The Lone York Shilling
A story from the life of Joseph Bates, the oldest of three founders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church
By Arthur W. Spalding
[To Fairhaven, Massachusetts], in 1793, came to live, when less than a year old, the boy Joseph Bates. “In my schoolboy days,” [Bates] says, “my most ardent desire was to become a sailor.” Accordingly, in 1807, in his fifteenth year, he sailed on his maiden voyage to England. On the way he had a spill into the sea where, on the other side [of the] ship, swam serene and unknowing the shark that had followed them for days…. Two years later, he sailed into the grip of Danish privateers.… Escaping from this capture, he reached England, and spent five years in King George’s fighting ships and as prisoner … in the War of 1812.
[Later] … he came to be captain and part owner of vessels, [and] made his modest fortune, eleven thousand dollars, and retired. Converted in solitude aboard his ship … and reformed from evil habits of drinking, smoking, swearing, he became a model of health reform and spiritual power for a people and a cause as yet he did not know.
It was 1828 when Joseph Bates, home from a voyage to South America, left the sea, twenty-one years from the time when he first sailed as cabin boy…. He had a faithful and devoted wife, Prudence, the typical sea captain’s wife, waiting through long voyages in hope, happily in her case never disappointed, of seeing him again. She planted a Bible in his sea chest, and other books of devotion that brought him to his Saviour…. When he came to land before his last voyage, he joined her church, the Christian, which held to baptism. His aged father wistfully remarked that he had had him baptized into his own church, the Congregational, when he was a baby. “But,” said Joseph, “the Bible says, ‘Believe and be baptized,’ and I was too young then to believe.”
The Captain Is Christian
In 1831 … he [helped] to build a Christian meetinghouse, in which he kept an interest until … a quick succession of events changed these plans, when the Second Advent message seized upon him in 1839.
Imagine [him] sitting at his desk that summer day of 1847, beginning to write his “book,” (a pamphlet of 112 pages) The Seventh Day Sabbath a Perpetual Sign, and being interrupted by his wife’s request to get her enough flour to finish her baking…. [He had] a single York shilling, the remnant of his fortune, in his pocket.
“Joseph,” said his wife, coming in from the kitchen, “I haven’t enough flour to finish my baking.”
“That so? How much flour do you lack?”
“Oh, about four pounds,” said she.
“All right.” Shortly he rose and went out, and buying four pounds of flour, came in and left it on the kitchen table while she was temporarily out. But immediately she was at his door again, I fancy with a suspicion which she hoped he might disprove.
“Joseph, where did this flour come from?”
“I bought it. Isn’t that what you wanted?”
“Yes; but have you, Captain Joseph Bates, a man who has sailed with cargoes worth thousands of dollars, gone out and bought just four pounds of flour?”
“Wife, for those four pounds of flour I spent the last money I have on earth.”
It was true, then! Prudence Bates was a devoted wife. She had approved of her husband’s spending his money in the cause of the coming Christ, for she held with him in that. But … as their fortunes dwindled, she pressed back the fear and the question of how much he had left. Now she knew. Moreover, she was not with him in this new Sabbath truth, nor was she for yet four years. During that time he used to drive with her to her Christian church on Sunday, go home, and come back to get her after service…. In 1850 she followed him into the third angel’s message, with its Sabbath truth, and for twenty years, until her death, she was a devoted and beautiful Sabbathkeeping Christian worker. But now!
Her apron flew to her eyes, as the tears flowed, and with sobbing voice she cried, “What are we going to do?”
“I am going to write a book on the Sabbath, and distribute it everywhere, to carry the truth to the people,” he said.
“Yes, but what are we going to live on?”
“Oh, the Lord will provide.”
“Yes! ‘The Lord will provide’! That’s what you always say.” Exit, with sobs and tears.
[Joseph] turned from his husbandly duties to his apostleship duties, and began to write. Within half an hour he was impressed that he should go to the post office, for a letter with money in it. He went, and found the letter, which contained a ten-dollar bill, from a man who said he felt impressed that Elder Bates needed money. With this he purchased ample supplies, sending them ahead to a surprised wife. When he arrived at home, she excitedly demanded to know where they came from.
“Oh,” said he, “the Lord sent them.”
“What do you mean, ‘The Lord sent them?’”
“Prudy,” said he, “read this letter, and you will know how the Lord provides.”
Prudence Bates read it; and then she went in and had another good cry, but for a different reason.
And the message of the Sabbath went over the land. Joseph Bates paid his lone York shilling as an act of faith that he was the servant of Jehovah-jirah, the Lord who would provide. And he believed not in vain.
Arthur W. Spalding (1877-1953) was a much-admired Adventist educator, author, and editor. This story is excerpted from Footprints of the Pioneers, published in 1947 after his visit to principal places of Adventist history in New England.