Hunt, William (1822–1897)

By Grant Lottering

×

Grant Lottering, B.Th. (Helderberg College of Higher Education, Somerset West, South Africa), currently serves as assistant researcher at the Ellen G. White and SDA Research and Heritage Center of the Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division. 

William Hunt was the first known American Seventh-day Adventist to come to South Africa.

Early Life and Conversion

Hardly anything is known about William Hunt’s early life, besides that he was born in 1822.1 Hunt was not known to ever have been married. He was a miner in Gold Hill, Nevada. He was a Methodist Christian who had an appetite for Bible prophecies that could not be satisfied. After having studied the book of Revelation for twenty years, he wrote to various organizations requesting material to aid his understanding of the book of Revelation but failed to receive anything.2 He regularly received the Christian Advocate, a church paper of the Methodist Church.

Sometime in 1868, while reading the Christian Advocate, Hunt came across an editorial that criticized Adventist preachers who were holding tent meetings in Healdsburg in California. Elders Daniel T. Bourdeau and John N. Loughborough were holding tent meetings then.3 The editorial criticized them for telling their audiences of prophecy, selling the literature on Daniel and Revelation, and it associated them with those Millerites who had earlier set a date for Christ to return and waited in their ascension robes on the hills only to be disappointed.

Hunt was interested in the literature alluded to and immediately sent a letter along with $10 to Healdsburg. The letter was addressed “To the Elders of the tent in Healdsburg” and requested for as much literature as the $10 would get.4 John Loughborough received the letter and promptly sent him Uriah Smith’s book, The Prophecies of Daniel and Revelation, along with tracts he thought would be helpful. Along with this, Loughborough also wrote a letter explaining the fundamental Seventh-day Adventist doctrines and mentioned that the Review and Herald Publishing Association had more books available.

Hunt kept corresponding with Loughborough and bought all books and literature the Review and Herald company had available and subscribed to receive the weekly church paper, The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald. When the tent meetings concluded in Healdsburg, Elder Loughborough moved his tent to Bloomfield to begin meetings there in 1869. While preaching one evening, he noticed a very interested listener. Following that meeting the stranger was introduced to him as Mr. William Hunt with whom he has been corresponding. By this time Hunt was a Sabbath keeper and requested baptism. After examining him, Loughborough found that Hunt was well informed concerning the doctrines of Seventh-day Adventists and baptized him without hesitation.

About the same time, diamonds were discovered in South Africa. William Hunt shared with Loughborough that he was planning to head out to the gold fields of Australia, and should they prove disappointing, he would journey on to the diamond fields that had just recently been discovered in South Africa.5 Hunt bought a complete set of prophetic charts and literature from Loughborough and made arrangements that the Review and Herald church journal be sent to wherever he settled. Hunt left the United States in 1871 and arrived in South Africa later in the same year.

Career and Missionary Work in South Africa

When William Hunt settled in Kimberley, he was quite eager to share his faith. At that time Kimberley was not yet a developed town. No railway line ran to Kimberley. Dutch-speaking farmers who could hardly speak or understand English lived dispersedly surrounding the mine fields. While there is no known record of the profits he made from his mining business, the first fruits of Hunt’s faithful disciple-making efforts soon began to be seen from this unpromising territory. “Hunt often sent to America for literature to circulate among the people around him.”6

In 1878 a letter was sent by J. H. C. Wilson from South Africa to the Review and Herald office in Battle Creek, Michigan. This later was published in the Review and Herald issue of June 6, 1878. In the letter Wilson, a former Wesleyan Methodist preacher, wrote that Hunt gave him a copy of Signs of the Times with an article dealing with the issue of salvation that he has been struggling with.7 He requested more literature from Hunt and became convinced that Seventh-day Adventists had the truth. According to the letter, Wilson had embraced the Seventh-day Adventist faith and determined to work so that a church of commandment keepers could be established in Kimberley. By the time Wilson wrote the letter, he, along with his wife and several others, were already convinced that the Seventh-day Adventists had the truth. They became Sabbath keepers and waited for baptism by immersion. Unfortunately there seems to have been no response from America, nor is it known what became of Wilson and his few converts.

Meanwhile, William Hunt became known in the suburb of Beaconsfield as the “laziest man in town.”8 Hunt lived in a shack on the Wessels farm and washed mine tailings for industrial diamonds for a living.9 One Sabbath afternoon, in 1885, George J. Van Druten and his wife passed by William Hunt. Van Druten, who had just become a Sabbath observer by divine intervention, remarked to his wife that the old man sitting in front of his shack in his finest clothes and reading the Bible was known as the laziest man in town since he kept two Sundays. After Mrs. Van Druten had a proper look at the man, she remarked that he rather looked like an old saint.

Van Druten later visited Hunt and asked why he kept two Sundays. To this, Hunt responded that he did no such thing. He only kept the biblical Saturday Sabbath. Hunt also told Van Druten everything he knew about Bible prophecies.

Pieter Wessels was another South African who had begun to keep the Sabbath on his own through divinely ordained circumstances. Van Druten and Wessels attended the same Dutch Reformed Church in Beaconsfield. When they realized that each of them had become convinced that Saturday was the biblical Sabbath day, they started to compare Bible study notes.10 Pieter Wessels thought that the two of them must have been the only true Sabbath keepers in the world.

Van Druten then took Wessels to meet Hunt. Wessels learned with joy from Hunt that there were thousands of Sabbath keepers in America alone.11 Hunt shared his literature with Van Druten and Wessels, although they did not benefit much since they were not well versed in English at all. Hunt took sympathy on them and advised that they write a letter to the headquarters of Seventh-day Adventists, which was then located in Battle Creek, Michigan.

Van Druten dictated the letter while Hunt wrote. In the letter they requested the General Conference to send a Dutch-speaking minister who would come to South Africa to give further instructions in Seventh-day Adventism and baptize them. Along with the letter, they enclosed £50 to pay for the traveling expenses of the missionaries. This letter was received and read at the General Conference session in November 1886. This time the letter received applause and a prompt response from Adventist church leaders. An official request was sent to Sabbath Schools in America requesting offerings to support this request from Africa. The Sabbath Schools raised $10,615 in offerings in support of this missionary expedition.12 The General Conference then sent Pastors C. L. Boyd and D. A. Robinson and their families, along with R. S. Anthony, George Burleigh, and Corrie Mace as the first missionaries to Africa.

Later Life

Not much is known about William Hunt’s life after the missionaries arrived in 1887. Pieter Wessels met the missionaries in Cape Town and took C. L. Boyd and his wife, along with George Burleigh, to Kimberley where they organized the first Seventh-day Adventist Church in Africa. William Hunt’s name was listed among the first members of this newly organized church known as Beaconsfield Seventh-day Adventist Church.13 Hunt was not known to have played any leading role from the time the church was organized in South Africa in 1887; he was an elderly man already. Hunt became dear to the Van Druten family who later named one of their grandchildren in his honor. William Hunt did not return to America but remained in South Africa until he passed on to his rest in 1897.

Contribution

Among other lessons we can learn from William Hunt’s example is that if we are willing, God can use us to accomplish a great deal of work for His kingdom. When Hunt arrived in South Africa, there were no known Seventh-day Adventists that he found. However, Hunt fulfilled Christ’s commission to His disciples when He told them that they would be His witnesses to the ends of the world (Acts 1:8). Hunt had no theological training and simply shared his personal faith and the literature he brought with him from America. Hunt always remained a student of the Bible and was well able to share God’s Word to whomever would listen. Hunt not only convinced a Methodist preacher of the Advent truth, but later convinced George J. Van Druten and Pieter Wessels, who donated their means to assist the church in sending the first missionaries from America. Their continued influence in the early days of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in South Africa led to missionary-work expansion into Basutoland (Lesotho), Rhodesia (Zimbabwe and Zambia), Nyasaland (Malawi), Bechuanaland (Botswana), Swaziland, South-West Africa (Namibia), and Angola. Today the Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division is the largest division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in terms of membership and comprises 12,252 churches with 4,194,712 members.14 The continent where there were no Seventh-day Adventist believers 150 years ago now hosts the largest Seventh-day Adventist constituency, and this can be traced to the arrival of one faithful witness, a lowly disciple, named William Hunt, in 1871.

Sources

Ira, Ben. When Dawn Came. Unpublished Manuscript, 1950.

Lloyd, Ernest. “A Centennial Article.” Pacific Union Recorder, September 9, 1868.

Pantalone, Antonio. “An Appraisal of the Development of Seventh-day Adventist Mission in South Africa.” M.A. thesis, University of Durban Westville, 1996.

Robinson, Virgil E. Third Angel Over Africa. Unpublished Manuscript.

Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook. Nampa, ID: Pacific Press, 2020.

Staples, A. W. “Greetings From the South African Division.” Mission Quarterly, April 2, 1949.

Swanepoel, L. Franscois. “The Origin and Early History of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in South Africa, 1886 – 1920.” M.A. thesis, University of South Africa, 1972.

Wilson, J. H. C. “A Letter from Africa.” ARH, June 6, 1878.

Notes

  1. Antonio Pantalone, “An Appraisal of the Development of Seventh-day Adventist Mission in South Africa” (M.A. thesis, University of Durban Westville, 1996), 43.

  2. Ben Ira, When Dawn Came, Unpublished Manuscript, 1950, 4.

  3. Virgil E. Robinson, Third Angel Over Africa, Unpublished Manuscript, 1.

  4. Ibid.

  5. Ibid.

  6. Ernest Lloyd, “A Centennial Article,” Pacific Union Recorder, September 9, 1868, 8.

  7. J. H. C. Wilson, “A Letter from Africa,” ARH, June 6, 1878, 183.

  8. Robinson, Third Angel, 5.

  9. Ira, Dawn Came, 6.

  10. Pantalone, “Mission in South Africa,” 46.

  11. Ira, Dawn Came, 11.

  12. A. W. Staples, “Greetings From the South African Division,” Mission Quarterly, April 2, 1949, 2.

  13. L. Franscois Swanepoel, “The Origin and Early History of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in South Africa, 1886 – 1920” (M.A. thesis, University of South Africa, 1972), 13.

  14. “Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press, 2020), 295.

×

Lottering, Grant. "Hunt, William (1822–1897)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. October 28, 2021. Accessed January 19, 2022. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=DGXO.

Lottering, Grant. "Hunt, William (1822–1897)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. October 28, 2021. Date of access January 19, 2022, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=DGXO.

Lottering, Grant (2021, October 28). Hunt, William (1822–1897). Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved January 19, 2022, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=DGXO.