Joseph Miller's Story

The following is reprinted from a column in a local weekly paper from my hometown, the Yarmouth Shopping Notes.  The column, by Christopher Hyde entitled Landmarks, ran during the 1980s and covered local items of interest.  The article below makes reference to an earlier column about Shiloh, which we do not have, but it evidently prompted a certain degree of write in interest from the readership.  It also refers to Mr. Sandford as the "Rev. Dr.", which, to the best of our knowledge is a misnomer.  We are pleased to be able to bring Mr. Miller's memories of Shiloh to you.

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by Christopher Hyde


A column on Shiloh, the religious community founded by the Reverend Dr. Sandford in Durham, prompted a great deal of interest last summer.  In writing that column, we relied upon newspaper accounts, especially of Dr. Sandford's trial and conviction for manslaughter, and on a book, The Holy Ghost and Us, written by the late Arnold White, a former member of The Kingdom, Inc. [the correct title is "The Almighty and Us", Ed.]

Mr. Joseph Miller, of Brunswick, born in 1903, was a resident of Shiloh for 15 years, and knew Arnold White.  His account in a recent interview corroborates that of White and also throws some new light on day-to-day life in the community, and its relations with its Maine neighbors.   "Arnold got there sometime after I did, when things were a little better because the State had started to crack down," Miller recalled.

Miller was born in Auburn, one of 10 children of George Ernest Miller and Lula Edna Gillette.  His aunt, Margaret, was Sandford's personal secretary.  She is said to have kept a diary, since lost, which included the ill-fated voyage of the yacht Coronet.  Another aunt, Emma Miller, was a medical missionary (not Sandfordite) to Persia, and invented the one-piece baseball cover, which she sold to Spaulding for $400.

The family moved to Shiloh when Miller was a few months old.  "It sounded like a good deal to Father," he said.  "A house and food for 10 children."  The children would prove a welcome addition to Shiloh's labor force, although one would die and a second be crippled with rheumatism.  George Miller died of pneumonia in Shiloh's "Bethesda" hospital, without medical attention.

Miller remembers a life of unrelenting labor, harsh discipline, and near starvation.  He was in charge of planting the tomato patch, among other duties, and remembers setting out plants until midnight, by the light of a lamp.  "It was us kids that built those terraces you can see in front of Shiloh," he said.  "We also built a half mile scale replica of the Holy Land.  We moved whole mountains of sand and dirt with buckets and boxes."

Children were "switched" for any evidence of high spirits.  "If the parents wouldn't do it, the rest of them would.  They were beating on us all the time," he said.  The grade school teacher -  Miller received a sixth grade education at Shiloh - used her ash pointer, but more usually a rubber stair tread, whose ridges would leave prominent welts.   Miller today will not allow a child to be physically disciplined in his presence.

There was never enough food.   "One winter, an entire week's ration was four cents worth of cornmeal.   We were always hungry.  My brother almost died, getting into some stored dried apples, and then drinking lots of water."  When he finally escaped, he did not know what some foods were, such as ice cream.  "We weren't allowed to eat any fish unless it had both fins and scales, (according to the Old Testament prohibition), but my father proved that we could eat catfish.  He showed that they did have scales, even if they were microscopic."

One of his father's jobs was making harnesses for Sandford's six white horses.  "One day Sandford prayed for horses, and these six white horses came thundering up the driveway.  We found out later that he had bought them and told the owner to drive them up the road at a certain time."

Almost as bad as the privation, according to Miller, was the favoritism shown Sandford's children and those of other officials.  "I saw them doing things that they knew were wrong, and they got away with it."  I kind of lost a little faith right there".  He was particularly annoyed at John Sandford's preaching in imitation of his father.   "I knew the Bible pretty well by then; we read it through every year, and I could tell he was misquoting and taking things out of context, but we had to put up with it."

As for the reincarnation of the Prophet Elijah, which Sandford called himself, Miller was not impressed.  "He was not a good preacher for a kid my size.  I got tired of him hollering.  They kept children away from him most of the time, but I heard him preach every Sunday he was there, until he went to the pen."

At the age of 15, Miller ran away, "mostly because I was hungry."  It was one day after Sandford's daughter, Deborah, had also run away.  "You were sweet on her," said Mrs. Miller, causing her husband to grin.  "They sent the dogs after me, but they knew I was there friend," he said.

He stayed for a week with the Webber family, who owned a photographic studio in Brunswick.  "They fed me up, then I went to work for Ed Patton on his farm.  The Shiloh people came by asking for me, and Ed said, "If he wants to stay here, you can take him over my dead body."

Miller concurs with White's account of the sympathy of surrounding Mainers for the Shiloh children.  "That's why I went to Webbers.  I had hitched a ride with Mr. Webber, against the rules, and he told me that if I ever wanted to leave, he had a place for me."

After working for Patton for a year, Miller got a job at the Sears Roebuck shoe factory in Freeport and rented a house at Porter's Landing for $25 a month.  Then he went to Shiloh in a wagon and took away his mother and the rest of the family.  She had been mistreated, he feels, after his father's death.  "She was a real martyr.  After what they did to her, she'd still go back when they wanted her to nurse somebody."

After World War I, he joined the Navy, and served for 26 years, rising to Chief Warrant Officer.  He was an optics expert, and still has a marvelous pair of binoculars that he made for himself.  His aunt's inventiveness resurfaced in Miller.  He was granted a patent on a wind tunnel fuselage to channel aircraft propeller blast.  "The Navy didn't use it right away because of budget problems, and the Italians built the first model," he said.   "I did get a letter of congratulations from Orville Wright."  During his retirement, he managed the Vanderbuilt estate in Harpswell.

Miller's wife said that he felt "bitter" after leaving Shiloh, for a lost childhood, lack of education and the abuse of his family, but his attitude now is one of amazement.  "He (Sandford) was sent to Atlanta for 10 years for manslaughter (for the deaths of crew members on the Coronet); got 3 years off for good behavior, and then came right back and started the whole thing over again!"


from the August 5, 1986 issue of the Yarmouth Shopping Notes