Joseph Bates

Joseph Bates was a sailor-turned-preacher who joined the Millerite Movement and waited for Jesus to come in 1844. Despite being disappointed when this didn’t occur, Bates held onto his faith and played an enthusiastic and integral part in starting the Seventh-day Adventist Church. 

Let’s explore how God used this energetic and sincere-hearted Christian. 

We’ll learn about: 

Joseph Bates’s early life

Joseph Bates was born in Rochester, Massachusetts, on July 8, 1792. About a year later, his family moved to New Bedford, a port town known for whaling. Being so close to the sea stirred in Joseph the desire to be a sailor.1 

At 15 years of age, Bates convinced his parents to allow him to go as a cabin boy on a voyage. This experience was the beginning of his sailing career and countless adventures and hardships.

Historical British vessel like the one Joseph Bates sailed in his early life after prison.One time, Danish privateers captured Bates and the rest of the ship’s crew. When the crew was finally set free, they were penniless. Bates managed to make his way to Liverpool, England, where another hardship awaited him. This time, the Britons seized him and forced him to join their navy. He attempted to escape but failed.2

After two and a half years with the British navy, Bates became a prisoner during the War of 1812 because he refused to fight against his own country. This refusal landed him in the infamous Dartmoor Prison, from which he was finally released in 1815—five years after being forced into the navy.3

Despite these calamities early in his sailing career, Bates wasn’t deterred. After marrying Prudence Nye in 1818, he sailed for another ten years, eventually becoming a sea captain. 

During that time, a small act of kindness by his wife would begin to change his life.

How did Joseph Bates become a Christian? 4

Though religion had been part of Bates’s life while growing up, he lost sight of God during his time as a sailor—that is, until a terrible storm at sea and the prayer of the ship’s cook convinced him that God had saved his life.5 Furthermore, before another voyage, his wife slipped a pocket New Testament into his travel trunk. 

A small book of just the New Testament, similar to the one Bates's wife slipped into his pocket.When Bates went to grab one of his novels to read, he picked up the New Testament and read a poem that had been written into its front cover. This poem, called “The Hour of Death,” impressed on him the fragility of life and convicted him of his need for God. 

Forgetting about the novels he had packed, Bates became engrossed in the Bible.

One day, he realized that he needed to confess his sins and pray to God—for the first time. Finding a private place on the ship was not easy, but Bates managed to fit in a crawl space under the ship’s dining table.

Over time, he discovered the peace he had been seeking and committed to following God all the way. 

The change in his life was noticeable. When Bates arrived home, he began attending the Christian Connection Church weekly and worshiping with his family each day. He also became an advocate for abolition (ending slavery) and the temperance movement (urging people to abstain from alcohol). 

Life on Bates’s ship was different too. He didn’t allow alcohol or profanity and required his men to keep the Sabbath (Sunday at the time). At the beginning of the voyage, he would kneel and pray—an action that he later found out led some of the crew to become Christians.6

Joseph Bates and the Millerite Movement 

Bates retired from sailing in 1828 and decided to farm while continuing to serve God. In the fall of 1839, he heard a Millerite preacher proclaim that the Second Coming would take place in 1843 or 1844. Intrigued, Bates got a hold of some of William Miller’s lectures and read them. Soon, he accepted the message and promised to Reenactment of Joseph Bates in a hat walking in field while reading the Bible.support it.7

He joined together with Joshua V. Himes, a leader in the Millerite Movement, whom he had known from his work with temperance. Bates was soon a leader also, helping organize one of the Millerite general conferences in 1840. 

In preparation for Jesus’ coming, Bates sold his farm and paid off his debts. Then, he committed to traveling and preaching to everyone who would listen. 

When Jesus didn’t come on October 22nd, 1844, Bates and his wife were disappointed, but they didn’t lose their faith. Bates continued to travel and encourage the disheartened Millerites.

As a small group of believers began learning new truths in the Bible, Bates too made some discoveries.

Joseph Bates and the Seventh-day Adventist Church 

After the Great Disappointment, Bates stayed connected with many of the Millerites who were trying to make sense of October 22nd. Bible study helped them find answers. As their doctrines became more developed, they founded the Adventist Church. 

His greatest contributions to Adventism include:

  1. Introducing the Sabbath truth
  2. Holding leadership roles
  3. Promoting a healthy lifestyle
  4. Publishing articles and tracts about the Bible

We’ll look at each one in more detail.

The Sabbath truth8

The Millerites who awaited Jesus’ coming in 1844 were Sunday keepers, but this would change when Bates learned about the seventh-day Sabbath through a Millerite preacher named Frederick Wheeler. After this, Bates began sharing the Sabbath truth with early Adventists.

But here’s how it got to Bates in the first place.

At the beginning of 1844, Rachel Oaks, a Seventh-day Baptist, heard a sermon by Frederick Wheeler. 

Number 10 on a rock as we study how the Biblical Book of Judges show us the results of disobeying God's Ten Commandments.Afterward, she confronted him: “While you were speaking, Elder Wheeler, I could scarcely contain myself. You said that we must observe all of the Ten Commandments, and yet you yourself constantly break one of them!” 

Wheeler must have been a little stunned.

“Why, Sister Oaks, whatever do you mean?” 

“I mean that the fourth commandment says, ‘The seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God,’ but you keep the first day.” 

Mrs. Oaks was bold, for sure. But it worked. 

Frederick Wheeler became the first Sabbath-keeping minister in North America. He passed on this truth to a man named Thomas Preble, who wrote an article about the Sabbath in February 1845. 

When Bates came across that article, he immediately began the 140-mile trip to visit Wheeler (remember—people couldn’t just hop in their cars and go places!). Though arriving late at night, Bates didn’t hesitate to wake Wheeler. The two men discussed and studied the rest of the night. 

On the way home, Bates decided he would keep the seventh-day Sabbath. He became an avid promoter of it to the other Millerites. 

Here’s one example:

In 1846, Bates read an article by O.R.L. Crosier, which gave a biblical explanation for what had happened on October 22nd, 1844. Instead of returning to the earth, Jesus had begun a work of judgment in the Most Holy Place of the sanctuary. Upon reading this, Bates set off to meet Crosier, Edson, and other Millerites. Even as he learned from them, he convinced them of the Sabbath too. 

That same year, he wrote his booklet The Seventh-day Sabbath, A Perpetual Sign, which gave biblical and historical evidence for the Sabbath. He shared a copy with James and Ellen White, co-founders of the Adventist Church, leading them to accept it as truth.

Leadership roles

As the small group of Advent believers grew, Bates became more involved in its leadership meetings and helped to found the Adventist Church. 

Though he didn’t hold any official titles in the Church, he traveled and preached all throughout the east coast. He also often chaired the Sabbath-keeping Bible conferences.9 And in 1860 he chaired a meeting in Battle Creek, Michigan, that brought about the official organization of the Adventist Church.

A healthy lifestyle

Man jogging down a road in the country, following the health principles of exercise and fresh air.In the 1860s, Ellen White, one of the leaders of the Adventist Church, began speaking more on the subject of a healthy lifestyle. Joseph Bates recognized principles that he had already been following for many years, so he began to share them with others as well. 

Back in the 1820s, Bates had decided to give up tobacco and alcohol completely. By 1844, he also quit drinking coffee and became a vegetarian.10

Not to mention that he was physically active, walking many miles throughout his years of travel! 

And his lifestyle decisions paid off. At the age of 75, he was able to say, “I am entirely free from aches and pains!” He lived to be 80 years old and still preached 100 times in his last year of life!11

His example inspired the other Adventists and helped shape Adventist beliefs about health today. 

Publications 

Even with all his traveling and speaking, Bates found time to write. He authored two booklets that gave biblical and historical evidence for the Sabbath as well as many An envelope of money by faith provided to Bates.articles for the Review and Herald, an Adventist periodical. 

When Bates decided to write his first booklet, it was a faith venture because he had very little money at the time. In fact, he was so broke that he spent his last money to buy his wife four pounds of flour.12 But he trusted that the Lord would provide for them. 

That same day, he went to the post office and found a surprise letter waiting for him.

The contents?

Money to provide for his family and write the booklet. The Lord did provide! 

Because of Bates’s faith, his publications directed people to the truths of the Bible and shaped Adventist doctrine.

A powerhouse in the Adventist Church

Joseph Bates was one of the many earnest, Christ-centered founders of the Adventist Church. 

Dying in 1872, he left behind a life of energy, drive, and unstoppable faith—both as a captain and an Adventist. He never grew weary in sharing the truth and pointing people to Jesus.

We can thank Bates for the way he promoted and established many of our Bible-based beliefs, including the Sabbath and a healthy lifestyle.

  1. Bates, Joseph, Life of Joseph Bates: An Autobiography (Review and Herald, 1927), p. 13 []
  2. Maxwell, C. Mervyn, Tell It to the World, (Pacific Press, Nampa, ID, 1977), p. 77 []
  3. Bates, pp. 64, 71 []
  4. Ibid., pp. 135–137 []
  5. Maxwell, p. 77 []
  6. Bates., pp. 169–170 []
  7. Ibid., p. 180 []
  8. Maxwell, pp. 74–76 []
  9. Ibid., p. 80 []
  10. Ibid. []
  11. “Joseph Bates,” The Ellen G. White Estate []
  12.  Ibid., pp. 81–83 []

Questions about Adventists? Ask here!

Find answers to your questions about Seventh-day Adventists

More Answers

Ellen White’s Writings and the Adventist Health Message

Ellen White’s Writings and the Adventist Health Message

How Ellen White Influenced the Adventist Health MessageSeventh-day Adventists are known for their emphasis on healthy living. And Ellen G. White was a significant influence in the development of this priority and practice among Adventists. She taught that caring for...

Health Clinics

Health Clinics

Ellen White and Adventist Healthcare—Ahead of Their Time Medical care in the mid-1800s was primitive, to say the least. Basic concepts we take for granted—such as proper handwashing or recognizing the dangers of bloodletting—were nonexistent. And doctors often had...

What Did Ellen White Teach about Vegetarianism?

What Did Ellen White Teach about Vegetarianism?

What Did Ellen White Teach about Vegetarianism?One thing you might have heard about Seventh-day Adventists is their emphasis on a vegetarian lifestyle. If you’re wondering why that is, it goes back to our church’s humble beginnings: As Adventists studied the Bible,...

How Ellen White’s Teachings Can Improve Your Health

How Ellen White’s Teachings Can Improve Your Health

 How Ellen White’s Teachings Can Improve Your Health Healthcare in the nineteenth century was said to leave “more disease than it took away” with its use of bloodletting and “medicines” like mercury and arsenic.1 As people questioned these methods, new approaches...

Change Your Perspective on Life with These 5 Mindsets

Change Your Perspective on Life with These 5 Mindsets

5 Biblical Mindsets to Change Your Life for the Better Sometimes, life is just plain hard. There’s no way around it. So would thinking about things differently really change anything? Our perspective on life, and everything it throws at us, affects more than we’re...

Bible Promises for When You’re Worried or Fearful

Bible Promises for When You’re Worried or Fearful

Bible Promises for When You’re Worried or Fearful The Bible is full of beautiful promises that can comfort us in a variety of situations. They can give us hope when we are hopeless, make us feel grateful for God’s love, and comfort us when we’re grieving or suffering....

12 Practical Ways to Overcome Worry

12 Practical Ways to Overcome Worry

12 Practical Ways to Overcome Worry DISCLAIMER: This content is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute any professional medical advice and is not intended as a substitute for professional mental health therapy. It’s easy to get stuck in a cycle of...

How the Bible Talks About Worry, Fear, and Anxiety

How the Bible Talks About Worry, Fear, and Anxiety

How the Bible Talks About Worry, Fear, and Anxiety Worry and fear are the ingredients of anxiety. It’s easy to see how the world isn’t perfect—and the anticipation of a bad event or experience (that may or may not even happen) can end up draining the peace and...

How to Calm Anxious Thoughts, Using the Bible

How to Calm Anxious Thoughts, Using the Bible

How to Calm Anxious Thoughts, Using the Bible You were expecting a phone call from your daughter half an hour ago, and she still hasn’t called. She’s also not answering your calls. You feel your heart thumping as your thoughts race: What if she’s been in a car...

What You Should Know About the Adventist Health Studies

What You Should Know About the Adventist Health Studies

What You Should Know About the Adventist Health StudiesYou may have heard that Seventh-day Adventists care about health. But what you may not know is that Adventists have been the subjects of long-term research into lifestyle and health. Since 1958, researchers from...

Benefits of Sunlight

Yes, There Are Health Benefits of SunlightDespite the bad reputation it’s gotten, sunlight is generally associated with positivity, as shown by songs like “You Are My Sunshine,” or phrases that refer to delightful people as having a “sunny disposition.” There’s a...

Why Your Body Needs Rest for Optimal Health

Why Your Body Needs Rest for Optimal HealthStruggling to think straight? Wondering why you can’t remember that important tidbit you heard earlier today? Feeling like your emotions are about to explode? These are just some of the symptoms that can reveal your need for...

The Seventh-day Adventist Diet: One of Our Key Longevity Secrets

The Seventh-day Adventist Diet: One of Our Key Longevity SecretsOats, avocados, lentils, tofu—probably not what you first think of in a standard American diet. But if you show up at the home of an Adventist, chances are you may be served one of these staples. Out of a...

Why You Need Fresh Air

Why You Need Fresh Air“When you can’t breathe, nothing else matters,” the American Lung Association tells us. We couldn’t agree more! Breathing in clean air is an essential part of caring for our bodies, which God has given us. Together with other health principles,...

Sabbath Meal

Everything You Need to Know About Sabbath MealsFor Seventh-day Adventists, sharing a Sabbath meal with friends and family is one of the most special and memorable parts of the Sabbath. That’s why we want to share with you all about Sabbath meals and why they’re such a...

Adventists and Healthy Living

Adventists and Healthy LivingWhat’s the Adventist “Health Message” All About? One thing Seventh-day Adventists are known for is their emphasis on living healthy lives. Since our bodies are living temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19, 20), we strive to stay...

Water’s Importance—Physical Benefits and Spiritual Applications

Water’s Importance—Physical Benefits and Spiritual Applications We all know that water is a substance we can’t live without.   Not only does it quench our thirst and keep us hydrated from the inside, but it’s necessary for hygiene and cleansing on the outside as well....

How Important is a “Day of Rest?”

How Important is a “Day of Rest?”

How Important is a “Day of Rest?”  Why God Created a Day for Downtime by Martin Casper Do you ever experience the feeling of complete overload? Do you feel like the only way you can get ahead is by slamming it 24/7? I hear these types of comments more and more...

7 Reasons Why a Day of Rest is Important

7 Reasons Why a Day of Rest is Important

7 Reasons Why a Day of Rest is ImportantWe live in a fast-paced world. It seems as if success is measured in how much you can do in a short amount of time. (Extra points for the service or product that is available 24/7). The idea that we will be more successful if we...

How do Adventists choose what to eat?

How do Adventists choose what to eat?

How do Adventists choose what to eat?Every day, parents go through the ritual of getting their kids to eat what is healthy and good while trying to steer them away from what can hinder the growth of their developing bodies. Nutritionists work with their clients to...

How do Adventists make movie and music choices?

How do Adventists make movie and music choices?

How do Adventists make movie and music choices?Cinema has come a long way since the first clips of motion pictures came to light in 1878. As the decades rolled on, film and music producers have created rivers of movies and albums for the masses. Today, watching movies...

Why are many Adventists Vegetarian?

Why are many Adventists Vegetarian?

Why are many Adventists Vegetarian?The diet intended for man is outlined in Genesis 1:29, “And God said, ‘See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food.’”...

Didn’t find your answer? Ask us!

We understand your concern of having questions but not knowing who to ask—we’ve felt it ourselves. When you’re ready to learn more about Adventists, send us a question! We know a thing or two about Adventists.

Contact Us