Rachel Oakes Preston

Preston, Rachel

Time Period

1820-1860

Subject Categories

Religion, Writers

Notable Facts

Born in Vernon, Vermont, Rachel Oakes Preston was a founding member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Personal Information

Date of Birth

03/02/1809

Date of Death

02/01/1868

Primary Residence

Vernon

Religion

Seventh-Day Baptist

Historical Significance

Born Rachel Harris on March 2, 1809 in Vernon, Vermont, Rachel Oakes Preston was a founding member of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. Originally she was a member of the Methodist Church. Methodism was an Anglican revival sect based on the teachings of John Wesley in the 18th century. Called Methodism because of its adherents "methodical" Bible study, the religion became known for regular group meetings and weekly communion, and a feeling of social responsibility. Methodists reached out to help the poor and the sick and brought their religion into prisons and other places overlooked by the Church of England. Methodists were also considered a bit fanatical. Their enthusiastic sermons, preached both inside and outside of meeting rooms, contrasted with the routine litany of Sunday worship in the Anglican Church.

It is unknown exactly when Rachel Harris married Amory Oakes. Together they had a daughter, Rachel Delight Oakes, and moved to Verona, New York. Soon after arriving, Amory Oakes died. In 1837, at the age of 28, Rachel and her daughter joined the Seventh Day Baptist Church in Verona. Here she became a convinced Sabbatarian, meaning that she saw Saturday as the true biblical Sabbath (in Genesis, the seventh day on which God rested after creating the world.) To Oakes, then, all non-Sabbatarian sects were routinely breaking the commandment, "Remember the Sabbath and Keep It Holy." The first Seventh Day Baptist church had been founded in Newport, Rhode Island in 1671, but 150 year later, the church was still small and scattered throughout New England.

In 1843 Oakes and her daughter moved again to Washington, New Hampshire where Rachel Delight Oakes had found work as a schoolteacher. In Washington, they attended a "Christian Brethren" church of Millerites.

Millerites were followers of a Baptist preacher called William Miller who had predicted in 1833 that the second coming of Jesus Christ would occur sometime in 1843. Miller based his prophecy on the book of Daniel, verse 8:14; "Unto two thousand and three hundred days, then the sanctuary be cleansed." He supposed the "cleansing" of the sanctuary referred to Christ's Second Coming, and assumed "day" meant a full 365-day year, not 24 hours. Miller also believed that the 2,300-year period began in 457 B.C.E. And so, the second coming was to occur in 1843. Specifically, between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844.

In 1834 Miller published his theory, and Millerism became wildly popular. Between 50,000 and 100,000 people joined the movement. The date was refined even further by another preacher and the Second Coming was set for October 22, 1844. When Christ did not appear on the specified day or within the designated period, October 22, 1844 became known as "The Great Disappointment." After this, many Millerites abandoned the movement, but those who remained were now termed Adventists. They searched for errors in the prophecy or wrongdoing on their part that might have displeased God, causing the Second Advent to be postponed.

Fortuitously, Rachel Oakes was in the right place at exactly the right time. In the winter of 1844 a traveling Methodist and Adventist minister named Frederick Wheeler was conducting a Communion Service at Rachel Oakes' church in Washington, New Hampshire. After the service Oakes confronted Wheeler, telling him that in order to receive communion one must agree to obey all Ten Commandments. But, by keeping Sunday as the Sabbath (not Saturday), Wheeler and everyone he preached to were disobeying God's Commandments. Oakes' reasoning was so sound that Wheeler left town seriously considering the argument. Within weeks, he kept his first Saturday Sabbath and began preaching its truth throughout his New England circuit.

Meanwhile, Oakes had already convinced many of her local congregation, who formed a small group of Sabbatarian Adventists. But Oakes soon remarried, to Nathan T. Preston, and left the Washington area. She only officially joined the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, as it officially became known, at the very end of her life. Her early conversion of a small but influential and dedicated group lead the way for the remaining Millerites to adopt Adventism and become, eventually, the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. Today the Seventh-Day Adventist Church counts over 15 million people as members and supports missions in over 200 countries.

Organizations or Movements

  • Sabbatarian
  • Adventist