A Separate Identity
AMONG READERS OF
’S WATCH TOWER ZION
B. W. SCHULZ
Fluttering Wings Press
About the Authors
Bruce W. Schulz teaches writing, history, and literature. He is the lead author and general editor of this series.
Rachael de Vienne raises children and goats. She teaches literature and history to gifted and talented students.
Woodcut View by Alfred R. Waud.
Pittsburgh & Allegheny City, Pennsylvania: 1874 Woodcut View by Alfred R. Waud
Copyright 2014 by B. W. Schulz
The first book in this series is:
Nelson Barbour: The Millennium’s Forgotten Prophet.
It was once the fashion to introduce books similar to this one with an apology for adding another work to an already well-covered topic. We offer no such apology. The
movement is one of the most controversial and most
written about religious movements of the last two centuries. It is also one of
the least understood and most misrepresented movements. There is no accurately
presented history of the Watch Tower movement’s foundation years. This book exists because
neither the friends nor the enemies of Charles Taze Russell have produced
anything approaching a reasonably well-researched and accurate account of the Watch Tower ’s early
years. Watch Tower
Despite a persistent mythology to the contrary, the emergence of the
movement as a cohesive and separate religious
identity owes far less to Russell personally than it does to the adoption of
mutually agreeable doctrines. This process filled the years from 1871 to 1886.
No one doctrinal choice marked Russell and a growing body of associates as
unique. The collective did, resulting over time in a separate religious
identity. Watch Tower
Friends of the
and of Charles Taze Russell, the founder of Zion’s
Watch Tower, have seldom passed beyond an uncritical reading of a
biographical article published first in 1890, but a wealth of detail is
available. A Russell-centric view overlooks the interplay of personalities and
the debates that molded the loosely connected group into a distinct religion.
Russell’s friends have separated the spiritual from the mundane.
Compartmentalizing history leaves no room for an accurate narrative. Worse, one
recent writer whose book presents a largely favorable picture of Russell
manufactured out of his or another’s imagination an entire narrative, almost none
of which is correct. Watch Tower
Russell’s admirers put him in a historically untenable position. Even when presenting reasonably accurate narrative, they tend to create or perpetuate a myth. For many of them, Russell was God’s special instrument to restore vital truths. This apotheosis disconnects Russell from the realm of critical history. It presents a false picture of Russell, his associates and opponents. Even if one believes Russell was favored by God, no person of faith should pursue myth-building at the expense of carefully researched, accurate history. If God’s hand directed the
movement in Russell’s day, would that not best be
shown by a reasonably well-researched presentation of events that reconnects
Russell to his environment? If Russell had a place in God’s work, mythologizing
him hides it. Watch Tower
Almost none of the published material meets an academic standard. Of those few books that do, none of them consider the founding period in any detail. All of them derive what little they say from a single
article with some additions from Alexander Hugh
Macmillan’s Faith on the March. There is a consequent failure to grasp
key events in the growth of an independent religious movement. And there is a
significant misdirection, because of the very narrow and contracted view of Watch Tower history found in Russell’s 1890 article. Watch Tower
Opposition writers also manufacture, distort and misrepresent events. This is especially true of former adherents. Several examples come to mind. Some suggest Russell plagiarized Paton’s Day Dawn. One frequent though seldom accurate writer suggests that Russell stole the Herald of the Morning subscription list. One former adherent has turned himself into an Internet “troll,” posting in the comments section of any news article about Jehovah’s Witnesses that Russell was an Adventist. The claim of Russellite Adventism is common. Aside from the fact that this is wrong, we are at a loss to explain how having been an Adventist would tarnish Russell’s character. Russell was baptized a Presbyterian; he was a Congregationalist; he became a One Faith Millenarian with Age-to-Come views. He was never an Adventist. Only the intellectually lazy would define him as an Adventist.
Without looking further, writers have uniformly suggested an Adventist origin for
theology. There were undeniable contacts with
Adventism, and many of the early adherents came from the fractured Adventist
movement. Researchers tend to focus on what became the Advent Christian Church,
ignoring interchanges with other Adventist bodies, including the Life and
Advent Union, independent Adventist congregations and Sabbatarian Adventists.
The focus has been on the development of Watch Tower doctrine from Millerite Adventism. This is a mistake. Watch Tower
As commonly told, Russell was introduced to Millerite Adventism by Jonas Wendell and other Adventists. Some suggest a Seventh-day Adventist connection, which is laughably ignorant. Russell is supposed to have adopted much of Millerite theology. Though he denied ever having been an Adventist, he was one.
This is wrong. None of Russell’s doctrines owe their origin to Millerism or any of the descendent Adventists organizations. Russell’s belief system, with a few key exceptions, was developed while in association with Age-to-Come believers, especially those in the One Faith Movement. This movement was most closely associated with The Restitution, a newspaper published in
. Russell’s closest associates were connected to One
Faith or some form of Age-to-Come belief. This includes George Storrs. Plymouth, Indiana
There are several reasons why this part of Russell’s history is misrepresented. Many of Russell’s contemporaries, particularly those outside the two movements, lacked a clear understanding of what Adventism was and how it differed from Age-to-Come and other pre-millennialist beliefs. One finds One Faith and Christadelphians described as Age-to-Come Adventists – a name they rejected. Because Adventists, Millenarians, and Christadelphians believed that Christ’s return was near, outsiders lumped them under the one name.
While some of Russell’s contemporaries and some academic writers today confuse Age-to-Come belief with Adventism, the two parties saw themselves as doctrinally distinct. The decade of the 1870s was a transitional period for the Advent Christian Association. It was rapidly transitioning from a loose association of those believing in the near return of Christ with good Christian conduct as the sole standard of association into a Church with more closely defined doctrine. Some who associated with them were ostracized and found new associates among Age-to-Come believers. George Stetson was one of these, though he died before a decisive break between the two bodies occurred.
The division between Literalist and Adventist belief affected
adherents. Subsequent tensions between Russell and
Adventists derive from his Age-to-Come (also called Millenarian) belief system
which was derived from British Literalism. These differences would serve as a
sieve that would catch and remove from fellowship those who accepted other
systems. Paton and his followers, many of whom had been Adventists, rejected
Literalism, and this rejection of “plain sense” exegesis accounts for many of
their differences. Arthur Prince Adams says that his differences with Russell
are based on his rejection of Literalist belief. Watch Tower Adams
sought the “hidden meaning” behind the Bible’s plain words. He explained this
in the introductory article to the first issue of his magazine:
By Spirit of the Word I mean its real and intended meaning, in contradistinction to its apparent and surface meaning, or the “letter.” It is a common mistake among Christians to suppose that the Bible is written in very plain and simple language, and that the correct meaning is that which lies upon the surface – the most obvious and apparent sense. If I err not, the truth is just the opposite of this. The Bible often means something very different from what it says; there is a hidden, mystical sense that is like the pearl hid in the depths of the sea, the real jewel.
This stands in stark contrast to Russell and his associates. They sought the Bible’s plain words. It is not our purpose to suggest he succeeded in that quest. That determination is best made by our readers. But we state the difference in theological perspective. It explains much.
Another reason Russell is seen as a closet-Adventist derives from unreasoning opposition to his teaching. The name Adventist was seen as a pejorative. Adventists were uniformly seen as on the fringe of American religious life. Newspapers noted every passing and failed prediction, every supposed and real extreme among Adventists. They described as “Adventist” those who were not such. They manufactured events. Adventism became a hot-tar-soaked brush for editors to use when news was sparse. Painting Russell with the brush of extremism is a fad among opposers. There is, however, a real story behind the myth.
We believe our research restores detail. In doing so, we believe that a clearer understanding of events emerges. We examine the roots of Russell’s theology, tracing his doctrinal development to various individuals and publications. This dispels the myth that Russell and his early associations studied in a vacuum, independent of the commentary or exposition of others. We explore the doctrinal disunity among early adherents. How Russell and his associates addressed this explains the transition from mere readership to an ecclesiastical unity.
There is a startling lack of perspective in most “histories” of the
movement or of the antecedent and cognate groups.
Advent Christians liked to claim there were thirty thousand adherents world
wide. We could discover no valid basis for that claim and believe the number was
much smaller. One Faith believers played a significant role in Watch Tower history.
They counted about four thousand adherents in 1880. Russell sent out six
thousand copies of Watch Tower ’s Zion ’s first
issue. Numbers dropped precipitously as real interest replaced hoped-for
subscribers. Yet, by 1882 Russell could report a circulation of nearly fifteen
The belief system reached Watch Tower before Russell first published his magazine. There
was an adherent in England in the 1870s. The message reached France in 1885, perhaps earlier. It reached Germany about 1880 via personal letters. This represented a
social shift not just among millennialists but in American religion, and that
makes this story important. Norway
The actors in this religious and social drama are archetypical. Of special interest to us is the self-view of the principal and many of the minor players. You will find N. H. Barbour who saw himself as God’s spokesman even if almost no one else did. In his later years Brarbour claimed a thousand adherents, but realistically probably had fewer than two hundred truly-interested followers. You will meet Frank Burr who believed he heard Christ’s voice. There is John Paton who saw himself as divinely chosen, the recipient of divine revelation. There is Russell who believed himself divinely led, as God’s “special agent for special times.” We find Elizabeth [Lizzie] A. Allen who agonized over her life choices. We meet J. C. Sunderlin who because of war wounds became an opium addict, seeking relief in religion and a quack cure. Which of these you sympathize with will depend on your approach to this story.
We leave issues of faith largely untouched. We’ve taken a historian’s approach. We will tell you what Russell said of himself and others. We will tell you what his associates said and did. We will not tell you that all this was guided by Holy Spirit or God’s own hand. That’s not a historian’s place. We will leave that analysis to your own prayerful (or skeptical) estimation. We have avoided the trend among modern historiographers to analyze motives. We’ve borrowed our approach from 19th Century historians who told their tales in detail, but with little commentary. So we owe much to Francis Parkman, H. H. Bancroft, and Israel Smith Clare, historians who within the limits of available documentations gave their readers detailed, largely accurate, narratives.
However, we cannot entirely escape addressing motives. When required to do so, we limit ourselves to presenting them in the words or by the unambiguous acts of those involved. Russell is overly kind to Albert Delmont Jones. Jones was a disreputable man, a thief, a fornicator, a religious fraudster. We tell that story in Volume 2 from the public record and his own words. Other scandals will appear. (We humans are prone to stupidity.) So you will read about William Henry Conley’s faith cure house, its pastor, his relationship to the women and girls associated with Conley’s faith-cure belief. There are others you won’t read about because we cannot verify to our satisfaction that there was real scandal. Suspicion attaches to one of Russell’s early associates and a young teenage girl. We tell as much of that story as we can verify. We leave the unverified gossip to the ebay posters, the Internet scandal mongers, and the conspiracy theorists and inept Wikipedia writers.
As perverse as it seems to say so, the endless divisions that we chronicle here resulted in doctrinal unity. They were key to the formation of an ecclesiastical unity centered on Zion’s Watch Tower and its editor, Charles Taze Russell.
The first chapter considers Russell’s youth. Several key ideas and some minor statements fall to research. Unlike a Bible Student writer, we do not chronicle Russell as the modern-day Samuel, destined to be God’s special servant in the last days. We do not question his belief. This is not about belief. It’s about accurately told history, kept within the context of real, verifiable events. We only tell the story as we can verify it, and we do that largely through Russell and his contemporaries’ own words supplemented with documentary evidence.
Mythology replaces history when lack of curiosity is coupled with lack of thorough research. This is especially pronounced among Russell’s modern-day friends. A number of letters passed between us and institutions representing descendant religions. In a nearly uniform way, they focus on Russell, express lack of interest in anyone else, and simply do not look for detail. This distorts the history. Russell did not function in a vacuum. He was influenced by his friends, by his enemies, by what he read and experienced. These details are recoverable. The biographies of his early associates are available to a determined researcher. The “brothers” Lawver, Hipsher, Tavender, Myers, and a host of others who receive more or less mention in Zion’s Watch Tower were living people who had a physical and spiritual presence in Russell’s life and an effect on his beliefs. There are many others, some of considerable but forgotten prominence, who significantly contributed to
history and to the development of a unified body of
believers. But where is Aaron P. Riley or the small group in Watch Tower who withdrew from the West Virginia to form a congregation? Not in any history of the Church of Christ of which we are aware. Why is Calista Burk Downing a
name without biography in histories of Zion’s Watch Tower? Watch Tower
Probably there are several reasons why the
story hasn’t been told with any sort of depth. Lack
of curiosity is a prime one. Exchanges with interested parties elicited
comments such as, “Thank you for the photocopies. We’re only interested in
Russell himself.” This approach is part of the Saint Russell myth. Time and
circumstances have wounded this approach so that some who sustained it in the
past are no longer able to do so. A recent change in Watch Tower Society theology
diminishes Russell’s’ status as interpreted through a doctrinal lens. A new religious
paradigm does not alter the historical significance of C. T. Russell and his
many associates. Watch Tower
Another major problem has been lack of resources. The resources we use to reclaim the biographies of Russell’s earliest associates and to restate their place in
history have always been out there. They are somewhat
easier to find now than they were twenty years ago. But individuals and
organizations with more resources than we have could have found them if they
had the curiosity to pursue the matter. Watch Tower
Attachment to a religious mythos in preference to accurately told history has stifled curiosity. We have encountered a certain amount of fear and resentment while writing this book. A university professor who is writing a competing book strongly objected to our consideration of One Faith belief because it undermines his premise. Another writer fears that we will refute a story she wishes to tell. A Bible Student expressed considerable discontent that we do not present Russell as the God-directed Faithful and Wise Servant. We’re writing history, not religious commentary. A person with considerable talent as a writer, though he is published anonymously, suggested that this history might show his religion as other than the Truth. Truth rests with God. Simply because they are human, truth is never embodied in His human servants.
Another issue we address, though on a limited scale, is the disconnect between the lives of Russell and his associates and the world they lived in. The only redeeming feature of a recently published biography of Russell is the author’s attempt to reconnect to contemporary history. Russell was born into a world without flush toilets. In court testimony someone tells of carrying “the slops” through Bible House to drop them down a drain. I’m old enough to remember my stay in a forty room mansion in
where the only facilities were a two-door wooden
outhouse. Most of our readers aren’t that old. Russell was born into a world of
no garbage collection, where the streets were rank with filth. He walked down
streets littered with the leavings of draft animals and their owners. He was
taught by teachers who were outnumbered by students one hundred to one, who had
little education of their own and few resources to improve what they had. Ohio
We are disconnected from the social issues of Russell’s day.
and Allegheny City were by reputation better, more peaceful cities than
some of their more easterly cousins. Yet, they were filled with prostitution
(we give details) and violence. A gruesome murder took place just doors from
the Russell’s home. The Western states were subject to Native American
uprisings and brutal repression. The period from the 1870s to the 1890s was one
of re-occurring financial depression. Shoeing the feet of children was a major
concern and a major expense. Scandal was the norm in politics. People were willing
to see the period as “the last days” because it was violent, politically
unstable, and seemed to be exactly what Jesus had predicted. Pittsburgh
An English writer described
and Allegheny City in terms of the industrial area of Staffordshire.
Writing in 1859, he said that “there are the same red brick housed and
workshops, the same smoke, the same uneven streets – from the heavy weights
drawn over them – and at night, the glare of the iron furnaces at work.” The
houses were built “close up to the very tops of the hill-sides, and presenting
something of the appearance which the old town of Pittsburgh does when viewed from off the Calton Hill or Arthur’s
Seat.” Edinburgh and Pittsburgh were large, rambling, ill designed places. In 1853
the combined population was about one hundred ten thousand. It was an area of
churches. We detail Russell’s associations with several denominations. Allegheny City
This was the era of Louisa Alcott’s Little Women. Read it. It will help you connect to the age we consider. Pay attention to the details. Note the cold, rat-infested house; consider the poverty, the infant mortality, the approach to morals and religious infidelity. The era in which these events transpire is both familiar and alien. This was an era of invention. The telephone was a marvel. Cities were electrified, but most homes were without electricity. They had gas if they were fortunate – oil lamps or candles if not. Few saw a telephone. The Penny Press and letter from friends connected one to the outside world.
The American west was still the Wild West. The year Russell met Jonas Wendell the first transcontinental rail tracks were joined at
. New and more powerful steam engines were marvels.
Indian wars replaced the Civil War. When the Allegheny Bible Study Class was
re-examining old belief, grasshoppers plagued Promontory Point, Utah , Kansas
and Nebraska , eating varnish off furniture, paint off houses and
peaches to the pits. War and rumors of war were everywhere. The Franco-Prussian
war altered the face of Missouri Europe. and Russia fought, both brutalizing civilians, especially women
and little girls. Fears of a general European war found a place in newspapers.
Discontent and abuses in the Reconstruction South led to talk of a second Civil
War. The Turkey
had unsettled claims against the United
States related to the Confederate raider the CSA Alabama.
There was talk of war. An English parliamentarian suggested a test of arms.
Cooler heads within the British government noted that while United Kingdom maintained a severely reduced army, it had a million
men trained to arms and baptized in blood. Any war with America would in high probability cost the empire the newly
formed Canadian Confederation. America
Disasters beyond human control brought with them a sense of impending or wrought Divine judgment. Currency and credit manipulation by European banks, prominently the Bank of England, amounted to a quiet war against the
. Credit manipulation brought consequences beyond
those foreseen in boardrooms. Labor issues, oppressive working conditions and
issues of social equality led to riot and insurrection. The year of Barbour and
Russell’s grand missionary tour saw United States burned and Federal troops engaged in battle with
railroad workers. A large segment of Americans embraced protectionism.
Depressions swept Pittsburgh and America Europe. “Banker,” always a ‘dirty word,’ became a blacker
A pope died and another was elected. Many Protestants (and interestingly, some Catholics) saw the popes and the Roman Catholic Church as the embodiment of the more negative prophetic images. American Protestants watched Catholic affairs in that light. The pope was variously seen as the Biblical “man of sin” or the Anti-Christ. The Roman Church was seen as
the Great, the Mother of Harlots. By the last quarter
of the Nineteenth Century, a significant number saw Protestant churches as the
Harlot’s Daughters. Interactions with Catholics were suspect and scrutinized as
a possible fulfillment of prophecy. Otto von Zech, a German-born Evangelical
Lutheran clergyman was expelled from the Ohio Synod in part for refusing to
characterize the Catholic Church as Anti-Christ. Babylon
Our ancestors were not (taken as a whole) stupid, nor were they more gullible than our contemporaries. But their frame of reference was different. While the shift to a secularist society had begun, most were still profoundly religious. Religion was a social and political power, influencing –sometimes irrationally – public decisions. If they were ready to believe what might seem to us irrational doctrines, we should note that the same tendency exists today, though more often expressed in conspiracy theory, political polemic, or ill conceived private and public policy. We haven’t improved; we have only changed focus. The characters in this history deserve a sympathetic consideration.
This is a far different book than we envisioned. We anticipated a slim volume somewhat like our biography of Barbour. We believed the basic facts were known, though as presented by most writers the story lacked detail. As our research evolved, we made format and content decisions, some reluctantly. Among the decisions we hesitatingly made was that leading us to present more or less extensive biographies of the principals. You will find most of those in volume one. We believe these biographical excursions are necessary for a comprehensive understanding of the
movement’s early years. Watch Tower
B. W. Schulz
My Turn: R. M. de Vienne’s Comments
Bringing this volume to print isn’t exactly like giving birth, but there are similarities. Original research has its own set of pains, agonies, and irritations. And it has its joys.
You will better understand portions of this book if you first read Nelson Barbour: The Millennium’s Forgotten Prophet. We should note that our quotations retain original spelling, punctuation and formatting. Unless we note otherwise, all italics, capital letters and puzzling grammar are as they were in the original.
We knew error and fabrication colored how this story has most often been told. We did not appreciate the extent to which this is true. We expected a reasonable amount of competence among those who have tackled
history, and we found some authors reliable. Most are
not. Even among the most reliable, we found a tendency to turn presumption into
“fact.” Watch Tower
Many of those who preceded us were polemicists. This is true of some who presented themselves as credentialed historians or sociologists, and it is especially true of most clergy who’ve written on the subject. It amazes me that these writers are taken seriously merely because they were published.
We do not fault anyone for having a point of view. We have our own, and privately we debate issues ranging from our personal theologies to interpretation of historical evidence. However, a point of view should not lead one to turn presumption into ‘fact.” It should not lead one to fabricate.
The works of some are characterized by logic flaws. An anonymous writer substitutes capital letters for reason, presuming that capitalizing random words proves a point. This reflects a seriously defective education on his part and on the part of those gullible enough to find this convincing. He also withholds from his readers documentation. If the antiquated psychological-descriptor “anal retentive” has any validity, it applies here.
We reject this approach. We tell you what our sources are, and, though that results in copious footnotes, it leaves no doubt about the trail we followed. Occasionally we tell you where to find rare or otherwise hard to find sources. Don’t ignore the footnotes. We adopted the dictum “the story is in the details,” probing and poking at original sources, following hunches and hints where ever they led.
After reading rough drafts of some of our chapters, another writer suggested that this book is destined to be the classic presentation of
history. I appreciated the kind comment, but we see
this work as preliminary, as the first step in research that should have been
undertaken decades ago. We look for more and better research from others more
competent than ourselves or who are willing to follow trails we could not. A
major flaw in previous research is willingness to parrot the unfounded
assertions of others. If you take up the themes we’ve opened in this volume,
ask this critical question of each writer you consult: “How do you know that?”
Check their sources; probe for detail. Watch Tower
The story we tell here is, as Mr. Schulz observed in his introductory essay, different from what we presumed it would be. We presumed a “unity of belief” among Russell and his associates that did not exist. In volume two we will detail the divisions and separations and early controversies that resulted in ecclesiastical unity, a separate religion. Our premise as it finally developed is that exploration of Bible teaching resulted in a settled doctrine developed out of debate, difference, and controversy. The doctrines finally settled on created a new religious unity. It peeled off dissenters who went their own ways.
In this volume we examine the historical and theological roots of Zion’s Watch Tower. That the story is more complex than and often different from that usually presented should surprise no one. One largely-accurate history presents this entire period in six paragraphs. We presume the author told us everything he knew or thought important. The fault isn’t in what he wrote. It is in what he omitted.
Theologically I’m a skeptical believer. I approach historical research in the same way, which means I question everything including commonly believed “facts.” Many of those proved absolutely true. Some proved false. As you explore this first volume of A Separate Identity you will encounter the familiar and the new.
The men and women in this story, long dead though they are, produced an emotional response. I came to like some of them. Some of them are remarkably distasteful, mean spirited and delusional. No historian writes an impartial history. But we have written to the full measure of our ability an accurate one. Despite our best efforts, we have probably made some errors of fact. We hope not, but given the depth and complexity of this research – and the newness of some of it – it seems inevitable that we got something wrong. It won’t hurt my feelings if someone points out a flaw, but I expect proof, not mere opinion. I expect critics to be as competent as we are, and I hold them to the same standards of historical research we manifest here.
A number of people have taken an interest in our research, assisting in various ways. We cannot name them all, and some wish to remain anonymous.
Institutions that were especially helpful included the Methodist archive at Wofford College through Dr. R. Philip Stone; the State University of New York at Plattsburg; Franklin County Ohio through archivist Sandy Eckhart; the Archives of the Episcopal Church at Austin, Texas, through archivist Laura Kata; Ohio State Historical Society through Elizabeth Plummer; Almont District Library though its librarian, Kay Hurd; Junita College through librarian Janice Hartman. I’ve probably left out others equally helpful. I apologize to those I’ve omitted.
Some institutions were distinctly unhelpful, even hostile. We’re still waiting on replies to emails and letters sent to some several years ago. The Library of Congress was hostile and unhelpful. The National Archives of the
sent us key documents connected to one of Russell’s
early associates. They refused to help when we requested other documentation
that may hold the Department of Justice in a bad light, even though the
material is about a hundred years old. The archivist at United States of America refused to provide photocopies of key material based
on her reading of the papers. One of the friends of this research traveled
there and made the copies in person. Boston University
Though the Watch Tower Society declined access to a key document, they forwarded nine pages of photocopy, four of which we did not have. They are, of course, not responsible for our research or our conclusions. Given the opportunity to review volume one, they made no comment. They did not sponsor this work.
Some individuals were exceptionally helpful. This would be a significantly diminished work without their help. Some names that should appear in this list do not because of privacy concerns.
 A. P. Adams: The Title of the Paper, Spirit of the Word¸
March 15, 1885, Finley
Reprint Edition, page 6.
 Most of our readers will be unfamiliar with the term. We explore One Faith/Age-to-Come belief in chapter two.
 The 1882 edition of N. W. Ayer & Son’s American Newspaper Annual reported 14,800 copies per issue. See page 600.