The old ship drove steadily though the choppy waves of the Chesapeake Bay as the sailors clambered across the deck and through the rigging. Landfall was imminent and all were eager to end the trans-Atlantic crossing and set foot on solid ground. Soon, all was secure and the sea-weary passengers emerged from below decks, blinking in the early morning sunlight. Staggering and unsteady, the small family made its way to the railing and watched the crowded harbor unfold before them. The New World – America – lay vast and green around the bustling port of Baltimore. Buildings soared up the low hills and signs of both prosperity and poverty were evident in the stores, warehouses and homes jumbled together around the waterfront.
Twelve-year-old William watched with bright, alert eyes at the activities as his father, Robert, lead them ashore on the shore. Soon their meager belongings, one small case of hastily rescued clothing, was piled with the other luggage and Robert and his son picked it up between them. A line of wagons for hire waited at the end of the dock, but Robert walked past them and turned toward the town’s interior.
His wife walked slightly behind, watching the entire sum of their earthly possessions suspended between father and son. Tears threatened to stream freely down her wane face. Only her thankfulness to God for seeing them safely through the horrific events of the past few months allowed her to set one foot in front of another. Her faith in the infinite wisdom of a living God strengthened her with each step she took on new and unfamiliar land as she followed her husband and son further from England and the political menace that had taken all of their land and forced them to flee—without land or money—for their lives.
Robert was a diligent and intelligent man and the faithful family soon found themselves settled and starting over on a small farm in Hartford Coounty, Md.
Life on a farm is hard work at any time and this was certainly true in 1804. Cash money was always scarce and the livestock and crops demanded constant care. Young William shared the hard work with his family, but he was always on the lookout for ways to make a chore more efficient and easier if possible. The more efficient he could complete one task; the faster he could move on to something else and usually find a way to achieve a better result. But no matter how efficient he was or how hard he worked, the family never recovered financially.
It was late summer and the last of the feed corn had been safely stored in the corn crib for the winter. William and his father leaned against the split rail fence that surrounded the pig’s pen. A bristly gray momma pig wiggled her snout and flapped her big perky ears as she watched the two tired men.
“Son, that was the best harvest we have had in a while and it still isn’t going to be enough.” Robert was saying, “We are going to have to sell off all but one milch cow and I don’t see how we can feed the pigs and the plow team both.”
“Well, Dad, you have to have the horses.” pointed out William, “Without the team, you can not plow next spring or get back and forth from town.”
Both men gazed at the blue dusky hills across the valley.
“You know, I have been thinking and praying about this for a while, Dad. I know you need my help here on this farm, but I think I can do better in the city.”
His father wanted to protest, but he knew his son was right. William continued, “I should probably go soon, before winter. That way you will have enough food from this harvest to see you through until next year. I can send money back to help out also. And you won’t have to worry about clothes or extras for me either.”
“Son, are you sure about this?”
“I’ll miss you all, but yes, I suppose it is something I have to do sooner or later anyway. Like you said, right now even our best isn’t enough. Will you help me tell Mother?”
Robert smiled then and slapped his son affectionately on the shoulder. “That’s going to be the hard part. But I am proud of you.”
Later that evening, the small family listened quietly as Robert read their daily Bible verse. He led them in a brief discussion and prayer and then turned to his wife. “William has something he wants to say.”
His mother was saddened by her son’s announcement, but echoed her husband’s thoughts when she remarked. “I’ve always known that someday you would leave home to find your own way, especially since we came to this exciting country.”
She asked her husband to hand her the Bible. “I would love it if things were otherwise and you did not have to leave at such a young age, but I must insist you memorize this verse. She opened the Scriptures to Malachi 3:10 and handed the book to her son. “Read this to verse 12 out loud for us, please.
William read the ancient and powerful promise: “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,’ says the LORD Almighty,’ and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.”
“Please remember these words, wherever you go, whatever you do, William.” His mother spoke through her tears as she embraced her baby boy for the last time. “I love you.”
The trip from the Harford County, Maryland to New York City in 1804 was long and complicated. Young William arrived in the city tired, hungry and if anything, more broke than when he started. But the country boy’s basic intelligence and determination were fortified with his faith and his family’s prayers and he soon learned his way around the teeming metropolis.
It did not take him long to find work as an apprentice to a soap boiler. In the early 1800’s most women produced their own soap at home. A soap-maker would probably have been a dead-end career for a less astute and industrious young man.
William not only applied himself to learning all he could about every process, but he envisioned how to mass-produce the products cost effectively and even how to convince the homemaker of the day to purchase his product. By 1809, William owned his own manufacturing plant and was well on his way to becoming an extremely wealthy man.
From the very first dollar that he earned, William Colgate tithed faithfully. He held fast to the commands and the promises of the Lord God and gave at least 10% of everything he ever earned. He actually opened a bank account for the Lord and instructed his bookkeeper to deposit one tenth of all his income.
As his business prospered almost supernaturally, he increased his tithe. Soon he was giving two tenths of his earnings; and then three tenths, four tenths; and finally, one-half. It seemed as if his sales increased in exact proportion to his generosity. God prospered his hard work in return for his faithfulness to his Maker. Soon his make of soap became a household word throughout the world.
William Colgate was faithful to provide for his aged parents. He purchased a pleasant home on a farm in a neighboring county and provided for them the rest of their lives. And no matter how rich he became, God came first. He set out to prove God’s promise in Malachi and God did indeed pour out the blessings of heaven.