Miller was a prosperous farmer, a Baptist lay preacher, and student of the Bible, living in northeastern
Miller did eventually share his views, first to a few friends privately and later to some ministerial acquaintances. Initially he was disappointed at the lack of response from those he spoke to. "To my astonishment, I found very few who listened with any interest. Occasionally, one would see the force of the evidence, but the great majority passed it by as an idle tale."
Miller states that he began his public lecturing in the
In 1832, Miller submitted a series of sixteen articles to the Vermont Telegraph—a Baptist paper. The first of these was published on May 15, and Miller writes of the public’s response, "I began to be flooded with letters of inquiry respecting my views, and visitors flocked to converse with me on the subject." In 1834, unable to personally comply with many of the urgent requests for information and the invitations to travel and preach that he received, Miller published a synopsis of his teachings in a "little tract of 64 pages." These he "...scattered, the most of them gratuitously, sending them in reply to letters of inquiry and to places which I could not visit."
From 1840 onward, Millerism was transformed from an "obscure, regional movement into a national campaign." The key figure in this transformation was Joshua Vaughan Himes—the pastor of Chardon Street Chapel in
Periodical literature played an important part in the rapid and widespread dissemination of Millerite beliefs. "From first to last the power of the press, in this particular form, was one of the foremost factors in the success of this now vigorous, expanding movement." In addition to the Signs of the Times based in
As well as publications based on geography, the Millerites issued various papers targeting different groups. The Advent Message to the Daughters of Zion focused on female readers, and was first published in May 1844. The Advent Shield was a more academically orientated paper published in
As the various dates of Christ’s predicted return approached, Millerite publishing went into high gear. In May 1843, 21,000 copies of the various Millerite papers were published for distribution each week. In
A researcher examined the geographical distribution of correspondents to the Millerite periodical Signs of the Times from 1840 to 1847. Out of a total of 615 correspondents, she found that the 131 correspondents from
Many travellers or emigrants to the
Despite the urging of his supporters, Miller never personally set an exact date for the expected Second Advent. However, in response to their urgings he did narrow the time-period to sometime in the year 1843, stating: "My principles in brief, are, that Jesus Christ will come again to this earth, cleanse, purify, and take possession of the same, with all the saints, sometime between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844" March 21, 1844 passed without incident, and the majority of Millerites maintained their faith. On March 25, Miller wrote to Himes, "I am still looking for the Dear Savior…. The time, as I have calculated it, is now filled up; and I expect every moment to see the Savior descend from heaven. I have now nothing to look for but this glorious hope." As George R. Knight states, the movement’s survival was a result of the fact that, "the Millerite leaders had been ‘soft’ on the time…. They allowed for the possibility of small errors in their calculations and even in some of their historic dates." In fact, on February 28, Miller himself had written, "If Christ comes, as we expect, we will sing the song of victory soon; if not, we will watch, and pray, and preach until he comes, for soon our time, and all prophetic days, will have been filled."
Further discussion and study resulted in the brief adoption of a new date—April 18, 1844, one based on the Karaite Jewish calendar (as opposed to the Rabbinic calendar). Like the previous date, April 18 passed without Christ’s return. More study led the Millerites to believe that they had entered the "tarrying time"—a time of waiting after which Christ would finally return—spoken of in Matthew 25:5 and Habakkuk 3:2-3. This belief sustained the Millerites through the months of May to July, 1844. As Knight notes however, this period represented a "flatness in Millerite evangelism," when even the Millerite preachers must have experienced diminished certainty.
In August 1844 at a camp-meeting in
October 22, 1844, the day Jesus was expected to return, ended like any other day to the disappointment of the Millerites. Both Millerite leaders and followers were left generally bewildered and disillusioned. Responses varied: some Millerites continued to look daily for Christ’s return, others predicted different dates—among them April, July, and October 1845. Some theorized that the world had entered the seventh millennium, the "Great Sabbath", and that, therefore, the saved should not work. Others acted as children, basing their belief on Jesus’ words in Mark 10:15, "Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the
Some members rejoined their previous denominations while a substantial number became Quakers. Hundreds joined the Shakers, who believed that Christ had already appeared for the second time in the person of Mother Ann Lee. The "Advents'" impact was greatest on the Shaker villages at