John Sandford's Fast

Lewiston Evening Journal, November 26, 1904



The First Publication of That Famous Story

of "Little John's Fast" at Shiloh.




History Retold in This Strange Transcript of a Scene -

An Introduction and Footnotes -

Secrecy Required.


Another most interesting feature of the current discussion of the conditions at Shiloh is offered herewith in a letter by Miss Agnes Jean Stevens, the private secretary of Rev. F. W. Sandford.

This remarkable letter was frequently alluded to in the trial of Mr. Sandford at Auburn, a year or so ago, for cruelty to his son, and the greatest curiosity was aroused concerning it. It now appears for the first time. It is a wonderful transcription of the times at Shiloh when the occasion for its writing developed and, being written by a disciple and a friend of the institution, is a living picture of the days when "sheets of wrath were seemingly pouring down on Shiloh."

Rev. Mr. Harriman's preface is essential to a full appreciation of Miss Stevens's letter. The two together are a chapter on the abnormal, that the student of the strange unnaturalism of Shiloh must surely read. The tale of "Little John's Fasting" is a true story - the like of which was never conceived even in fiction and which if read in fiction, would be called the excess of the imagination instead of being as it is - the acme of realism.


To the Editors of the Lewiston Journal: -

With your permission, I would lay before your readers the following remarkable letter by Mr. Sandford's private stenographer, Miss Agnes Jean Stevens, a very talented young woman from Tacoma, who was my stenographer before my going to Shiloh. She writes for Mr. Sandford, and this is an official account of John Sandford's fast, for which his father was convicted of cruelty. It was addressed to the foreign workers of whom I was one.

And that your readers may read it with the proper setting, let me quote from other letters written about this letter, that it may be seen what was the atmosphere of Shiloh at the time of this fast, and what the condition of the people; this will throw light on some parts of the letter.

The John Sandford letter was written Feb. 23, 1903. Less than a month before that time, on Jan. 26, Leander Bartlett and Rev. J.H. Sutherland died, the former of diphtheria and the latter of smallpox. Two days later, Mrs. Sandford, wife of Mr. Sandford who has been convicted, writes: "God has been dealing with the ministry. You may be surprised to know that Brother Sutherland died Sunday afternoon. * * * * God is showing his wrath toward the ministry, and insisting that they live the whole Word of God, especially on the line of ruling their households, and especially in regard to Brother Sutherland. Judgment has begun at the house of God * * * * We are standing by Jehovah in his judgments, which are just and righteous. God has been showing His jealousy for David truth, especially these days, the curse falling on those who deviate from it in the least degree and don't stand loyal to him [David]. Something in that line came out in regard to Mr. Sutherland."

On the same date, Mr. Perry writes: "Wonderful and awful days at Shiloh. The old Jehovah aspect of the work has again come to the front. At first we did not know what the coming of the diseases meant, but god has made it very plain since that. They are the judgment of God to call attention to the spiritual confusion and lawlessness which has crept in during Mr. Sandford's absence."

From these extracts it appears that there was great unrest, confusion, lack of quick response to the David truth, and an attitude of spirit that did not satisfy Mr. Sandford. That is here called "lawlessness," which to a Shilohite means lack of respect for the law of the hilltop, or Mr. Sandford's will.

Of Mr. Sutherland's death, Mr. Perry remarks: "I do not know how much I ought to say about his death. It is very sad. God has made it very plain to us that it is His judgment blow, therefore we cannot mourn for him without incurring His displeasure."

Further on he says: "In the brother's death we felt two things specially emphasized. First, that God will not put up with anything that is not absolutely loyal to His chosen king; and, second, anyone who did not handle their family, so completely stood in the way of the restoration that God will not put (up) with it. Brother Abraham feels sure that God told him before Brother Sutherland died that if the three ministers whose boys had run away did not handle their families, or leave the ministry, He would kill them. One has died already."

This suggests the fact that Mr. Sanford had a complaint against the ministers.

As further proof of this, read these further words by Mr. Perry in the same letter: "Just about the time Brother Sutherland died, Mr. Sandford had a wonderful time in the turret. Living waters broke out through the north corner of the room, as truly spiritually as they will sometime literally from beneath the throne of God, of the Lamb, and of the threshold of the temple, in David's time. This was very wonderful in his experience, and also in the experience of the school when he spoke of them later.

"While he was speaking of it, Sister Marea Tonneson had a most wonderful experience in the turret, in which the Lord made her know there was healing in the waters that had broken out the day before. When he returned to the turret, Mr. Sandford sent her down to tell the school about it. She did so, and then prayed for the ministers. She had the consciousness that Mr. Gleason and myself took in the living waters, but that the other ministers on the platform did not. Since then Mr. Sandford has spoken very sharply to the young ministers now in this house, (there are five of the ministers sick at Bethesda), and they have since been on their faces before God."

* * * * *

Mr. Gleason fasted five days last week, and came out with a more uncompromising spirit than ever before. His words since then have seemed more like a flash of lightning than ever. Following Mr. Sandford's sermon on absolute holiness, Mr. Gleason showed that the restoration would never take place until God could get a people who were really holy; and that since He was going to get such a people and that in our lifetime, God would think no more of killing anybody who stood in the way of the restoration than He would of killing a mosquito."

On Feb. 6, Miss Stevens, the stenographer writes: "As Mr. Sandford is busy tonight he asked me to take up the story of the last few weeks at Shiloh, where he left off two or three weeks ago (Jan. 19). He told you of the mumps and smallpox, of the magnificent victory over Olivet, of his seven days' fast for the people. * * * *

"The school spent days waiting on God, with much fasting, but God's wrath did not turn from us. Finally, on Jan. 29, God made Mr. Sandford know that the only way in which he could save himself from the wrath of God, and save the entire movement from going to pieces, was to cut himself free from all connection with us. MR. SANDFORD WISHES THIS TO BE KEPT STRICTLY PRIVATE."

These last words are written in capitals by Miss Stevens.

I quote them because I have resolved to do all I may to break up this deadly secrecy of Shiloh, by which Mr. Sanford keeps his followers such absolute slaves. All that I have done and may do, is in harmony with a letter which I wrote him before doing or saying anything, in which I told him I had left him with the resolution to do all that I legitimately could to break up this secrecy and put a stop to the sufferings of his followers. Among these are two of my own dear children, and I am helpless except as I may let in light that will make his reign the shorter. What I do is done in love to his followers, and to himself also.

He desired this secrecy, because he was about to apply to the whole school his plan of plunging people into hell.

No wonder he desired secrecy, even in foreign lands, about such an act of cruel fanaticism as this.

He did this very thing; and the school, some of them, did not emerge from this terrible nightmare for months, - they were kept in this torture. The stenographer proceeds to paint the picture: -

"God's wrath," she writes in the same letter, "was against every person on the hilltop, and especially against those in charge, Mr. Higgins and Mr. Sutherland. Mr. Sutherland He (God) had killed, and for a while Mr. Sandford had fairly held his breath, lest God would kill Mr. Higgins too. It seemed just as though God just held him out at arm's length - and was considering whether He would drop him or not. The wrath of God has been something awful against the hilltop of selling out the life work of Mr. Sandford in his absence. Mr. Sandford said that he saw the wrath of God falling in great sheets on the hilltop.

"Well, on that Thursday, Mr. Sanford dismissed all the school and all the ministers, and started in all over again." This was the time that he kicked all the ministers' chairs off the platform, in very dramatic fashion, saying: "Take these things hence." She later says of this casting off of the school "I think we know something of the feelings of Adam and Eve, as they turned away from the Garden after God had driven them out.

From this time it was one continual torture, of one class or another. It was under these conditions that "Little John" has his fast, of which the following letter tells. On Feb. 16, the very day on which John had to "get through before midnight" or all would be lost, Mr. Perry writes, giving the following glimpse of the condition of this hilltop: -

"The new Bible school has grown to ten members. Mr. Gleason and I have been dropped from the new school once, but thank God, have been reinstated. Mr. Sandford has determined to have only those who have come to the standard of exact righteousness, and we find it slow work in increasing the school ...........There are no ministers on this side the water except Mr. Sandford .............. Thursday he came down and preached ........He felt that the people were not taking in the truth. And after driving it home for some time left the platform, saying he would go to his room and see what God wanted him to do. He said he would not come back unless God made him come. The church got down before god and asked Him to help them take the truth into their hearts, and to send Mr. Sandford back."

This is a mild hint of the confusion on the hilltop at the time that "Little John" fasted. Mr. Sandford was very much dissatisfied with the people's attitude. All was confusion. Only ten satisfied him, and these only partially. This letter of Mr. Perry is written after midnight, after John "got through" at midnight, at the very time when the little fellow is tossing in fever, suffering with the thirst that leads him to call for water seventy-five times, and that leads his father to call in the doctor to see if he can survive the night, while he continues the torture for nine hours after the boy has accomplished that for which he began the fast, to become willing to take his whipping.

Of this strange fast, Mr. Perry writes that very night: "The most wonderful and far-reaching thing that has ever occurred in the history of the work has taken place the last three days here at Shiloh. I am in hopes Mr. Sandford himself will write you the particulars next week ........" He does not; but his stenographer does. Mr. Perry adds: "The latest development, I will add, is in regard to the way God is opening the life of little John and using him, as Christ used the little child when He set him in the midst of His disciples and said "Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter in.'"

Thus this veritable crime is made to appear like a sacrament to these deluded people; and thus is this little boy's sufferings used to further subdue them to the absolute will and sway of this strange man, who is not satisfied until one's every thought is completely "loyal" to him. Thoughts are as dangerous and as repugnant to him as acts, - and no follower of his can harbor even criticism in his secret thoughts and remain satisfactory to him. Indeed, so great is the terror inspired by him that hostile thoughts that would persist in obtruding would have to be confessed before the one having them could get any peace of mind. And yet in court attempt was made to prove that Mr. Sandford was not absolute master of Shiloh, but that people were free.

Following is the history of John Sandford's fast, written from the Shiloh standpoint, and as a panegyric upon Mr. Sandford by his stenographer: -


The Stenographer's Letter.

Shiloh. Maine,

Monday, Feb. 23, 1903.

To dear Ones in Foreign Lands:

It has been a strange, strange week. Mr. Sandford is very much pressed and burdened, and I do ask you all to stand by him in a special way as he obeys God's message, "Set the Hilltop in Majesty."

He feels that he stands alone, practically. He told the church the other day that aside from himself there was only one other man on God's universe that it was safe to follow, and that man was Mr. Holland. He believed he was standing true to him, and had so gotten behind him, as he was behind Jesus Christ that people on that side the water were safe if they only had wit enough to get behind him. In these awful days, when the pressure on Mr. Sandford is so awful, we do thank God for one man who is a "fellow" to him.

I will speak of what I hinted at last week first. A week ago last Friday night, little John came up to the turret to write a page in his little journal he is keeping this year. He commenced it on his birthday, and every night during that week he had been able to write in it that God had kept him holy during that day. It was Mr. Sandford's prayer that little John's seventh year should be a Sabbatic year, a year of absolute holiness unto the Lord; and for a week God kept him so that even his father with the seven eyes of God, had not detected a thing that was wrong in him. God had used him in a wonderful way in a lesson in the Bible School held in the turret, and he was certainly a fulfillment of the prophecy, "a little child shall lead them." Well, that night he came up bright and happy and dictated to his father what he wanted written in his journal.

Mr. Gleason, Dr. Miller, Mr. Sandford and myself were in the turret at the time. Mr. Sandford called John's attention to the fact that he had been holy for seven days; and the dear little fellow was so glad, and said after he finished dictating that he wanted to have a dance before the Lord to celebrate his triumph; so we all danced before the Lord and little John played on his tambourine. Then he had a desire to go through the house and have the rest of the people dance with him. His father gave his permission, and he went down - a holy boy. Two hours later his father went down to the meeting, and passing Ebenezer found John holding a meeting with some of the people who live in Shiloh Proper. (1)

The moment Mr. Sandford opened the door he felt something was wrong; and he next morning, on investigation, found that John had been polluted by his contact with the people in the house, some of them being turret workers, and others ministers, some of the most spiritual people in Shiloh; and yet their influence on that little boy had so dragged him down that his father could not bear to have him in the room with him. It seemed to him like a beautiful white garment that had been dropped down into the dirty water, and on being taken up was covered with filth. John had disregarded his father, set his mother completely aside when she made a suggestion to him and been impertinent to her. Mr. Sandford felt that it was carnality and sin in the people he associated with, and he was bearing their iniquity for them.

God told him to whip John, and the battle was for him of his own accord to go up to the turret and be willing for his father to whip him all that God wanted him whipped. It was an awful battle to him.

For three days that little child fasted and prayed to get to the place where he really loved the will of God.

The people who were in the meeting with him were together a great deal of the time, trying to get through to God themselves.

John went up to the turret two or three times; but his father felt he had not gotten absolute victory, and so sent him back to his room. He fasted of his own accord.

Monday night (February 16) Mr. Sandford felt it must be settled that night before midnight (2), and that it meant victory for the child or ruin. The church was called together, and the people who were with him in the meeting that night were in Ebenezer praying.

About nine o'clock Mr. Sandford went to John's room and talked with him for the last time. He said afterwards that if the child went to hell he could not have said another word to him, because he seemed to be under the spell of the devil and had no power to do what his heart really wanted to. Mr. Jewell staid with him and an awful battle went on in the chapel.

We all felt and knew that if little John did not get through by midnight, we would none of us get through. The salvation of the movement, and through the movement, of the world, hung on the Blood making that little child perfect to go to the turret and take his whipping gladly and willingly.

Mr. Sandford did not make it easy for him. He had shown him the rod he would use. He told him it made no difference whether God wanted him whipped once or twice or all day, he must be willing to have it done.

It was something awful, the oppression in the chapel; but at last, about half past eleven, little John got his victory and went to the turret (4).

His father questioned him as to whether he really loved God's will, whether he really wanted to be whipped then, etc., and the little fellow was firm in his answers that he did. Then his father asked him if he did not think it would be well for him to have his whipping in the room where he had sinned. He said he thought it would.

So his father took him down to that room where all the company who had been partners with him were assembled. Mr. Sandford told him that God had told him to give him three whippings - one for the Father, one for the Son, and one for the Holy Ghost. He explained to him how the Father had suffered in seeing Jesus die; how Jesus had suffered in dying; and how the Holy Ghost had suffered. He told him that if he whipped him on his hands, Jesus had the spikes driven through his hands; if he whipped him on his feet, Jesus' feet were hurt; and if he whipped him on his back, Jesus' back was scourged for him.

The little fellow took it all in, and was willing take the three whippings - was perfectly firm in all his answers, and had no desire to back out of it. Then his father told him that because Jesus had been whipped, and Jesus had suffered and died for him, he would not have to be whipped at all.

Oh, how Calvary rolled out before that dear little boy! And before that guilty company! And before the entire church at Shiloh when we were told of it!

[Day?] Mr. Sandford came down and told us all about it, and also told us that after they got through praying John asked for a drink. He had suffered intensely from thirst. His father told him that Jesus was three days in the grave, and that his three days would not be up till nine o'clock next morning; and while he could have the water that night if he wanted it, yet he felt that it would be better for him to go clear through (5). The little fellow said that he wanted to do that, so he was put to bed.

Mr. Sandford had everybody fast next morning, and we came together at eight o'clock. Mr. Sandford told us of the intense suffering of the child during the night, so intense that he called Dr. Miller to see if he would get through the night in safety. He only slept an hour or so during the night, and he asked his father seventy-five times for water, but every time, when his father would question him as to whether he really wanted it, he would say no, he would go clear through.

And he did; and all Shiloh knows that we owe our soul's salvation to that little child's sufferings.

Mr. Sandford had some of the spring water brought from the farmhouse in his new pail, that has the words on it: "Cold Water for a Thirsty Soul," and at nine o'clock little John had a drink of water, out of a glass which is very sacred to us all. It was in his room when he was fasting, and had water in it, and he told his father that he wanted to drink out of that because "it was where I was tempted, Papa, and did not fail God." Then Mr. Sandford had some gruel brought little John, and he ate before the Lord down in the chapel.

There was one very sweet thing about it. After he had his drink, he said that any one who was thirsty for the water of life might come and drink out of his glass. Everybody in the room went up and drank. John said that every one that drank that water would drink power to live a holy life.

Then he said that if we wanted him to have some, we could say as we finished drinking, "Ho, the water of life!" That was quite a test for some people (6). It seemed so foolish for them to say that! And it was quite interesting to watch different people, in the way they said those words. Some did not say them at all; others so low that no one could hear them; others just whispered them or little more; and some spoke them out as though they really wanted little John to get something.

The next day Mr. Sanford spoke of the test the Lord had put to us to see if we really would be little children in saying these words.

During the night, as little John was suffering so, he said to his father, "Papa this is not natural thirst," - and his father knew he was suffering the thirst that little children all over the world, in all lands, are suffering for the water of life. He was in the turret with his father and Mr. Tupper, and Mr. Jewell prayed for souls, for the souls of little children; and when he got through little John went to sleep and had a nap of nearly an hour. Mr. Sanford feels there is a strong connection between those three days' fast, and the sufferings and salvation of Israel and the heathen (7).




Foot Notes:

(1). John went down filled with an arrogant spirit, and ordered the people in the rooms around so saucily that Miss Olive Mills refused to obey him when he told her to come to the meeting. All the rest obeyed most humbly, not daring to do otherwise. And yet they were accused of polluting the child. The county attorney at the trial pointed out that his own father had spoiled him in the turret.

(2). This is Mr. Sandford's habit, when he has any one under discipline and he is not "getting through." He gives an ultimatum, and then sees that his discipline does not miscarry, by helping him out if he can without showing the trick.

(3). This was a brass curtain rod; and he brought it to the chapel and exhibited it, as a proof of his uncompromising spirit toward the boy, and toward them also.

(4). Georgia Sheller, daughter of Mrs. Sheller of Tacoma, saw him going through the hall to the turret at this time, and he was crying as he went. There was probably no more victory then than before; but he had been given an ultimatum.

(5). Up to this time the only hint of the reason for the fast is that he may get willing to take his whipping; and that is now past. How he connects the fast now with the three days of the Savior in the tomb, one can only guess. It is a good illustration of the fanatical spirit of the man; he follows the wildest whims.

(6). The reading of this scene, in our home in Jerusalem, with what had come in previous letters, quite made me see that some spirit other than the Holy Spirit, was running Shiloh. It was the real beginning of my "unbelief," and so of my escape.

(7). Thus, in Mr. Sandford's interpretation of this fast, the salvation of Shiloh and the movement depended upon it, and through the movement of the world; also the salvation of little children; and now, of Israel and the heathen. How can such things as this be explained?


N.H. Harriman

Roxbury, Mass.

November 16, 1904


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