Jezreel, James Jershom (DNB00)

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JEZREEL, JAMES JERSHOM (1840–1885), the assumed name of James White, founder of the Jezreelites, was a private in the 16th regiment at Chatham, who on 15 Oct. 1875 became a member of a sect called ‘The New House of Israel’ (or the Joannas, i.e. followers of Joanna Southcott), of which Mr. and Mrs. Head were the founders. On 26 Dec. in the same year he was dismissed from the society, when Mrs. Head's sister and sixteen members joined him and founded ‘The New and Latter House of Israel.’ In February 1876 he went to India with his regiment, but was in a short time bought out of the army and returned to England under the name of James Jershom Jezreel, an appellation probably derived from the prophet Hosea, but his initials J. J. J. were supposed to represent Joanna Southcott, John Wroe, and James White. ‘The New House’ was in fact a development of the Christian Israelite Church, founded in 1822 by John Wroe, ‘the apostolic successor to the Blessed Joanna.’ Jezreel gave himself out to be the messenger of God, and claimed to have received direct revelations, contained in ‘The Flying Scroll,’ which he wrote at the inspiration of the Immortal Spirit. His followers believed themselves to constitute the first portion of the 144,000 twice told who will receive Christ when he comes to reign on the earth for one thousand years. In 1879 he married Clarissa, daughter of Edward Rogers, sawyer, of 11 Copenhagen Road, New Brompton, Kent, who at the age of eighteen had already made a preaching tour in America, and now assumed the name of Esther, queen of Israel. With her, in the following year, Jezreel visited America and other countries, making numerous converts. Returning, he settled down at the Woodlands, Gillingham, two miles from Chatham, which became the headquarters of the sect. The members gave all their property on entering the sect to a common fund, and large sums of money were contributed from all parts of the world. Upon a plot of ground twenty acres in extent buildings were erected at a cost of 100,000l. A college for boys and girls and houses and shops were built, for the community was not only religious, but also traded on a large scale. A temple on Chatham Hill, New Brompton, was commenced. It was planned to be 120 feet high and 120 feet square, and to hold twenty thousand people. Many persons came from a distance and settled at Gillingham to be among the elect, and, following the fashion of the sect, allowed their hair to grow long, tucked it up at the back, and wore purple velvet caps. Jezreel published ‘Extracts from the Flying Roll, being a series of Sermons compiled for the Gentile Churches of all Sects and Denominations, and addressed to the Lost Tribes of the House of Israel by James J. Jezreel,’ vol. i. in three parts, issued respectively in January 1879, September 1879, January 1881. The ‘Extracts,’ full of confused scripture phraseology, brought fresh subscriptions from America and other countries. Between 1883 and 1885 the sect reached its zenith of prosperity. Jezreel died at the Woodlands, Gillingham, on 1 March 1885, and was buried in Gillingham cemetery on 5 March, aged 45. His widow succeeded to the leadership of the sect, but in 1887 a division under the leadership of Noah Drew, a farmer from America, who ultimately died in great poverty, took place, and many of the members were excommunicated by Queen Esther. She called herself the servant of the house of Israel, but nevertheless rode on horseback or drove in a handsome carriage attended by servants in livery. From her printing-press in 1887 she commenced issuing a monthly publication called ‘The Messenger of Wisdom and Israel's Guide.’ She died at the Woodlands on 30 June 1888, aged 28, and was buried in Gillingham cemetery on 3 July. After her death the succession to the leadership was disputed, and ultimately the chief power fell into the hands of Edward Rogers, but the members of the community began to decrease, and the work of building the temple was suspended.

[Hazell's Annual Cyclopædia, 1887, p. 356; Notes and Queries, 29 Jan. 1887, p. 98; Pall Mall Gazette, 6 March 1885 p. 12, 2 July 1888 p. 10; Chatham and Rochester Observer, 17 Jan. 1885 p. 2, 24 Jan. 1885 p. 8, 7 July 1888 pp. 4–6, 14 July p. 6, 21 July p. 6, 22 March 1890 p. 5.]

G. C. B.