New Israelites

A radical Christian sect in the 1790s Vermont, known for their unique beliefs and practices.


Background and Formation

The New Israelites were a radical Christian sect founded in Vermont in the late 1790s by Nathaniel Wood. Originally a Congregationalist, Wood formed the group after being excommunicated in 1789. He and his followers were heavily influenced by the Newent Separates of Norwich and the teachings of Rev. Joel Benedict. The sect claimed literal descent from the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel and practiced divination, including dowsing for buried treasure in Middletown and Rutland, Vermont. They employed divining rods for both treasure hunting and revelation, and at one point, embarked on the construction of a temple​​​​.

Beliefs and Practices

The New Israelites believed they were living in a special dispensation and claimed to be literal descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. Wood prophesied special acts of Providence and claimed powers of revelation. The group’s beliefs brought together magical practice and biblical restorationism. Their practices included the construction of a temple and divining for gold to pave the streets of a new Jerusalem. They also expected a “Destroying Angel” to bring down earthquakes and plagues upon the gentiles, which led to a significant incident known as the “Wood Scrape”​​​​.

The “Wood Scrape” and Aftermath

On January 14, 1802, the day Nathaniel Wood predicted the commencement of the Apocalypse, as the sect gathered to await the arrival of the “destroying angel,” the locals, alarmed by the sect’s activities, called out the militia. The militia fired their weapons to disperse the group, an event that became known as the “Wood Scrape.” After this incident, Wood and his family moved to Ellisburg, New York, and the sect became extinct​​​​.

Connection to Early Mormonism

There are speculations about the New Israelites’ possible connections to early Mormonism. Members of the sect may have included Joseph Smith Sr., the father of Mormon prophet Joseph Smith Jr., and William Cowdery, father of Oliver Cowdery, a Book of Mormon witness. The beliefs and practices of the New Israelites, particularly their focus on divination and treasure hunting, are thought to have influenced early Mormonism. The sect’s connection to the Cowdery family, particularly William Cowdery’s involvement in divining, has been noted as a direct link to early Mormon leaders​​​​.