History: The Millerites, The Mormons & Methodists, too

The Millerites

In the predawn hours of March 23, 1843, several Holliston families donned white ascension robes and climbed Jasper Hill behind Town Hall to await the end of the world. They were followers of William Miller, a New York preacher (former farmer.) The Millerites in Holliston were, in the beginning at least, a conglomeration of people from many different denominations looking for their religious homes.

In preparation for this final day, the Holliston believers had divested themselves of all their earthly possessions, including their land, just as Miller had instructed them to do. They waited on the top of the hill in the dark, probably cold, and probably vacillating between intense fear and bliss at the prospect of salvation. I picture neighbors waving them off, possibly shaking their heads or gleefully clutching some item they bought for cheap.

But then the dawn broke and the day rose like any other day, and the Millerites dejectedly walked off the hill and back into town, perhaps embarrassed. Now they had to reconstruct their lives. Some were able to reclaim items sold or given away, but some were left destitute. Neighbors were sympathetic and helped as much as possible.

What was the promise that drove these Millerites to follow this journey? The Second Coming of Christ.  They believed that they would be lifted to meet their Lord and that the rest of the people would perish in flames that destroyed the natural world. Miller had convinced many that by reading the Bible and making some mathematical calculations, he had been able to deduce that this event would happen on March 23.

When that day went by uneventfully, many followers lost faith in Miller and ignored his successive predictions for Armageddon… (15 or so of them).

The Mormons

Reportedly, sometime in the 1830s, Brigham Young himself brought Mormonism to Holliston. The story goes that he worked as a blacksmith at a shop right across from the Central Fire Station adjacent to the brook that still runs under the street. Supposedly he baptized people in that brook!

Albert Rockwood, his wife Nancy Haven Rockwood and more than 100 people – rich and poor alike – left for the West with Young. Hollistonians thought their neighbors were “delusional,” perhaps as a result of their baptisms in the aforementioned brook.

According to the Holliston Advertiser in 1856, “In the Utah House of Reps, 26 members have 127 wives in toto; of whom Albert Perry Rockwood, an old man, (a native of Holliston) has eight. Gov. Brigham Young, a native of Hopkinton and formerly a resident of Holliston, has 68.”

The Methodists (and Congregationalists)

The Congregational Church, wrapped by green lawn in the center of Holliston, stands tall as a symbol of the  founding of this town. The Bylaws that operated town government mirror those that operated the church. But in 1790, just 75 years after establishing Holliston, some locals were investigating other Protestant denominations, starting with Methodism. The “new” faiths were met with skepticism and suspicion, and this created tension among community people. Landowners were told by friends and neighbors, “not to sell land to those Methodists” for a church.

But Elizabeth Prentiss, daughter of the second minister for the Congregational Church, decided to sell the empty lot next to her home near the old burying ground to the Methodists. She could live with the idea that the buyer, Aner Fisk, intended to build their Church there, but before agreeing to the sale, she elicited a promise from Fisk that if the Methodist Church failed, he would not sell to the Universalists.

Guess that was the pecking order.

By 1824, Holliston had 221 families: 25 families went out of town to practice their faith, 21 families were Universalists, 10 were Baptists, 9 were Methodists, and 156 attended the Congregational Church.

Today

Hope these snippets from history provide a chuckle. Nothing any deeper than that.

I assume that you have figured out that the Methodist church is today the Masonic Temple at the corner of Washington and Church Place, without its spire, which was damaged in the hurricane of 1938.

Photos, captions from “Images of America, Holliston” produced by Holliston Historical Society, Joanne Hulbert author. Joanne also gets credit for digging out these old stories, which I have reported in my own words.

5 responses to “History: The Millerites, The Mormons & Methodists, too”

  1. Robert says:

    The home of Albert Rockwood was located at the very end of Prospect Street across Highland Street.
    At that time, Highland Street ended at Prospect Street. The property was abandoned for many years and became vacant, except for a small brook and remnants of a foundation being present up into the 1990’s. Presently, there is a house on that property.

  2. BeachPlumPNB says:

    The picture at the beginning didn’t make any sense to me until you revealed that the Methodist church is today’s Masonic Temple. Is the Congregational Church just outside of the picture, on the right?

  3. Chryso Lawless says:

    I assume that the people who worshiped out of town were the Catholics who went to Milford to mass.

    The view of the town and lake from Jasper Hill is wonderfully unrestricted. You get a clear sense of the topography. I don’t think you can see the same today- due to the trees that have grown tall since then.

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