While still just a teenager, Eliza Shirley was a Salvation Army lass in England, in the days when the workers were attacked with flying refuse and brickbats as they marched through London. When her father, Amos, took a job in a Philadelphia silk mill, he wrote to his daughters: "You have no idea of the great numbers of people here who never go to church." He was sure a great work could be started among them that would win many to Christ.
Eliza and Annie agreed. But Salvation Army founder, General Booth, didn't. Eliza prayed. Booth relented. She might go, said Booth, but she must carry on the work along the lines used in England.
In Philadelphia, the only "hall" the girls could afford was a run down factory with a roof shot full of holes and broken windows. It stabled a horse. When the owner learned that the girls themselves would preach, he refused to rent the place to them. But after the two young women went to their knees before God, the landlord changed his mind. With hard work the girls and a black convert scrubbed and whitewashed the place. Amos helped by patching the walls and roof with cheap lumber.
For days no one would enter the refurbished "hall." Then an intoxicated man said he wanted to get saved. A crowd followed as the girls led him to the building. Eliza put the man to bed to sober up while she preached. Then she brought the man forward. He knelt, prayed, and rose stone sober. From that moment, the work took fire. Soon Eliza had to form a second branch, leaving her parents to run the first.
General William Booth sent reinforcements from England, a group to reinforce the Pennsylvania work and another to start a branch in New York City. On this day, March 10, 1880, after an eventful voyage, Commissioner George Scott Railton, assisted by seven young women, "invaded" New York. Dressed in dark blue cloth edged with yellow binding they marched to their lodgings. Their hats blazed with scarlet ribbon and gilt letters, reading "The Salvation Army." The New York Tribune announced their arrival under the heading, "Missionaries to America." The New York Times wrote, "They created quite a sensation in the Garden and subsequently in the streets as they proceeded to the lodging house that had been provided for them."
The vision of the "invaders" was as big as America. They meant to win converts and send them across America to open additional branches. Their first Sunday they invaded barber shops and saloons that were open on the Lord's Day.
The faith of the invaders was vindicated. Today there is not a major city in America without the familiar red and white logo of the Salvation Army. The good it has done is incalculable.
- Chesham, Sallie. Born to Battle; the Salvation Army in America. New York, New York: Salvation Army, 1965.
- Coutts, Frederick. No Discharge in this War. New York: Salvation Army, 1974.
Last updated May, 2007.