Thursday, May 29, 2014

#SalvationArmy #History: The Troubled Youth of William Booth

The Salvation Army began in 1852 when William Booth, a British Methodist preacher, began ministering in the streets of London to the poor, homeless, hungry and destitute. William Booth was born on April 10 1829 in Sneinton, Nottingham, England. He was the second son of five children born to Samuel and Mary Booth. The struggles he faced in his childhood would influence him into a life of ministry that would spark a movement.

It All Began With His Father

Samuel Booth was a speculative builder who had been born into poverty. He worked as a nail builder but found the work mundane. Samuel was a difficult man. He was often described as cold hearted, unemotional and cold minded. He was attracted to money and he was driven to acquire as much as possible. Samuel married Sarah Lockitt, nine years his senior, on November 13, 1797 in Nottingham and resided with her there. Sarah gave birth to their only child, William Adcock Booth, either in 1799 or 1800. Sarah died on January 13, 1818 or 1819. Samuel wrote and had the following poem placed upon her gravestone.

With deepest thoughts spectator view thy fate
Thus mortal pass to an immortal state;
Through death's dark vale we hope she's found the way.
In those bright regions of eternal day. 

Although he wrote the poem Samuel was not a churchgoing man. William Adcock Booth described his father as "religiously blind" and claimed he could "never remember him in a place of worship." 

The British Industrial Revolution began in 1770 and ended in 1850. It was during this time England's economy shifted from an agricultural to industrial. The change did not occur overnight but was created by technological advances in several fields. Although it was hard for the society to change, some men took advantage of the opportunities the Industrial Revolution allowed. Samuel Booth was one of these men. He left his life as a nailer behind him and embarked on a new one as an architect. The funds were significant enough to afford him a comfortable life. Samuel was a shrewd business man who was able to convince many he has more wealth than he actually had.

William Adcock Booth married Catherine Edwards on November 14, 1822 and died of tuberculosis on July 26, 1824. While Samuel had done well throughout his widowhood without many abrupt changes it was the death of his son that caused the most significant change in his life. 

Soon after his son's death, Samuel visited Ashby-de-la-Zouch in hopes the spas would heal him of his rheumatism. It was here he met Mary Moss, sixteen years his junior, and was smitten by her. Mary was often described as a proud woman with piercing eyes like a duchess. She was also describes as a woman of very few words that had an air of mystery about her. Like Samuel, was of Jewish descent. Samuel proposed marriage but Mary refused. He returned to Nottingham heartbroken but determined. Samuel continued to visit upon Ashby-de-la-Zouch and proposed to Mary every time until she eventually submitted to his cause. The couple were married November 2, 1824 in Ashby-de-la-Zouch and lived in Nottingham where Samuel was an architect. Mary gave him five children - Henry, Ann, William, Emma and Mary. Henry died when he was three years old leaving William the only son with an elder and two younger sisters. 

William Booth's Childhood Home

Although Samuel was not involved in his children's lives he did insist that they go to church. William Sneinton, Nottingham, Englandand his sisters faithfully went to Sunday School every week. Life was a series of financial ups and downs for the family.  Samuel was considered a gentlemen when William was born yet it would not remain. Bad times came, as so often they do, and Samuel struggled. There were a series of unfortunate financial transactions but Samuel pressed on. William had claimed the biggest part of his father's financial situation came when his father had taken employment as a bondsman. The employer went bankrupt and Booth was left to pay the debt on his own. He paid every last farthing and left his family in debt. Another bad financial decision came when Samuel pored his entire life's savings into the cottage his family was living in. In 1837, the economy crashed nationwide. William was eight years old. The circumstances plunged the family further into debt and poverty.

The stress of raising four children and her husband's financial struggles laid heavy upon Mary's heart during William's early years. William once stated of his mother during this time, "She had no time to attend to me." William had a very unhappy childhood. His father ignored him and his mother never encouraged him. When asked of his early years, William often declared is was, "a season of mortification and misery."

William was sent to the Biddulph's Academy in Nottingham, which was owned and operated by a Methodist minister, when he was six years old. Not much is know of his education except that he studied here for seven years. William's father was forced to declare bankruptcy and could no longer afford the luxury of sending his children to a private school. In 1842, Samuel withdrew his son from the academy and was sent to be an apprentice pawnbroker in the poorest area of Nottingham. William hated the job. William had known poverty from his own experience but here he was a witness to starvation, homelessness and other symptoms of extreme poverty. It was an experience that would forever change his life. 

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