But outside observers generally dismiss this sort of rhetoric and instead reckon the Witnesses as dating back only to Charles Taze Russell, who was born on Originally raised a Presbyterian, Russell was 16 years old and a member of the Congregational church in the year 1868, when he found himself losing faith.
He had begun to doubt not only church creeds and doctrines, but also God and the Bible itself.
In one situation where an elder started to lose his faith and challenge the group, he said they allegedly denounced him and spread gossip about him, pressuring him "so much he jumped into a river and killed himself".
A former Jehovah's Witness has offered a rare insight into the religious group, describing it as a cult that "tries to control emotions, thought, information and behavior of a person".
The man, who did not want to be formally identified, shared his experience of growing up as a Jehovah's Witness in Poland in an Ask Me Anything post on Reddit.
He met locally on a regular basis with a small circle of friends to discuss the Bible, and this informal study group came to regard him as their leader or pastor. One of the distinguishing features of Barbour's group at that time was their belief that Christ returned invisibly in 1874, and this concept presented in The Herald captured Russell's attention.
It meant that this Adventist splinter group had not remained defeated, as others had, when Christ failed to appear in 1874 as Adventist leaders had predicted; somehow this small group had managed to hold onto the date by affirming that the Lord had indeed returned at the appointed time, only invisibly.
Jehovah's Witnesses, likewise, trace their roots back to the Adventists.