William and Catherine Booth
Like so many heroes of faith William Booth was in so many ways a nobody, but through Christ became a history maker. When William went home to be with the Lord in 1912, he had gained the attention of the world and even had representatives from the royal family present at his funeral service. Newspapers all over the world recalled this man’s ministry and his “fight to the finish.”
William Booth was born on April 10th, 1829, at 12 Notintone Place in Sneinton, which today is part of Nottingham. He was born to Samuel and Mary Booth. He was their third child, and because one in three children barely lived a month, William was baptized when he was two days old.1 The local pastor, Reverend W. H. Wyatt, was blatant Anglo-Catholic, which ultimately led to a revolt by the parishioners. William Booth when he was in his eighties said he left the Church of England as a child because “he found the services formal and unfriendly.”2
William’s father Samuel Booth had failed in the contracting business and had come to Nottingham to work in lace-making.3 At his birth, the Booths were among the “quality folks” or upper-middle class. However, the family’s fortunes would continuously change throughout Samuel’s life.
Samuel’s first wife, Sarah, ten years his elder, died in 1819. He would remarry Mary Moss in 1824. Nelson said of Mary Moss, “She was the daughter of a well-to-do Derbyshire farmer, and quite handsome, and showed a strain of Jewish blood in her strong features, especially in her piercing black eyes, and in her beautiful raven hair.”4
Samuel, who had one son to his first wife, had five with Mary. First was Henry, who died at the age of three. Then Anne, William, followed by Emma, who an invalid and lived until she was forty, and finally, Mary. When William was born, Samuel was forty-four and Mary thirty-eight.
William was a mother’s boy. He truth idolized her, and to him, she was his heroine. Mary Booth was a very devoted Christian. Samuel Booth was a man always seeking a way to make money and often made bad decisions that caused the family’s financial situation to pendulate from one extreme to another. Mary stood by his father side throughout it all and William wrote of her-
“The brave way in which my mother stood by his side during that dark and sorrowful season is indelibly written on my memory. She shared his anxiety, advised him in all his business perplexities, and upheld his spirit as crash followed crash, and one piece of property after another went overboard.”5
As a child, William was very bright, perhaps headstrong, but a clear leader. William or as some of his classmates called him, Billy loved the green fields and fishing. However, William didn’t find school appealing, and due to the economic struggles of the family, Samuel apprenticed William to be a pawnbroker. William hated being a pawnbroker and felt he was “bound out” by his father to a pawnbroker at the age of thirteen. William wrote of this time-
“I went down the hill morally, and the consequences might have been serious if not eternally disastrous but that the hand of God was laid on me in a very remarkable manner.”7
In September 1842, Samuel was extremely ill and knew his end was near. At that time Methodist ministers visited the dying merely to console them. Fortunately, Cousin Gregory visited Samuel. He was a skillful fisher of men, and after preaching Jesus to him, Samuel received Jesus before he died. 8
Regarding William Booth’s upbringing-
“He was raised in an atmosphere of unrest, in a hotbed of quasi-revolutionary discontent.”9
Poverty was indeed a curse of Britain at that time. Nelson wrote, “Poverty, dark, terrible. Griding poverty; so long had it held England by the throat.”10
Begbie explained that Booth’s childhood was “a season of mortification and misery.” It was clear from him that Booth’s childhood was a very difficult one. He added that “I think he got no help at all from his father, and very little encouragement from his mother. Mary Booth appears to have been absorbed during the whole of her married life in the anxieties and disasters of her husband’s speculations.”11
William initially had followed his father and attended the Anglican church, but he found himself occasionally attending the Methodist church on Bond Street under Sampson Biddulph. When he was fifteen Booth said he was “largely without human intervention, almost entirely by the Spirit of God, to perceive that the soul of the Christian Revelations- making it a religion altogether different from every other religion and every other philosophy under heaven- is the divine miracle of conversion.”12
Booth because of his experience was changed such that many of his previous pleasures and amusements no longer had any appeal to him. Booth understood that
“It is useless for you to struggle, the sin is stronger than you; nothing can come of your efforts except defeat and death; but, seek a change of heart, surrender yourself entirely to God, leave it to Him to overcome your temptations, and you will find victory is yours.”13
Booth began attending Sunday School and sought to get closer to God. Booth stated-
“He says the inward light that revealed he must not only renounce everything he knew to be sinful, but that he must make restitution for any wrong he had done others.”14
Restitution would become a cardinal doctrine of the Salvation Army. It was essential not just to make confession for the sin, but to make restitution where the sin wronged someone else.
Not long after William received Jesus, he began preaching in the open air. Booth would go to the slum district of Nottingham and preach using a chair. Late in the evening, he would visit the sick and dying and tell them of salvation. He enjoyed reading Finney’s “Lectures on Revivals on Religion.” The young Booth loved the writings of Wesley, and according to Nelson, he had an “affection” for Wesley” that was only this aside of idolatry.”15
The Wesleyan Church Booth was attending in Nottingham no longer had the fire of John Wesley, “the active principle was gone, and the mixture was as dull, flat, stale, and unprofitable as a campaign promise after an election.”16
On Sunday morning, Booth would lead a crowd of young boys from the slums to church. However, much like Gypsy Smith, Booth was criticized for bringing into church those who soiled it. During these early years, the fire inside of Booth refused to be extinguished out despite discouragement from family and church. His mother, “to one of her aristocratic mind her son’s religious enthusiasm seemed middle-class, or worse.” It would take time and character for Booth to win the fight with his family. 17
Booth said of those days-
“I felt, as I believe many converts do, that I could willingly and joyfully travel to the ends of the earth for Jesus Christ, and suffer anything imaginable to help the souls of other men. Jesus Christ had baptized me, according to His eternal promise, with His Spirit and with Fire.”18
There is always a divine moving forward and call to go and preach with the Holy Spirit. He imparts into us a purpose and calling for the time in which we live, to reach and impact a generation for Jesus.
Samuel Dunn, a Methodist dissident, was the pastor of the Nottingham church, and he saw something in Booth. Dunn asked Booth if he thought he could preach, and the young Booth responded that he had been preaching for some time. The response didn’t please Dunn, who asked, “By whose authority?” Booth believed in obedience to authority and did not answer. 18 Booth was also a man who would never ask someone to do what he would not do.
Booth continued to work at the pawnshop, a business that thrived upon poverty. Dr. Dunn asked Booth if he wanted to become a full-time minister. Booth who was nineteen at the time, felt the burden of responsibility for his widowed mother and disabled sister, Emma. The salary of a pastor would not enable him to care for his family, and Booth was suffering from physical ailments, so Booth turned Dunn down. Dunn refused to accept a no and had a doctor check Booth out to determine if he was indeed unfit to be a minister. The doctor confirmed the boys’ opinion, and Booth was heartbroken.
It was at this time that Booth finally completed his six years of apprenticeship or, as he saw them, years of bondage. Booth began looking for some other line of work that would allow him to continue his work in ministry. For twelve months, he searched, and the deferred hope left him heartsick.
“There is no doubt that, for all his life, William Booth was driven on- through every sort of hardship and discouragement- by the love of God and by a passion to save lost souls.”20
All Roads Lead to London
Booth saw his best opportunity to support his mother and sister by going to London. His one sister Ann had married a well-to-do man and was already living in London. He had a place to go while he got himself established. That fall, Dr. Dunn was expelled from the Methodist church over the “Fly Sheets.” The Fly Sheets called for reform, and when Dunn when asked if he was the author, he refused to reply. 21 Dunn had published many articles including, “The Time for Revival, The Symptoms of Revival, and “The Preparations for Revival.” In many ways, he saw himself as a revolutionist in the Methodist movement.
Before Booth left Nottingham, he had an encounter with an American Evangelist, James Caughey. Booth was inspired and feed by the preaching of Caughey, and he found his spirit set on fire.
In London, Booth found his brother-in-law to be an ungodly drunkard who had enticed Ann to begin drinking as well. Until Booth could support himself, he had to stay. Booth, who suffered from depression all of his life, for a short time, became depressed. He found the people in London hardened to the Gospel and entrenched in sin and poverty.
Soon Booth found himself as a shopman for William Filmer. He said that in the evenings, they gathered together and sang a hymn, followed by the reading of the Word and time in prayer. All of this was pleasing to Booth. However, Booth soon learned that Filmer was a Sunday Christian only, and when the workweek began, he left his Christianity behind.
Booth once again preached Sunday evenings on the streets and any evening when he was free. Booth continued to hunger after God and on December 6th, 1849, he drew up a set of rules that he would live by. He wrote a letter to John Salvage stating that the rules awakening in him his insecurities because of his aversion to scholarship and that this would prevent him fulfilling his divine destiny.
“This was the secret of his success: results meant everything; empty praise, even from a dear people, meant nothing tin his life.”22
He would later say-
“How can anybody with spiritual eyesight talk of having no call, when there are such multitudes around him who never heard a word about God.”23
Booth even considered at this time of becoming a chaplain aboard a convict ship heading to Australia. He also wrote about it to a friend.
One Sunday, Booth preached at the Walworth Road Methodist chapel. His sermon got the attention of a Mr. Rabbits, who had sided with the reformers. Rabbits encouraged Booth to preach full-time, but Booth explained he needed money to live on. Rabbits made him an offer above what Booth was asking for, and suddenly Booth found himself able to move out of his sister’s house and find a place on his own. April 10th, 1852 became the day Booth entered into full-time ministry. Booth, who was now twenty-three, would soon have another appointment with destiny. On the same day, he meets Catherine Mumford. She had heard Booth preach and admired his preaching.
A New Day
In 1849, at the annual Methodist conference, three ministers, including Dunn, were expelled, and members of the reformers were considered traitors. Booth sought to avoid the controversy. However, seeing as there were too many local preachers, Booth decided to resign and to withhold his ticket of membership, which meant Booth was automatically expelled from the Wesylan Church. When the Reformers heard, they gave him a cordial invitation to join, which Booth accepted.
Two weeks later, Rabbits held a tea party of the Reformers and invited both Booth and Catherine. Booth was love-stricken by Catherine. Indeed it was love at first sight for both. On Sunday, May 1852, they were engaged.
Catherine was better educated than Booth and loved books. When Catherine was younger, she had developed an issue with her spine that caused her to become a semi-invalid. Nelson wrote of her, “She had a natural endowment of culture which William Booth lacked. She was a clear, calm, and incisive thinker. She was more original and dynamic than he, and she supplemented his gift and graces admirably.”25
Catherine recognized William’s worth, and after watching him being ordered around in the New Connexion Church, she encouraged him to apply with the Congregational authorities in London. Catherine had Booth meet with Dr. J. Campbell, the editor of the Congregational paper in London. He liked Booth and told him to go to the Congregational training school at Cotton End. They recommended he read two books, Booth’s “The Reign of Grace,” and Payne’s “Divine Sovereignty.”Booth chose the one by his namesake. However, after reading part of the book, Booth was disturbed by the preaching of limited atonement. Booth believed in God’s universal love and that all who would simply believe and receive Jesus would be saved.
Booth trusted that the steps of a righteous man are ordered of the Lord, and soon he received an invite to a large Methodist church at Ryde. It was an offer to be an assistant pastor which Booth rejected. He then received an offer from the Reform Methodist church at Spalding, which he accepted. Booth started preaching in November 1852.
Catherine (Kate) was born on January 17th, 1829, in Ashbourne in Derbyshire, England. Her father was a carriage builder and believed in total abstinence and he was interested in politics. In Catherine’s early years, her father stop lay preaching and slowly lost interest in religion.26
Catherine’s three elder brothers died and her mother insisted that they were in a better place and would not have them back for anything based on where they now where.
Catherine said of her father-
“I sometimes get into an agony of feeling while praying for my dear father, O my Lord, answer prayer and bring him back to Thyself! Never let that tongue, which once delighted in praising Thee and in showing others Thy willingness to save, be engaged in uttering the lamentations of the lost. O awful thought!”27
Catherine would at times have to help her father out financially during difficult times. But Catherine would have the joy of seeing her father return to the Lord and even attend some of her meetings.
Catherine’s mother who died in 1869, had a strong hatred of public schooling, fearing that they would instill rebellion in children’s hearts. Despite this Sarah Mumford sent Catherine t0 public school until an issue with her spine resulting in her spending months in bed. Afterwards, Catherine was homeschooled.
Catherine turned her attention to the study of church history and enjoyed the writings of Butler, Wesley, Finney, Fletcher, Mosheim, and Neander.28
Sarah Mumford taught Catherine not just the teachings of the Bible but the importance of praying and walking in the fear of the Lord in a holy life. Also her family believed strongly in temperance and held temperance meetings in their house. She was brought up in the Weslyn chapel in Boston and was taught a life of self-denial and in evangelism.
As a child Catherine suffered from many ailments and her whole life would be preoccupied with health issues. Catherine also had a great hatred of cruelity to animals and as a result became a strict vegetarian which William Booth became as well.29
Nelson said that “Catherine Mumford was more than fifty years ahead of her time. Way back in 1853, when it was not only heresy, but also cause for much mirth, she advocated the rights of women.”30 She held fast her family believe in temperance and when William Booth accidently spoke about taking brandy for health reasons, he received a very strong response from her. What was clear is that Catherine was never a half-hearted woman.
While Booth was preaching at Spaling, he wrote once to Catherine, telling her that he was considering moving to America and he wondered if she would come with him. She told him she would “brave all the trials of the voyage and the climate and cheerfully accompany” him. 31
The Refromers left the Wesleyans as they now believed the Wesleyans had become like the Roman Catholic church. “The Reformed Churches were congregational and not connectional, and the autonomy of the local churches was constantly stressed.”
Booth was now preaching almost everyday and seeing many come to the Lord. Booth was clearly anointed as an evangelist and was skillful in bringing souls to Jesus. A key part of Booth’s success was his ability to look forward. “Present successes, which would have blinded some men, never caused him to lose sight of the future.”32 As Booth looked into the future he could see no future for the Reformers because of their disunity. However, he also knew he could not go back to the Wesleyans. It was important to Booth that there was a structure to support those he was leading to the Lord and didn’t want to labor for church that had no future. Booth decided to leave Spalding which caused a strong response asking him to stay. They even agreed to allow him to marry right away instead of the customary requirement of having to wait four years.
In January 1854, Booth received an invitation at Hinds Street Church of the London Reformers, with an annual salary of one hundred pounds. It was a smaller circuit than Spalding, which had grown under Booth to 750 members.
Amid everything, William believed that two heads were better than one, and he consulted with Catherine on everything, she sought her advice on Hinds Street. She reminded him that he was leaving the Reformers and that he needed to sacrifice present advantages for future ones.
As a result, Booth contacted New Connexion and was assured of a place in their organization. Booth was to be trained in school for New Connexion at Dr. Cooke’s. Booth arrived on February 14, 1854 and began preaching in their Brunswick Street chapel.
“When he should have been digging out Greek and Latin roots, he was praying for souls”34
When the time came for Booth to preach before Dr. Cooke, Dr. Cooke heard of what Booth had been doing and was infuriated. But Dr. Cooke’s daughter got saved during Booth’s preaching despite all of his ignorance of Greek.Dr. Cooke recognized the leadership skill of Booth and offered to make him the superintendent of the work in London. Booth felt he lacked the experience and settled for an assistant pastor position instead.
Booth was received as a Methodist minister in the Methodist New Connexion and was allowed to marry at the end of twelve months. Booth immediately had great success, which caused him to get invites from other churches. Booth wrote to Catherine telling her-
“When I preached about the harvest and the wicked being turned away, numbers came. We must have that kind of truth which will move sinners.”35
The belief was that if you could be successful in London, you could be successful anywhere. Booth started receiving invites from other towns such as Bristol and Guernsey, where many people got converted by his preaching. Booth held meetings in Bradford, Gateshead, and Manchester. Everywhere he preached revival seemed to follow, and many were converted.
Finally, on June 16th, 1855, William and Catherine Booth were married.
Reaching the Masses
For their honeymoon, the Booths went to the Isle of Wight for a week before going to Guernsey. Here they found crowds waiting for them, and soon, another revival broke out. At the Sheffield Annual Convention, Booth was able to record that in the previous five months of evangelistic work, he had seen over 1,800 conversions. Back in London, the success continued. At Hanely he saw 460 converts in two weeks, Newcastle saw 290 in two weeks, and Longton saw 260 in just nine days.
At the Annual Conference, Booth’s work was recognized, and they decided to make him an evangelist. Regarding Booth’s services-
“I went to chapel yesterday, and witnesses a scene such as I have never beheld before. In the afternoon there was a love-feast, and indeed it was a feast of love. The chapel was packed above and below, so much that it was with extreme difficulty the bread and water could be passed out. The aisles and pulpit stairs were full, and in all parts of the chapel persons arose to testify.” 35
During the next few years, the Booth’s had started having children and saw abundant fruit from their labors. Catherine, who suffered a lot from various sicknesses believed in alternative medicine and took different homeopathic drugs, which she started giving William as well. 36
In the late fifties, Booth’s revivals started seeing responses or emotionalism. This concerned Booth. At the same time opposition towards Booth was growing.
The placing of Booth as a circuit evangelist didn’t go without controvers. In 1857 at the Annual Convention, a resolution was adopted that required Booth to take a circuit. He was to become a circuit preacher in Brighouse Yorkshire.
Obedient to the Call
In February 1858, the Booths were in Sheffield preaching with James Caughey. William began sharing his concerns with him over the new directions he was forced. Caughey advised William to wait until the full connection by the Conference and after he had been ordained before he did anything rash. At the next Conference at Hull, William turned up and was received into full connection
When people heard Booth was to take a circuit, many pressed him to take theirs. The decision was made for Gateshead. Here, after having two boys, Catherine gave birth to a girl. Mrs. Booth would go house to house visiting and ministering to families.
In 1859, the convention was held in Manchester, and it was determined the church needed to be involved in missionary work. The Conference appointed Booth to be on the committee. Later that year, the issue of women in ministry came to the forefront as Phoebe Palmer and her husband were ministering in England. Many attacked Phoebe Palmer and this disturbed Catherine. On Pentecost Sunday (Whitsunday) 1860, as her husband was finishing his sermon, Catherine feeling disturbed by the Holy Spirit walked up on the stage and stood by her husband. He initially thought she was sick but was relieved when she said she wanted to say something. Catherine told the crowd how she had failed to keep her vow made when she was fifteen and to fulfill the divine call on her life. The crowd began weeping.
“Henceforth, I will be obedient to the holy vision.”37
William developed a sore throat that restricted him from talking for a while, and Catherine took his place. Catherine began building her Scriptural arguments on why women should be allowed to preach
Chosen of the Lord
Early in 1861, the Booths gathered to pray when something happened. The Lord spoke to both of them, and they felt radically different. They felt as if they had entered in the rest spoken of in the Word. The Booths thought that they needed to go back to being evangelists like they were and petitioned the president of the Conference. The letter dated March 5th, 1861, stated that to deny William’s request would be arguing against God. In May the Conference responded that as they had employed Booth, they and only they could reset the terms of his employment.
Dr. Cooke had, in the past, overlooked Booth’s rejection of study, but to concede to his wishes would result in a new branch of the Connexion. Dr. Cooke’s position was also in question as some saw him as clinging to office. The Durham District’s Annual Meeting of 1861 debated Booth’s request. The request was taken up by lawyers and grew more complex. The compromise conclusion simply allowed the Booth’s to occasionally revival meetings elsewhere.
The Booth’s could not understand why there was so much resistance to creating a traveling evangelist.
In the final act of the unfolding drama, several wealthy Methodists agreed to cover Booth’s salary and travel costs, but old enemies arose and opposed it. It was clear that William must continue as he was and only occasionally travel to other venues. Whether in protest or not, the Booth supporters began leaving. Catherine arose in her seat and cried out, “Never!” in her loudest voice. William was concerned about how he would provide for his family. Catherine remained confident that God would provide.
Fulfilling the Divine Call
When they returned to London, they were visited by Dr. Cooke who sought to smooth things over and warn them the dangers of coming against the Church. Booth, per Cooke’s recommendation, appeared before the Conference. Booth was assigned to a circuit that was a wreck, Newcastle. No compromise was offered.
Booth declared “’I am called of God to this work’…although he had no prospects before him, nor even any security that he would be able to earn bread for his wife and his four little ones, he resigned the ministry, and once more faced the world anew.”’38
Booth went back to London and meet with an evangelist, Mr. Hammond. He advised Booth to cut th ties with the demonization.
“If you have the power to hold a large audience and to exhibit the truth and bring home the Gospel to their hearts, you may go forth, and God is sure to provide for you. All Britain is open to you.”39
Stead explained that this was a critical juncture for the Booths and, indeed, the Salvation Army. The care for his family could have been a strong enough attack of the enemy to halt the work, but Catherine was a powerful gift from the Lord for such a time. She felt the Lord saying that although they may not have gold they would never lack silver.40
On July 19th at a tea meeting, Booth announced to the Newcastle Church he was resigning. The Booths returned to London. Here Booth had lead many to the Lord, and many of those had gone into ministry. Booth was invited to Hayle in Cornwell and told they could guarantee no payment. It would be the revival that preceded the formation of the Salvation Army. During the revival, four thousand people came to Christ. The Methodist authorities, despite the moving of the Lord, refused to grant access to the Booth to their chapels. But as one door closed, another one opened. The time in Cornwall Booth would declare as one of the most beautiful experiences of his life.
From here, they went to Cardiff using their emergency fund to cover initial costs. In Wales, the Lord would connect them with two men that would help financially support the Booths for the rest of their lives. The Welsh revival proved a success, but things started to change.
Booth began using what was considered the most profane places to hold his services. They meet at the circus, in public houses or music halls. Booth understood that most sinners would not visit churches but would come to these places and here he would preach the Gospel to them.
The work of the Booths in Cardiff was incredible, with many coming to the Lord and the social impact. The crime rate dropped. The rejection of the Methodists motivated the Booths to focus on the industrial poor. But despite their success, the Booths felt discouraged and of low spirits. During such times, William would take ill, plagued by a sore throat and other ailments which forced Catherine to preach.
During this time, Booth began to come up with ideas on how he could reach the masses. Booth created his Hallelujah Bands using degenerates from all walks of life. Booth advertised inviting sinners to hear what these converts had to say. The Hallelujah Band became the great sensation of the Midlands campaign. These converts testified of what Christ had done for them. In essence, Booth was using converted sinners to reach other sinners.
The Hallelujah Band
Booths then went to Leeds and took a break for the birth of their sixth child. In 1864 they moved from Leeds to London. Here Booth was invited to preach on an old Quaker burial ground. William continued to struggle internally, desiring to fulfill the call but felt he was failing in reaching the masses.
In London, they initially employed a tent, but after it was blown down by a storm, they went to a dancing saloon.
William started to realize that he had focused just on leading people to Christ but who would disciple them. The converts were not welcome by the churches, much like in Wesley’s days. The Booths knew they had to form a permanent religious society to minister to the converts.
“Thus it was that the Salvation Army in fact, but not in name was born.”41
“Thus church and chapel congregations somehow o others lost their charm in comparison with the vulgar East-enders, as I was continually haunted with a desire to offer myself to Jesus Christ as an apostle for the heathen of His London. The idea, or heavenly vision, or whatever you may call it, overcame me, I yielded to it.”42
Catherine, to supplement their finances, began teaching on temperance. By 1863, the Booths were living on collections at the end of the meetings. Catherine also pawned her jewelry. It was difficult days, and the Booths often got depressed but always clung to the hope that the next place would be better.
Catherine’s ministry continued to grow, and she found herself preaching more often. One report of her preaching said-
“A rather prepossessing countenance… a clam and precise delivery… a quiet manner…an entire absence of unbecoming confidence- all the attributes of a woman with no ordinary mind.”43
Back in London Catherine began working with the Midnight Movement which was an outreach to rescue and redeem prostitutes.
“She identified herself with them (the prostitutes) as a fellow sinner, showing that if they supposed her to be better than themselves, it was a mistake, since all had sinned against God.”44
The Booths’ London home became a base from which they mount their campaigns.
The East London Mission
In London, the Booths lived with “extreme simplicity.”45 To help cover expenses, the Booths took on lodgers. Catherine, despite her physical challenges, managed to keep the house, educate the children, tend to her husband, and preach. One lodger wrote of the Booths-
“Mrs. Booth was a very able woman, a very persuasive speaker, and a wonderful manager, but the General was a force- he dominated everything. I have never met any one who could compare with him for strength of character.”46
Regarding William Booth’s prayer life- “And there and then he dropped on his knees before her (his mother), buried his face in her lap, and prayed with an intensity and a force that carried us all away.”47
But it was also said of Booth- “Suddenly he would blaze into anger, with all appearance of fiery indignation, and at the next moment he would be laughing at himself, or rallying with generous humor the victim of his reproof.”48
As William Booth looked at the spiritual climate of the East of London in 1865, he recognized the great need for the Gospel. William saw that the Gospel was the only remedy. William had a great depth of warmth and human sympathy. Both him and Catherine worked hard, and the growth of the East London Mission was slow. William knew they needed a permanent place for the mission and decided to convert the People’s Market Whitechapel into the People’s Mission Hall. Booth announced in the East London Evangelist that the Mission would include tea rooms, a large meeting hall, and a soup kitchen.
In this season of expansion, Booth would seek to lease every available property. These warehouses would help provide food for the poor. By now, Booth was gaining patron and sponsors, and within one year, the annual report recorded thirteen preaching stations.
Hundreds and sometimes over a thousand people turned up for the soup kitchen. By the end of the year, Booth stated that around 14,000 attended the Mission each week. The principles by which the Salvation Army were formed during this time, simply put to preach the Gospel through providing shelter, food, and clothing.
The only thing Booth was lacking was people to help him fulfill the vision.
Booth continued open-air meetings which quickly faced growing persecution. The preachers were attacked while the police seemed watched. Soon, the police even threatened to lock up the preachers. The persecution was “the product of several factors- brewers; fears that the teetotal evangelists would reduce their trade; popular resentment at the uninvited intrusion into private lives; the police impatience with behavior which provoked violence in others. As William Booth’s campaigns gained momentum and became more successful, the reasons to hate him and his work multiplied. The only possible response was the soft answer and the turned cheek.”49
The Salvation Army
In 1869, both Catherine and William’s mothers died. Then from 1870-1874 the Booths both suffered from a significant illness, which slowed the work down. In 1875 both nearly died of angina pectoris.
Booth recognized that they needed not just evangelists but pastors. Initially, he had intended to send the converts to the various denominational churches. Still, when he saw those churches rejecting the converts, he knew he had to take care of them within the Mission. The Mission continued to develop, and Booth now declared himself the General Superintendent, ad he was to remain as the General Superintendent for life. It was now for all basic purposes, the Salvation Army. “men and women surrendered their lives to the inspiration of William Booth, went whever he ordered them to go, did whatever he bid them to do, and suffered without murmur or complaint a hundred hardships.”50
However, a schism was brewing: Was the Mission to focus on perfecting the few, or awakening a multitude. Booth oscillated between the two opinions. To address some of these issues, the charter of the Mission was developed.
In the Conference of the Christian Mission, 1877, William Booth declared his dictatorship and a “subconscious movement on his part towards a military discipline.”51 Many felt Catherine was responsible for the formation of the Salvation Army and that she pulled strings over William. Many argued this was not the case, and the proof is William’s leadership for many years after her death. William understood the need to bring people to Christ, but then these converts needed to know how to live a holy life. Booth need not believe in entire sanctification but rather a sanctification of the will and perfection in love. Catherine was on the holiness side of the dispute and was supported by her eldest son, Bramwell.
In 1878 as they worked on forming the new society the name Salvation Army came about almost by accident-
“We were drawing up a brief description of the Mission, and, in wishing to express what is was in one phrase, I wrote (Mr. Railton), ‘The Christian Mission.’ ‘No,’ said Mr. Booth, ‘we are not volunteers, of we feel we must do what we do and we are always on duty.’ He crossed out the words and wrote ‘Salvation,’ The phrase immediately struck us all, and very soon found it would be far more effective than the old name.”52
The term reverend was not to be used but instead military terms like majors and captains. William Booth was now the Generals. The Salvation Army adopted a flag with a blue border (representing holiness), a scarlet body (salvation through the blood), and a yellow star in the center (representing the Holy Spirit). Their motto was “Blood and Fire,” which was placed across the star. The two principal doctrines of the Salvation Army were highlighted- salvation and sanctification. The early organization was an independent Methodist church.
Catherine, often called Catherine of Siena because just like her, she was more of a mystic. William was also somewhat of a mystic. 53
The early Army suffered many challenges, including over the ceremonies of the Church. Finally, they decided that the Salvation Army would not administer the ceremonies. The member were of the Army were to live as a unit and were to regard every meal as a sacrament.
In 1882, the Salvation Army would suffer a baptism of fire. Persecution came from all quarters, and in that year, 699 officers or which 251 were women, twenty-three were children under fifteen were brutally assaulted in the streets. Fifty-six of their buildings were stormed and partially damaged.
In Sheffield, Booth called for a Council of War and a major march with 3,500 engaged. The Army marched using their brass band with General Booth and Mrs. Booth in a carriage. The procession was attacked, especially the Booths. Mud, sticks, and brickbats were thrown. The magistrate threatened tp put the Army in prison. The riots stirred the British sense of justice, and the House of Commons wrote to the Booths along with others offering their support to them.
“T inflict ignominious punishment of hard labor on men simply because they are religious enthusiasts is a thing not to be tolerated.”54
Riots continued through April and then in June when they were in London. The Army was attacked with sticks and stones. The Booths life was in danger several times. But as the people rioted against the Army, there was a movement in the established Churches some now working for and some against the Army.
The Army kept marching with their timbrels, slip-horns, and drums in total contrast to established religion. Some though in the established Churches it was a sign of immorality. But others, like the Archbishop of York, called for the recognization of the Salvation Army. Various Church leaders began discussions with the General regarding recognizing them.
Railton opposed a union with the Established Churches and saw a worldwide movement. In 1880, he went to America. In December 1879, the first copy of the War Cry was printed. Booth began copying Wesley, stating, ‘The world is my parish.”
In 1880 the Army entered America.
In 1881, they entered Australia.
In 1882 they entered France, Switzerland, Sweden, India, and Canada.
In 1883 the Army was in South Africa and New Zealand.
The Salvation Army, through Bramwell took on social issues such as the age of consent. At the time, it was thirteen but due to the work of Bramwell, it was raised to sixteen, helping to protect younger girls from sexual abuse.
During Booth’s lifetime, the Salvation Army would reach fifty-eight countries. But for many they simply didn’t want to be awakened to the love of God through a brass band, and persecution followed the Army.
The Times wrote-
“For the especial outburst of wrath which the Salvation Army stimulates, the cause must be found in the pretensions of the Army to a superior piety for itself and to its discovery of the conspicuous reverse in the rest of the world”55
Expanding the Pegs of the Tent
In 1886, the Army was in Newfoundland and Germany. Also, in 1886, General Booth took his first trip outside of Great Britain and visited France, the United States, and Canada. In 1887, soldiers were sent to Italy, Holland Denmark, and the West Indies.
In 1888, Booth began work on his book, In Darkest England. In the book, he identified the crisis of the hour and need for real change through the Gospel. The British government was spending around 10 million pounds on their Poor Laws and charities. Booth claimed that if they gave him just one million, he could resolve the problem. The writing of the book overwhelmed Booth and took two years to finish. Booth had his hands in every operation of the Army, and nothing could be done without his consent. This “care” as he called it overwhelmed him.
Then in 1888, Catherine developed a cancerous tumor in her breast. Her mother had died of cancer, and Catherine was opposed to operations. Surgeons told her that without surgery, she would live no more than two years. Catherine told William to keep his engagements, even as her strength failed. Catherine had a love of the sea, so they moved her to Clacton-on-Sea, where she was nursed during her final days. Booth struggled with his wife’s sickness. Catherine had battled narcotics her whole life, so she refused morphine shots and, as a result, suffered greatly.
On Saturday, October 4th, 1890, Catherine Booth died. News spread around the world. Her body lay in state in Olympia Hall, which was one of London’s largest halls. On October 13th, over 36,000 people came and paid their respects. With the death of Catherine, William lost his right arm.
In Darkest England
One month later, through the help of W. T. Stead, Booth’s book, “In Darkest England,” was published. The book, along with The Way Out, highlights Britain’s slide back into barbarism. In his books, he spoke of the solution and how in October 1890, the Army had established 2,874 corps or societies, along with 896 outposts and 9,416 officers. He stated how they had thirty-three rescue homes for “fallen women.”
His solution to the problem was “utopian” in nature. They would form ‘city colonies” where moral social change was to happen. People would find a refuge along with basic necessities and employment. The goal was they would work their way out of poverty and would be able to live the colonies and re enter society with successful employment. For those who did not respond as well, there would be the “Farm colonies” where people would be taught to “cultivate smallholdings.”
Commands in countries like South Africa, Canada, and Australia offered land for these cities. Booth also started his Cheap Food Depots. Instead of providing charity, he would give food at a cheap price. Bot Bramwell had struggled to keep the People’s Market solvent. The Depot’s had to ensure that the food was paid for, and all working expenses were covered.
Booth proposed workshops and labor yards were to be opened at all shelters. The lowest class taking shelter would earn enough to cover their keep. “The second groupd- whose members had proved their sobriety, industry and cheerful disposition- were to be given five shillings a week to buy tools with which they could ultimately find outside employment.”56
The colonies were to lead England out of the darkness. But the scale or number of colonies needed to achieve what Booth envisioned was simply unachievable. The farm Colonies had a brief but very limited life. The rescue hokes were set up for “destitute men and fallen women.”
The Poor Man’s Bank was to be set up not to hold the poor man’s money but rather to help him finance capital equipment needed for him to get back on his feet.
Many criticized Booth’s ideas, but Booth believed that only the solution that God had given him would end poverty. Booth launched attacks on the Established Churches. Some charged Booth with socialism. Others charged him with having no plans for the children. As the attacks came, “without his wife to give him confidence, his trumpet sounded an uncertain note.”57
Criticism continued to grow. Reverend C. H. Bowden, the chaplain at Guy’ Hospital, claimed that after looking at the numbers of patients he saw and that they came from every religion and that very few were Salvationists. He concluded that Booth was exaggerating membership and that his action was perhaps fraudulent. Some investors in Booth’s plan pulled out.
The first colony was planned for Hadleigh, but shortages of manpower and materials restricted them from building houses. They decided instead to build temporary homes. But survival of Booth’s vision seemed like it was slipping.
Some investors wanted to see the Salvation Army charter as they became concerned that Booth would simply take their money and spend it on himself. Newspapers continued sharing the attacks making the situation worse.
Booth was still mourning his wife and trying to run a worldwide organization. Some sought to improve Booth’s image by sharing what the Salvation Army had done. A report showed that in London alone, the Salvation Army had provided accommodation for over 2,000 men and 307,000 beds. The workshops had employed 14,000 unemployed men and over 1,500 women.
Soon the building trade and unions came after Booth. The unions sought to negotiate with Booth, but although some leaders in the Army meet with the unionists, no agreement as reached, and Booth was unwilling to compromise. New questions arose over money and the belief that the money was all going to Booth.
Booth called for a commission to investigate his plan. The commission came back statements on how to protect the money invested in ensuring it was used correctly. If the money was used for any other purpose than the General or his successor would become subject to civil or criminal proceedings.
The Final Battle
Before Catherine’s death, she grew concerned over the future particularly as she witnessed tensions developing in the house. Bramwell, who gave up his ambition to be a doctor would ultimately succeed his father. He was given increasingly greater authority over his brothers and sisters in the interim. The family believed that to be a Booth was to be the Lord’s anointed. Ballington was made the viceroy in the United States in 1897 at the age of thirty. Herbert commanded the Salvation Army in Great Britain when he was twenty-eight. Kate at the age of twenty-two, in 1890, was sent to France, and Emma, aged twenty, was put in charge of running the women’s training centers.
Bramwell was determined to lead like his father, so when Herbert believed he could go straight to his father, resentment grew. Herbert asked to be sent to South Africa, but Bramwell had him sent to Canada. Railton, a key leader in the Army, was in Germany and suffering great persecution. He was threatened with imprisonment, and as Bramwell wanted the Army to be accepted by the Germany government, he called Railton back to Britain only to send him back incognito.
However, Booth became unhappy with Railton’s leadership in Germany, so Bramwell called for improved performance from Germany and that they were to obtain additional income from self-denial, despite the low pay. Bramwell was not open to even the mildest form of criticism.58
In late 1895, Bramwell went on a tour of India with the General and decided it was time to improve efficiency there as well. Bramwell then had Ballington mortgage all the properties in America that had been purchased by the work and the sacrifice of members in the United States. Ballington was then to send the proceeds to the International Headquarters in London and have it all registered in William Booth’s name.
Herbert was transferred without notice to assume the Australian command, and Eva was to abandon her work on the homes in London and assume Herbert’s responsibility in Canda. Ballington chose to disobey Bramwell and to stay with his wife in America.
The children were beginning to stand up against their father’s absolutism.
Ballington then offered his resignation letter. The divide between him and his family grew and he released a statement stating the accusations against him were false and misleading. Evan came to the United States to prevent members from defecting with Ballington. Bitterness between the family members grew After Emma’s unfortunate death in a train accident, both Herbert and Ballington were refused access to the memorial service.
Kate, who had served in France had in ten years, started 200 stations and commissioned 400 full-time officers and was not happy when she was told to leave. Kate’s husband believed in divine healing and that the Second Coming was imminent. His beliefs irritated the high command in London. Arthur Booth-Clibborn was unwilling to submit to the strict rules of the Salvation Army. Kate decided to support her husband.
A new set of Rules and Regulations were drawn up, and they were to be followed to the letter.59 Kate decided that she was going to ignore these new rules. Kate and Arthur asked for formal permission to evangelize on their own. Arthus was becoming closer to John Alexander Dowie, who had a healing ministry in the United States. Arthur resigned from the Army. To Booth to desert, the Army was to desert the family. William was first a General and then a father. Kate wrote to her father, stating she loved her husband more than she loved the Army. They both deserted and formed the “Friends of Zion Christian Mission.” This soon lead to the defection of Herbert.
Promoted to Glory
In 1895, a series of charges were raised against the Salvation Army of unsanitary conditions and overcrowding at their shelters. Many people contradicted diseases in the shelters, which added to their troubles.
William wanted to return to his first love of preaching and traveling to other countries. Over the next few years, Booth traveled. On August 9th, 1904, Booth was part of the annual motor tout, which went 1,224 miles in nine days.
In his early years, Booth was a highly motivated, driven, and full of energy. Now Booth was older and in poor health. His drive had changed to duty. He was a very lonely man watching those he had known all his life slowly passway. In 1908, Booth traveled to South Africa in a desperate effort to revive the “Colonies.”
In 1909, Booth became blind in the left eye, and he was encouraged to return to London. But Booth pressed on, and in 1910 vat the age of eighty-three, he visited Holland. Booth was struggling and fell a lot. By now, he could barely see, and he was told he needed surgery. After the surgery, Booth was blind. On August 17th he began drifting in and out of consciousness. Then on Tuesday, October 20th, 1912, he was promoted to heaven.
At his funeral, thirty-five thousand mourners came for the memorial service, and five thousand Salvationist marched behind the cortege.
Booth had believed that he was appointed and anointed by God to redeem the world and that anyone who stood in his way was defying the will of God. “Every new authority that he acquired and new power which he assumed was justified, at least in his own mind, by the prospect it provided of saving more souls.”60
Booth, unlike Catherine, did not attack the upper class, but he felt a burden to reach the poor and suffering. He wanted to reach those the Church overlooked. When you look at his humble beginning and struggles, what Booth achieved was incredible. Booth helped to change the social climate.
“In a rare moment of intellectual inspiration- stimulated by his dying wife’s passion for social justice- William Booth set out his great plan for building the New Jerusalem.” 61His Farm Colonies were not a success. But his “more practical proposals” did succeed, and even today, people can find shelter in the Salvation Army’s hostels.
Arthur Clibborn Booth joined Dowie’s church at the beginning of 1902, followed shortly afterward by Kate.62
Kate wrote to her father-
“My Dear Father:- desiring, as you know for years past, a greater liberty for Arthur )whom I look upon as a mighty man for God specially called and remarkable qualified) and for myself, I now after much thought, prayer, and intense suffering of heart, decide to cease to be under the government of the Salvation Army. I hope by this step to get nearer to you as a daughter, to my brothers and sisters, and to be a better comrade for every Salvationist and all true Children of God; but above all to be a greater blessing to this poor, lost world, for which I have felt that me life could have been letter spent for many years.”63
Kate and Arthur had sought to preach the message of healing. They had written to General Booth and Bramwell at the end of 1900. They wished to preach the full Gospel and the soon return of Christ. But by mid-1900 it was clear that they would not be given the liberty they sought. 64
- Hattersley, Roy. Blood and Fire: William and Catherine Booth and Their Salvation Army. Doubleday. London. 2000. Page 11
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- Leaves of Healing, 1902 Vol X No. 12
- LOH 1902, Vol X, No 12 page 665