Days of Delusion - A Strange Bit of History

By Clara Endicott Sears, 1924


Having lived part of each year for many years in the very heart of what was once one of the most vital rural centres of the great excitement in 1843-44, when William Miller prophesied the coming end of the world; having had long conversation with many of the old people who live along the ridges overlooking the wide sweep of the Nashua Valley and listened to what they had to tell of days long past, and what they had heard from those of the generation before them; and having become deeply interested in the strange psychological influences that swayed thousands away from the beaten track of normal activities during those years of atmospheric disturbances and overwrought spiritual and mental emotions, it occurred to the author that there must be a good many still living, in various parts of the country, whose recollections would be of value, and that all these gathered together would bring before us at close range a vivid picture of one of the most peculiarly emotional and hysterical episodes in the ins and outs of our past history. Consequently the following "Notice" was inserted in the columns of many of the leading newspapers issued in the States where the delusion had its strongest foothold. It reads as follows:
Has any reader of this paper any recollection of having heard parents or grandparents tell of the great religious excitement in 1843, the year that William Miller predicted the end of the world?

Any anecdotes of that period, or any information however trivial will be gratefully received by

Clara Endicott Sears.

Address, etc., etc.

The immediate response was proof of the interest now widely prevalent in preserving everything relating to bygone days, whether of concrete facts or mental states, that can help to interpret the times to which they belonged. Members of Historical Societies in various places suggested ways and means of acquiring material, and gave the names of persons who could give reliable information. This assistance, as well as a spontaneous response from many quarters from those who love to recall the past and hold it in tender memory, has enabled the author to turn her account of this strange bit of psychological history into more or less of a human document. No attempt has been made to unravel the various points of William Miller's doctrine. A few explanations regarding his prophecy have been necessary in order to make clear the reasons that started the wave of agitation, which, gaining headway, carried thousands of over-impressionable men and women out on to a sea of dreams and delusions. First and foremost of those carried out was William Miller himself - an honest and sincere man, held fast in the throes of a fixed idea.

Out of a great number of letters received, the author has quoted only from those giving personal recollections or recollections received directly from near relatives, and has made sure of the sources from which she has drawn. The dating of the letters varies from 1920 to 1923.

The rest of the book needs no explanation - it tells the tale through the testimony of the writings and various outside reminiscences of that day, and through data collected by the author during years of neighborly intercourse with many of the dear people of Worcester and Middlesex Counties. She has tried to write the book in such a way as to give offence to none, and at the same time draw a truthful picture of those hysterical days with the aid of the material acquired by her through her appeal to the public.

The collection of original letters, many of which have in them material which the author would have liked to use, but which her limited space did not permit, will, after being bound, find a niche in the library of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities in Boston.

Clara Endicott Sears

Harvard, Massachusetts

Category: 1844 Movement
Please SHARE this using the social media icons below