were cut in the head, and some received blows.” The mob wished to tar and feather Hutchinson, but did not succeed.[53]

This persecution and antagonism from the local population made the Millerites even more conscious of their doctrinal differences from other established denominations, and reinforced their resolution to be separate from them. The next logical step, perhaps taken unconsciously at first, was a move toward the organization of an Adventist denomination.

The various Advent conferences and meetings held by the Eastern Townships Millerite preachers in late 1844 and early 1845 were already a step taken toward the formation of a denomination. But early organizational efforts were immensely helped with the visit of Joshua V. Himes in February 1845. Already on January 2, Himes had mentioned in a letter to Hutchinson his desire to visit the Eastern Townships.[54] Although he had never visited the area, Himes was well known through the Millerite journals. These journals, in particular the Signs of the Times and its successor, the Advent Herald, had been a major means of propagation of the Millerite message. With the discontinuance in November 1844 of the Voice of Elijah, the Herald had become a unifying factor and a source of encouragement for Eastern Townships Millerites. A. Garlick remarked to Himes:

Your paper is still the welcome messenger to the dear saints in this place [Waterloo]; for when we realize your firm and undeviating course, we are inspired with new confidence in your honesty and integrity in sustaining and defending the Advent cause in which you have so long and so faithfully labored. The brethren and sisters in this place are still strong in faith, and watching for the return of the Nobleman.[55]

The visit of a prominent leader of the movement strengthened the development of an Adventist ecclesiastical identity in the Eastern Townships. In the last two weeks of February his circuit-like appointments took him to every major Millerite area.[56] Accompanied by Hutchinson, he encouraged the believers to remain faithful to the Apostolic faith. As a result, Millerites were renewed in their faith and new converts joined the groups. “The cause in Canada East is strong,” he commented after the tour, “and its friends are numerous; much more so than we had anticipated.”[57]

An Adventist conference held in late April 1845 in Albany, N.Y., was the next event to crystallize the development of an Adventist ecclesiastical identity. Hutchinson's leadership was well established when he joined Miller, Litch, and three others in signing the call for this conference.[58]

Although Millerism had been a non-sectarian, following the October 1844 disappointment, the great variety of explanations offered to rationalize what had happened fragmented the movement. A rapid loss of coherence and momentum ensued, leading to great confusion and dissension. The Millerite leaders decided to call this conference for the purpose of defining true Adventism and combatting what they perceived as pernicious errors.[59]

During the three days of discussion, the members of the conference adopted a statement of ten beliefs emphasizing points of doctrine related to the second advent and salvation. Furthermore, they laid plans for the continuation of the spreading of their Adventist message. These included the acceptance of a congregational system of church government similar to that of the Baptists, the ordination of new ministers, and the observance of the gospel ordinances. Camp meetings were discontinued and, in their stead, smaller conferences were to be held as a method of reaching new areas.[60]

Albany was a turning point for Adventism and its effects were widely felt throughout North America. But a sick Hutchinson could not attend this conference nor any of the subsequent ones on the East coast.[61] Nevertheless, after reading its proceedings he gave it hearty approval. He decided to regularly visit the Adventist congregations in the Eastern Townships to make sure they were following the proper ordinances and commandments of the Lord.[62] Thus the establishment of Adventism in the Eastern Townships was secured; unwillingly Millerism would eventually produce three denominations.


In the succeeding years, Adventism developed rapidly in the Eastern Townships, reaching a high of some 4200 believers by 1881.[63] William Miller visited the Eastern Townships again in 1846 and 1848. He died at his home, still a fervent believer in the imminent second advent of his Lord, on December 21, 1849. Both Josiah Litch and Joshua V. Himes visited the area many times in the following decades. For his part, Richard Hutchinson remained for many years the foremost leader of Adventism in the Townships, serving as president of the Canada East and Vermont Conference.

In the next two decades, three Adventist denominations arose in the Eastern Townships. These were the results of divergent doctrinal views dividing Adventist believers throughout North America. The largest Adventist denomination in the Townships was affiliated with the Advent Herald and the American Evangelical Advent Conference under the leadership of both Himes and Litch. This group resembled most other evangelical denominations; consequently, for various reasons, by the end of the nineteenth century it had practically disappeared. In 1920, all of its churches in the Eastern Townships had been disbanded. Traces of this denomination’s former presence in the Townships still exist: both the Stanstead Township office in Fitch Bay and the Olivet Baptist church in Sutton are former Evangelical Adventist houses of worship.

A second Adventist group in the Townships was the Advent Christian Association. This group began split off from the Evangelical Adventists around 1860 over the issue of the non-immortality of the soul after death. Both Danville and Beebe Plain have Advent Christian churches. The Beebe Plain camp meeting ground is also affiliated with this denomination. Other churches have since been demolished; perhaps the most notable one was the old Anglican church on the North Road in East Hatley, which for many years was used by this group.

A third and last Adventist group in the Eastern Townships, and the smallest in the nineteenth century, is the Seventh-day Adventist Church. This group distinguishes itself from the other two by holding worship services on Saturday. Although they also have lost many of their church congregations from the nineteenth century, they are now the most numerous group, with churches in South Stukely (the oldest of this denomination in Canada), Abercorn, Waterville, Sherbrooke, and Granby.


[1] This article is based upon my doctoral thesis "L'adventisme dans les Cantons de l'Est du Québec: implantation et institutionnalisation au XIXe siècle" (Université Laval, 1995). (I would welcome any new information about Millerism in the Eastern Townships. Write to me at Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan, 49104.)

[2] B.F. Hubbard, Forests and Clearings: The History of Stanstead County (Montreal: Lovell Printing, 1874), 86-87.

[3] Biographical information on Miller can be found in his W.M. Miller's Apology and Defence (Boston: J.V. Himes, 1845) and in Sylvester Bliss, Memoirs of William Miller Generally Known as a Lecturer on the Prophecies and the Second Coming of Christ (Boston: J.V. Himes, 1853). I especially recommend George R. Knight's recent study of Millerism: Millennial Fever and the End of the World: A Study of Millerite Adventism (Boise, ID: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1993).

[4] Whitney R. Cross, The Burned-over District: the Social and Intellectual History of Enthusiastic Religion in Western New York, 1800-1850 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1950), 291. Ruth Doan has also commented that “Millerites were, in their origins, good evangelical Protestant Americans” (The Miller Heresy, Millennialism, and American Culture (Philadelphia, Temple University Press, 1987), 215). Many studies in the last decades have demonstrated that it was Millerism's resemblance to other denominations that had been a cause of tensions with them. These studies highlight how Millerism was certainly a movement within the popular trend to millennial fever, revivalism and an evangelical ethos found on both sides of the Atlantic in the first part of the nineteenth century. Cross' Burned-over District, David L. Rowe's Thunder and Trumpets: Millerites and Dissenting Religion in Upstate New York, 1800-1850 (Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1985) and William Westfall's Two Worlds: The Protestant Culture of Nineteenth-Century Ontario (Montréal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1989) describe the social and religious conditions of Western New York and Ontario that helped the establishment of Millerism. These conditions I believe were similar in the Eastern Townships. Other studies like Ernest R. Sandeen's The Roots of Fundamentalism: British and American Millenarianism, 1800-1930 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970), J.F.C. Harrison's The Second Coming: Popular Millenarianism, 1780-1850 (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1979) and Richard Carwardine's Transatlantic Revivalism: Popular Evangelicalism in Britain and America, 1790-1865 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1978) describe the religious and social similarities between English-speaking countries during Millerism's inception.

[5] Miller, Apology and Defence, 17.

[6] Cross, The Burned-over District, 320-321.

[7] Their residence was in Bolton township until part of this township and a part of Hatley Township were joined to form Magog Township. More precisely, they resided at the Outlet in Magog.

[8] Letter, Miller to Joseph Atwood, 28 June 1825. (All references to William Miller's correspondence and various Millerite journals can be found in the microfilm collection The Millerites and Early Adventists, Ann Arbor, Michigan: University Microfilms International, 1978.).

[9] Letter, Miller to Joseph Atwood, 31 May 1831.

[10] Letters, Miller to Joseph Atwood, 27 March 1832 and 16 September 1833.

[11] Letters, Miller to Joseph Atwood, 28 February 1835 and 14 May 1835.

[12] Miller, "Record Book of Lectures" (unpublished manuscript). Bliss, Memoirs, 122-123.

[13] Bliss, Memoirs, 121.

[14] Miller, "Record Book of Lectures"; Bliss, Memoirs, 132.

[15] Letter, Miller to "Dear Son", 22 June 1840.

[16] Miller, "Record Book of Lectures".

[17] Edward Mitchell, "The Rise and Progress of the Church in Hatley and Stanstead, L.C.," Canada Baptist Magazine and Missionary Register, March 1841, 221-222. Mitchell also writes that the current membership of his church was 104. The preceding year the same church had a total membership of 79 ("List of Baptist Churches in Eastern Townships, 1839", ibid., October 1840, 100).

[18] Even though the statistical information provided in the nominal census of Lower Canada for 1842 is often inaccurate and incomplete, what was gleaned for the township of Bolton gives a fairly good example of the religious context a short time after Miller's first visits. In 1842, with a total population of 1,377 in the township of Bolton, 299 persons gave a religious affiliation. Of these, 74% declared themselves either Methodists or Baptists. See also Françoise Noël, Competing for Souls: Missionary Activity and Settlements in the Eastern Townships, 1784-1851 (Sherbrooke: Université de Sherbrooke, 1988). Her study provides excellent information concerning the religious makeup of the early settlements.

[19] Again the 1842 census records provide a good example. Sixty-three percent of the households in the township of Bolton in 1842 had at least one member of the household born in the United States.

[20] Letter, Thomas Sutcliffe to Himes, Signs of the Times, 1 January 1842, 149.

[21] "Second Advent Conference in Canada," Signs of the Times, 4 May 1842, 38.

[22] Litch, "Editorial Correspondence, No. I," Signs of the Times, 22 June 1842, 93; "Editorial Correspondence, No. II," Signs of the Times, 22 June 1842, 93-94.

[23] Litch, "Editorial Correspondence, No. III," Signs of the Times, 29 June 1842, 100.

[24] Litch, "Editorial Correspondence, No.I," Signs of the Times, 22 June 1842, 93. Camp meetings had been a means of revival used by the Methodists on the American frontier at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Believers and non-believers would gather in a large field, pitch their tents in a circle around the field, and use the centre as the meeting place. For many days they would hold religious meetings, morning, afternoon, and evening. Millerites began to use camp meetings as a means of propagating their faith in June 1842. Within three years they held approximately 125 camp meetings, with attendance ranging from a few thousand to 15,000. They estimated a total attendance of close to a million people.

[25] "Great Camp-Meeting in Canada," Signs of the Times, 15 June 1842, 88.

[26] Litch, "Editorial Correspondence, No.V," Signs of the Times, 13 July 1842, 117; A.K.M., "Revival in Canada," Signs of the Times, 17 August 1842, 159; letter, Levi P. Adams, Jr., to Himes, Signs of the Times, 17 August 1842, 158.

[27] Litch, "Editorial Correspondence, No.V," Signs of the Times, 13 July 1842, 117, and "Editorial Correspondence, No.VI," Signs of the Times, 20 July 1842, 125-126.

[28] Litch, "Editorial Correspondence, No.VI," Signs of the Times, 20 July 1842, 125-126.

[29] Litch, "Trip to Vermont. Richford Conference," Advent Herald, 23 June 1863, 181. Reminiscing about his 1842 visit, Litch wrote, "Twenty-one years ago, we had in Northern Vermont and Canada East some of the most glorious meetings of the eventful year, 1842; and especially two camp-meetings, the first Advent campmeetings ever held. It was during that visit Dr. R. Hutchinson, then a Methodist minister, Elder J. Porter, and Bro. Hyatt of Waterloo embraced the faith, with a host of others, ministers and people."

[30] Thomas Sutcliffe, "Campmeeting at Eaton, L. Canada," Signs of the Times, 14 September 1842, 189.

[31] Litch, "Editorial Correspondence, No.V," Signs of the Times, 13 July 1842, 117.

[32] Himes and Columbus Green, "Appeal in behalf of Canada," Signs of the Times, 4 January 1843, 121.

[33] Letters, Luther Caldwell to Sylvester Bliss, Signs of the Times, 18 January 1843, 143; H.B. Skinner to Bliss and Himes, Signs of the Times, 22 March 1843, 23. The paper was published for a few weeks only and likely discontinued for lack of funds.

[34] L.D. Mansfield, "Voice of Elijah," Advent Herald, 18 December 1844, 151.

[35] Himes, "Notes by the Way," Signs of the Times, 6 September 1843, 20.

[36] Miller, "Synopsis of Miller's Views," Signs of the Times, 25 January 1843, 147.

[37] In February and March 1843 the Montreal Transcript published some remarks opposing and ridiculing Millerism in almost every issue.

[38] Montreal Transcript, 21 February 1843.

[39] Letter, H.B. Skinner to Bliss and Himes, Signs of the Times, 22 March 1843, p. 23. This type of excitement did not seem to subside. Skinner reported again in May that a source of difficulty, which was taken up by the press, was the excesses of some brethren. This consisted in "the abandonment of the word of God, and a trusting to special revelations of the Holy Ghost, through the medium of dreams, visions, etc. an excess, which developed itself in the greatest extravagances in their external modes of worship" (Letter, H.B. Skinner to Bliss, Signs of the Times, 31 May 1843, 98-99).

[40] See letters, Joseph Randall to Miller, 22 May 1843 and H.B. Skinner to Bliss and Himes, Signs of the Times, 31 May 1843, 98-99.

[41] Quoted in J. I. Little, Ethno-cultural transition and regional identity in the Eastern Townships of Quebec (Ottawa: Canadian Historical Association, 1989), 15. In spite of these occasional excesses of fanaticism, Cross believes that Millerites were consistent with their statements of beliefs. They were preparing themselves for eternity and their behaviour was in most cases exemplary. "No more moral and righteous people would seem ever to have inhabited this earth," he concludes (The Burned-over District, 305-307).

[42] See letter, Levi P. Adams to Himes, Signs of the Times, 17 August 1842, 159, and A.K.M. "Revival in Canada," Signs of the Times, 17 August 1842, 158.

[43] Not all Millerites preached this message. Miller himself remained a member of his Baptist church.

[44] Miller, Apology and Defence, 24.

[45] J. Merry, "Correspondence," Advent Herald, 3 April 1844, 72. See also A. Garlick, "Waterloo, L.C.," Advent Herald, 17 July 1844, 186.

[46] See letter, T. Sutcliffe to Himes, Advent Herald, 14 August 1844, 15; "Conferences and Campmeetings," Advent Herald, 17 July 1844, 192.

[47] Many articles ridiculing Millerism were published in Montreal and Quebec City. See, for example, Register, 3, 10 and 24 October; La Minerve, 21, 24 and 31 October; Quebec Gazette, 16, 21 and 28 October.

[48] Hiram Edson, undated manuscript of his life and experience.

[49] Letter, Hutchinson to Himes, Advent Herald, 11 December 1844, 143. His sermon was printed in the Advent Herald, 1 January 1845, 162-164.

[50] Letter, Luther Caldwell to Himes, Advent Herald, 25 December 1844, 159.

[51] "Second Advent Conference," Advent Herald, 25 December 1844, 156; Leonard Kimball, "Stanstead, L.C.," Advent Herald, 12 February 1845, 7.

[52] Letter, Hutchinson to [N. Southard], Morning Watch, 23 January 1845, 28.

[53] Ibid. See also other descriptions of the events in Luther Caldwell's letter to Himes, Advent Herald, 19 February 1845, 10-11, and Leonard Kimball, "Stanstead, L.C.," Advent Herald, 12 February 1845, 7.

[54] Letter, Hutchinson to Himes, Advent Herald, 30 January 1845, 40.

[55] Letter, A. Garlick to [Himes], Advent Herald, 22 January 1845, 187.

[56] Letter, Hutchinson to Himes, Morning Watch, 30 January 1845, 40. They visited Stanstead, Hatley, Melbourne, Shefford, Outlet, Bolton Centre and, finally, Odelltown.

[57] Himes, "At Home," Advent Herald, 19 March 1845, 48. See his detailed report of the tour, "Editorial Correspondence. Canadian Tour," Advent Herald, 9 April 1845, 68.

[58] "A Mutual Conference," Morning Watch, 20 March 1845, 96.

[59] See, David T. Arthur, "After the Great Disappointment: To Albany and Beyond," Adventist Heritage, 1974 (3:1), 3-10.

[60] "Mutual Conference of Adventists at Albany," Advent Herald, 14 May 1845, 105-108.

[61] Letter, Hutchinson to Himes, Advent Herald, 21 May 1845, 114.

[62] Letter, Hutchinson to Himes, Advent Herald, 11 June 1845, 144.

[63] Census of Canada, 1880-81 (Ottawa: Maclean & Co., 1882), 1:160.