George Scott Railton


On Friday 21 September, a plaque was unveiled for George Scott Railton in Arbroath, Scotland. The Salvation Army's first national commander in the USA and one of eight pioneers of the organisation's work in America. Here is a little bit of history about the man, who was William Booth's second in command and his incredible work.

Early history

Born: 6 July 1849, Arbroath, Scotland
Died: 19 July 1913, buried Abney Park Cemetery

George Scott Railton, the son of a Methodist minister, lost both parents from fever when he was 15.  Homeless and peniless, he found himself in London working on his own for a shipping company, seeking something that was more like the old Methodism of John Wesley.

Eventually, he found the Christian Mission work of William Booth.

The Salvation Army in the States

In 1880, he travelled to New York with seven female officers (ministers) - nicknamed the 'Hallelujah Lassies' -  to start the first Salvation Army mission in the United States.

Railton and the "lassies" made swift progress, joining with the unofficial work already begun by the Shirley family in Philadelphia. He also began the work in Newark, New Jersey, leaving two young women in charge. With typical zeal, he soon departed for St. Louis, Missouri, in an effort to begin work there, but was unsuccessful.

[Read more: Pioneer of United States Salvation Army commemorated in his Scottish hometown]

Meanwhile, in New York the work had gone so well that by May there were 16 officers, 40 cadets, and 412 soldiers. By the end of 1880, a total of 1,500 had been converted.

By 1881, he was needed by Booth and was on his way to begin missionary work in other lands.

The Salvation Army is now the second biggest charity in the United States, with more than 1,200 churches and 123,843 members.

Work around the world

In later years, Railton would extend his work to other parts of the world campaigning in South Africa, Holland, South America, the West Indies, the Far East, West Africa, China, Russia and Turkey.

He was in charge of Salvation Army work in Germany , 1880-94, and later was Territorial Commander for France, 1901-02.

In the course of his voyages, he made many contributions to the Army's work. They include song books in Zulu and Dutch, the beginnings of the Army and Navy League for Salvationist servicemen away from home, and the Prison Gate work for recently-released prisoners.

In 1906, in accordance with the founder's wishes, he scouted China to look for possibilities for the Army's work which began in 1915. He also gloried in reaching the Japanese people, where he found the work already in progress.

Railton was inspired by the missionary spirit in a far wider sense than is generally understood. He was a missionary not for a province, land, or people, but for the world.

His death

Railton's health began to fail noticeably in 1913, the year after Booth's death. He kept up his frantic schedule with a trip to France and Holland and an impulsive stop in Cologne, Germany.

After running for a train with heavy baggage, he collapsed and died at the age of 64. His first lying in state was at the men's shelter in that city.

People from all walks of life, from all over the world, mourned his promotion to glory. World Commissioners followed the car bearing his casket. As the procession passed Parliament, a band was permitted to play for the first time in 100 years. George Scott Railton was truly William Booth's spiritual son and was laid to rest beside The Salvation Army's founder.

From its beginnings in the years Railton joined the The Salvation Army, the church and charity now offers practical support to millions of people who are vulnerable or in need in 125 countries.

There is a memorial to the late George Railton in Battery Park, Manhattan, New York City  and The Railton School for Youth Worker Training in Suffern, New York is named after him.

View the George Scott Railton Flickr gallery below

Born: July 6, 1849, Arbroath
Died: July 19, 1913, Abney Park Cemetery

Read more: Elijah Cadman