William Bramwell Booth
Founder of the Salvation Army
William Booth was born in
Nottingham, England. He was converted to Christ through the
efforts of a Methodist minister, and soon became interested
in working with the outcasts and the poor people of
Nottingham. He preached on the streets and made hundreds of
hospital calls before he was 20 years of age. From 1850 to
1861 he served as a pastor in the Methodist Church, after
which time he and his wife left the church and stepped out by
faith in evangelistic work in East London.
It was there that he organized the East London
Christian Revival Society. Out of this beginning came the Salvation Army, with its uniforms, organization, and discipline.
By 1930 there were branches in 55 countries. Its main emphasis under General Booth was street preaching, personal evangelism, and practical philanthropy. More than 2,000,000 derelicts have professed faith in the Lord Jesus Christ through
the work of the Salvation Army since its founding by the
in London's slums convinced him he had discovered his life's work
and no one ever took the Gospel to the "down and outer" like he
did. In 1865, Booth started with only his wife at his
side...unappreciated by the established churches of his day,
ridiculed and jeered by most everyone. His death 47 years later
sharply contrasted as 40,000 attended his funeral service,
including Queen Mary of England. His "Army" including 21,203
officers and 8,972 societies were working in 58 countries
preaching the Gospel in 34 languages!
was born of Church of England parents and was
"baptized" when he was two days old. His mother was a devout
Christian. His father, Samuel, even though he brought in
considerable income, had the misfortune to lose money. At
thirteen, Booth was apprenticed to a pawnbroker, limiting his
education to that of a private tutor from the Methodist Connexion
Church. Thus he was deprived of the advantages of a good common
school education and grew up in poverty. His work day was long,
sometimes running sixteen hours a day, with very little pay. That
same year his father died, accepting Christ on his death bed.
This left William and his mother to struggle on in their poverty.
In his teens he was already interested in social reform and
longed to do something to alleviate the sufferings of the poor.
He joined a civic reform movement, but found this full of
corruption as well.
He had broken
from the Church of England and was now
attending Wesley Chapel of Nottingham. One night at 11 p.m. on a
street coming home from one of the services, he was saved. This
was in 1844 when he was fifteen years of age.
table marks the spot at the chapel where
Booth began to seek the Lord. Many have knelt near it. One was
heard saying, "O God, do it again..."
Booth's conversion, James Caughey, a spiritfilled American evangelist, visited Nottingham and preached the
Wesleyan message of sanctification with great unction and power.
This preaching made a great impression on young Booth and kindled
in his own heart a great desire to win souls for Christ. Timid
for a while, he finally ventured to read the Bible and deliver
some comments on the local street corners. Although he was jeered
and scorned and bricks were thrown at him, young Booth did not
get discouraged...this was just a foretaste of the battle ahead
of him. At 17 he preached his first sermon and was licensed by
the New Wesleyan Connexion.
One day he
brought a group of poor, rugged boys from the
slums into the church. Instead of being pleased, the minister was
angry and Booth was told next time to bring them through the back
door and seat them where they couldn't be seen. As he had feared,
the Methodist Church of his day was becoming too "respectable."
His long hours
in the pawnshop stretched out for six years
and though he often worked until 8 p.m., he would hurry to prayer
meetings which would last until 10 p.m. Sometimes after this he
would call on the sick and dying. It is said that he made
hundreds of hospital calls before he was twenty years of age. He
also did much street preaching late at night during these years.
He soon became a leader in these enterprises and at seventeen he
was made a local preacher by the Wesleyan Methodists.
the outcast and poor of Nottingham brought
increased burdens for the larger cities. Seeing London in 1849 at
age twenty, he said, "What a city to save!" Sixteen years later
he began to help save it.
Here in London,
he was without a friend and almost broke.
For three years he worked as a clerk for a pawnbroker in the day
giving leisure time to working among the poor and did street
preaching at night. A number of Methodist chapels opened to him
for Sunday ministries but his Superintendent discouraged him from
entering the regular ministry. In 1851 a controversy arose in the
Wesleyan Church over the question of lay representation and a
large number of ministers formed a group known as "Reformers".
Those Reformers offered Booth the pastorship of one of their
chapels in London and a businessman offered to support him. He
accepted and in 1852 went into full-time preaching at a Methodist
circuit in Spalding. Here he met Catherine Mumford, falling in
love with her the third time he saw her on Good Friday, April 10.
For two or three years he preached in various places with great
success. Many souls were won.
Reformers had an unsettled policy and
organization, he and a number of others joined the "Methodist New
Connexion" movement in 1854. His fame as a revivalist began to
spread all over England. Hundreds professed conversion to Christ
in almost every series of meetings held, while his sensational
methods of preaching on the slum street corners often provoked
became his wife and an ideal co-worker on
June 16, 1855 at Stockwell, New Chapel in South London. They were
pressed into service immediately. As they arrived at the pier on
the Island of Guernsey for their honeymoon, they found crowds of
people begging them to conduct revival meetings there. The crowds
were so large that the doors of the church had to be opened at
5:30 in order to allow the people to come in for the evening
service. He was soon preaching in England's leading
cities...Lincoln, Bristol, Bradford, Manchester, Sheffield-and
thousands professed faith in Christ. Once in a space of a few
months, Booth saw over 1,700 converts, an average of 23 per day.
As the fourth month passed, the number rose past 2,000 and the
Connexion leaders saw him as going too far too fast. His methods
were "lusty American, not Victorian English," they said. How soon
Wesley had been forgotten.
child, William Bramwell, was born March 8, 1856.
Six other children followed, all active in the work of the Army.
They were Ballington (born July 28, 1859), Emma (born Jan. 8,
1860), Evangeline (born Dec. 25, 1865), Catherine, Herbert and
Lucy, the youngest born in 1868.
In 1857 the
Connexion cut short Booth's country-wide
travels. He was given charge of one of their least-promising
circuits, Brighouse, in Yorkshire. Yet pastoral work did not tie
him down. He went to the local masses who needed him and
initiated labor reforms and other worthwhile projects to help the
residents. In 1858, the year that he became a fully ordained
minister, he was given another circuit-Gateshead. Contrary to
his own judgment, once more he obeyed and went, but his eyes
strayed beyond the 1,000 strong congregation of Bethesda Chapel.
It was the masses beyond the walls o the church that he was
Church continually denied his request to be
released from his regular circuit work as a pastor so that he
could return to the field of evangelism again. Weary with the
constant controversy, in July 1861 the Booths stepped out by
faith doing what they felt God had called them to do. He was 32
years old. About the same time, the Booths were both led into a
Christian experience following John Wesley's views and teaching
on sanctification, heart purity, and holiness.
in evangelism, he started in Cornwall, on to
Cardiff, Wales and Walsall. The crowds at Hayle, Cornwall were
too great to be accommodated in any building and great open-air
meetings were held. The campaign stretched out to eighteen
months. Fishermen rowed ten miles and villagers walked up to four
miles to hear him. Booth claimed 7,000 Cornishmen became
Christians. At Cardiff a tent was used. At Walsall in
Staffordshire, he used many converts as testimonies of God's
saving power. This 1863 visit drew 5,000 to the open-air
preaching of Booth.
of the great Salvation Army started July 2nd,
1865, as a large tent was erected on a Quaker burial ground in
the Whitechapel neighborhood in East London. William Booth was
now 36 years old. Another evangelist became ill and Booth was
substituted. Meetings were held every night for two weeks among
the poor lower classes of the London slums. At midnight upon
returning home after a serious soul-searching, he said, "I have
found my destiny!" This was July 5, 1865. Converts streamed to
the tent the next night. Soon they were using an unused
The work was
first called the East London (Christian)
Revival Society, then the East London Christian Mission, and then
the Christian Mission, firmly established by 1869. Open air
meetings were held from 6 to 7 p.m. with an invitation to come to
the evening meeting at the tent. These meetings continued on past
the scheduled allotment and after rain, howling winds and a gang
of ruffians had torn the tent down twice, they finally rented a
large dance hall. Up to 600 would gather on Sunday following a
night of dancing by citizens of another world the preceding
night. Later he held evangelistic meetings at a wool warehouse
and finally at an unused theater. Sometimes some would pour
gunpowder in the room and create a blinding flash by setting fire
to it. Frequently mud and stones were hurled through the windows
from this difficult beginning, a chain of
missions was gradually formed with the power of God manifest in
meeting after meeting. From now on Booth was to be found
preaching wherever people would listen to him...dancing saloons,
stables, sheds adjacent to pig sties, theater stages, circus
rings, race course grandstands, footboards of railway carriages,
ship-captain bridges and African huts! But he was foremost a
specialist in open-air services and street corners. People were
often stricken down in his meetings, overwhelmed with a sense of
the presence and power of God.
came...it was not uncommon to see Salvationists
end up with broken ankles and wrists. One had a piece bitten out
of his arm-another, alone on inspection tour, was pelted and
mobbed for one and a half hours. Another had lime thrown into his
child's eyes. One woman convert was kicked in the womb and left
to die. The first march Mr. and Mrs. Booth made to Albert Hall in
Sheffield ended up in a riot. They, their officers and soldiers,
arrived at the Hall wounded, bleeding and battered. Their clothes
were torn and covered with filth, their band instruments smashed.
This was not to be uncommon. Often every available hall or room
would be denied them. Booth once wrote from Salisbury, "The
evangelists have to get off the street and into houses to escape
this mob. Police refuse protection. Nevertheless, there is a good
society. A lot are saved. We must not give up! We will not!" Many
times in his life he would be stoned, battered, shoved, cursed
and almost killed. In 1889 at least 669 Salvation Army members
were assaulted, including 251 women. Some were killed and many
were maimed. A "Skeleton Army" of ruffians devoted themselves to
disrupting Salvation Army meetings. They frequently stormed the
meeting halls by the hundreds (on one occasion, 4,000), broke out
windows and wrecked the inside of the buildings. Fifty buildings
were wrecked. The police did little to assist Booth. Once while
defending themselves 86 Army members were arrested and imprisoned
on disorderly conduct charges. Booth had his own private
bodyguard, Peter Monk, an Irish prize fighter and one of his
converts. By 1872 he was running five "Food-for-the-Million
Shops," selling cheap meals.
evangelism culminated in the adoption of the
title, "Salvation Army," and the reorganization of the movement
along the quasi-military lines of a well disciplined army on
August 7, 1878. Booth had been distressed at the lack of
direction and with this new setup could really assert himself as
the leader. The name developed from an incident in May, 1878.
Booth was dictating a letter to his secretary, George Scott
Railton (his faithful associate for 48 years), and said, "We are
a volunteer army." Bramwell, his son, heard his father and said,
"Volunteer, I'm no volunteer, I'm a regular!" Railton was
instructed to cross out the word volunteer and substitute the
word, salvation. Soon they were tagged, "Soap, Soup and Salvation
The new, almost
dictatorial leadership of Booth-now called
"General" Booth-was dynamic. By January, 1879, he had 81
stations, 127 full-time evangelists (100 of his converts), and
75,000 services a year going. In 1880 it expanded to the United
States and adopted uniforms. The same year, the first band was
formed in Salisbury. A new headquarters was opened in London in
1881, as well as the work in France. In 1882 India was sent
and regulations were patterned after those of the
British Army. All workers assumed military titles, its trainees
became "cadets," local units were designated as "Corps," places
of worship became known as "Citadels" or "Outposts" and their
evangelistic undertakings were called "Campaigns." The converts
were organized into a carefully disciplined group. Of course the
uniforms, officers, organization, regulations and discipline,
plus the title "General" for Booth, attracted derision and
criticism at first. Nevertheless, the "Army" was reaching people
ignored by more staid church bodies! He launched a successful
crusade against white slavery in 1885.
eleven-week campaign was conducted in 1886 with
Booth preaching from New York to Kansas City. Town after town
listened spellbound as he thundered at the crowds, his long body
swaying back and forth on the platform, his hair and flowing
beard rumpled, his arms clasped behind his back. He spoke for 200
hours and was heard by 180,000 people. He pulled together the
U.S. organization that had fragmented into three parts.
Back home in
London, the sight of homeless men leaning on
the rails of London Bridge prompted the beginning of heavy social
work. Now the image of the Army suddenly changed as in 1887 the
social service programs began to expand as General Booth fought
poverty with practical philanthropy. He realized that the
physical and social environment of the masses made it difficult
for them to appreciate the message of the Army. He accordingly
embarked upon the social work to clear the way for evangelism.
These services ranged from night shelters and free breakfasts to
the selection and training of prospective immigrants and their
Darkest England and the Way Out was
published in 1890 showing victorian England how to deal with
poverty and vice plus the need of religious and social
redemption. He proposed the concentration of the nation's
philanthropic funds upon the slums, hitherto largely left to the
care of the local parish churches, and suggested a list of
practical expedients to this end such as advocating the
reclamation of unemployable persons in farm colonies.
No small credit
for gain in prestige is due General Booth's
wife. Catherine was a woman of charm and ability, winning the
sympathy of many of the upper classes for the new movement. When
she was 59 it was discovered she had cancer. General Booth had
already accepted meetings in Holland, and upon hearing the news,
was about to cancel. But she insisted that he go. "I'm ready to
die, but many of those people over there are not." He did go for
an abbreviated visit, and upon his return, found her very weak.
She died October 4, 1890. The streets of London were crowded for
four miles as the funeral procession went by! More than 10,000
people went to the cemetery. Added to this sorrow was the death
of General Booth's daughter, Emma, in a railroad accident.
At the time
of Catherine's death (after 25 years of ministry
together in the work of the Army) the Salvation Army had 2,900
centers in 34 countries and was receiving 600 telegrams and 5,400
letters a week.
to America was made in 1895, and Booth found
over 500 people engaged in the work of the Army. He held 340
meetings in 86 cities, speaking to 437,000 people resulting in
2,200 converts. In 24 weeks he spent 847 hours on a train. Twice,
while in America, he opened the Senate with prayer. He talked to
President McKinley for twenty minutes on one of his tours.
was now being praised by such diverse men as
Charles Spurgeon, Winston Churchill and Cardinal Manning. The
Prince of Wales became a most ardent patron, and, upon his
coronation as Edward VII in 1902, Booth was officially invited to
the festivities. On June 24, 1904, in a visit to Buckingham
Palace, the King asked the General what his recreations were.
Booth, writing in his autograph album, replied, "Sir, some men
have a passion for art, fame and gold. I have a passion for
him dictatorial and hard to work with. Members of
his own family denounced him as their leader and founded separate
organizations. Gipsy Smith had left him because of his rigidity
and D.L. Moody would not support him because he felt there was a
threat to the local church. But no one could deny his compassion.
He was constantly
telling his family, his soldiers, all
England, to go and do something. He could not rest-once writing,
"I am very tired, but must go on...on...I cannot stand still. I
have worked today and laid down again when I could sit no longer
and then got up to go on again. A fire is in my bones..." Once in
South Africa, he talked for seven hours, his heart so yearning
over the lost. Souls possessed him day and night, well or ill.
Once his son found the old warrior pacing up and down the floor
late at night. "What are you thinking about?" asked the son. "Ah,
Bramwell, I'm thinking about the people's sin. What will people
do with their sin?" When Booth denounced sin, people sat
spellbound. They wept, hung their heads with conviction, their
bosoms heaving with emotion. Conviction and conversion usually
followed. As many as 3,000 at one time were known to have been
moved to tears. Once in an outburst of concern for the lost, he
exclaimed, "Oh, God, what can I say? Souls! Souls! Souls! My
heart hungers for souls!"
one side of Great Britain to the other, General
Booth made a 29-day, 1,224-mile motor tour in 1904, holding 164
meetings, gathering crowds from day to day. He visited the United
States one more time in 1907. His farewell message was given on
the steps of New York City Hall to 2,500 people. The year 1908
found him in Scandinavia, 1910 in Switzerland, Holland, Germany,
Italy, and Denmark. On May 9, 1912, he gave his last major speech
to 7,000 Salvationists at London's Albert Hall.
As his aged
eyes became weak, an unsuccessful operation was
performed on May 23rd. Two days later it was found that he had an
infection and that he would lose his sight completely. "God knows
best. I have done what I could for God and the people with my
eyes. Now I must do what I can for God and the people without my
for the secret of his success, William Booth
I will tell you the secret. God has had all there was of me.
There have been men with greater brains than I, men with greater
opportunities. But from the day I got the poor of London on my
heart and caught a vision of all Jesus Christ could do with them,
on that day I made up my mind that God would have all of William
Booth there was. And if there is anything of power in the
Salvation Army today, it is because God has had all the adoration
of my heart, all the power of my will, and all the influence of
As he died, he turned to his son Bramwell and said, "I'm
leaving you a bonnie handful." As his body lay in state, 65,000
to 150,000 marched by to pay tribute to the man who not only
talked, but did something for the masses. The funeral was held at
a vast exhibition hall on Hammersmith Road, drawing 40,000,
including Queen Mary, who sat next to an ex-prostitute, a convert
of General Booth's. Traffic in London stopped for two hours as
his funeral procession of 10,000 marching Salvationists went
through the downtown streets.
He was succeeded
by his son, Bramwell Booth. Eventually his
daughter, Evangeline, became the Commander-in-Chief.
It is estimated
Booth traveled 5 million miles and preached
60,000 sermons in his 60 years of ministry. This included five
trips to the United States and Canada, three to Australia and
South Africa, two to India, one to Japan and several to the
various European countries. Sixteen thousand officers were
serving in his Army.
Booth was the
author of many favorite revival hymns and
several books, such as Salvation Soldiers (1890) and Religion for
Every Day (1902). Some of his works have gone into twenty
languages. He started War Cry, the official organ of The Army, on
December 26, 1879 with 17,000 copies.