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January 25, 1783|
Hollingbourne, Kent, Great Britain
|Died||March 25, 1857
New York City, New York, United States
|Resting place||Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York|
|Known for||Founded Colgate soap company|
|Spouse(s)||Mary Gilbert (married 1811)|
Robert Colgate (1758–1826) was an 18th-century English farmer, politician and sympathiser with the American War of Independence and French Revolution, whose republican ideals impelled him to leave their farm in Shoreham, Kent in March 1798 and emigrate to Baltimore, Maryland, in the United States of America, after which the family settled on a farm in Harford County, Maryland. Colgate formed a partnership with Ralph Maher to manufacture soap and candles, and William helped the two men, but the partnership dissolved after two years.
Life in New York
William Colgate came to New York City in 1804. He there obtained employment as an apprentice to a soap-boiler, and learned the business. Young as he was, he showed even then that quickness of observation, which distinguished him later in life. He closely watched the methods practiced by his employer, noting what seemed to him to be mismanagement, and learned useful lessons for his own guidance. At the close of his apprenticeship he was enabled, by correspondence with dealers in other cities, to establish himself in the business with some assurance of success. William established a starch, soap and candle business in Manhattan, on Dutch Street in 1806. In 1820, he started a starch factory across the Hudson in Jersey City, leading to a long involvement of the company in Jersey City.
William followed his goal of prosperity through life, and became one of the most prosperous men in the city of New York. This circumstance, together with his great wisdom in counsel, and his readiness to aid in all useful and practicable enterprises, gave him a wide influence in the community, and especially in the denomination of which he was from early life an active and honored member.
Of the occurrence which led to his connection with that denomination he gave the following account. For some time after coming to New York, he attended worship with the congregation of the Rev. Dr. Mason, then one of the most eminent preachers of the Presbyterian Church. Writing to his father, an Arminian Baptist, of his purpose to make a public profession of his Christian faith in connection with the Presbyterian Church, he stated the chief points of his religious belief, quoting a "thus saith the Lord" for each. He received a kind reply cordially approving of that course, and asking for a "thus saith the Lord" in proof of sprinkling as Christian baptism, and of the baptism of infants as an ordinance of Christ. Happening to read the letter in an evening company of Christian friends, members of the church he attended, he remarked on leaving them that he must go home and answer his father's questions. "Poor young man," exclaimed an intelligent Christian lady when he was gone, "he little knows what he is undertaking!" He found it so. And he found it equally hard to be convinced, by Dr. Mason's reasoning, that something else than a "thus saith the Lord" would do just as well.
The Rev. William Parkinson, pastor of the First Baptist church in New York, baptized him in February, 1808. In 1811 he transferred his membership to the church in Oliver Street. In 1838 he became a member of the church worshipping in the Tabernacle, to the erection of which he had himself largely contributed.
Philanthropy and family
He annually subscribed money to assist in defraying the current expenses of Hamilton Literary and Theological Institution (later Madison University and Theological Seminary); and he was among the most strenuous opponents of their removal to the city of Rochester. He was a regular contributor to the funds of the Baptist Missionary Union, and took upon himself the entire support of a foreign missionary.
He married Mary Gilbert and had three sons, Robert, James and Samuel. James and Samuel were both benefactors of Madison University and Theological Seminary. After seven decades of the Colgates' involvement, the school was renamed Colgate University in 1890. His son Robert purchased Stonehurst at Riverdale-on-Hudson in The Bronx about 1859 shortly after it was built; it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.
William Colgate was a tither throughout his long and successful business career. He gave not merely one-tenth of the earnings of Colgate’s soap products; but he gave two-tenths, then three-tenths, and finally five-tenths of all his income to the work of God in the world. During the later days of his life he revealed the origin of his devotion to the idea of tithing. When he was sixteen years old he left home to find employment in New York City. He had previously worked in a soap manufacturing shop. When he told the captain of the canal boat upon which he was traveling that he planned to make soap in New York City the man gave him this advice: ‘Someone will soon be the leading soap maker in New York. You can be that person. But you must never lose sight of the fact that the soap you make has been given to you by God. Honor Him by sharing what you earn. Begin by tithing all you receive.’ William Colgate felt the urge to tithe because he recognized that God was the giver of all that he possessed, not only of opportunity, but even of the elements which were used in the manufacture of his products.
- Cathcart, William, ed. (2001). The Baptist Encyclopaedia, Volume 1. The Baptist Standard Bearer, Inc. pp. 249–250. ISBN 9781579789091.
- National Park Service (March 13, 2009). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.
- Spiritual Life Through Tithing, G. Ernest Thomas (1955); Soap and Toothpaste: A Testimony About Giving
This article incorporates text from The Baptist Encyclopaedia, Volume 1, by William Cathcart, ed., a publication from 1881 now in the public domain in the United States.