The Cult of Jeremiah

By Stephen D. Bowling

Many years ago, the brutality of the followers of Charles Mansion shocked the world. Images from Jonestown in 1978 seemed unbelievable. Many watched in horror as the Branch Davidian compound in Waco burned in 1993. In 1997, the nation was horrified by the news that thirty-nine members of the Heaven’s Gate Cult in California left this planet for another by taking their own lives. These and many other sad stories come from the control and manipulation of members involved in cults and similar organizations.

J. Green Trimble produced his Recollections of Breathitt and it remains a valuable look at Breathitt County in the early years of our history.

The history of cults is almost as old as human history itself. In fact, a reader of Breathitt County history will find the beginnings of a small cult in the county in the 1830s and 1840s.  This Breathitt County cult had all the essential elements:  a belief, followers, and a charismatic leader until one night the group met on the banks of the Kentucky River. 

The following is the only source of any information concerning the group associated with Jeremiah Lovelace.  This account was published by The Jackson Times and is taken from pages 19 and 20 of J. Green Trimble’s Recollections of Breathitt.  

“Breathitt is the only county in the State which has the honor of producing a man who professed to be endowed with supernatural and divine power.  He was known as Jeremiah (Lovelace), the Prophet, and I was intimately acquainted with him.  He professed that by the laying on of his hands he could perform miracles – heal the sick, restore the blind to sight, relieve the most excruciating pain, and also walk upon the water.  To prove his claims he exhibited his divine power before an audience by treating several patients with great success, as testified by the statements of the several subjects upon whom he operated.

Many of those present at the exhibition believed in his divinity, but there were several “Doubting Thomases” present who were not and could not be convinced of his infallibility until they could see him walk upon the water.  So, for that purpose, he made an appointment to meet them near his residence below the mouth of Frozen Creek, on the Kentucky (River), on an evening of the following week. 

In the meantime, he procured three thick planks, ten feet long and about eighteen inches wide.  Then he made three trestles and placed them in the river about nine feet apart and about six inches below the surface of the water, and on these trestles he placed three planks, running them straight out into the river, the end of the first plank being near the water’s edge on the ground and about eight inches below the surface. 

A view of the mouth of Frozen Creek on the North Fork of the Kentucky River.

The boys of the neighborhood suspected the deception he was trying to play on the public, and when they investigated and found the planks, they removed the middle one without the Prophet’s knowledge.  At the time appointed, a big crowd assembled to witness the performance.  It was about dark, but the moon was shining brightly when the Prophet made his appearance, arrayed in a long white robe, and after offering up a short prayer he gave directions to the audience to sing a familiar hymn when he commenced walking on the water. 

He then started for the water, and about the time the audience had sung the last line of the first verse he reached the end of the first plank.  On his next step, he went overboard into the water, where he struggled for some time, his long robe being an obstacle to his swimming.  He was about to drown when he called to his audience:  “Brethren save me or I perish!” A man in the crowd answered, “Can’t give you any assistance – all dam’d fools like you ought to drown!”  He finally got ashore, but was never known to walk on the water again.”

The grave of Jeremiah Lovelace “the Prophet” is beside his wife, Phoebe (Lipps) Lovelace in the Lovelace-Pelfrey Cemetery at Lawson, Kentucky.

Jeremiah Lovelace’s following faded after the river incident. He continued to live near the mouth of White Oak Creek not far from his attempted river crossing. He died at White Oak Creek in 1874 and was buried in the family cemetery, now known as the Lovelace and Pelfrey Cemetery. His wife joined him in the grave in 1876.

© 2022 Stephen D. Bowling


About sdbowling

Director of the Breathitt County Public Library and Heritage Center in Jackson, Kentucky.
This entry was posted in Breathitt County, Religion and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Cult of Jeremiah

  1. Richard Crowe says:

    Very interesting history


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s