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William Booth

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

William Booth (10 April 1829 – 20 August 1912) was a British Methodist preacher who founded the Salvation Army and became its 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

William was born in Sneinton, Nottingham, England, the only son of four surviving children born to Samuel Booth and Mary Moss.[1] 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 pawn-broker. Samuel Booth died later that same year.[2]

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

Two years into his apprenticeship Booth was converted to 'salvation' and Methodism.[3] 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 1840s 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.[4]

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.[5] 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 10 April 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 favourite church, Broad Street Chapel. Just over a month after he started full-time preaching, on 15 May 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

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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, including to most of the countries of the British Empire: Australia, Canada, India, South Africa, New Zealand, Jamaica, etc.

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 in Argentina, a non-salvationist told Booth that there were thousands of British people there who needed salvation. The four 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 rail-road development, since the British in charge of building the rail-roads 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 best-seller 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 drunkards. 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 to set-up a socialist or communist society or sub-class, supported by people forced to finance his plans; Booth's ultimate aim was to get 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.

It was asserted in some circles that In Darkest England was actually written by the crusading journalist, W.T. Stead, who, in his own words, acted as a "literary hack" for the General when Mrs. Booth lay dying. However, this assumption was swiftly dismissed by Stead some years later, declaring that, "The idea of Darkest England.. was the General's own. My part, of which I had no wish to speak.. was strictly subordinate throughout.[6]

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.

In 1899, Booth suffered from blindness in both eyes, but with a short rest, was able to recover his sight. Later in 1899, he had to have his right eye removed and had a cataract in his left eye.[7]

William Booth was 83 years old when he died, in Hadley Wood, London. He was buried with his wife in the main London burial ground for 19th century non-conformist ministers and tutors, the non-denominational Abney Park Cemetery in Stoke Newington.


In Booth's honour, Vachel Lindsay wrote the poem, "General William Booth Enters Into Heaven".[8] Charles Ives, who had been Evangeline Booth's neighbour, set the poem to music. The William Booth rose, developed by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, was named in his honour. [9]

Children of William and Catherine Booth

William Booth and Catherine Mumford were married on 17 June 1855[10] at Stockwell New Chapel, Surrey[11]. They had eight children:

Grandchildren of William and Catherine Booth


  1. ^ Hattersley 1999, p. 13
  2. ^ Hattersley 1999, p. 17
  3. ^ Hattersley 1999, p. 19
  4. ^ Hattersley 1999, p. 23-25
  5. ^ Hattersley 1999, p. 30
  6. ^ Quoted in Robert Sandall, The History of the Salvation Army, vol. III, 1883-1953, Social Reform and Welfare Work (1955) Appendix B, pp. 324-32
  7. ^ "Stories of Great Christians," Moody Broadcasting Network, a Moody radio play
  8. ^
  9. ^ William Booth rose
  10. ^ Sandall 1947, p. 7
  11. ^ Hattersley 1999, p. 73


  • 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 


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

External links

Preceded by
New creation
General of The Salvation Army
Succeeded by
Bramwell Booth


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

General William Booth (April 10,1829, Nottingham, England, - August 21,1912 London) was a British theologian and the founder of The Salvation Army.


  • Why should the Devil have all the best tunes?
    • Attributed by Salvation Army website[1]
  • While Women weep as they do now, I'll fight.

While little children go hungry, as they do now, I'll fight.

While men go to prison, in and out, in and out, I'll fight.

While there is a drunkard left,

While there is a poor lost girl upon the streets,

While there remains one dark soul without the light of God,

I'll fight.

I'll fight to the very end!

  • My business is to get the world saved. If this involves the standing still of the looms and the shutting up of the factories and the staying of the sailing ships, let them all stand still. When we have got everybody converted, they can go on again.
  • The Army of the Revolution is recruited by the Soldiers of Despair.
  • Go for souls and go for the worst.
  • Without excuse and self-consideration of health or limb or life, true soldiers fight, live to fight, love the thickest of the fight, and die in the midst of it.
    • Attributed in: Court, Stephen & White, Aaron. Revolution, Credo Press, 2005. Vancouver, British Columbia.

External links

Wikipedia has an article about:

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

WILLIAM BOOTH (1829-), founder and "general" of the Salvation Army, was born at Nottingham on the 10th of April 1829. At the age of fifteen his mind took a strongly religious turn, under the influence of the Wesleyan Methodists, in which body he became a local preacher. In 1849 he came to London, where, according to his own account, his passion for open-air preaching caused his severance from the Wesleyans. Joining the Methodist New Connexion, he was ordained a minister, but, not being employed as he wished in active "travelling evangelization," left that body also in 1861. Meanwhile he had (1855) married Miss Catherine Mumford, and had a family of four children. Both he and his wife occupied themselves with preaching, first in Cornwall and then in Cardiff and Walsall. At the last-named place was first organized a "Hallelujah band" of converted criminals and others, who testified in public of their conversion. In 1864 Booth went to London and continued his services in tents and in the open air, and founded a body which was successively known as the East London Revival Society, the East London Christian Mission, the Christian Mission and (in 1878) the Salvation Army. The Army operates (1) by outdoor meetings and processions; (2) by visiting public-houses, prisons, private houses; (3) by holding meetings in theatres, factories and other unusual buildings; (4) by using the most popular song-tunes and the language of everyday life, &c.; (5) by making every convert a dailywitness for Christ, both in public and private. The army is a quasi-military organization, and Booth modelled its "Orders and Regulations" on those of the British army. Its early "campaigns" excited violent opposition, a "Skeleton Army" being organized to break up the meetings, and for many years Booth's followers were subjected to fine and imprisonment as breakers of the peace. Since 1889, however, these disorders have been little heard of. The operations of the army were extended in 1880 to the United States, in 1881 to Australia, and spread to the European continent, to India, Ceylon and elsewhere, "General" Booth himself being an indefatigable traveller, organizer and speaker. His wife (b. 1829) died in 1890. By her preaching at Gateshead, where her husband was circuit minister, in 1860, she began the women's ministry which is so prominent a feature of the army's work. A biography of her by Mr Booth Tucker appeared in 1892.

In 1890 "General" Booth attracted further public attention by the publication of a work entitled In Darkest England, and the Way Out, in which he proposed to remedy pauperism and vice by a series of ten expedients: (1) the city colony; (2) the farm colony; (3) the over-sea colony; (4) the household salvage brigade; (5) the rescue homes for fallen women; (6) deliverance for the drunkard; (7) the prison-gate brigade; (8) the poor man's bank; (9)(9) the poor man's lawyer; (io) Whitechapel-bythe-Sea. Money was liberally subscribed and a large part of the scheme was carried out. The opposition and ridicule with which Booth's work was for many years received gave way, towards the end of the 19th century, to very widespread sympathy as his genius and its results were more fully realized.

The active encouragement of King Edward VIL., at whose instance in 1902 he was invited officially to be present at the coronation ceremony, marked the completeness of the change; and when, in 1905, the "general" went on a progress through England, he was received in state by the mayors and corporations of many towns. In the United States also, and elsewhere, his work was cordially encouraged by the authorities.

See T. F.Coates, The Life Story of General Booth (2nd ed., London. 1906), and bibliography under Salvation Army.

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