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Born July 8, 1792 in Rochester, Massachusetts, raised in Fairhaven, the eastern portion of New Bedford, whaling capital of the United States. He became a cabin boy at age 14 on a merchant ship, was forced into the British Navy in 1810, and was a British prisoner of war for two-and-a-half years during the War of 1812. He later became part owner of a sailing ship that he also captained. He was a reformer, willing to follow new light. He was converted to Christianity during his years at sea, and helped found the Fairhaven Christian Church. He gave up tobacco and alcohol in the early 1820s, later quitting tea and coffee, and eventually flesh foods. He retired from the sea in 1827 with a small fortune.
After his retirement at age 35, Bates became associated with several reforms, including temperance and antislavery. His religious interests led him that same year to be baptized into the Christian Connexion, and to accept the advent teaching of William Miller in 1839, becoming an active and successful Millerite preacher. He eventually invested all of his money in the advent movement. Bates experienced the 1844 disappointment without losing his faith.
After reading the writings of T. M. Preble on the Sabbath, and traveling to Washington, New Hampshire to meet with Sabbathkeepers and to study for himself, Bates in 1845 accepted the seventh-day Sabbath. In August 1846 he wrote a book entitled The Seventh Day Sabbath, A Perpetual Sign, which James and Ellen White read later that same year, leading them to accept the Sabbath.
That same year he became convinced that Ellen had the prophetic gift after observing her in vision relating information on astronomy that he thought she could not have known on her own. Early in 1847 he connected information on the heavenly sanctuary to the Sabbath, and outlined the great controversy theme drawn from Revelation 12 to 14. In April Ellen White had her great controversy vision. James White published A Word to the “Little Flock” in May, containing works by the Whites and Bates, including his affirmation of the spiritual gift Ellen White had received. “I can now confidently speak for myself that I believe the work is of God.”— A Word to the “Little Flock,” p. 21.
Bates traveled to many places, preaching and winning converts to Sabbatarian Adventism. He was often the chairman at the “Sabbath conferences” of 1848-1850. He became more closely associated with the Whites at that time, the three partnering in presenting “the third angel’s message” especially to ex-Millerites. By 1850 a group of Sabbatarian Adventists began to form. His trips took him to Battle Creek, Michigan, where he won the first convert there. After initially opposing it, he was convinced of the need for a formal organization by James and Ellen’s writings on “gospel order” in 1853 and 1854. He actually chaired the meetings in the early 1860s that led to the establishing the Seventh-day Adventist Church. With this history the Whites and Bates are considered co-founders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Ellen White’s visions in 1863 and December 1865 on the importance of health reform opened the door for him to join her and James in promoting it as part of the third angel’s message that would help prepare for translation. He remained active in church work into his old age, preaching at least 100 times the last year of his life. Joseph Bates died March 19, 1872, at the age of 79, at the Health Reform Institute in Battle Creek, and is buried at Monterey, Michigan.
The Opening Heavens
Second Advent Way Marks and High Heaps
An Explanation of the Typical and Anti-Typical Sanctuary by the Scriptures
The Seventh Day Sabbath, A Perpetual Sign
The Seventh Day Sabbath, A Perpetual Sign, (Second Edition)
A Vindication of the Seventh-day Sabbath, and the Commandments of God
A Seal of the Living God
To the Remnant