Heritage Museum Picture of the Month

Commissioner Thomas Estill (1859–1926)

by Rob Jeffery

The Salvation Army in America has been led by some pretty big names. In the early years, Commissioner George Scott Railton, Commissioner Frederick Booth-Tucker, and two Booth children (Ballington and Evangeline) led the Army from its National Headquarters in New York City. But few know the name of our very first territorial commander, Commissioner Thomas Estill (1859–1926).

Though the East has always been the spiritual home of The Salvation Army in the United States, it wasn’t until 1920 that the USA Eastern Territory was created. Commissioner Thomas Estill was appointed to lead the newly formed territory, along with his wife, Mary (Barber) Estill. A Salvation Army veteran of the highest order, Estill came to salvation under the ministry of William Booth and signed up to be an evangelist in the Christian Mission. After serving in Great Britain, he was sent to command the work of the Army in South Africa, New South Wales, Australia, New Zealand, Holland, and Japan.

In 1908 he led The Salvation Army in the western part of the U.S., and in 1920, he was appointed as our first territorial commander. While preaching in Worcester, Mass., he took ill and was rushed to the hospital. He recovered sufficiently to make it back to New York but tragically suffered a fatal heart attack soon after. He was Promoted to Glory on Oct. 19, 1926. Our first territorial commander also holds the sad distinction of being the first and only leader to die in office while on active service. A most devoted servant of God!