The Army Under Siege

DRIVE ’EM INTO THE HARBOUR, or else into hell. Take their flag, and tie it round their necks and hang ’em!” This was the order of the mayor of Folkestone, England, when the Army corps in the town was only a few months old. Unfortunately for the pioneer Salvationists, many toughs did their best to carry out his instruction.

Real antagonism grew up in the early 1880s when publicans [tavern owners] became worried by the number of their customers who were joining The Salvation Army and were, therefore, no longer drinking. In some towns people resented being reminded by street preachers of their sinful ways and the judgment that would follow; in other places the Army’s purpose was misunderstood by professing Christians, who objected to the new movement’s interpretation of the gospel. In several areas residents objected to the disturbance of their Sunday quiet by the Army’s singing and band—playing in the streets. . . .

When William and Catherine Booth visited Sheffield in January 1882, the success of their Sunday meetings so angered the Army’s enemies that a local gang known as the “Blades” decided to assault them. . . . Later that day, as William Booth reviewed his troops covered with blood, mud, and egg yolk, their brass instruments battered beyond repair, he suggested—“Now is the time to have your photographs taken!” In that one year in Great Britain alone nearly seven hundred Army personnel were brutally assaulted on the streets, simply for preaching the gospel. . . .

Some of the persecution suffered by Salvationists had much more serious effects. In Guildford, England, a woman died after being kicked and knocked insensible. . . . In the U.S., a soldier of the corps at St. Louis was clubbed, stoned, and jumped upon until he died. A woman soldier was murdered at Pontiac, Michigan. A doorkeeper died from stabbing in San Francisco. A woman captain was shot and killed in Spokane, Washington. . . .

With the turn of the century came a turn of the tide of persecution. Governments began to understand what the Army set out to do. Police saw the changed lives of former criminals; guardians of the law found their work made easier by the success of The Salvation Army. Members of other Christian organizations, who at first scorned William Booth’s unconventional way of presenting Christianity to the public, joined with the ordinary person in the street in their reassessment.

By Cyril Barnes

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #26 in 1990]

Next articles

The Salvation Army: A Missionary Crusade

How a small, East London mission became one of the leading missionary organizations in the world.

E. H. McKinley

William Booth Finds His Destiny

“Darling, I have found my destiny!”

the Editors

The Booths’ American Mentors

Three revivalists from across the Atlantic profoundly influenced the Booths’ theology and mission.

John Coutts

William Booth’s Life

In His Own Words

William Booth
Show more

Subscribe to magazine

Subscription to Christian History magazine is on a donation basis


Support us

Christian History Institute (CHI) is a non-profit Pennsylvania corporation founded in 1982. Your donations support the continuation of this ministry


Subscribe to daily emails

Containing today’s events, devotional, quote and stories