Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A discussion from the posts - 1876 Centennial and the Russells

This is a comment from an earlier post:

"More on Philadelphia - Russell had a store at the exposition in 1876 in Philadelphia, was likely there several months, met Barbour there. He says in the Watch Tower that he remembered hearing Peyton Bowman preach, an Adventist, in Philadelphia. This possibly occurred in 1876, but possibly before that. Bowman had connections also with Restitutionist Adventists."

The only place we've seen this asserted is in the special history issue of The Herald of Christ's Kingdom published back in 2002. Brian Kutscher wrote:

"After seven years of study, while attending a display for his father’s business at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876, Russell’s attention was drawn to a magazine entitled The Herald of the Morning, published by Nelson H. Barbour. He arranged to meet Barbour in Philadelphia and saw merit in Barbour’s interpretation of chronology."

This statement is flawed in several respects. An email from Brian attributed the point about the Russell exhibiting at the Centennial to Carl Hagensick. An email from Carl said, "The information about the Centennial exposition was by word of mouth passed on to me from Br. John Meggison who, as you know, was a pilgrim in Br. Russell’s day. I mentioned it once in conversation to Br. John Reed, Pastor Russell’s personal singer, and he did not disagree."

Oral reports are notoriously wrong. There are numerous lists of exhibitors for the 1876 Centennial Fair. There is no listing for J. L. Russell & Son in any of them we consulted. Many of them are searchable through a database. There simply is no record of the Russells exhibiting.

There is an alternative explanation. Russell says he had business in Philadelphia that fall. That's all he says. The Russells owned property in Philadelphia. Philadelphia was a clothing wholesale market. Either of these is a suitable explanation for Russell's business.

The statement is also in error when it discusses how Russell came upon the Herald of the Morning. Barbour mailed it to him. We have Russell's plain statement to this effect. The paragraph is a combination of a garbled oral tradition and the misstatement made by Jehovah's Witnesses in the Divine Purpose. When we wrote Nelson Barbour: The Millennium's Forgotten Prophet, we allowed in a footnote for the possibility that the Russells may have exhibited at the Centennial. See page 172, end note two. Since then we have searched catalogues of exhibitors to no avail. This is an example of a few facts being garbled and transmuted into a new story. This is not sound history.

Prove me wrong. I'd be happy to use this. It's colorful and interesting. However, our research leads us to reject this story as unfounded. The simpler explanation given by Russell stands. He had business. Period.

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