On Oct. 22, 1944, the faithful throughout New England gathered for their translation into heaven. Beginning in 1831, William Miller, a farmer and Bible interpreter from Low Hampton, New York, had determined that Jesus would return imminently.
Miller’s calculations were based on esoteric interpretations of the prophetic books in the Bible, especially Revelation, at the end of the New Testament, and the book of Daniel in the Hebrew Bible. Counting from the reign of Artaxerxes, Miller decided that the “Second Coming” would be some time between March 21, 1843, and March 21, 1844 – what he called the Jewish year 5604.
On March 22, disappointment set in. Some of the followers, known as Millerites (contemporaries estimated as many as 50,000 at the height of the Millerite fervor), fell away. Miller reviewed his calculations and came up with a new date, October 22, when Christ would return. Some Millerites sold their farms and settled their debts in anticipation of their imminent departure from this Earth. Some scaled mountains and climbed trees to be among the first to ascend. Others reportedly gathered in cemeteries, wearing white muslin robes – a circumstance hotly denied by Adventists today.
When Tuesday, October 22, passed without incident, something Adventists call the Great Disappointment set in. “I waited all Tuesday and dear Jesus did not come,” Henry Emmons, a Millerite, recalled. “I waited all the forenoon of Wednesday, and was well in body as I ever was, but after 12 o’clock I began to feel faint, and before dark I needed someone to help me up to my chamber, as my natural strength was leaving me very fast, and I lay prostrate for 2 days without any pain – sick with disappointment.”