New Castle, Pennsylvania
The New Castle congregation had its start in a book canvas by John Adamson. Writing to Russell in late June or early July 1887, he said:
I am having grand experiences every day. It seems impossible to get through New Castle. Yesterday took 46 names and left in afternoon train for home. In no other town have I got in so many books to the square, and I have excellent talks. Some careful thinkers are investigating, and awakened sleepers by the dozen. Of course there are bitter opposers, but as far as noted people are willing to investigate for themselves, and I have fruit already and expect much fruit. You may increase the order to here to 300 copies.
By late 1889, a small congregation formed, the local newspaper reporting that “a comparatively new form of religious belief has recently obtained among certain people of this city.” They had, the newspaper claimed, “very decided and definite opinions as to the date of the millennium.” They met in the office of Andrew Lewis, [1834-1916] a dentist with offices at 2 Washington Street, “for the study of the Bible and for prayer, and the discussion of the millennium.” They claimed to have “Biblical authority” for believing the millennial reign of Christ near at hand. Lewis came out of the Methodist Church, where he had been “a charter member.” His obituary does not mention his association with Watch Tower belief and implies that he died a Methodist. This may not be true. We’ve encountered other obituaries prepared by relatives ashamed of Watch Tower adherence that omit or misrepresent. His last provable year of adherence was 1891. His father’s funeral was conducted by a “Rev. [William A.] Wallace” of the Millennial Dawn congregation.”
While Adamson may have sewn the seeds, the congregation owed its existence to A. C. Wise, once a United Brethren minister. United Brethren were a German speaking church with doctrines similar to the Methodist Church. Their clergy were untrained, and Wise was uncomfortable with public speaking. When speaking briefly at a Bible Student convention in 1907, he remarked: “I have been placed on this program without any consultation, and I am not engaged much in addressing the public, but more from house to house on the great Plan." It was through his house to house ministry that the New Castle congregation was formed. The New Castle, Pennsylvania, Daily City News reported: “One Dr. A. C. Wise, of Neshannock, Mercer county, [sic] is a leader in the new doctrine, the theories of which he obtains from a book called ‘The Millennial Dawn,’ for which he is agent.”
Wise was no sort of doctor. The Daily City News appears to have ‘played it safe’ by calling a clergyman doctor. Instead he was Aaron C. Wise, a farmer by trade and an itinerant Brethren preacher with no discernable education. Wise was on of the organizers of a United Brethren congregation in 1863. He left the Brethren about 1886 or 1887 to spread the Watch Tower message.
He was new to the work. In a letter to Russell dated to May 1894 he says he had been in the work about five years. That takes us to this period. He explained his view of ‘the work’ in that same letter: “The work, as I understand it, is to find the ‘wheat’ class, and with the present Truth intellectually seal them and thus separate them from Babylon. In doing this, many DAWNS are sold to others who may not now appreciate them, but who thus assist in bearing the expense of the laborers; and they will be read by and by.” He reported lecturing “some and quite acceptably, but have no ambition to make that a special work.”
Wise loved humor, incorporating it into his evangelism. We cannot place as to time or place the one example he left, but that seems not to matter. This was his preaching method:
The Scriptures show us that having ... having thus consecrated our wills, we may be able to be of service to our fellow beings, neighbors and friends, and might by the Lord's grace, impress these precious things on their hearts and minds. How many of these incidents have come to our attention in our service of the truth! I remember working in a town where they said, “If you will see a man down there he will talk the Scriptures to you.” And towards evening I called on him, and this is what occurred. I am a little humorous in my way of approaching people and I said, “I understand you are quite a teacher of the Bible and understand it.”
“I have come in to run you in a corner.”
“Every time you do you will get a five-dollar note.”
And I gave him a little talk on the divine plan of the ages from the chart, and when I got through he says, “Do you believe that?”
“I certainly do.” And he had not a word to say. Thus was I instrumental in impressing on his mind the great and glorious truth. I did not see him afterwards, but I learned he came into the truth.
The New Castle paper described Wise as “chuck full of the ideas of the book he is selling.” It reported that he “succeeded in inculcating the doctrines pretty deeply where he has been at work.” The paper said that a “J. C. McCombs” was “one of the most zealous ‘Millennial Dawn’ disciples. McCombs, a shoemaker, was, the paper said, “a deep thinking man and a member of the Methodist church” from which he had withdrawn over doctrinal difference. City directories suggest that this was Joseph A. McCombs who in addition to running a shoemaking business owned other business as well. Nothing is firm here. There is a John C. McCombs in the record, but he is listed as a railroad engineer.
The Daily City News said the “object of the millennium expectants is not to organize or to form any settle or distinct denomination, but the principles are to be maintained and supported by individual rather than collective belief.” The paper called the believers in New Castle “earnest and zealous in their convictions.” By 1900 there were about 28,000 people in New Castle and about 40 adherents.