From Adventist minister to spiritualist advocate
By James R. Nix
On September 20, 1863, a congregation meeting in Manchester, New Hampshire, United States, was very surprised when it heard the speaker announce that he was not going to preach anymore; instead, he was returning to his home in Indiana.1 Moses Hull, the immensely popular speaker, forceful debater, and writer, was leaving the Adventist ministry. Most church members first learned about Hull’s apostasy when they read a notice that appeared in the January 5, 1864, issue of the Advent Review and Sabbath Herald (now called Adventist Review) announcing that Hull had become a spiritualist.2 This was followed a week later in the Review with a description of a public meeting conducted by Hull in Battle Creek, where for the first time he advocated spiritualism.3 So who was this popular speaker who turned so quickly from promoting Adventism to actively championing spiritualism?
Moses Hull was born in 1835 in Ohio, United States, the seventh of 16 children.4 The family included three sets of twins, among whom were Moses and his twin brother, Aaron. Aaron died young.5 The father, Dr. James Hull, was a member of the Baptist Church.
Years later Moses would be remembered as being “below medium height, sturdily built, very erect in carriage. . . . His head was large, features regular and habitually smiling.”6 In addition, he was noted as having a “clear tenor [singing] voice.”7
At age 19 Moses married for the first time; tragically, his wife died within eight weeks.8 He soon remarried, this time to Elvira Lightner, who was 16.9 Eventually they had four daughters, the youngest born less than three weeks before her father announced his departure from the Adventist Church.10
By the time Moses became a Sabbathkeeping Adventist in 1857,11 he had already been associated with three other churches,12 having started to preach for one of them at the age of 16.13 Shortly after accepting the seventh-day Sabbath, he began preaching on behalf of his new faith. From then until he apostatized in 1863, many reports from Hull appeared in the Review.
Evangelist and Debater
In August 1858 Moses Hull was ordained to the ministry, probably by James White.14 The two men apparently first met the previous month when White had traveled to Iowa City, Iowa, where Hull and Waggoner were holding a tent meeting.15 Earlier that year Moses had joined forces with J. H. Waggoner to conduct tent evangelism in Iowa.16 Before long the newly ordained Hull began doing tent evangelism alone in several states. In time, rather than just preaching, Hull also participated in public debates, something that he excelled at. Although Hull usually won his debates based upon the merit of his arguments, he was not nearly as successful when it came to convincing people to actually leave their current church to join the Sabbathkeepers. Interestingly, in 1901, many years after becoming a spiritualist, Hull acknowledged, while participating in a debate, that “debates seldom make converts or settle questions.”17
Beginning to Waver
Hull attended two important conferences held in Battle Creek, Michigan. The first was in 1860, during which the name “Seventh-day Adventist” was chosen. The second was when the General Conference was organized in 1863.18 During the years between those two historic meetings, Hull started debating spiritualists. Ellen White and others warned him against doing so, but he persisted. At a debate in October 1862 in Paw Paw, Michigan, to which by his own choice he went totally unaccompanied by any other minister, Hull became confused and finally acknowledged to his spiritualist debating opponent that he was going to become a spiritualist. The opponent urged Hull to think seriously about his decision before acting upon it.19
MOSES HULL: Hull was an evangelist and debater in the early Adventist Church.A short time after the debate in Paw Paw, several Adventist leaders met with Hull in J. N. Loughborough’s home in Battle Creek to pray for the wavering minister. That evening God gave Ellen White a vision in which she received a message for Hull.20 Regarding Hull, Ellen White was shown: “He was presented to me as standing upon an awful gulf, ready to leap. If he takes the leap, it will be final; his eternal destiny will be fixed.”21
The prayer session seemed to help Hull. In January 1864 the Review carried an open letter from him. In part, he admitted to having the debate in Paw Paw with W. F. Jamieson, or more precisely with “some demon professing to be the spirit of Mr. Downing, speaking through W. F. Jamieson.” Hull then added, “I now doubt the propriety of discussing with such spirits.”22
When Hull admitted to debating not with W. F. Jamieson but with a demon claiming to be the spirit of a Mr. Downing, he knew precisely what he was doing. Not only had he undoubtedly read Ellen White’s published comments on spiritualism,23 but he had also worked closely with J. H. Waggoner, the author of one of Adventism’s first major books on spiritualism.24 In addition, Hull himself had written a small tract on the subject.25
Following the General Conference session in June 1863, Hull was sent to do evangelism in New England with J. N. Loughborough. Again the old doubts returned, so much so that in September Hull left the Adventist Church to become a spiritualist.26 Along with him he took his wife,27 four daughters,28 and his older brother, Daniel W. Hull,29 a layman who earlier had sometimes worked with Moses doing evangelism.30
During Moses Hull’s years as a spiritualist, not only did he publish several papers31 and write a number of books and pamphlets promoting spiritualism,32 but also he left his wife and then lived common-law with Mattie Sawyer,
a spiritualist medium.33 Their outspoken advocacy of “free love” caused such a scandal that even the spiritualists backed away from supporting them for a while.34 From 1902 Hull served as the first president of the Morris Pratt Institute, an educational institution established to train spiritualist mediums.35
Many years earlier Ellen White wrote to Hull: “If you were a devotional, godly man, in the pulpit and out, a mighty influence would attend your preaching.”36 Sadly, that didn’t happen. But the clearest summary of what we can learn from Hull’s life is something he himself said in 1860: “I may fall by the way; but if I do, I shall ever be thankful that the city is cheap enough for those who obtain it.”37
1 J. N. Loughborough, Rise and Progress of the Seventh-day Adventists (Battle Creek, Mich.: General Conference Association, 1892), p. 252.
2 Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Jan. 5, 1864, p. 45.
3 Advent and Sabbath Herald, Jan. 12, 1864, p. 56.
4 The Psychic Era, March 1902, p. 2; The Greatest Debate Within a Half Century Upon Modern Spiritualism (between Moses Hull and W. F. Jamieson, 1904), p. 4. (This is an autobiographical account written by Moses Hull.) An alternate year was given by Daniel Hull (Moses Hull , p. 13). He states that his younger brother was born in 1836.
5 The Psychic Era, March 1902, p. 2; The Greatest Debate Within a Half Century, p. 4.
6 Victoria Barnes, comp., Centennial Book of Modern Spiritualism (1948), p. 128.
7 Youth’s Instructor, Nov. 22, 1938, p. 3.
8 D. Hull, p. 22; The Psychic Era, March 1902, pp. 6, 7.
9 According to information found on ancestry.com, they were married in 1854.
10 According to information found on ancestry.com, Alfaretta Hull was born September 2, 1863.
11 D. Hull, p. 22.
12 The Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia ([Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1996], vol. 10, p. 718) states that previously he had been a member of two other churches, but that does not take into account that for a short time he possibly also was a Methodist (see D. Hull, p. 19).
13 The Psychic Era, March 1902, p. 4.
14 Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Sept. 23, 1858, p. 140.
15 Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Aug. 5, 1858, pp. 92, 93.
16 Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, May 27, 1858, pp. 12, 13; July 22, 1858, p. 76.
17 The Greatest Debate Within a Half Century, p. 103.
18 Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Oct. 23, 1860, pp. 178, 179; May 26, 1863, pp. 204-206.
19 Pacific Union Recorder, June 6, 1912, p. 2; Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Apr. 19, 1906, p. 9.
20 Loughborough, pp. 246-248, 251; Pacific Union Recorder, June 13, 1912, p. 1. See also Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), vol. 1, pp. 426-433.
21 E. G. White, Testimonies, vol. 1, 427.
22 Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Jan. 27, 1863, p. 69.
23 See Ellen G. White, A Sketch of the Christian Experience and Views of Ellen G. White(Sarasota Springs, N.Y.: James White, 1851), p. 47; idem, Supplement to the Experience and Views of Ellen G. White (Rochester, N.Y.: James White, 1854); idem, Spiritual Gifts (Battle Creek, Mich.: Steam Press, 1858), vol. 1, pp. 173-179.
24 J. H. Waggoner, Nature and Tendency of Modern Spiritualism, 2nd ed. (1860) (the first edition was published in 1857, before Hull and Waggoner worked together).
25 Moses Hull, Infidelity and Spiritualism (1862).
26 Pacific Union Recorder, June 13, 1912, p. 1; Loughborough, pp. 251, 252.
27 Elvira L. Hull, letter in Woodhull and Claxton Crucible, Sept. 6, 1873, p. 5; see also photocopy of unpublished typed manuscript in author’s collection: Alice Thompson Edwards, “My Memories of Moses Hull,” p. 7 (parts of the manuscript were printed in Youth’s Instructor, Nov. 22, 1938, pp. 1, 3, 10, 13).
28 D. Hull, p. 40. It is implied here, but not specifically stated. I have found statements elsewhere about a couple of his daughters being involved with spiritualism, though admittedly not all four.
29 Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, July 28, 1868, p. 16.
30 Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Oct. 20, 1859, p. 176.
31 Julia Schlesinger, Workers in the Vineyard (1896), pp. 56, 57.
32 Ibid., pp. 57, 58. I am aware of 11 books and eight pamphlets (works that have fewer than 100 pages) authored by Hull while a spiritualist.
33 Mattie Hull, Wayside Jottings (1888), pp. xv, xvi; see also Youth’s Instructor, Nov. 22, 1938, p. 13.
34 D. Hull, pp. 40-42.
35 Ibid., pp. 67-70; see the Web site for the Morris Pratt Institute.
36 E. G. White, Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 433.
37 Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Mar. 29, 1860, p. 149.
James R. Nix is the director of the Ellen G. White Estate in Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.