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THE OLD SPIRIT OF BLIND

SAMMY HANCOCK:
Meeting a Colorful Early Adventist Preacher
By Andr Reis

s I did research for a


chapter on Ellen White
and the Indiana holy
flesh movement for the
book En Espritu y en
Verdad (Pacific Press, 2013) I came
across a statement in a letter from Hattie
Haskell to Ellen White (1900) about one
blind Sammy Hancock. Since I had
never heard about him, I decided to take
a detour from my main subject and find
out who he was. I was able to dig up
several relevant details in the Adventist
Archives of the Review and Herald going
back to 1864. Also, thanks to Google
Books, I was able to find a book of
biographies of residents of Bristol, CT
where he lived until his death; it
contains the one and only photograph
of this intriguing early Adventist.1
The Blind Preacher
Samuel Cooley Hancock was born in East Hartford on
September 16, 1828. He became partially blind at four weeks
old. By attending a school for the blind, Hancock became
proficient in music. He later became the organist at the
Meriden, CT Methodist Episcopal church. At the age of twentythree, Hancock contracted smallpox, which led to complete loss
of sight. He remained a Methodist-Episcopalian until he
accepted the Sabbath in the 1840s.2 He married Susan Sims and
had one daughter who died in 1862. Until his death in 1874 he
was known as the blind preacher.
Reports from those times are sketchy at best. According to
one author, Hancock met up with Ellen White in the late
1840s3. This meeting may have been at the first Sabbath
Conference held in Rocky Hill, CT on April 20, 1848. Hancock
apparently became an Adventist preacher about 18544 in the
wake of the 1854 movement, an attempt to revive Millers
Andr Reis has degrees in theology and music and is currently pursuing a
PhD in New Testament at Avondale College. He is a member of the
Florida Hospital SDA Church.

time setting.5 Besides being a


preacher, he was also a singer and
composer; the melody of Hymn 963
in the Adventist hymnal Hymns and
Tunes (1888) Resurrection and
Uriah Smiths Passed Away from
Earth (#964) was composed by
Hancock and used in other hymnals
of the time.6
But Hancocks career as
Adventisms blind preacher and
singing evangelist was quite
controversial. Although he started out
with the body, Hancock was now
notorious for his Spirit operations
described by Review and Herald
readers as talking in tongues7,
swimming in the Spirit and dancing
in the Spirit.8 Although not naming
names, Ellen White most likely
describes Hancocks leadership in the
1854 movement as a noisy, rough,
careless, excitable spirit. Noise was
considered by many the essential of true religion, and there was
a tendency to bring all down upon a low level.9 These exercises
were promoted by wandering stars professing to be ministers
as gibberish, unintelligible sounds and strange
manifestations stirred by wild, and excitable feelings10;
some would dance up and down, singing, Glory, glory, glory,
glory, glory.11 These antics may also have included what she
described as creeping on the floor as a sign of having become
like children.12
Liaison with Gilbert Cranmer
By August 1864, Hancock joined a Sabbatarian offshoot led
by Gilbert Cranmer, a former Millerite from Battle Creek who
had been convinced about the Sabbath by Joseph Bates in
August 1852.13 But as early as 1858 Joseph Bates and Uriah
Smith were warning churches through the Review and Herald
that Cranmer held views contrary to the present truth
[rejection of Ellen White], and grieving the brethren by his
disorderly walk.14 Apparently Cranmers disorderly walk

2
included a temporary addiction
to chewing tobacco (he
apparently abandoned the
practice and lived to the ripe old
age of eighty-nine).15 In
December 1857, Cranmer had
received a testimony by Ellen
White on his use of tobacco,
which he initially accepted but
later rejected. When James White
refused to give him a preaching
license, he went on to make antiWhite views the emphasis of his
preaching to Adventists. Like
Gilbert Cranmer (1814-1903)
others at the time, his rejection of
Ellen White s visions stemmed primarily from the then defunct
shut door doctrine.16
By 1860, Cranmer had started amassing followers and
formed several congregations in Michigan. These would later be
organized as the Church of God (Seventh Day) (a
denomination that boasts 300,000 members today) and
Hancock became a leader of the movement in New England.17
Cranmer would later revive the defunct anti-White pamphlet
Messenger of Truth as The Hope of Israel (1863).18
The Hancock and Cranmer party as it was known was
wreaking havoc in Adventist communities in New England in
the early 1860s with their peculiar views and rejection of the
testimonies. Some of the doctrines being introduced among
them were the age to come doctrine and the non-resurrection
of the wicked according to Ellen White.19 Hancock was also
advocating the adoption of the American Costume among
Adventists, something Ellen White frowned upon, and calling
the church of the White party as Babylon.20
The confusion we see at this point is not at all surprising;
the Advent movement was a somewhat loose band of believers
who often fell prey to itinerant preachers such as Hancock.
Even after the organization of the SDA Church in 1863, the
Adventist leadership struggled for some time to extricate
congregations from the grip of Hancock and Cranmer.21
Cranmers influence reached from Maine all the way to Iowa.
By 1864, the Review was mounting a steady campaign against
them. The editors seemed eager to publish letters from readers
detailing problems with their teaching. In a report of their work
in New England in late 1863 in the Review and Herald, James
White writes:
There is a class in the East that nothing can be done
with at present, only to let them alone. We refer to Hancock
and company. This man gets sympathy in his fanatical
course on account of his being blind. It is right to sympathize
with the afflicted, because of their afflictions; but it is
madness to accept, as a leader to the kingdom of God,
through sympathy alone, a man that is twice blind. The best
way-to dry up the influence of fanatics is to let them alone,

but actively visit the scattered friends of the cause, and set
things in order with them.22
The fact that Hancock was getting sympathy from the
brethren because he was blind may also indicate that he was
part of the no-work party,23 a group of former Millerites who
refused to work because they lived on a spiritual Sabbath.
Norton24 reports that Hancock labored for months at a time in
one place. This no doubt led to financial dependence on the
brethren.
The tug-of-war between the Hancock-Cranmer party in
New England and Michigan and the now officially organized
Seventh-Day Adventist Church can be seen in James Whites
report about the work in Maine in March 1865:
Our friends in the East who are coming into the ranks,
heartsick of the administration of S. C. Hancock, deserve
the sympathy or the body. They had been left as sheep
without a shepherd. They were under the more direct
influence of the loose and reckless spirit that attended, more
or less, the movement of 1854, and which exists, to a great
extent, among New England Adventists.25

Copyright Andr Reis, 2013.

3
But Hancocks incursions in Adventist communities in
New England quickly turned sour. In the March 7, 1865 issue of
the Review, Merritt E. Cornell, a former aspiring church
organizer himself who was sent by the church to counteract
Hancocks efforts, reports rather triumphantly that the meeting
of the Hancock and Cranmer party in February of that year in
North Berwick, Maine had not attracted a single soul
(probably an exaggeration). By 1866, Cranmers The Hope of
Israel met its demise and their impact on Advent communities
in New England all but vanished.
The Push For Organization
I suspect the now infamous Israel Dammon26 episode of
1845 in which Ellen and James White were deeply involved,
followed by the fanaticism of F. T. Howland also in New
England27 (a no-work subscriber), the fanaticism in
Wisconsin and Hancock and Cranmers throughout the 1850s
and early 1860s played an important role in the Adventist
approach to organization and sense of identity. Maybe these
movements were an unintended result of the acceptance of the
ministry of Ellen White as the sole manifestation of Spirit of
prophecy by early Adventists. Perhaps feeling left out, these
aggressive preachers reacted by showing an entitlement to their
share of the Spirit. F. T. Howland for example ended up
convincing some that he was the Holy Spirit.28
This barrage of shady preachers and questionable views of
theology and worship styles was evidence that organization was
a necessity. By the time the Whites, Bates and others had dealt
with a few of those free spirits, they were ready to push the
Advent movement towards becoming a monolithic institution.
By organizing early, the pioneers hoped to stamp out the
influence of these unsavory characters from the flock.
Or so they thought.
The Indiana Debacle of 1900
By 1899, Hancocks gyrations in the Spirit and noisy
meetings were being picked up by a small group of Adventists
in the farmlands of Indiana influenced by Jones and Ballengers
receive ye the Holy Ghost movement. Led by a group of
overzealous pastors concerned about the lukewarm spiritual
experience of the churches in Indiana, some developed a rowdy
worship style, where people would sing and shout, going
around in circles incessantly until some would pass out in an
attempt to display sanctification.
The Indiana campmeetings of 1900 where instrumental
music was introduced for the first time in Adventist
campmeetings accompanied by loud shouting were the final
straw for Stephen Haskell and his wife who considered the
music (including an infamous bass drum) as being part of the
deception.
In a P.S. of her letter to Ellen White Hattie Haskell writes
that her husband Stephen had compared the excitement and
the recalcitrance they had encountered at the campmeeting in
Muncie, IN as the old spirit of blind Sammy Handcock [sic]29.

It is possible that had Hancock mixed emotional worship and


music to further his fanatical views, something that was echoing
in Indiana.
With Ellen Whites opposition to perfectionism and
fanatical manifestations in worship at the historical General
Conference of 1901, the Indiana movement petered out.
Speaking in Tongues Returns
While the rowdy exercises of the 1840s-1860s ended with
Indiana, Hancocks gift of tongues came back to haunt the
Adventist movement in the experience of the Mackins, a couple
from Ohio who had some manifestations at the Mansfield
campmeeting in 1908. This would also be the main thrust of the
Adventist Church of the Promise, an Adventist Pentecostal
offshoot founded in Brazil in 1932, which grew to more than
1000 churches and 76,000 members worldwide.
Conclusion
As we celebrate 150th year of our churchs organization,
Hancocks meteoric trajectory in our midst may illuminate our
early struggle to organize as well as our continued struggle to
protect present truth. Those early years after the great
disappointment when everyone did what was right in his own
eyes are now but a faint memory. Times have changed. Or
have they?
The problem is that instead of ostracizing fringe preachers
as we did before, we now welcome some of them. There is a
symbiotic relationship between independent ministries (some
with questionable views) and mainstream Adventism; what was
considered fringe at one point is now passed on as historical
Adventism. The absence of strange exercises or disorderly
conduct by independent Adventist preachers has given rise to
a more complex phenomenon: it has become more difficult for
regular church members to detect when certain theologies are
contrary to present truth.
In their current crusade against what they perceive as the
secularization of Adventism, many of these itinerant
preachers have developed fanaticism and restorationism (a
return to an ideal past reality) cloaked in revival and
reformation. The use of drums in Adventist music is a
fulfilment of the prophecy of Indiana30 because, so they say,
the use of drums is part of Adventist eschatology and part of
omega apostasy.31 One such independent ministry has
compared contemporary Adventist worship styles and music to
worshipping at the throne of Satan.32
These segments dont seem to realize that the same
perfectionism and striving for holy flesh that plagued some
Indiana congregations in 1900 will not come back, they
actually never really left us. This approach is alive and well,
although devoid of ecstasy and contortions, but rather
accompanied by the sound good music, flanked by particular
compilations and biblical prooftexts. Today, obscurantism
and fanaticism are expressed in a more subdued, dignified and
spiritual demeanor, which hides a critical spirit ready to reject

Copyright Andr Reis, 2013.

4
anything that does not fit their own views of the real
Adventist identity.).
The discrepancy between mainstream Adventism and what
I call radical restorationism is not just a difference in method,
but rather a fundamental difference in how one sees the
kingdom of God. Like Hancock did, some aspects of
mainstream Adventism continue to be surreptitiously called
Babylon. For some in this segment, as a result of the
intoxicating mix of eschatology and soteriology, the fewer
people join, the better. Those who do join are considered the
real remnant, the only ones who could endure the weight of
sound doctrine. Consequently, the least people there are in
church, the more remnant it is. The more people join the
church, the longer it takes for the Second Coming because all
those people have to catch up to sinless perfection.
Evangelistic crusades are planned to find only the very last
remaining ones out there, those who can endure, sometimes
right on the first night (!), the full weight of Adventist
apocalypticism. Mat 24:14 has been turned on its head and now
reads: And the end of the world will be preached in the whole
world as a testimony to all nations, and then the Gospel will
come.
Unless we shift our evangelistic focus, traditional
Adventist preaching will continue to enlist converts and
preachers who come to church for the wrong reasons, attracted
by questionable views on eschatology, salvation, lifestyle, the
gifts of the Spirit and Christian worship.

References:
Milo Leon Norton, Elder Samuel C. Hancock in Bristol,
Connecticut, Eddy N. Smith, George Benton Smith and Allena J.
Dates, eds. (Hartford, CT: City Printing Company, 1907), p. 454.
2
Cf. John Kiesz, History of the Church of God (Seventh Day)
(Unpublished paper, Stanberry, MO, May 1965), 2.
3
Milo Leon Norton, The Bradleytes in Bristol, Connecticut, Eddy
N. Smith, George Benton Smith and Allena J. Dates, eds.
(Hartford, CT: City Printing Company, 1907), p. 540.
4
Ibid., 453.
5
The 1854 movement was led by Jonathan Cummings (18171894) who reviewed Millers predictions of the Second Coming to
1854.
6
Cf. Alexander Streeter Arnold, New hymns of joy: sacred songs of
perfect faith for Christian worship (Valley Falls, RI: 1885).
7
Mrs. D. A. Parker, And Still they Come, Review and Herald,
March 14, 1865, p. 116-7.
8
S. B. Gowell, My Experience, Review and Herald, Jan 17, 1865,
pp. 61-2; Cf. Review and Herald, Sep 9, 1858.
9
Cf. The Cause in the East, Testimonies, vol. 1, pp. 409-422.
10
Testimonies, vol. 1, pp. 418-419. Speaking in tongues returned in
1908 in the activities of the Mackins (Cf. Letter 338 from Ellen
White to S. N. Haskell, 26 November 1908).
11
Selected Messages, vol. 3, p. 372.
12
Life Sketches, 86.
1

13

Cf. the report by Bates that Cranmer beat him to congregations


in Michigan preaching the Sabbath in the Review and Herald, Jan
26, 1860, p. 77.
14
Joseph Bates, Uriah Smith, Business Proceeding of the
Conference of May 21st, 1858, Review and Herald, May 27, 1858.
15
Review and Herald, Jan 17, 1865; cf. Jan 31, 1865.
16
Cf. Robert Coulter, The Story of the Church of God (Seventh
Day) by, (Denver, CO: Bible Advocate Press, 1983), 12-13.
17
Cf. Cf. John Kiesz, History of the Church of God (Seventh
Day) (Unpublished paper, Stanberry, MO, May 1965).
18
Cf. John Loughborough, The Rise and Progress of the Advent
Movement Battle Creek, MI: General Conference of SDAs, 1892),
217.
19
Testimonies, vol. 1, 411.
20
S. B. Gowell, ibid.
21
Review and Herald, March 7, 1865.
22
Review and Herald, Feb 2, 1864.
23
Cf. Norma J. Collins, Heartwarming Stories of the Pioneers
(Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 2005), pp. 89, 151.
24
Norton, ibid., 453.
25
Review and Herald, March 14, 1865, p. 116.
26
See Adventist Currents, vol. 3, number 1 available at
http://www.hacksplace.com.
27
Cf. Review and Herald, Nov 25, 1852. Ellen White also had her
run-ins with as well Howland, cf. Spiritual Gifts, vol. 2, p. 116.
28
Norton, ibid., p. 541.
29
Hattie Haskell to Ellen White, September 10, 1900.
30
See Selected Messages, vol. 1, p. 36.
31
See the article by Joaquim Azevedo (PhD, Andrews University)
http://musicaeadoracao.com.br/20200/louvor-adoracao-eespiritualidade-omega-da-apostasia-parte-1/
32
Cf. Stephen Bohr, Woship at Satans Throne (Remnant
Publications, 2008).

Copyright Andr Reis, 2013.

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