William Booth (April 10, 1829 – August 20, 1912) was the founder and 1st General (1878-1912) of The Salvation Army.
Booth was born in Sneinton, Nottingham, England, the only son of four surviving children born to Samuel Booth and Mary Moss. His father was wealthy by the standards of the time, but during Booth's childhood, as a result of his father's bad investments, the family descended into poverty.
In 1842, Samuel Booth, who by then was bankrupt, could no longer afford his son's school fees, and 13 year-old William Booth was apprenticed to a pawnbroker. Later that same year Samuel Booth died.
A few years into his appenticeship Booth was converted. He then read extensively and trained himself in writing and in speech, becoming a Methodist lay preacher. When his apprenticeship ended in 1848, Booth spent a year looking in vain for more suitable work than pawnbroking, which he disliked. In 1849, Booth reluctantly left his family and moved to London, where he found work and lodging in a pawnbroker's shop. Booth tried to continue lay preaching in London, but the small amount of preaching work that came his way frustrated him, and so he resigned as a lay preacher and took to open-air evangelising in the streets and on Kennington common.
In 1851 Booth joined the Reformers (Wesleyan Reform Union), and on April 10, 1852, his 23rd birthday, he left pawnbroking and became a full-time preacher at their headquarters at Binfield Chapel in Clapham. Just over a month later, on May 15 1852, William Booth became formally engaged to Catherine Mumford. In November 1853 Booth was invited to become the Reformers' minister at Spalding in Lincolnshire.
Marriage and children
William Booth and Catherine Mumford were married June 16, 1855 at Stockwell Green Congregational Church in London. They had eight children:
- Bramwell Booth (March 8, 1856 – June 16, 1929).
- Ballington Booth (July 28, 1857 – October 5, 1940).
- Kate Booth (September 18, 1858 – May 9, 1955).
- Emma Booth (January 8, 1860 – October 28, 1903).
- Herbert Booth (August 26, 1862 – September 25, 1926).
- Marie Booth (May 4, 1864 – January 5, 1937).
- Evangeline Booth (December 25, 1865 – July 17, 1950).
- Lucy Booth (April 28, 1868 – July 18, 1953).
Though Booth became a prominent Methodist evangelist, he was unhappy that the annual conference of the denomination kept assigning him to a pastorate, the duties of which he had to neglect to respond to the frequent requests that he do evangelistic campaigns. At the Liverpool conference in 1861, after having spent three years at Gateshead, his request to be freed for evangelism full-time was refused yet again, and Booth resigned from the ministry of the Methodist New Connexion.
Soon he was barred from campaigning in Methodist congregations, so he became an independent evangelist. His doctrine remained much the same, though; he preached that eternal punishment was the fate of the unsaved and the necessity of repentance and the promise of holiness, manifesting itself in a life of love for God and mankind. Eventually, the Booths' children became involved in the ministry.
The Christian Mission
In 1865, Booth and his wife Catherine opened The Christian Revival Society in the East End of London, where they held meetings every evening and on Sundays, to offer repentance, Salvation and Christian ethics to the poorest and most needy, including alcoholics, criminals and prostitutes. The Christian Revival Society was later renamed The Christian Mission.
Booth and his followers practiced what they preached and performed self-sacrificing Christian and social work, such as opening “Food for the Million” shops (soup kitchens), not caring if they were scoffed at or derided for their Christian ministry work.
The Salvation Army
In 1878 the name of the organization was changed to The Salvation Army, modelling it in some ways after the military, with its own flag (or colors) and its own music, often with Christian words to popular and folkloric tunes sung in the pubs. He and the other soldiers in God's Army would wear the Army's own uniform, 'putting on the armour,' for meetings and ministry work. He became the General and his other ministers were given appropriate ranks as officers.
Though the early years were lean ones, with the need of money to help the needy an ever growing issue, Booth and The Salvation Army persevered. In the early 1880s, operations were extended to other countries, notably the USA, France, Switzerland, Sweden, and others, and to most of the countries of the British Empire: Australia, Canada, India, South Africa, New Zealand, Jamaica, et.al.
Often the beginnings in other countries occurred through "salvationist" activities by non-officers who had emigrated. With some initial success they would contact London to 'send officers.' In other cases, like Argentina, a non-salvationist let Booth know that there were thousands of British people there who needed salvation. The 4 officers sent in 1890 found that those British were scattered all over the pampas. But the missionaries started ministry in Spanish and the work spread throughout the country - initially following the railroad development, since the British in charge of building the railroads were usually sympathetic to the movement.
During his lifetime, William Booth established Army work in 58 countries and colonies, travelling extensively and holding salvation meetings.
Booth regularly published a magazine and was the author of a number of books; he also composed several songs. His book In Darkest England and the Way Out not only became a bestseller after its 1890 release, it set the foundation for the Army's modern social welfare schemes.
Opinion of the Salvation Army and William Booth eventually changed to that of favour. In his later years, he was received in audience by kings, emperors and presidents, who were among his ardent admirers. Even the mass media began to use his title of 'General' with reverence.
William Booth died at age 83 in Hadley Wood, London. He was buried with his wife in the main London burial ground for nineteenth century nonconformist ministers and tutors, the nondenominational Abney Park Cemetery in Stoke Newington. In his honor, Vachel Lindsay wrote the poem General William Booth Enters Into Heaven, and Charles Ives, who had been Booth's neighbor, set it to music.
In Darkest England and the Way Out
The book speaks of abolishing vice and poverty by establishing homes for the homeless, farm communities where the urban poor can be trained in agriculture, training centres for prospective emigrants, homes for fallen women and released prisoners, aid for the poor, and help for alcoholics. He also lays down schemes for poor men’s lawyers, banks, clinics, industrial schools and even a seaside resort. He says that if the state fails to meet its social obligations it will be the task of each Christian to step into the breach. In Darkest England and the Way Out was reprinted several times and lately in 1970.
General of The Salvation Army
- Railton, George Scott (1912). The Authoritative Life Of General William Booth. George H. Doran.
- Sandall, Robert (1947). The History of the Salvation Army Vol.1 1865-78. Thomas Nelson.
- Hattersley, Roy (1999). Blood and Fire: William and Catherine Booth and the Salvation Army. Little Brown. ISBN 0-316-85161-2.
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