EVERYONE knows that The Salvation Army, then under a different name, was founded by William Booth in London, England in 1865. But when did it arrive in The United States of America? Was it at the time of the official opening with the landing of Commissioner Railton and his seven Hallelujah Lassies, in New York City on March 10, 1880, to establish officially the work of The Salvation Army in the United States? Or was it the unofficial beginnings in Philadelphia by the Shirley family in 1879? Historical accuracy demands a look at a much earlier unofficial effort by James and Ann Jermy who wrote William Booth from Cleveland, Ohio in September 1872, stating, "The Mission Flag is hoisted in America," and asking for advice on how to run the work.
Jermy was well-qualified to make such a statement. He was an ardent Christian layman who had been associated with William Booth from the very beginnings of the movement in the East End of London. He was a member of a Society known as The Christian Community, descendents of the Hugnenots who had fled the religious persecutions in France in the 16th Century. He, together with about 20 others who were also members of this Society, became active workers with Booth in The Christian Mission, which was later renamed The Salvation Army.
Booth must have been impressed with Jermy and his dedication, because he was accepted as part of an inner circle of helpers who were very close to The Founder. Jermy is mentioned a number of times in The Mission Publication, The East London Evangelist, and also in its successor publication, The Christian Mission Magazine. He was a class leader at The Mission Station in Bethnel Green, and spent all of his spare time in the soul-saving work of the Mission. While earning his living as a cabinet maker Jermy gave his evenings and Sundays to preaching the gospel and promoting the expansion of The Christian Mission.
Unfortunately, his unpaid work for the Mission didn't provide bread for the family of seven, including the five children, ranging from one to 13 years of age. While the work of The Mission was booming, apparently things were not going too well with Jermy's secular employment, and he mentions in his journal: "Through bad trade and force of circumstances, having five children just then, there was much talk of Canada." The talk was probably with his wife Ann about the possibility of migrating to the new world, and the seriousness of such a step for a family of seven. In any event, the decision was made and Jermy reports that Catherine Booth, the wife of William Booth, took a great interest in the family, helping them with their preparations, and particularly with the acquisition of furniture to take with them. A farewell meeting was held at Bethnal Green on May 23, 1870 and the family set sail for Canada, settling first in Hamilton, Ontario, and subsequently in St. Catharines.
They stayed only six months in each of these towns, but Jermy found abundant opportunity for Christian witness, including holding one man open-air meetings, and helping at a "coloured" Methodist Church in St. Catharines.
In a letter to William Booth, Jermy said: "Brother, I cannot live on good meetings now and then, I must see souls saved. So I prayed about it, and said to my wife. 'I must go to the States'." So, after a year in Canada, the family, with the addition of a baby girl born in St. Catharines found its way to Cleveland, Ohio, where Jermy records they were "strangers, with no one to welcome us."
Later in a letter to The Founder he said nothing of the way he earned his living, nor of any aspect of family life, but simply: "When I got here, I found thousands going the way of death. Some parts of the city looked like Whitechapel. Here, human nature is the same, with drunkenness and every other sin. Mission work is very much needed," He then tells how on his third Sunday in Cleveland, he chanced upon a little hall and read the sign, "Christian Chapel - The Poor have The Gospel Preached to them." He entered the hall and found a few 'coloured' people who asked if he would be willing to preach if their own minister, a young man named James Fackler didn't come. We must assume that Jermy did preach on this occasion, for it wasn't until he went back the next Sunday that he met Fackler. He told him of the work of The Christian Mission in England and of William Booth its Founder, to which Fackler responded: "Brother, this is what we have been waiting for.''
The two men joined forces and in September 1872, Jermy wrote William Booth describing the thriving mission work that was operating in Cleveland, including the opening of a second hall, with "good attendance and great power." The letter was headed "Unfurling the Flag of The Christian Mission in America." Jermy asked for advice and concluded his letter. '"Will you acknowledge us?" The Mission Flag is hoisted."
In his reply, addressed to Fackler as Secretary of the Mission, General Booth gave pages of sound advice, and acknowledged the American branch as part of The Christian Mission, saying: "So you have raised the banner of The Christian Mission in Ohio. Amen! May it never be dishonoured, but may it float over an Army of men and women whose sole aim shall be the glory of God, and the Salvation and happiness of man."
Further evidence that Booth recognized the Cleveland operation as an integral part of his movement is illustrated by a letter to his friend and confidante, Williamn Crow on December 16, 1872, in which he writes: ".... our flag has been unfurled, and a branch started in Cleveland, Ohio."
The Cleveland work was expanding, and in the same issue of the magazine quoted above, there is a letter from Fackler saying that they now have six or seven preachers belonging to The Mission, and four indoor preaching stations. In another letter telling Booth about some of the new stations, Jermy rejoices that in the very opening meeting of one of them, 15 souls came to the mercy seat.
Open-air ministry was a vital component of The Mission program in Cleveland. These were held in front of the many saloons in what was known as the "haymarket" district. The wife of one of the tavern keepers became very interested in these meetings, and told Jermy, "The next time it rains, move your meeting inside the saloon." And so it happened that when a downpour interrupted an open-air meeting, Jermy marched the Missioners into the "beer shop" where the meeting continued. When a child of the saloon keeper died, Jermy was asked to conduct the funeral, which he reports succinctly. "I did." But Salvationists will know that there was a ministry of love and compassion to the grieving family.
In 1873, Fackler for reasons of health, moved South, leaving Jermy to struggle alone with the expanded Mission program. This was a year of financial panic, and keeping the several operations solvent, must have been a problem, although Jermy never mentioned this.
Jermy continued to work in secular employment to support his family, and the Mission. One wonders how much of his own meagre earnings must have been devoted to the work of the Lord. In the first years in Cleveland, Jermy was a carpenter, but when the depression of 1873 hit, apparently unable to find employment in this line, he opened a butcher shop.
Meanwhile, Booth in London continued his keen interest in the American operation, and The Christian Mission Magazine for October 1873, noting that Fackler had left Cleveland, commented: "But Brother Jermy is keeping up the work with unflagging zeal, and very pleasing success."
Jermy's wife, Ann, five years his senior, 41 years of age in 1873, and burdened with the care or six children, nevertheless, in true Salvation Army style, supported her husband in the work. In speaking of a station they had opened, four miles from the market location, Jermy reminisced : "I and my dear wife, often walked through the snow and frost, but were well rewarded." Weather records reveal that the Cleveland winters were indeed bitter one's, especially the one of 1872-73 when on January 29, 1873, the thermometer registered 20 degrees below zero Fahrenheit; the coldest day recorded for the city. For these people, accustomed to the milder winters of London, these wintry conditions must have seemed severe indeed.
In spite of the difficulties, soul saving work went on. In March 1873, Jermy, again wrote to William Booth, advising of a new opening on "The Broadway," just two weeks before, where they were holding "protracted meetings with souls being saved every night."
Mindful of the advice that Booth had previously given that the work should be conducted on "right lines," Jermy requested that a copy of the rules of The Christian Mission in London should be sent, and also purchased a set of Christian Mission hymn books for use in the Cleveland branches.
By 1875, Jermy was feeling the pressure of trying to earn a living, care for his family, and keeping the five mission stations going. He had been without the help of Fackler for two years. Family responsibility must have burdened him. He referred to the children "all steps", six of them, ranging in age from four-year old Loue to 18 year old Ann. He again wrote to William Booth appealing for help with the work of the Mission, but The Founder, beset by troubles of his own, including the serious angina suffered by his wife, Catherine, did not respond.
Jermy was disappointed, and later recalled that "the pressure of work was more than was good for me," adding that his "dear wife, Ann," now 43, was finding the climate too extreme, "either too hot or too cold," also that she had been unwell for sometime. He goes on: "The way opened, in the providence of God, for us to return to the land of our birth."
The family sailed from Brooklyn in September, and landed in England in early October. Jermy reports that he was given a personal welcome by William Booth, and invited to ride with him in his "chaise" as they visited some of The London Mission Stations. During the course of the ride, Booth suggested that Jermy should become a full time worker in The Mission, to which Jermy answered, "Mr. Booth, there are eight of us to be kept" - adding later as he recalled the incident,
" - a responsibility that the mission and myself cared not to take." He continued, "It made no difference, I continued as a local preacher, true to my calling. Woe is me if I preach not the Gospel."
The spirit that motivated him in the pioneering efforts in The New World continued with him. Years later as a soldier of The Clapton Congress Hall Corps in London, he was part of a praying band, ever ready to form a praying circle around a seeker at the penitent form. Until a few weeks prior to his promotion to Glory at the age of 92 in 1929, he was an ardent open-air warrior. It is fitting that Jermy and his wife, the Army's very first overseas pioneers, are buried at Abney Park Cemetery in London, very near to the graves of William and Catherine Booth, their revered leaders.
The work in Cleveland continued for a year or so after the Jermys left, but then languished for lack of the dynamic leadership they had provided, and it wasn't until 1885 that The Salvation Army was reestablished in this community.
What a different history might have been written for The Army in America, if the Founder had responded to Jermys importunate appeals for help! As it is, the record is clear - work of the Salvation Army in America began not in Philadelphia in 1879 with the Shirleys, nor in New York City in 1880 with Railton and his lassies, but in 1871 in Cleveland, Ohio, where James and Ann Jermy in the true spirit of William and Catherine Booth, sought out the poor and dispossessed to share with them the glorious news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Ref: Carey, E.1980. Mission Flag Hoisted In Cleveland. The War Cry. February 9, 1980.
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