First Salvation Army Meeting in America

Time Period
3/14/1880
Description
Evangelist and former Methodist minister William Booth founded an urban mission in London in 1865 that became known as the The Salvation Army in 1878. The Salvation Army is interested both in evangelism and social relief for the poor, but its legacy is often tied to the latter aspect.

Initially, the Salvation Army failed to gain traction in the United States in the early 1870s, but after a successful open-air meeting in Philadelphia in 1879, William Booth commissioned General George Railton and others to travel to the United States and establish an official American mission for the Salvation Army. On March 14, 1880, Railton’s group held their first service at Harry Hill’s, a saloon and entertainment hall in New York City.

This was the beginning of a Protestant denomination that eventually would grow to more than 1,100 congregations and 450,000 members, serving millions of needy people in the United States.
Interactive Timeline(s)
Prominent Religious Events and People in American History
Narrative
Evangelist and former Methodist minister William Booth founded an urban mission, the East London Christian Revival Society, which became the Christian Mission in 1865. Booth served as commander in chief, with his wife Catherine serving as his adviser, and their son Bramwell serving as the mission’s chief executive officer. The Christian Mission became The Salvation Army in 1878.

Although the Salvation Army did not gain an official presence in the United States until 1880, unofficial missionaries had begun an American ministry as early as 1872, when James Jermy opened missions in Cleveland. However, these failed to gain traction, and Jermy traveled back to England in 1876. In 1879, Salvation Army Lieutenant Eliza Shirley migrated to the United States with her mother Anna, where they joined Anna’s husband and Eliza’s father, Amos, in Philadelphia. The Shirleys converted a factory into a meeting hall, and following a fire on the street near their factory, which drew a substantial crowd, the Shirleys conducted the Salvation Army’s first open-air meeting in the United States on October 5, 1879.

When William Booth heard the news of the Shirleys’ successful meeting, he commissioned General George Railton to travel to the United States with seven "Hallelujah lassies" to establish an official American mission for the Salvation Army. Railton and this group of seven women landed in New York on March 10, 1880. Upon disembarking from the SS Australia, Railton and the Hallelujah lassies conducted a brief, public service at Castle Garden, which included Scripture reading and the singing of hymns.

Almost immediately, Railton sought a space to conduct a more formal, organized religious meeting. On March 14, 1880, Railton’s group held their first service at Harry Hill’s, a saloon and entertainment hall. Similar to the Castle Garden meeting, this service included religious exhortations and hymn singing. Some of the audience received the Salvationists unenthusiastically following Railton’s ban on alcohol and smoking. Following New York City’s refusal to grant the Salvationists permission to conduct open-air services, which would have allowed them to realize their goal of constructing a "Cathedral of the Open Air," the Salvation Army relocated its American base of operations to Philadelphia, where on March 24, 1880, Railton officially recognized Eliza Shirley’s work at a public ceremony.

Thus began a Protestant denomination that eventually would grow to more than 1,100 congregations and 450,000 members. It is largely recognized for its social relief efforts, serving millions of needy people in the United States. Moreover, the Salvation Army is known for its prominent role of women: Booth’s wife, Catherine, in its founding, and their daughter, Evangeline, for overseeing the Army in the United States in the 20th century.
Religious Groups
Holiness Family: Other Timeline Entries

Holiness Family: Other ARDA Links

Photographs

Salvation Army national Headquarters- Internet Archive

Eliza Shirley- Salvation Army Historic Pictures

Evangeline Booth- Internet Archive

Salvation Army meeting poster- Salvation Army Historic Pictures

William and Catherine Booth- Internet Archive
Source(s)
Gariepy, Henry, 2009. Christianity in Action: The International History of The Salvation Army. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
McKinley, Edward H., 1980. Marching to Glory: The History of the Salvation Army in the United States, 1880-1980. San Francisco: Harper and Row.
Winston, Diane, 1999. Red-Hot and Righteous: The Urban Religion of The Salvation Army. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Web Page Contributor
William S. Cossen
Affliated with: Pennsylvania State University

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