Saturday, August 1st, 2015...9:00 am

Tracts of Zion

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Zion 3Cataloging was recently completed on a collection of tracts and other publications by John Ward (1781-1837), the Irish mystic who later rechristened himself Zion, and whose career as a prophet was distinguished by an idiosyncratic reading of scripture. Ward’s early life was spent as a shipwright and shoemaker, attended by relative disinterest in religion; he experienced a conversion, however, upon his discovery of the works of the recently-deceased prophet Joanna Southcott, which he began to preach.

As his confidence in the power of prophecy developed, Ward began to see visions of Southcott come to speak to him directly. Ward had a wife and two young children, and his transition from shoemaker to visionary prophet had, not unexpectedly, a disruptive effect on his domestic life. His wife’s ultimate recourse was to bring him before the magistrates on a charge of madness; Ward was remanded to Newington Workhouse for six months (Lockey 129). Rather than cured of his spiritual fervor, Ward only emerged further committed to Southcott’s legacy. Southcott had considered herself to be the woman described in Revelation 12:1-6, King James Version:

(1) And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars: (2) And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to  be delivered.

Ward, then, was the child, in the person of Southcott’s direct successor and the fulfillment of her vision: he called himself “Shiloh”, a spiritual messiah taken human form. Ward’s other alias, “Zion”, relates to his reading of the Bible: for Ward, the entire text is allegory and prophecy. The coming of Christ, for instance, was not a recorded history, but a prediction of future events, and Ward was the figure indicated in that prediction. Thus was Ward an embodiment of such Biblical personages as Shiloh and the Christ, as well as of Biblical places, including Zion (Lockey 131).

Zion 1

To supplement his preaching, Ward also printed numerous tracts with the assistance of his followers; these texts deal heavily with Ward’s opposition to established interpretations of the Bible, as well as to traditional clerical practice. The tracts’ ardent language, dispensed in long, argumentative sentences, reflects their author’s spiritual conviction. Pictured here are the title pages of three tracts in the collection, expressing Ward’s disgust with tithes and church offerings; with the keeping of the Sabbath, and with the clergy in general.

Zion 2


Lockey, Philip J. Visionary religion and radicalism in early industrial England: from Southcott to socialism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

Ward tracts and publications: EC8.W2135.833p.

Thanks to rare book cataloger Ryan Wheeler for contributing this post.

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