Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Adventists

by Barbara Rimkunas

This "Historically Speaking" column appeared in the Exeter News-Letter on Friday, October 12, 2012.

In the summer of 2010, the Exeter Historical Society received two separate requests for information regarding the 1844 Advent Christian camp meeting held in town. We have a lot of materials in our archives, but as far as we could tell, there wasn’t anything about a camp meeting. Odd, we were told, because this particular camp meeting was considered one of the most important theological events in the development of their church. It was in Exeter that the Reverend Samuel Snow had set the date for the Second Coming of Christ as October 22nd, 1844.

There were two main questions we were trying to answer: where, exactly, did the meeting take place and who was George Stacy – a man listed in Adventist records as the contact person for the meeting in Exeter.

Stacy lived most of his life in Exeter working as a cobbler. His shoe shop was, for a time, located in the Folsom Block on Pleasant Street coinciding with the time when Robert Lincoln boarded in one of the upstairs rooms. Stacy would have most certainly been working in his shop when Abraham Lincoln stopped by in 1860. Although this was interesting enough to us, it wasn’t the bit of information that Andrews University (affiliated with the Seventh-Day-Advent Church) was looking for. They were more interested in George Stacy’s involvement with the local church and not his probable stumbling into Abraham Lincoln’s life.

When we checked our records for the Exeter Advent Christian church, George Stacy is one of the first names mentioned. The church records are incomplete and even the church clerk, who typed up the brief bits we have, admitted, “There is a great discrepancy between dates which we do not understand.” The church seems to have formed as early as 1843 as the Christian Fellowship, but may not have been particularly organized until 1853.

“George T. Stacy (saw the stars fall in 1833)” is the way Stacy appears in the record. ‘When the stars fell’ - whatever could this mean? George Stacy of Exeter saw the most brilliant Leonid meteor shower ever recorded in the early morning hours of November 13, 1833.

The Exeter News-Letter reported on the meteors: “This morning, between half past 3 and half past 4 o’clock, there was a war of shooting stars in the northwest. For an hour, meteor succeeded meteor in such rapid succession that it was impossible to count them; at times the sky seemed full of them, and the earth was illuminated as with a morning light. They were many thousands in number, and as they shot from one part of the heavens to the other, they would burst like rockets, discharging balls of fire in all directions.”

This event, known for generations but now largely forgotten, caused a great deal of distress to those who witnessed it. For many it was a sign that the end times were near. It must have troubled George Stacy, because soon after he became enamored with the teachings of William Miller – the spiritual founder of the Advent movement.

Miller, hailing from New York State, preached that the Second Coming of Christ was going to happen soon. Very soon. At least before 1843. In the spring of 1844 Miller was uncertain about why his prediction hadn’t come to pass. One of his followers, Samuel Snow, recalculated the prophecies and set the actual date to be sometime in the fall of 1844.

At a camp meeting held in Exeter from August 12 – 17th, Snow brought his new calculations to a large group of Adventists. The Advent Herald reported, “We were much gratified to witness so large a congregation present. There were nearly twenty tents on the encampment, from different and distant places, from the east, the west, the north and the south.” James White, who attended the meeting, later wrote that it became very solemn after the pronouncement. “And now,” he wrote later, “the work of waking up the slumbering believers, and giving the last warning to the world, seemed to be crowded into a few weeks.” Although they worked hard to prepare themselves and the world, the date passed without the arrival of predicted Second Coming.

All this happened in Exeter, New Hampshire – but where? The church records, if accurate, place the fledgling Exeter congregation on Franklin Street, but even in 1844 there wasn’t enough space for twenty tents on Franklin Street. Quite by accident, we found the answer in the writings of Benjamin Swasey. Swasey was a child of six or seven in 1844 but still remembered the Advent Camp meetings because they were held close to his father’s farm. “In the grove nearly opposite the Hardy house but on the Haley land the Methodists held a camp meeting in 1842, and in ’43 & ’44 the Adventists held one in the same place.” This would place the meeting of 1844 on Newfields Road just north of the 101 overpass.

The failure of the predicted date has come to be called ‘The Great Disappointment’. Some followers suffered a crisis of faith and left the movement, but more were like James White, who commented, “and now to turn again to the cares perplexities, and dangers of life in full view of the jeers and revilings of unbelievers who now scoffed as never before, was a terrible trial of faith and patience.” George Stacy persevered until his death in 1887. The Advent Christian church in Exeter remained active until 1966.

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