Miller, William (1782-1849)

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William Miller (1782-1849)


Millenarian prophet

A Skeptical Youth. William Miller provided the impetus behind one of the most intense periods of millennial expectation in American history. Born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, on 15 February 1782 and raised on the Vermont frontier, he grew up in the formative years of the new nation. His father was a veteran of the Revolutionary War, and though his mother was the daughter of a minister, Miller himself was moved early on by the rationalistic, enlightenment principles expounded by some of the most prominent revolutionaries. He proclaimed himself a Deist and rejected Christianity as superstition. When he returned home after service in the War of 1812, however, his attitude had changed. Observing that the United States had won the war despite the failings of many individuals who participated, he concluded that God had played a direct role in his nations victory. He began attending revival meetings and in 1815 had a dramatic conversion experience. As he described it, God by his Holy Spirit opened my eyes. I saw Jesus as a friend, and my only help, and the Word of God as a perfect rule of duty. He joined the Baptist Church and began to study the Bible in earnest.

Bible Study. Within a few years of his conversion Miller had reached the conclusion that would raise great expectations in the hearts of thousands of believers: Christ would return to earth to usher in the thousandyear period of peace and prosperity known as the millennium in 1843. While expectation of the millennium (or the Advent) was common in the early nineteenth century, prediction of such a precise date for its arrival was not. But Miller had approached the Bible with the same rational mind that had once made him a skeptic. In the course of two years of intense study he had scrutinized the Bible word by word, seeking to prove the truth of its contents by demonstrating its internal consistency. He devoted special attention to the parts of Scripture that dealt with the end of the world, or apocalypse. By seemingly logical manipulation of symbolic numbers in the Book of Daniel he was able to calculate a precise year when the millennium would come. I was thus brought, he later wrote, at the close of my two-year study of the Scriptures, to the solemn conclusion that in about twenty-five years from that time [1818] all the affairs of our present state would be wound up.

Public Life. Though initially reluctant to air his prediction in public, by the early 1830s Miller felt a calling from God to go out and spread the word of Christs impending return. He became a successful lay preacher, sparking revivals as he traveled through New York, Vermont, and New Hampshire. In 1833 he was ordained as a Baptist minister. In 1835 he published a book explaining his beliefs and how they had developed. While the book was relatively well received, Miller achieved national prominence only after 1839, when he and his cause were taken up by a Boston minister named Joshua V. Himes. Himes was a skilled publicist and organizer, and he arranged meetings across the country at which Miller would preach his Adventist message. In one six-month period Miller preached more than three hundred times. To reinforce Millers message Himes published two millennialist newspapers, a book of millennial hymns, and numerous tracts urging people to prepare themselves for Christs return.

Opposition and Success. The revivals of the Second Great Awakening had already raised expectations among thousands of men and women who believed the millennium was near. Although millennial fervor had cooled somewhat after the economic depression of 1837, it was quickly revived by the popular preaching of Miller and his followers in the early 1840s. Many leaders of the established denominations took great exception to Millers teachings, believing it highly imprudent to place the Second Coming at such a precise time. Others simply felt Millers calculations were incorrect. And many felt threatened as increasing numbers of their congregants joined Millers movement. Miller, however, had no desire to start a new denomination and urged people to continue attending their own churches in addition to Adventist meetings. Most of them obeyed. Estimates of the total membership of the movement at its peak range from ten thousand to as many as a million. It is likely that the lower number is more representative of those who were fully committed to the movement, commonly referred to as Millerinarianism. Thousands more, however, were no doubt intrigued by Millers prediction, and must have felt tremendous anticipation as the year 1843 approached.

Disappointment. It was Millers belief that Christ would return sometime between 21 March 1843 and 21 March 1844. When the latter date came and went without incident, Miller reported that he had been mistaken in his original calculation and named 22 October 1844 as the correct date. But that day, too, passed. The world seemed the same as ever, and Miller and thousands of other believers faced what has been called the great disappointment. Most of Millers followers abandoned the movement, some in disgust, others in despair. Yet a small group continued to believe the millennium was imminent even though an exact date could no longer be predicted. In 1845 a group of these steadfast Adventists, including William Miller, convened in Albany, where they began planning a congregational structure for an Adventist church. This marked a significant departure from the earlier nonsectarian character of the movement. There was, however, little agreement among the Adventists about what the specific beliefs and practices of the new church would be. Debates raged over evangelism, reform, observance of the Sabbath, and the very nature of the millennium itself. The movement was still torn by conflicting opinion when William Miller died in 1849. He ended his life disheartened and confused, just one of many in a generation of seekers who hoped, at least for a moment, to put a finger on the truth. Nonetheless, his legacy lives on today in the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, which emerged from one faction of the Albany congregants and flourished in the later nineteenth century under the leadership of Ellen H. White.


Ruth Alden Doan, The Miller Heresy, Millennialism, and American Culture (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1987);

David Rowe, Thunder and Trumpets. Millerites and Dissenting Religion in Upstate New York, 1800-1850 (Chico, Cal.: Scholars, 1985).

Miller, William Hallowes

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(b. Llandovery, Carmarthenshire, Wales, 6 April 1801; d. Cambridge, England, 20 May 1880)

crystallography, mineralogy.

His father, Captain Francis Miller, who served in the American war, had a long military ancestry. By his first wife Captain Miller had three sons, all of whom entered the army, and two daughters. After losing his estate near Boston, Massachusetts, he retired to Wales to the small estate of Velindre near Llandovery and in 1800 married Ann Davies, the daughter of a Welsh vicar. William was the only child of this second marriage; his mother died a few days after his birth, but his father lived to the age of eighty-six, dying in 1820.

William was educated privately until he entered St. John’s College, Cambridge, where he graduated B.A. as fifth wrangler in mathematics in 1826. In 1829 he became a fellow of St. John’s and in 1831 published his first book—written in his characteristically lucid but terse style— The Elements of Hydrostatics and Hydrodynamics, which survived as a standard, though difficult, textbook into the fifties. Another mathematical textbook, An Elementary Treatise on the Differential Calculus, appeared in 1833 and passed through several editions. By then Miller had, in 1832, succeeded William Whewell as professor of mineralogy. He was elected F.R.S. in 1838. In 1841 came a curious diversion: the statutes of St, John’s College required all fellows to proceed in time to holy orders except for four who should be doctors of medicine, and in order to retain his fellowship, Miller prepared himself for and took the M.D. He was obliged to vacate his fellowship on his marriage (5 November 1844) to Harriet Susan Minty, the daughter of R. V. Minty, a retired civil servant. They had two sons and four daughters. In 1875 he became a fellow of St. John’s again under new statutes. In 1876 he suffered a stroke, which effectively brought his scientific life to a close four years before his death.

Miller’s significant contribution to crystallography was made in A Treatise on Crystallography published in 1839 (translated into French by H. de Senarmont [1842], and into German with two new chapters by J. Grailich [1856], and again into German in abbreviated form by P. Joerres [1864]). Miller started with the fundamental assertion that crystallographic reference axes should be parallel to possible crystal edges; his system of indexing, a derivative from Whewell (Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 1825), was based on a parametral plane (111) making intercepts a, b, c on such reference axes and was such that indices (hkl) were assigned to a plane making intercepts on the reference axes in the ratio a/h : b/k : c/l where h, k. l are integers. The established German school of C. F. Naumann and C. S. Weiss had, to use the same nomenclature, assigned indices (hkl) to a plane making intercepts in the ratio ah : bk : cl on reference axes not restricted to parallelism with possible crystal edges. The algebraic advantages of “Millerian indices” were immediately apparent; the crystallographic superiority of Miller’s reciprocal indices over Weiss’s direct indices did not become apparent until Bravais’s development of Haüy’s rudimentary lattice concept in 1848, and not fully appreciated until Bragg’s interpretation of the diffraction of X rays by crystals in 1912. But Miller’s notation had quickly found favor with his contemporaries on grounds of convenience and had already served to codify an immense corpus of morphological observations in a thoroughly well-understood manner.

In the Treatise Miller had little to say about symmetry, but he explored crystal geometry to the full. The zone law of Weiss was simplified by the new notation, and zone symbols were defined in familiar form; the equations to the normal and the cos θ formula were developed; and the rational sine ratio, which was to be further developed in A Tract on Crystallography (1863), made its first appearance here. For the representation of three-dimensional angular relationships Miller followed F. E. Neumann in using spherical projection, but the stereographic projection, which subsequently acquired greater currency, and the gnomonic projection were discussed in the final chapter.

The new edition (1852) of William Phillips’ Elementary Introduction to Mineralogy by H. J. Brooke and W. H. Miller was an entirely new book largely written, as Brooke states in the preface, by Miller, and it represents his principal contribution to mineralogy. It incorporated a vast amount of accurate goniometric data provided by Miller himself; it followed the Treatise in using spherical projection; and it made a tentative start in the use of polarized light for the characterization of transparent minerals. The Introduction, like the Treatise, soon eclipsed its contemporaries; it inspired Des Cloizeaux to produce his more elaborate Manuel de minéralogie (Paris, 1862–1893), and determined the form of all subsequent texts on descriptive mineralogy.

In 1843 Miller branched out into a new field on appointment to the parliamentary committee concerned with the preparation of new standards of length and weight consequent on the destruction of the old standards in the burning of the Houses of Parliament in 1834. His exceptionally accurate work was responsible for the construction of the new standard of weight (Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 1856). In 1870 he was appointed to the Commission Internationale du Mètre. Many honors fell to Miller in his lifetime. He was president of the Cambridge Philosophical Society (1857–1859) and foreign secretary of the Royal Society (1856–1873), being awarded a Royal Medal in 1870.

The exceptional breadth of Miller’s scientific knowledge was recognized by his contemporaries. He was generous and hospitable to a point, yet remarkably spartan in his way of life. His ingenuity in constructing surprisingly accurate apparatus from simple, often homely, materials was notable. While no great traveler, he obviously enjoyed his trips to Paris for meetings of the Meter Commission, and he regularly holidayed in the Italian Tirol, where he simply enjoyed the scenery while his wife sketched it.


I. Original Works. Miller’s works include The Elements of Hydrostatics and Hydrodynamics (Cambridge, 1831); An Elementary Treatise on the Differential Calculus (Cambridge, 1833); A Table of Mineralogical Species (Cambridge, 1833); A Treatise on Crystallography (Cambridge, 1839); and William Phillips, An Elementary Introduction to Mineralogy, new ed, by H. J. Brooke and W. H. Miller (London, 1852).

II. Secondary Literature. On Miller or his work see R Storey Maskelyne, Nature, 22 (1880), 247–249; T. G. Bonney, Proceedings of the Royal Society, 31 (1881), ii–vii; and J. P. Cooke, Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 16 (1881), 460–468. Memorial of William Hallowes Miller by his wife (privately printed, Cambridge, 1881[?]).

Duncan Mckie

William Miller

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William Miller

William Miller (1782-1849), American clergyman, founded a movement which involved thousands in eagerly awaiting the Second Coming of Christ.

William Miller was born on Feb. 15, 1782, near Pittsfield, Mass. His family soon moved to western New York, where he received a rudimentary education. Battle experience during the War of 1812 aroused his concern with religious questions. Converted from deism by a revival meeting in 1816, he became a Baptist. Gradually, the subject of the Second Coming attracted his attention, and eventually, after laborious biblical investigation, he concluded that Christ would reappear about 1843.

Most enthusiastic Christians of the period were seeking to establish the date of the Second Advent. Doctrinally orthodox, Miller made only one innovation, suggesting that Christ would appear before (rather than after) the millennium. A reserved, somewhat shy man, he hesitated to publish his convictions, but the nearness of the event made it urgent to save as many souls as possible by publishing his news to the world. As a boy preacher, he discovered an unexpected eloquence, and in 1833 the Baptist Church ordained him as a minister.

Miller's message attracted increasing attention in New England and western New York. In 1838 he published Evidence from Scripture and History of the Second Coming of Christ about the Year 1843. Two years later another Baptist cleric, the Reverend Joshua Himes, seeing Miller as a tool to further the cause of evangelism, took over management of Miller's campaign.

Miller's enthusiasm, plus the pressures of an economic depression, drew thousands of converts. As his following grew, so did controversy over his activities. Orthodox ministers condemned but could not silence him. Miller had avoided naming a day for the Advent, but, as 1843 approached, pressures for a precise prediction increased. He chose March 1843. When March passed, he still insisted that 1843 was the fateful year. Others in his movement chose October 22 as the last day; Miller agreed. Some people sold their goods, not expecting to need them after October 22; others took a holiday to watch the Millerites gather to await the Advent. According to older accounts, the undisturbed arrival of October 23 drove some of the faithful to suicide and others to insanity; recent scholars have discounted such tales. Meanwhile, the Baptist Church disowned Miller, and he joined others to form the Advent Society, ancestor of several modern Adventist churches. He died on Dec. 20, 1849, in Hampton, N.Y.

Further Reading

The principal source for Miller's life is Sylvester Bliss, Memoirs of William Miller (1853). Alice Felt Tyler, Freedom's Ferment: Phases of American Social History from the Colonial Period to the Outbreak of the Civil War (new ed. 1962), accepts traditional views emphasizing the bizarre aspects of Millerite behavior. Whitney R. Cross, The Burned-over District: The Social and Intellectual History of Enthusiastic Religion in Western New York, 1800-1850 (1950), gives a broader view of the movement based on additional sources, including Miller's own papers at Aurora College.

Additional Sources

Gale, Robert, The urgent voice: the story of William Miller, Washington: Review and Herald Pub. Association, 1975.

Gordon, Paul A., Herald of the midnight cry, Boise, Idaho: Pacific Press Pub. Association, 1990.

White, Ellen Gould Harmon, William Miller: herald of the blessed hope, Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Pub. Association, 1994. □

Miller, William

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Founder of the modern Adventist movement; b. Pittsfield, Mass., Feb. 15, 1782; d. Hampton, N.Y., Dec. 20, 1849. He was a veteran of the War of 1812 and a farmer in upstate New York. At the age of 34, he abandoned Deism to join the Baptist Church; he began to preach in 1831 and engaged in Biblical prophecy. His interpretation of passages in Daniel and the Apocalypse led him to declare that the Second Coming of Christ would occur on March 21, 1843. A number of Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Congregationalist clergymen accepted his prediction. When the event did not happen on the expected date, Miller announced that the end would come on March 21, 1844; finally, the date was set for Oct. 22, 1844. The postponements and disappointments decimated the ranks of the Millerites, or Adventists. One group, which combined Miller's prophecies with other doctrinal interpretations, survived to become the seventh-day adventists.

Bibliography: e. n. dick, Dictionary of American Biography, ed. a. johnson and d. malone (New York 192836) (1957) 6.2:641643. a. f. tyler, Freedom's Ferment (Minneapolis 1944).

[w. j. whalen]

Miller, William Hallowes

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Miller, William Hallowes (1801–80) A British mineralogist from the University of Cambridge, Miller developed a classification system for crystallography, based on crystal axes. His method was published in Treatise on Crystallography (1839). See MILLER INDICES.

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