Boers and the King’s appendectomy: Daniel Milton’s last hurrahs

A final piece on Daniel Milton, from an article in the Yorkshire Evening Post less than 18 months before his death. Here ‘Judge’ Milton brings his prophecy into the 20th century. The illness alluded to is Edward VII’s appendicitis which postponed his coronation.

Yorkshire Evening Post
Friday 4 July 1902

PROPHET WROE’S SUCCESSOR
AN OCTOGENARIAN SEER NEAR WAKEFIELD

In a cottage at Wrenthorpe, near Wakefield, lives a stately old man, just over eighty years of age, with spare locks and white beard. The name of Daniel Milton has been familiar to everyone within a radius of some miles for a score of years. Despite the decision of the law courts and the arguments of those who wish him well, he continues to maintain with stubbornness that is the head of the Church of Christian Israelites, and that Melbourne House, a fine Doric stone mansion, built at Wrenthorpe in 1856 by the notorious “Prophet” Wroe, should be given into his charge.

He has had several unsuccessful disputes with the present rightful owners the building, but still old man lives on in the belief that he holds some Divine mission on earth, and that Melbourne House is his lawful earthly habitation.

He is a pathetic figure, and his stone-floored living room is strangely furnished and stocked. There are no blinds or curtains to the window – only newspaper pinned across to keep out the draught and to obstruct the view of the many curious people who from time to time assemble in the vicinity…

Daniel Milton was [once] an official this so-called church in New York, where he annexed the title of Judge. On coming over to Wakefield he had differences with the man Wroe, but notwithstanding that, he is fully convinced that the prophet’s robe fell upon him.

He does a little prophetic line himself, and he claims to have predicted the Boer war. “The first shot was fired,” said he in an interview the other day, “on the day I was 78 years of age, and it lasted 2 years, 8 months, and 23 days. Just after the war broke out I announced that it was the Devil’s own war, and that it would be the last the Boers would fight.”

“I said to a friend a few weeks ago,” he went on, “that something serious would happen before the Coronation. My prophecy has been fulfilled. It is intended as a rebuke of the people who were preparing to worship King Edward a Divine being.”

“Come, Mr Milton,” asked the visitor, “what do you say about the King’s illness before the result is definitely known?”

“I have not had a Divine revelation on that matter,” replied the cautious seer.

The Brooklyn bill sticker

The words ‘Stick no bills on these premises’ are carved in stone on the boundary wall of Melbourne House, near the lodge at the corner of Bradford Road/Brandy Carr Road. The inscription dates from the early 1860s when ‘Judge’ Daniel Milton was daubing the walls with posters, attempting to assert his claim to the Mansion.

Leeds Mercury
Tuesday 15 December 1863

THE “PROMISED SHILOH” IN THE WAKEFIELD COURT HOUSE

Yesterday, at the Wakefield Court House, before Colonel Smyth, MP, Mr H W Stansfeld, and Mr G H Westerman, an American named Daniel Milton, who is connected with the Southcottian sect and who appears to call himself “the Promised Shiloh”, was charged with, on the 7th December, wilfully and maliciously committing damage, injury, and spoil to and upon the property of the executors of John Wroe, deceased. Mr Barratt appeared in support of the complaint. It appeared that notwithstanding a notice to the contrary which is cut in stone on the boundary walls of Melbourne House, the residence of the late John Wroe, at Wrenthorpe, near Wakefield, the defendant, on the day in question, posted certain bills on the property. It may perhaps be remembered that about two years ago the defendant was in this neighbourhood, and that then he made some kind of claim with regard to Melbourne House.

The defendant did not deny that he had posted bills, but said that when he was in the court before, he told the bench that the property in question was joint-stock; and for proof he produced the records of the church, which, however, were not received. It had cost him expense in going across the Atlantic, and two years of privation, and having now sufficient proof he had posted the following circular:-

“Important notice! – Christian Israelite Church, Wakefield, 7th of 12th month, 1863. – All believers In the Divine visitation of Joanna Southcott, and the visitations of George Turner, William Show, John Wroe, and the ‘coming of Shiloh’, throughout the island of Great Britain and the British provinces, who have subscribed towards the building of ‘Israel’s Mansion’, in Wrenthorpe, and who have not signed over the said subscription to either John Wroe, John Laden Bishop, or Benjamin Eddowes, are requested to send their names and addresses, with the amount of their subscriptions, with immediate dispatch to Wakefield, in Yorkshire, England. Direct to ‘Premised Shiloh’, or ‘Perfect Gospel Advocate’. By order of the President of Church. J.A.J.”

If he were called on for his defence, it was “the munition of rocks”, “the law of Moses”, and he wanted his accusers to be brought, that he might question them as to their right to distress him further.

Colonel Smyth said that the defendant had committed an offence against the statute law of this country, and they had nothing to do with the law of Moses. The defendant: “I am president of the Christian Israelite Church.” The Bench inflicted a fine of 10s., with 21s. expenses additional, or, in default, fourteen days’ imprisonment. Defendant: “I have been used to be[ing] in prison for defending my rights; I can go again.”

Jailed for dodging US Civil War draft

A great article from the Leeds Times: information on ‘Prophet’ John Wroe’s demise, the aftermath at Melbourne House and, most intriguingly of all, the latest troubles facing ‘Judge’ Daniel Milton.

As we’ve already heard, Brooklyn’s Daniel Milton spent much of the last 40 years of his life protesting against the Wroes, keeping the local police and courts busy, and even served time in Wakefield Prison. But on a trip home in the autumn of 1864, when he turns out to vote in the US general election, he lands up in jail for spending too much time in Wrenthorpe instead of enlisting to fight for the Union.

Leeds Times
Saturday 17 December 1864

THE “SAINTS’ ” DISPUTED INHERITANCE AT WRENTHORPE

John Wroe, the ignorant old man who falsely and wickedly designated himself a Prophet, died in Australia, in Feb, 1863, after falsifying his own prediction in this respect, for he had declared that he should return to England in the flesh, remain here for four years, and be then put to a violent death, only to re-appear at the Temple in West Ardsley for his permanent heavenly residence upon earth. We really thought that the imposture he propagated had long since exploded, and can only express our regret that such is not the case.

Our readers will remember that in March, 1864, we duly detailed the steps which had been taken by Daniel Milton – who calls himself “the Promised Shiloh” and “the Head of the Church” – to recover possession of the Saints’ Inheritance at Wrenthorpe, on the ground that it had been built with the money of the disciples, and was intended to be their home when the earthly Millennium comes to pass, and how Daniel soon found himself in the Lion’s Den – otherwise the Wakefield House of Correction – for obstructing the executors of John Wroe’s will in the execution of their duty. Since that period, the farms, farming stock, houses, and the elegant articles of furniture appertaining unto Melbourne Temple, have been disposed of by public auction, for the benefit of the kith and kin of the deceased “prophet”: and within the “hallowed walls” of the structure there is now nothing to testify to its departed glories except two faithful female adherents of Wroe’s, who wander about the tenement sorely distressed in mind owing to the trouble that has fallen upon Israel, but who still firmly believe that John will re-appear on February 4th, 1865. Whether his resuscitation is to be merely spiritual or of the flesh, fleshly, is not clear even to the mental vision of these sorely afflicted females. But they bide their time, holding loyally to their creed, and will be prepared to welcome Wroe even if he comes under the questionable shape of a spiritual medium, rather than in propria persona, and on board one of the excellent mail steamers via Point de Galle, Aden, and Southampton.

In the meantime the man who was the thorn in the side of the prophet and his adherents has got into trouble at New York. Daniel Milton, “the promised Shiloh”, unluckily took it into his head to go and visit his mother, east of the empire city, just at the time when the draft for the army was being conducted therein. For the moment he was not missed, inasmuch as he has latterly spent much of his time in England, and on the Atlantic; but he was discovered and “brought to book” when he turned up in his ward on the 8th November to vote for old Abe Lincoln. For this offence of evading the draft he was sent to the Bastile, Greenpoint, New York, where he remained at the date of the latest advices. But he requests us to state that he intends to lecture in the neighbourhood of “Israel’s mansion”, at Wrenthorpe, on Whit Sunday next [4 June 1865], on “the Law of Moses, English Law, and Lawyers”. We freely give Mr Milton the benefit of our columns for this announcement, and do not anticipate that he is likely to be disturbed by the reappearance of the “old familiar form of the man whose rest he had so much disquieted” – we mean the deceased “prophet”, John Wroe.

The gunpowder clot

As we’ve already heard, Brooklyn’s Daniel Milton spent much of the last 40 years of his life protesting against the Wroe family, causing chaos for the Wakefield authorities to sort out. On 9 August 1861, he attempted to blow up one of the lodges at Melbourne House.

Leeds Mercury
Thursday 15 August 1861

WILFUL DAMAGE AT WRENTHORPE

On Friday night last, a mischievous attempt to blow up an empty lodge with gunpowder, took place at Wrenthorpe. The mansion of Mr John Wroe, commonly called “Prophet Wroe”, is in that township, and is a large building in the Grecian style, and at the four angles of the grounds are lodges, and one of these at the back is uninhabited. It seems that on the night in question some knave broke the window of the lodge, and then introduced a bag containing a quantity of gunpowder which was attached to a long string that had been saturated in a solution of saltpetre, and an explosion took place. The roof of the lodge was injured, and so were the walls, but the damage done is not material, only amounting to about £3.

The death of ‘Judge’ Daniel Milton

The antics of self-styled ‘Judge’ Daniel Milton  a notorious late 19th century celebrity  kept journalists busy for over 40 years. The native of Brooklyn, New York spent much of this time in Wrenthorpe, confronting the Wroes over the ownership of Melbourne House, clashing with police and magistrates, and preaching to anyone who’d listen.

When Milton died, following a fall down the stairs at his Bragg Lane End home, papers across the British Isles covered the story in detail. Here’s the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer’s lengthy account.

Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer
Tuesday 16 September 1903

“PROPHET” WROE’S SUCCESSOR
DEATH OF THE WRENTHORPE CLAIMANT

No history of strange religions would be complete without a chapter on Daniel Milton “Sixth Observer of the Church of the Christian Israelites” whose death has occurred at the village of Wrenthorpe, near Wakefield.

A pathetic figure, with spare locks and white beard, Daniel Milton looked like a patriarch, and professed to believe himself divinely commissioned to be the spiritual advisor of the sect of Christian Israelites, and the guardian of their worldly property. The sect was originally founded by one Richard Brothers who sacrificed the honourable post of a lieutenant in the Navy to his religious scruples. He was succeeded by Joanna Southcott, whom Macaulay described as “an old woman with the cunning of a fortune-teller and the education of a scullion.” On her death the organisation of her followers was undertaken by three alleged “prophets” – George Turner, William Shaw and John Wroe, the last named whom had a handsome Doric building, known as Melbourne House erected for him at Wrenthorpe. It was understood that the building was to be the worldly habitation of the “Shiloh” or Second Christ, whose coming had been predicted by Joanna.

In 1857 Daniel Milton, at one time a New England shipwright and later made a “Judge” by the Christian Israelites of New York, made the startling announcement that he was the long-expected Shiloh. His wife and three daughters left him, but this in no way lessoned his enthusiasm. In February 1860, without a farthing in his purse, Daniel Milton arrived at the door of “Israel’s Temple” otherwise Melbourne House, Wrenthorpe, and informed John Wroe that he was Shiloh and had come to enter upon his inheritance.

“Take him away, take him away!” exclaimed the octogenarian John Wroe, “my bowels yearn within me.” After a prolonged duel with John Wroe, with the policeman in the background, Milton returned to America, temporarily baffled. He came again, however, the following year and made repeated attempts to take procession of the mansion, endeavouring meantime to awaken public sympathy with his cause by addressing a series of open-air meetings. But his attempts proved futile and again he returned to America.

In 1863 Wroe died and the next year Milton once again appeared at Wrenthorpe and this time got possession of Melbourne House holding “Israel’s Temple” against a siege for nearly a month. Indeed he was only ejected ultimately by the treachery of his garrison. Repeated prosecutions served but to increase Milton’s efforts. Probably no civilian in the country wrote more letters to the Home Office than “Judge” Milton and his numerous practical attempts to obtain possession of the mansion resulted in his imprisonment on no fewer than a dozen occasions.

The respect of the villagers for the deluded “Judge”, “Prophet” and “Shiloh” was as great as their pity. It would well-nigh be impossible for any man to have made more sacrifices for his belief. His wife, his family, his comfortable home in the States, he exchanged for solitude and semi-destitution. He dwelt alone in a two-roomed cottage, which was strangely furnished and stocked. There were no blinds or curtains to the windows of the stone-floored living room – only a newspaper pinned across to keep out the draught and to obstruct the views of the many folks who, out of curiosity, assembled in the vicinity. On one side of the apartment stood an ancient Caxton-like hand printing press with cases of type close by. On the trestle table and strewn about the floor were piles of home-printed pamphlets containing reports of legal proceedings in which “Shiloh” was involved, and also thousands of handbills reproducing spiritual quotations, a selection of which “Judge” Milton was wont to issue monthly. Over the mantelpiece in large type were printed the mystic words:-

Jesus and Joanna
My two witnesses
Shiloh

The public demand for his works was very limited and he eked out an existence by making useful articles at his carpenter’s bench and by occasionally undertaking a little white-washing and painting. For over 60 years he was a teetotaller and a non-smoker, and it was his boast that he could live comfortably on 4s. a week.

One of his many declared beliefs was that he would never die. When the villagers argued the point with him he would ramble off into a maze of Biblical references laying special stress on the statement that there was “a certain house which was built upon a rock.” If it were suggested that his explanation was not quite clear, that “Judge’s” invariable retort was that earthly-minded beings could not appreciate such matters.

Time has replied to Daniel Milton. On Wednesday afternoon a neighbour, not having seen the “Judge” for a day or two looked through a crevice in the paper window covering and saw the old man – he was 82 years of age – lying at the bottom of the stairs. The neighbour forced open the door and found the “Judge” in a semi-unconscious condition with a wound on the head, evidently the result of a fall. His earthly mission was soon over and the villagers are touched with sadness that so sturdy and kindly a creature should have lived and died in so pitiable a cause.

A Wakefield correspondent writing last night gives some interesting facts in Daniel Milton’s history:-

Daniel Milton (he says) was a prosperous young ship’s carpenter in New York, when Prophet Wroe was on his travels and visited that city. He was much impressed with Wroe and becoming a great man in the sect firmly believed that he was to be Wroe’s successor. There was one incident at least which gave him some ground for this belief. On being shown a house which Daniel was building in New York, Wroe said (putting his hand on Daniel’s shoulder) “It’s a fine house, Daniel, but I’m building thee a finer house in England.” Daniel was quite convinced that he was to have the house known as Prophet Wroe’s Mansion or Melbourne House. But Wroe never intended this, and when the mansion was completed and invitations were issued to all the followers to visit it, Daniel was overlooked. The reason of this is difficult to understand, unless the Prophet thought he would be trouble with him in the future. Daniel was much agitated and distressed with the slight, and came over to England. He preached to 30,000 near the Mansion. The police interfered and he then took a field for the purpose, but he was compelled to stop again.

Since that time he has crossed the Atlantic no fewer than 22 times and been in danger of shipwreck once or twice. On one occasion it is said that the vessel was considered lost, but Daniel was a giant to work and through his exertion the ship was saved. Each time that Daniel went to America he returned strong in the faith that he would possess the Mansion and control of the affairs of the sect and he was delighted when on two occasions he got possession of the keys to the lodges. The last occasion was no farther back than Monday last.

The gates of the Mansion grounds have for years been kept locked, for Daniel would have been inside had he got half a chance. He has been seen to carry a step-ladder from his house to the Mansion walls in order to look over there at his “Mecca”.

It is only fair to say that he has been a source of great annoyance to the present owners of the property and the greatest fault the man had (in this writer’s opinion) was his devilish delight in any misfortune suffered by the Wroes. He kept a list of all deaths that had occurred on the property since his exclusion from the Church.

The deathbed scene was a singular one. A makeshift bed had been made for him on the floor of his living and workroom, which was devoid of furniture, except for a stool or two. An antiquated printing press stood nearly in the centre of the room whilst on two sides were boxes of type, on another side a case containing pamphlets setting forth his grievances and in the midst lay the patriarchal form of the old man, dying in spite of his own undoubted belief he would never die.

Milton’s relations in America are well to do, a nephew of his being a judge. He was fond of relating how, on the occasion of his nephew being raised to the bench, he (Daniel) said: “You are a judge of the temporal courts, but I am a judge of the eternal courts” for Daniel had been styled Judge amongst this peculiar sect.

More articles on Daniel Milton’s many scrapes in future blogs.