The Pioneers Presentation on CAPTAIN JOSEPH BATES

“In reviewing our past history, having traveled over every step of advance to our present standing, I can say, Praise God! As I see what God has wrought, I am filled astonishment, and with confidence in Christ as leader. We have nothing to fear for the future, except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history.” (White, 1922, p. 204)

Early Childhood: Joseph Bates was born on July 8, 1792 in Massachusetts. His father, Joseph Bates Sr., was a distinguished soldier who fought in the Revolutionary War. Despite this, Joseph Jr. did not want to be a soldier; he constantly dreamed of becoming a sailor instead. One of the schools he attended in New Bedford was located by a river, so spent many hours by the dock, listening to sailors and their stories. Their worldwide voyages had a profound effect on him.

In 1807, when Joseph was 15 years old, his parents gave him permission to go to sea with the intent that after experiencing life at sea, he would be cured from his desires. But instead of having a horrible experience, it propelled him more to be a sea man. While at sea on his very first journey, as a cabin boy, he fell overboard accidentally. Before this happened, there was a shark that was swimming alongside the ship for some time, but even after he was rescued, the shark never made its way over to his side, so his life was spared. He believed a Higher Power protected him and kept the shark away from his tracks during that ordeal. In the following years, he experienced shipwreck, capture, and forced service in the British Navy, and for 2 1/2 years was a prisoner of war in England, being released in 1815. He eventually became a captain of his own ship in 1820.

Marriage And Conversion: Bates married his childhood friend Prudence Nye in 1818 and they were faithfully bound for over 5 decades. His wife also played a major part in his physical and spiritual conversions. In 1821, he gave up smoking and chewing tobacco as well as the use of profane language. She knew that he loved to read while at sea, so before he left for one of his voyages in 1824, she placed a copy of the New Testament in his belongings with a poem placed in it and a special note saying-

“of all the books you will read on this voyage the one you hold will be most important, I know how hard you’ve worked to become a better man, ridding your body of tobacco, alcohol and profane language but what about your soul? Study this little book of the life and words of our Lord.” (Volume 4: Death at Sea)

Once he discovered the book and started to read the Bible diligently at sea, his interest in all other genres ceased.

He was converted in solitude aboard his ship. Reformed from evil habits of drinking, smoking and swearing, he became a model of health reform and spiritual power for a people and a cause as yet he did not know.

Death of A Friend And Sailor: On that voyage in 1824, there was a young Norwegian sailor by the name of Christopher Christopherson. Christopherson got severely sick and was frequently visited by Bates while on his sick bed. Even if they were close to the island of St. Thomas and a doctor could properly examine him there, Christopherson wasn’t hopeful and knew he was going to die. Christopherson asked Bates if he was a Christian, but before he could answer, he spoke about his childhood and how he had forsaken the things of Christ for a life at sea. He felt very sorrowful for this and pleaded with Bates to grant him a Christian burial, to which the Captain promised.

That evening, the Captain was troubled and was moved to pray and seek God more earnestly. Not willing that his sailors would see him praying as he felt he was still so attached to the things of this world, he found a hiding place under a table for him to pour out his soul to God and to pray for Christopherson. In his last few days of life, Christopherson was moved to the Captain’s private quarters so he could keep a closer eye on him and his health.

Shortly after this move, the young sailor sadly died and Captain Bates and the crew prepared to bury him at sea after paying their respects. Although at this time, Bates felt unable to lead the ‘religious ceremony’ for Christopherson, he still felt compelled to say something at his burial. A Church of England prayer book was given to him and he read a few words before the body was gently ushered into the sea.

After this service, he returned to his prayer place under the table. He prayed even more earnestly and made a covenant with God to renounce all former lords in his life and consecrated himself to God. He marked that date: October 4, 1824 as the day of his consecration. That night, he had a dream that helped him believe his sins were truly forgiven, cementing his belief in his deliverance from his sins.

After his conversion, he yearned for Christian communion. There were no other Christians on the ship and he longed to be around others of like faith. His desires was answered when an old friend named George Brown visited him and invited him to a prayer meeting that very night with his brother, John Brown. He enjoyed a few days of Christian fellowship with the Browns and it strengthened him.

Sailor Reform: By 1827, in his last journey, he had his own ship and he had special rules for all sailors to adhere to:

  • First it was a dry ship, meaning that there was to be no alcohol consumed on-board (except for medical use),
  • There was to be no swearing on-board.
  • No gambling was allowed.
  • Everyone had to call each other by their Christian name.
  • Everyone had to attend church on the Sabbath (which he still believed was Sunday).

After that voyage, it is said that 95% of his shipmates had a positive experience on-board. They testified that:
1. They were happy,
2. They still had their own money (because they didn’t gamble it away)
3. They survived (because on most voyages, there were deaths due to drunk men falling overboard or dying in fights, etc),

These shared their experience with other captains and soon after, 70% of the ships that went out from that harbor became dry ships as well.

After Captain Bates returned home with a small fortune of about $11,000 to $12,000, he purchased land on a street which would later be called Mulberry Street (because he would plant many Mulberry trees along that road). Later on, he helped build a Christian Church with the grandfather of the man who would become the 32nd president of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Involvement in the Anti-Slavery Movement: Around late 1831, antislavery societies began forming in the United States. These advocated for the emancipation of slaves but many were opposed to and violent towards them. Bates felt that in order to be a consistent Christian, he needed to take a stand for the oppressed.

In his local area’s religious meetings, they prayed and discussed those who were in bondage as mentioned in Hebrews 13. There were some who were offended by this, but others who were anti-slavery. As the years progressed, there were growing contentions on this matter, but a group of locals created the Fairhaven Antislavery Society to help with their cause. Although this angered many and threats were made at their meetings, nothing ever took place through the grace of God.

Involvement with the Millerite Movement: Between 1835- 1839, he heard about the Millerite movement. In March of 1844, he invited William Miller to his church and he preached 15 lectures there. Thirty-three persons left that church (after these lectures) and formed a Second Advent Company. Despite the 1844 disappointment, Captain Bates didn’t lose his faith and continued with hope.

In February of 1845, he received a pamphlet on the (seventh-day) Sabbath from a Thomas Preble. Rachel Oakes (the famous seventh-day Baptist believer) had influenced Preble in Washington, New Hampshire, and he started to preach on the seventh-day Sabbath. Later on that year, Captain Bates took a trip to Washington and met with an Elder Wheeler and eventually an Elder Farnsworth. They spent many hours discussing the Sabbath and at this point, he became 100% convinced that the Sabbath day was Saturday and not Sunday.

The Bates spent almost all of their amassed fortune on the support of the gospel. Prudence Bates, as a devoted wife, approved of her husband’s spending his money for the coming of Christ, for she held with him in that. But as their fortunes dwindled, she pressed back the fear she had, and the question of how much they had left. Moreover, she was not in agreement with him on the new Sabbath truths, nor would she be for another couple of years. During that time he used to drive with her to her church on Sunday, go home, and come back to get her after service, for he would not keep the pope’s sabbath he said. In 1850, she began to followed him in the third angel’s message with its Sabbath truth, and for twenty years until her death, was a devoted Sabbathkeeping Christian worker.

He began publishing pamphlets and reading material to spread the gospel. In 1846, Bates wrote a tract of his own about the Bible Sabbath. This tract came to the attention of a James and Ellen White around the time of their marriage in August of that year. They accepted the seventh-day Sabbath from studying the Bible evidence for it, and the rest, we will find out, is prophetic history.

Famous Flour story: Captain Bates was convinced in 1847 that he needed to write another bible tract, so he spent a Shilling on some material for it. Prudence needed some flour to bake with, so she asked him and he came back with 4 Shillings worth. She complained about the little amount he got and he confessed that he spent all of the money he had. With tears, Prudence asked what they were going to do, to which he responded the Lord would provide. Upset she declared that that was what he always said. Captain Bates couldn’t do anything about the situation so he turned from his husbandly duties to his apostleship duties, and began to write. Within half an hour he was impressed that he should go to the post office for a letter with money in it. He went and found a letter which contained a ten dollar bill from a man who said he felt impressed that Elder Bates needed money. With this he purchased ample supplies, sending them ahead to a surprised wife. When he arrived at home, she excitedly demanded to know where they came from. He told her that the Lord sent them, and when she wanted more explanation, he showed her the letter and she wept again.

The message of the Sabbath went all over the land. Somewhere in Fairhaven, Joseph Bates paid his lone York Shilling as an act of faith that he was the servant of Jehovah-jirah, The Lord who would provide. He believed not in vain and the fruit of his labor is visible today.

In later years, Captain Bates often chaired the “Sabbath conferences” between 1848-1850 which were special meetings for Seventh Day Sabbath observers. He became more closely associated with the Whites at that time.

Contributions To The Faith

  1. Through Bates’ studies and pamphlets, he introduced the church to the true sabbath; Saturday.
  2. He was also one of the pivotal instruments in the formation of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church.


Captain Bates lived a rich long life. In his last year of life, he preached at least 100 times. He died at the age of 80 at the Health Reform Institute in Battle Creek and is buried at Monterey, Michigan.