BOOKER, ALFRED, Baptist minister; b. 14 March 1800 in Nottingham, England; m. first 1824 Sophia Varnham, and they had eight children; m. secondly 1846 Mrs Ann Gardner in Hamilton, Upper Canada; d. 12 March 1857 near Hamilton.
In his youth, Alfred Booker imbibed infidel opinions. Although he had little formal academic training, he was able to educate himself by reading widely, and in the process learned the French language. One evening, at the age of 17, he went to a chapel of ease in Nottingham to meet a friend attending a service. Booker heard a sermon there that led to his conversion and, later, his baptism in the city’s General Baptist Chapel. Unable to keep his new-found faith to himself, he spoke of it with such enthusiasm that others, recognizing his ability in this direction, encouraged him to preach. In 1830 he was ordained and installed as the pastor of Park Street Baptist Church, and he also ministered to the Bethesda Meeting House.
Booker was among the many English Baptists of the time who were moved by Eustace Carey’s accounts of Baptist missionary labours in India to respond to the needs of missions in general. Because Booker knew French he felt Providence calling him to America to preach to the French Canadians, and in 1842 he set out with his family for Montreal. No record of his work there has been found. That winter he wrote to “The Baptists of Hamilton, Canada West,” appointing himself their pastor and inviting them to hold prayer meetings until his arrival. He was not the first to organize a Baptist church in that community. An earlier effort had lasted from 1834 to 1836, and was followed about three years later by the establishment of a black Baptist congregation, one with which Washington Christian* was later involved. When Booker’s letter was received in Hamilton the postmaster decided that it was not intended for the black congregation and gave it to a boot merchant, Philo Warner Dayfoot, who followed Booker’s instructions. Within a few weeks of his arrival on 1 May 1843, Booker had established a congregation that met first in the police station and then in Patrick Thornton’s schoolhouse before building a meeting-house in 1846. Initially called First Baptist, the church was later named Park Street after its location. The congregation grew from 10 in 1843 to 59 in 1846.
Despite the church’s growth and the financial assistance of Baptists from the nearby towns of Beamsville and Dundas, there was little money to pay the pastor. Booker, whose wife had died in 1845, helped support himself by selling Nottingham lace throughout the countryside while soliciting contributions to the Hamilton church. At his followers’ request in 1847 he gave up the business, and they applied to the American Baptist Home Mission Society for £50 to assist in his support; there is no record that the grant was ever made. The congregation none the less continued its aid to bible and missionary societies, including the Grande-Ligne mission in Lower Canada [see Henriette Odin*], and local benevolences. Sir Allan Napier MacNab* later made a generous gift to the church that eased Booker’s financial problems.
Booker was a leader in organizing the Baptists in Canada. In 1844 he took part in the first annual meeting of the Canada Baptist Union, and in 1848 became a vice-president of a convention that sought the union of Regular (closed communion) Baptist churches in Canada. Unfortunately, it was around this time that controversy disrupted the congregation he had founded. In 1847 he had participated in the considerable discussion that took place about the method of hymn singing and the new tunes being used. This sort of dissension grew, and in 1849 a new deacon, Thomas Haines, sought Booker’s removal from office. When the attempt failed, Haines led a small exodus in June 1850 to form the John Street Baptist Church. Because the new church was also active in the Regular Baptist cause, Park Street cut back on its denominational commitments. Though personality rather than theology seems to have caused the split, one Park Street member was excluded for heresy.
Despite the controversy, the Park Street Baptist Church was able to expand its activities. In 1857 it undertook missionary work and Booker began to preach in Wellington Square (Burlington) once a week. On 12 March he was returning to Hamilton by train when he was killed in the accident at the Desjardins Canal bridge [see Samuel Zimmerman]. A collection taken during an interdenominational service held at Knox Presbyterian Church in Hamilton paid for his grave-marker. The pastor of the John Street church died in the same year as Booker, and the two congregations united that July.
A good-looking, learned man, with strong opinions, Booker had the support of most of his congregation and won the respect of his fellow ministers. Of his children, one son, Theophorus, joined the ministry, and another, Alfred*, had a distinguished career in business and in the militia.
Canadian Baptist Arch., McMaster Divinity College (Hamilton, Ont.), James Street Baptist Church (Hamilton), records, Park Street Baptist Church minutes, 1843–78. PRO, RG 4/1718, 1831–37 (photocopies at Canadian Baptist Arch., McMaster Divinity College). T. L. Davidson, A funeral sermon, preached in the Park Street Baptist Chapel, Hamilton, March 22nd, 1857 . . . occasioned by the death of the late Rev. Alfred Booker . . . (Hamilton, 1857). Minutes of the convention of associational delegates convened at St. George’s, 6th & 7th September, 1848, to effect a union of the Regular Baptists of Canada; and of a convention of delegates of churches held at the same place, September 7 (London, [Ont., 1848]). Register (Montreal), 18 Jan., 18 April, 16 May 1844. Weekly Spectator, 11 July 1850, 19 March 1857. The Canadian Baptist register (Toronto), 1857, 20–21. DHB. F. K. Anderson et al., A history of James St. Baptist Church: 125th anniversary edition, 1844–1969 (Hamilton, 1969).