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May 28 William Cogate and Tithing

Today we go back to year 1795 and travel to Baltimore where, a young William Colgate arrived in the US and settled in Harford County, Maryland with his family. His faith gave him the resilience to develop on of the most famous companies in the world, and he is famous for his honesty, generosity and his tithing.


His father, a friend of the British Prime Minster had been warned to escape England when King George III had placed him on a list of the seven most dangerous men in Britain. His radical views where seen as dangerous at the time of the French Revolution and American Independence. William was not even in his teens, but had a blissful time swimming, hunting and fishing in the beautiful countryside near Deer Creek Valley Darlington. However soon the family would face a second major upheaval, when a rival claimant to the land appeared, they had been tricked into buying the farm. Scraping enough money to buy a second farm, with the promise of a coal mine, they couldn’t make this work, and the family moved to Baltimore when his father got a job making soap. Young William followed him, and was happy to settle into an apprenticeship when that business failed too. He was now experienced enough to strike out on his own, and found employment in New York in another Soap Business.

Sometime after arriving in New York, Colgate was in the congregation of a Rev. Dr. Mason, then a famous preacher in the Presbyterian Church. His sermons challenged William, not to become bitter after the various traumas that had uprooted the family, and he began to realise his need to be ‘born again’. Western Protestantism had already splinted into different factions and he was anxious not to upset his family. Writing to his father, an Arminian Baptist, of his desire to make a public profession of his Christian faith in connection with the Presbyterian Church, he stated the chief points of his religious belief in a letter to his father. He received a kind reply, cordially approving of his intentions. The Rev. William Parkinson, pastor of the First Baptist church in New York, baptized him in February, 1808. Colgate became a deacon and then three years later he transferred his membership to the church in Oliver Street.

He was successful in business, a fast learner, and was quickly transferred from manufacturing to sales. Excelling at this too, he was promoted to manager, and within three years had established his own business. Bringing his brother on board, William Colgate and Company was formed, specialising in Soap and Candle Making. Spurred on by his faith, he 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 progressively more, and finally five-tenths of all his income to what he discerned was the mission of God. During the later days of his life he revealed the origin of his devotion to the idea of tithing. When he had left home to find employment in New York City. He had 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. Honour Him by sharing what you earn. Begin by tithing all you receive.’

By 1817, because of his reputation for integrity, quality and excellent customer service Colgate’s had become the leading soap manufacturer in all of America. He annually subscribed money to assist defraying the expenses of Hamilton Literary and Theological Institution and his sons James and Samuel were both benefactors and helped it become Madison University and Theological Seminary. After seven decades of the Colgates' involvement, the school was renamed Colgate University in 1890. He became a treasurer and was on the board of management of the Baptist Missionary Society and his good reputation led him to be invited to become the mayor of New York at a time when corruption was a terrible problem. Although he recognised the honour of receiving the invitation, he wanted to prioritise his business and mission commitments, and politely. The family home became known as a ‘Baptist Hotel’ – and a Professor Harvey recovered from depression saying “His cheerful presence and the quickening atmosphere of that home were a perpetual tonic and inspiration”. Colgate’s Brand is now known worldwide and his name has become synonymous with toothpaste. Thanks to Peter Lupson and his book ‘In God’s Company’ for todays research

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