Twelve-year-old William Colgate woke with a start as someone pounded on the door of the house. It was the middle of the night in the small town of Shoreham, near London.
William Pitt, the British prime minister, had sent a private messenger to warn his friend - Colgate's father - that he must leave England or risk imprisonment or death. People knew that Robert Colgate had sympathized with the Americans during their recent fight for independence. So, in March 1795, the Colgates boarded ship for Baltimore. When the family arrived in America, they settled on a farm.
Then William's father formed a partnership with Ralph Maher to manufacture soap and candles, and William helped the two men. The partnership dissolved after two years - William's father wanted to get back to farming.
William, 19 years old, decided that he would go into business on his own. However, his business failed within a year. William determined to try again - this time in New York City.
"Be sure you start right, and you'll get along well," advised a friend, a canal-boat captain who was a Christian. "Someone will be the leading soap maker in New York. It may be you!
"Be a good man. Give your heart to Christ. Give God all that belongs to Him. Make an honest soap. Give a full pound."
William read the Old Testament story of Jacob's vow. When Jacob left home, he said, "If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father's house, then the Lord will be my God... and of all that you [God] give me I will give you a tenth." – Genesis 28:20-22
Jacob's vow challenged William. He made a similar vow; he determined to give God first place in his life, and he also promised to give a tenth - a tithe - of his profits to God.
In 1804, at the age of 21, William found employment with tallow chandlers Slidel and Company, where he learned more about the soap-making business. When, two years later, the company ceased production, William was ready to try again.
William Colgate and Company met with success from the start. Within six years he added the manufacture of starch to his laundry-soap business. Later, he also produced hand soap and a variety of toilet and shaving soaps.
As Colgate's business grew, so did his family. In 1811, he married Mary Gilbert, and they became the parents of 11 children - giving most biblical names. They attended church, had family worship, and read the Bible together.
William became known as Deacon Colgate in his church. He liberally supported missions, temperance (the Colgates allowed no alcohol in their home), and Christian education. He donated large sums to several educational institutions, including Madison College, in Hamilton, New York. It's now called Colgate University in his honor.
William never forgot his promise to God. From the first dollar he earned he devoted 10 percent of his net earnings to benevolence. As he prospered, he instructed his accountants to increase the amount to 20 percent and later to 30 percent. It seemed that the more he gave, the more he prospered.
William saw, in his business, the fulfillment of the promise made to tithe payers that God will " 'throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it."
He took an active interest in the Bible, particularly its translation, publication, and distribution. In 1816, he helped organize the American Bible Society, and later he assisted in forming the American and Foreign Bible Society.
The soap king died on March 25, 1857, but his influence continues. The Colgate name lives on in products in supermarkets throughout the world. And the name still preaches a sermon to those who know his story.
Contributed by Mr. John Cherian