Ohio History Journal

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The Millerite Movement in Ohio




A most spectacular and dramatic nineteenth century religious movement in America

developed from the preaching of William Miller. This was the culmination of the pro-

nouncement that Christ's Second Coming would occur in October 1844. Preaching

in a forceful manner and with convincing sincerity, "Prophet" Miller delivered hun-

dreds of lectures in years 1831 to 1844. His message was one of emotion and terror.

It was often sensationalized as well as ridiculed by both the religious and secular

press. But the hostility generated by disbelievers merely led Miller and his followers

to intensify their efforts to warn people everywhere of impending doom, the coming of

the "end of the world." Huge outdoor tent meetings resulted in conversions by the

hundreds to Miller's premillennial doctrine that Christ was coming in person to set

up His kingdom of righteousness on earth for a thousand years and to condemn the

sinners to a burning hell.

As the final date of October 22, 1844 approached, tales circulated of fanatics in

white "ascension robes" waiting on rooftops for Christ's appearing. Whether true or

not, stories of mental derangement and suicide were reported and repeated in many

newspapers throughout the country.1 When the appointed day passed and the Lord

did not appear, most Millerites bitterly returned to their former way of life and the

"Great Disappointment" became history. A few believers, continuing their faith in

the imminent Second Coming, later formed denominational organizations, the major

one being the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

William Miller, the leader of the Millerite Movement of 1843-44, was a self-

educated farmer from Low Hampton, New York. Brought up an orthodox Christian,

he had turned to Deism, which was widely popular at the turn of the nineteenth cen-

tury. After the War of 1812, in which he served with the rank of Captain, he became

dissatisfied with his own skepticism and set out to harmonize all the apparent contra-

dictions in the Bible to his own satisfaction. If he were unsuccessful, he said, he

would remain a Deist. Using only the Bible and a concordance to study and compare

scripture with scripture, he was converted to the Baptist faith and to the conviction

that Christ's second coming was at hand. Interpreting the writings of Daniel in a

literal sense and applying the widely accepted principle of a year for a prophetic "day"



1. Clara Endicott Sears in Days of Delusion (Boston, 1924) repeats the newspaper accounts of

fanaticism and suicides; Francis D. Nichol, in The Midnight Cry (Washington, D. C., 1944), has

a defense of the Millerites.


Mr. Thomas is Associate Professor of History, Pacific Union College, Angwin, California.