Joshua Himes has got to be one of our fair town’s most intriguing native sons. Born almost exactly 216 years ago, on May 19, 1805, to Stukely and Elizabeth (Vaughn) Himes, he spent his early years living in the finest house in Wickford and receiving his Christian education at the knee of St. Paul’s of Wickford’s rector Rev. Lemuel Burge and a prominent Wickford summer resident Episcopal Bishop Griswold. Joshua’s father Stukely, whose roots extended back to the first Himeses — who had settled Swamptown nearly a century earlier — was a very successful local merchant and West Indies Trader who, through his marriage to the prominent Vaughn family and his own astute business acumen, had become one of the region’s wealthiest individuals. Stukely had planned to send his boy Joshua (named after Joshua Vaughn, Elizabeth’s father) to Brown University to study theology for an eventual calling as an Episcopal priest. However, all that changed in 1817, when Stukely’s two business partners in the three-masted schooner Ocean, which was built and sailed out of Wickford, betrayed him. Ship’s Captain Samuel Carter and Supercargo (the officer in charge of the ship’s cargo) Alexander Stuart, when they arrived at their first Caribbean port, sold the cargo and the vessel and fled with the proceeds. This had to be doubly painful for Stukely Himes, as he was close enough to Stuart to have named his other son Alexander Stuart Himes. With the Himes family reeling financially from this extraordinary loss, Joshua’s future plans were changed. Instead of a Brown education and career as an Episcopal priest, he was apprenticed to a New Bedford cabinetmaker to learn a trade. The grand home on Pleasant Street in the village of Wickford was sold, and Stukely and his family relocated to a Vaughn farm out on the North Kingstown-Exeter border.
Religion, though, was in Joshua Himes’ heart and soul — so much so that in 1826 he was ordained as a minister in the First Christian Church in New Bedford, and eventually became the pastor, in 1830, of the First Christian Church in Boston, known locally as the Chardon Street Chapel. While there, he not only became deeply involved in the abolitionist work of William Lloyd Garrison’s New England Anti-Slavery Society, he also met and befriended prominent Adventist minister William Miller, when he allowed him to not only preach at his church but also invited him to stay at his home. Himes was so impressed by Miller’s preaching and his message revolving around the second coming (or Advent) of Jesus, that he eventually became an Adventist minister himself and additionally began to write and publish a number of newspapers, including the nationally distributed “Signs of the Times” that spread the message of Miller’s Adventist movement. Himes also became a prime architect in Miller’s Adventist Camp meetings which began in East Kingston, Massachusetts, in 1842 and were held all around the eastern half of the United States. These became so popular that before long, Joshua Himes purchased the largest tent in America at that time, seating a purported 6,000 people. It was heralded in the newspapers of the nation as the “great tent,” and one writer proclaimed that “Joshua Himes has spread more canvas than any circus in America.” Eventually, the Adventist supporters of Miller became known as the “Millerites” and, utilizing the prophecies in the Book of Daniel as a guideline, set a specific date of Oct. 22, 1844, as the day Jesus would return to earth in his glory.
That day, Oct. 22, dawned a beautiful sunny day across New York and New England. All across the English speaking world, literally tens of thousands of “Millerites” waited with anticipation for the coming of the Savior and the “Day of Atonement.” Of course, on the morning of Oct. 23 the sun rose as usual, another regular day began and the “worn and weary watchers wended their way home” in dejection and ridicule. This day was known as “The Great Disappointment” and was the beginning of a chaotic period for the Advent movement. In 1845, Miller and Himes convened a meeting of all members of the faith in Albany, New York; from this meeting, known as the Albany Conference, came the two branches of the Advent faith that exist today: The 7th Day Adventists and the branch led by Miller and Himes, the Advent Christian Church. In this way, Joshua Himes can be identified as one of the founding members of this faith.
After the momentous days surrounding the Albany Conference, Himes moved with his family to Buchanan, Michigan, to take a leadership role in the Advent Church as the nation expanded further westward. He began a new newspaper there, called the “Voice of the West” (later known as the “Advent Christian Times”) and was the founder of the American Advent Mission Society.
He next turns up as an older man of 75 years of age in Elk Point, South Dakota, part of the Nebraska Territory, where he fulfills the dream of his father decades earlier when he became an ordained Episcopal priest: The rector of St. Andrews Church in Elk Point. Regular readers of this column might remember that the Episcopal Bishop of the Nebraska Territory at that time, Nathaniel Thomas, also had deep Wickford roots.
Himes continued in this position until his death in July 1895. Speaking about him then, Bishop Hare of Nebraska Territory remarked, “he fights the battle of the Church with the gallantry of the stripling David and preached the Gospel with the power of a youthful St. Stephen.” He is buried in a cemetery in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, in a spot he specifically selected. True to his Adventist roots, the Episcopal priest wanted to be buried high on a hill, so as to be among the first to hear it when the Angel Gabriel blows his trumpet.
So in the end, this Wickford boy who was ordained to preach in four separate Christian faiths spends his eternity on a hill in South Dakota waiting for the sound of God’s trumpets calling us all home.