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William Booth

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William Booth

General Booth of The Salvation Army
Born (1829-04-10)April 10, 1829
Sneinton, Nottingham, England
Died August 20, 1912(1912-08-20) (aged 83)
Hadley Wood, London, England
Resting place Stoke Newington, London

William Booth ( April 10,1829 August 20,1912) was a British Methodist preacher who founded The Salvation Army and became the first General (1878-1912). The Christian movement, with a quasi-military structure and government - but with no physical weaponry, founded in 1865 has spread from London, England, to many parts of the world and is known for being one of the largest distributors of humanitarian aid.

Early life

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. Samuel Booth died later that same year.

A plaque on the house in Nottingham in which William Booth was born on 10th April 1829.
William Booth statue at his birth place in Nottingham.

Two years into his apprenticeship Booth was converted to ' salvation' and Methodism. He then read extensively and trained himself in writing and in speech, becoming a Methodist lay preacher. Booth was encouraged to be an evangelist primarily through his best friend, Will Sansom. Sansom and Booth both began in the 1840's to preach to the poor and the "sinners" of Nottingham, and Booth would probably have remained as Sansom's partner in his new "Mission" ministry, as Sansom titled it, had Sansom not died of tuberculosis in 1848.

When his apprenticeship ended in 1848, Booth spent a year looking in vain for more suitable work than pawnbroking, which he disliked and considered ungodly. 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' ( Methodist Reform Church), 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. William styled his preaching after the revivalist American James Caughey, who had made frequent visits to England and preached at Booth's favorite church, Broad Street Chapel. Just over a month after he started full-time preaching, 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.

Early ministry

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 those who do not believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the necessity of repentance from sin, and the promise of holiness. He taught that this belief would manifest 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.

Reverend William Booth, General of the Salvation Army

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 colours) 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 United States, France, Switzerland, Sweden, and others, and to most of the countries of the British Empire: Australia, Canada, India, South Africa, New Zealand, Jamaica,

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 told Booth 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. It compared what was considered "civilized" England with "Darkest Africa" - a land then considered poor and backward. What Booth suggested was that much of London and greater England after the Industrial Revolution was not better off in the quality of life than those in the underdeveloped world. And he proposed a strategy to apply the Christian Gospel and work ethic to the problems. 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. However, Booth was not departing from his spiritual convictions; the ultimate aim of getting people saved.

Booth asserts in his introduction,

I have no intention to depart in the smallest degree from the main principles on which I have acted in the past. My only hope for the permanent deliverance of mankind from misery, either in this world or the next, is the regeneration or remaking of the individual by the power of the Holy Ghost through Jesus Christ. But in providing for the relief of temporal misery I reckon that I am only making it easy where it is now difficult, and possible where it is now all but impossible, for men and women to find their way to the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In Darkest England and the Way Out was reprinted several times and lately in 2006.

Later years

Grave of William and Catherine Booth in Stoke Newington

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 non-denominational Abney Park Cemetery in Stoke Newington. In his honour, Vachel Lindsay wrote the poem General William Booth Enters Into Heaven, and Charles Ives, who had been Evangeline Booth's neighbour, set it to music.

Children of William and Catherine Booth

William Booth and Catherine Mumford were married June 17, 1855 at Stockwell New Chapel, Surrey. 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).


  • In Darkest England and The Way Out Diggory Press, ISBN 978-1846853777
  • Purity of Heart Diggory Press, ISBN 978-1846853760
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