The Potato Patch Preachers
They were convinced that Jesus was coming!! They were sure they even knew the date! On October 22, 1844, Jesus would appear to take His believing people back to Heaven with Him! O! the excitement! One could hardly think of anything else! The Millerites, as they were called, were doing their best to tell as many as possible the good news! Jesus was coming very soon!! But, most people thought they were ignorant and deceived, so they paid little attention. After all, it was harvest time, there were apples to pick, corn to gather, and potatoes to dig. But, the Millerites tried to show by their lives that they not only were preaching that Jesus was coming, but that they really believed it.
One of those who faithfully gave the good news and warning was Leonard Hastings, a farmer in New Hampshire. His business was pasturing and caring for cattle and he grew enough produce to supply his family’s needs. They also relied heavily on a potato crop for their use and to sell for some income. The Hastings family lived near the town of New Ipswich, where there was a Millerite Adventist community, but there were neighbors living around them who were not Adventists.
In the spring of 1844, Hastings had put in a large field of potatoes. They grew well, and were ready for harvest in the fall, but Hastings decided not to dig them for he felt it would be a denial of his faith. After all, Jesus was coming in a few more weeks, he would have no need of them. A few of his neighbors, thinking he was crazy, offered to dig them for him, and store them in his barn, and he thanked them but said, “No, I’m going to let that field of potatoes preach my faith in the Lord’s soon coming.”
“He’s foolish” the neighbors told each other. “He’ll be sorry,” others declared behind his back. “Those potatoes will rot in the ground!”
But, the neighbors’ unbelief did not affect Leonard Hastings’ decision at all, and along with some other Millerites, they left their crops unharvested, and waited for Jesus to come. We all know that although all through the day of October 22nd they watched and waited; midnight came, and He had not returned. When the dawn of October 23 finally streaked the eastern skies, and Jesus had not come, they were devastated.
So, what happened to the Millerite believers after the Disappointment? Some continued to search the scriptures to understand why Jesus had not come, and learned about the beginning of Jesus’ Most Holy Place ministry in Heaven. Some fell away from believing. Did those who had not harvested their crops face starvation? What about Mr. Hastings’ potato patch? Did his potatoes rot in the ground?
No—None of the Millerites starved to death, and as it turned out, Hastings’ potatoes did a better job of preaching than he could have ever done. The fall of 1844 was mild, and the potatoes were left in the ground until November. When he finally dug them, he found that they were some of the best he’d ever grown. But—his neighbors who had dug theirs
earlier, had a problem. A potato blight came to New England that year, rotting nearly all the potatoes that had been dug at the proper time. But, the ones left in the ground didn’t rot! So, Mr. Hastings had a big supply of potatoes for his family—as well as for those same neighbors who had called him foolish.
He really got a bonus the next spring when it was time to plant potatoes again. Many of Hastings’ neighbors came to him to buy seed potatoes to plant in their gardens and fields. Because of the scarce supply, seed potatoes sold for as much as $5 a bushel—an enormous price! What the people thought was going to cause Mr. Hastings some real problems turned out to be a blessing to him—and also to his neighbors.
There was another potato crop that preached a sermon, too. Silas Guilford, William Miller’s brother-in-law, had planted a 12 acre field of potatoes in the spring of 1844. Silas left his potatoes in the ground as a testimony of his faith in the Lord’s coming. This was in Oswego, New York, and the snows came early that year and covered the acres of potatoes. They stayed in the ground all winter.
When spring came and the snow melted, Silas mentioned to his wife that he was “going up to the potato field and see if any of the potatoes survived the winter.” She begged him not to go, saying they had already been the joke of the town, and if people saw him digging in that potato field they would laugh again. “Besides,” she said, “You know they froze and are all rotten.” “Well, Irving and I’ll just go take a look,” he told her.
Silas pushed the fork firmly into the first potato hill, turning up the dirt, and with it, nice, firm potatoes, not frozen at all, and no rot on any of them. The next hill was the same, and the next!
In great excitement Silas Guilford sent Irving back to the house to get the other boys, also more forks, spades and baskets. That 12 acres yielded an awesome number of wonderful potatoes. They got $4.50 a bushel for them. The sale of the potatoes made enough money for Silas Guilford to pay off his mortgage and have a good nest egg left over. Surely God honored the faith of His followers.
But—that Day the Millerites were looking for is soon coming, and it is closer than we may think. We, too, need our faith planted in Jesus to be prepared for the time of trouble. Psalm 91 tells us where we find our Refuge. And, Isaiah 33:16 “bread shall be given him; his waters shall be sure.”
compiled from Adventists Pioneers by Dorothy Dunbar