John Wroe                                                                      By Lynne Gray

The Christian Israelite Church commenced in December 1822[1] at Wakefield in Yorkshire, England and was started by a man called John Wroe.  John Wroe was born in Bowling, a parish of Bradford on 19th September, 1782 and registered and baptized 8th December, 1782 at the local Bradford Church.[2]  John Wroe was the son of a worsted[3] manufacturer and was raised to follow his father in his trade.  He was put to school, but from want of capacity or of application he made such poor progress that when he left it he read very imperfectly, and he never acquired a facility of reading.[4]  After a rather scanty education he entered his father’s business for a time, but later took a farm on his own account.  Eventually he married (Mary Appleby, daughter of Benjamin Appleby) and raised a family - at least 6 children, some of whom died in infancy.  His family would follow him in their membership of the Church, his daughters married members, and his descendants would remain in the Church in England until the 1930’s. 

In 1819, some time after his marriage, John was afflicted with a very acute fever and his life was considered to be in serious danger by two doctors who attended him.  Considering his recovery was improbable he became seriously concerned about his spiritual welfare and expressed a wish for a minister to come and pray with him.  Although his wife sent for four Methodist ministers in turn, each refused his request.  His wife then asked if she should send for the minister of the established church at Bradford.  As it was getting late, though, John requested her to read a few chapters of the Bible to him.  However, he received little comfort at that time.  After a while he gradually recovered his bodily health, but his distress of mind continued and it is on record that he ‘wrestled with God’ day and night for some months.

A little later he commenced to experience what might be termed trances or visions, which were usually preceded by his being struck blind and dumb.  After one of these visions he remained blind for six days.  During these periods, many remarkable events were foreshadowed and revealed to him.

The church officially started with a gathering that went for 36 hours commencing at midnight on the evening of the 13th December 1822.  John Wroe left the Meeting at 1.00 am to commence his public Mission, which lasted for 40 years (until February 1863) when he was 81 years of age.  Members still keep an hour at this time every year in commemoration of the Church’s beginnings, and looking for the Latter Rain of God’s Spirit to commence the promised Ingathering of Israel.

John Wroe was then directed by the Spirit to relinquish his worldly employment and he became wholly engaged in the ‘work of the ministry’.  He extended his travels and took with him a few of his followers to act as writers and generally assist him.  John did not handle money himself nor did he write his own Journal, but always had a Writer accompany him to write records of his activities, and to pay expenses.

It is not to be wondered at, however, that in certain quarters John was subjected to persecution and derision as has been the experience of most men or women down the ages who claimed to have received spiritual communications, or who expounded doctrines which were not entirely in harmony with the accepted opinions of the time.  Even our Lord was no exception to this, for amongst other things it was said of Him “He hath a devil, and is mad; why hear ye him?” John 10:20.

John Wroe was a man of his convictions.  He practiced what he preached.  With the reintroduction of the rite of circumcision amongst members, John Wroe underwent public circumcision in April 1824 (he would have been about 40 years of age) in support of this belief.  No man would undergo this operation, especially in public, light-heartedly.

The Christian Israelite Church has always had two levels of membership known as Covenanted Members and Uncovenanted Members.  Covenanted members are those who Covenant to aspire to keep the instructions as laid out in the Mosaic Law and follow the example of the life led by Jesus Christ.  Uncovenanted members sign to a belief that the 4 books of Moses (Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) and the 4 Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) were given by divine inspiration, and that they have a desire to aspire to the example of the life led by Jesus, but do not make an outward covenant to this aspiration.

Large numbers of Southcottians, especially in the Ashton-under-Lyne area of Lancashire were attracted to the visitation of John Wroe, and the Christian Israelites grew quickly and of quite considerable numbers between 1822 and 1830.  With the advancement of any community, especially where there is money involved, came opportunistic people with a wish to make profits, usually for their own pockets.  A form of co-operative known as the “Shop Company” was formed with wealthy Christian Israelites and non-Christian Israelites financing the enterprise to sell goods and services from the Shop Company to Church members.  Through the running of this “Shop Company”, Samuel Walker and William Masterman who were treasurers of the Society of Christian Israelites also became treasurers of the “Shop Company”.  A disagreement arose surrounding some credit that had been given to John Wroe, when it should not have been given.  In an effort to further slander John Wroe’s name, a young girl was procured to testify against him (a young lass whose father was not a Christian Israelite) and filed false testimony of rape against him.  These allegations were found to be false.  Masterman and Walker then attempted to discredit him further by alluding to the ‘fictional seven virgins’ which have now gained notoriety thanks to a modern day author, Jane Rogers.  But, again, in a trial amongst his peers, allegations were again proved false.  Unfortunately the Ashton-under-Lyne community of Christian Israelites suffered and many of the members left.  These members, as you will read later, formed the basis for the New & Latter House of Israel group, and some, for a time, followed John aka Zion Ward.

Competition amongst the prophets in the early 19th century was fierce, and matters amongst the Christian Israelites were not helped by John aka Zion Ward being accepted by some of their members.  Such was the case in 1830 when Samuel Walker and William Masterman (mentioned earlier) led the wave to gain the down fall of John Wroe.  These two Christian Israelites had become influenced and converted to the ways of John aka Zion Ward (he had risen in prominence from 1815 to c1835 and gained the support of many of the Southcottians that had not supported John Wroe  - but as with some of his predecessors, he was threatened with being declared insane).  Zion Ward’s error appears to be that he thought he was Shiloh and his ego suffered accordingly.

Once the controversy died down over the Ashton affair, John Wroe resettled at Wakefield in Yorkshire and proceeded to lead a healthy church till his death on 4th February, 1863 whilst on a trip to Melbourne, Australia. 

John journeyed over many parts of Europe and the most remarkable of these travels in the first ten years were those to Gibraltar, Spain, France, Germany, Italy, Scotland Ireland, and Wales.  In addition to his many later travels throughout Europe and the British Isles, the ‘Messenger’ made several voyages to America, Australia and New Zealand.

Some of his early travels to these countries were made in sailing ships in rough weather and are recorded as being fraught with many dangers and hardships which he endured for the faith he held. 

In many of his travels, his message was well received and bodies of members were established from time to time.  Many bodies of members were established in the British Isles by John Wroe and his Traveling Preachers, including such towns as Gravesend, London, Lincoln, Sheffield, Bradford and Huddersfield, with several in Ireland and Scotland.

Ashton-Under-Lyne in Lancashire had, of course, long been associated with this movement dating from about 1824 when John Wroe first visited the town.  Later he preached to large congregations there, sometimes in the open.  Several bodies were formed in and around this district.

Members of the Christian Israelite Church built John Wroe a mansion named Melbourne House, at Wrenthorpe near Wakefield in Yorkshire.  The building has just been completely restored and added to, to accommodate ‘Torch Telecom’, a telecommunications business.

Originally at Gravesend, the headquarters of the Church were later transferred to Ashton where the Church printing press had long been established.

During his last visit to Australia in 1863, John Wroe died at the age of 81 in Melbourne, leaving the Church to continue to operate in the hands of Trustees.  During his lifetime he frequently impressed upon his hearers not to follow John Wroe as anything more than a man, for he was but human, but to follow the Spirit, of which he was merely a mouthpiece.  He said time and time again that if what he said did not align with the Bible that people should not accept it.[5]

[1]  J. Wroe, The Life and Journal of John Wroe with Divine Communications Revealed to Him, Volume 1, 1859.

[2] Copy of Church Register for Bradford Church entries for 1782.

[3]  Closely twisted yarn or thread.

[4] S. Baring Gould, Yorkshire Oddities, Incidents and Strange Events.  Prophet Wroe, SMITHSETTLE, 1984,  page 19.

[5]  Summarised from the first 40 pages of The Life and Journal of John Wroe, Volume 1, 1862.


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