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Saturday, November 21, 2009

William H. Conley (1840-1897)

William Henry Conley (11 June 1840 – 25 July 1897), was a Pittsburgh philanthropist and industrialist. He was married to Sarah Shaffer (1841-1908). Together, they provided organizational and financial support to religious institutions in the United States. William Conley was trained by his uncle in the printing business for ten years. Conley was co-owner of the Riter Conley Company, which provided steel and manufactured goods during the Second Industrial Revolution.

Bethel Home Mission

The Conleys frequently held prayer meetings and events in their home ministry. Adventist minister George Stetson lived for a time with the Conleys during a prolonged period of illness until his death. The Conley home was sometimes kept open for weeks at a time in support of religious and charity efforts. According to Zion's Watch Tower, annual celebrations of the Memorial of Christ's death were held at the Conleys' home. Conley's home mission was described as Bethel (literally, "house of God"). The first recorded mention of Bethel in association with Conley appeared in 1890, in reference to the missionary house of Miss Lucy Dunne, established by William and Sarah Conley in Jerusalem.

Zion's Watch Tower Tract Society

From 1881 until 1884, Conley was the first president of Zion's Watch Tower Tract Society. Charles Taze Russell, who initially served as the Society's secretary-treasurer, had been publisher and editor of the Society's flagship periodical, Zion's Watch Tower (now known as The Watchtower) since 1879, and later claimed that the Society was started in 1880 and had been functioning informally even before that. In December 1884, the Society was incorporated with Russell as president. In 1896, the Society was renamed Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, and later became associated with Jehovah's Witnesses.

Conley provided practical assistance to other religious publications, including the three-volume series, Theocratic Kingdom by George N. H. Peters; Peters dedicated the work partially to Conley, claiming to be "deeply indebted for sympathy and pecuniary aid in the prosecution and publication of the work."While Conley was still president of the Society, the May 1883 issue of Zion’s Watch Tower criticized Peters' work, recommending that readers not purchase the title.

In 1894, Russell introduced a letter from Conley as written by "a member of the early Allegheny Bible Class" rather than the Society's first president. Following Conley's death in July 1897, Zion's Watch Tower provided no obituary, nor any statement of Conley's involvement with the Society.

In an obituary for Conley in the unrelated publication, The World's Hope of August 1897, Zion's Watch Tower correspondent J. H. Paton wrote of the Conley home, "I have shared the generous hospitality of that Christian home. Often has the spacious parlor been opened for the purposes of praise and prayer, and for the proclamation of the good tidings. It has been to many a Bethel—the house of God and the gate of heaven." The previous month, Zion's Watch Tower had used the phrase, "Bethel, House of God, a gate to heaven", in connection with the apostle Paul.

Christian and Missionary Alliance

Conley was a member of the board of managers of the Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA), and was instrumental in funding and organizing it at local, state and national levels through the International Missionary Alliance (IMA). In 1889, Conley funded and organized the CMA mission in Jerusalem under control of his home mission which would later come under the auspices of the IMA and eventually the CMA. In the same year, the International Missionary Alliance was legally incorporated with W. H. Conley's $5000 contribution. The Pittsburgh branch of the Christian and Missionary Alliance was formally established in 1894. Conley was elected president of both the Pittsburgh branch and at the state level, an office which he retained until his death in 1897.

Business and charitable interests

William Conley worked his way from bookkeeper to co-owner of the Riter Conley Company, a worldwide supplier to the drilling, mining, manufacturing, and marine industries. Conley was also director and a stockholder of the Third National Bank of Allegheny.

William and his wife were active in several Pittsburgh charities, including an orphanage and school for African-American children, as well as a local hospital.


William Henry Conley contracted influenza (indicated in one obituary as "La Grippe") early in 1897, from which he never fully recovered. His health was relatively stable until June, at which time he suffered a relapse, after which he seldom left his home. He became bedridden in the last week of his life; on the evening of July 25, 1897, his health rapidly declined, and he died at about 8:30pm. A funeral service was conducted at his home in Pittsburgh.

William Conley was survived by his wife Sarah. After a period of prolonged illness, Sarah Conley died October 1, 1908. In honor of her husband's memory, Mrs Conley left much of her estate—estimated at a value of nearly $500,000 (current equivalent, about $12.18 million)—to the Wylie Avenue Church and the Pittsburg Bible Institute.

- From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, 12/13/2010

Providing Literature for Early Bible Students

One of the first articles written by C. T. Russell was published, in 1876, in the Bible Examiner, edited by George Storrs of Brooklyn, New York. After Brother Russell became associated with N. H. Barbour of Rochester, New York, Russell provided funds for publication of the book Three Worlds and the paper known as Herald of the Morning. He served as a coeditor of that paper and, in 1877, used the facilities of the Herald to publish the booklet The Object and Manner of Our Lord’s Return. Brother Russell had a keen mind for spiritual matters as well as business affairs, but it was Barbour who was experienced in typesetting and composition.

However, when Barbour repudiated the sin-atoning value of the ransom sacrifice of Jesus Christ, Brother Russell severed relations with him. So, in 1879 when Russell undertook publication of Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence, he had to rely on commercial printers.

The following year the first of an extensive series of tracts designed to interest people in Bible truths was prepared for publication. This work quickly took on immense proportions. In order to handle it, Zion’s Watch Tower Tract Society was formed on February 16, 1881, with W. H. Conley as president and C. T. Russell as secretary and treasurer. Arrangements were made for the printing to be done by commercial firms in various cities of Pennsylvania, New York, and Ohio, as well as in Britain. In 1884, Zion’s Watch Tower Tract Society was legally incorporated, with C. T. Russell as president, and its charter showed that it was more than a society that would direct publishing. Its real objective was religious; it was chartered for “the dissemination of Bible Truths in various languages.”

With what zeal that objective was pursued! In 1881, within a period of four months, 1,200,000 tracts totaling some 200,000,000 pages were published. (Many of these “tracts” were actually in the form of small books.) Thereafter, production of Bible tracts for free distribution soared to the tens of millions year after year. These tracts were printed in some 30 languages and were distributed not only in America but also in Europe, South Africa, Australia, and other lands.

Another aspect of the work opened up in 1886, when Brother Russell completed writing The Divine Plan of the Ages, the first of a series of six volumes that he personally penned. In connection with the publishing of the first four volumes in that series (1886-97), as well as tracts and the Watch Tower from 1887 to 1898, he made use of the Tower Publishing Company. In time, typesetting and composition were done by the brothers at the Bible House in Pittsburgh. To keep expenses down, they also purchased the paper for printing. As for the actual printing and binding, Brother Russell often placed orders with more than one firm. He planned carefully, ordering far enough in advance to get favorable rates. From the time of the publication of the first book written by C. T. Russell down through 1916, a total of 9,384,000 of those six volumes were produced and distributed.

The publishing of Bible literature did not stop at Brother Russell’s death. The following year the seventh volume of Studies in the Scriptures was printed. It was released to the Bethel family on July 17, 1917. So great was the demand for it that by the end of that year, the Society had placed orders for 850,000 copies in English with commercial printers and bookbinders. Editions in other languages were being produced in Europe. In addition, that year some 38 million tracts were printed.

But then, during a period of intense persecution in 1918, while officials of the Society were unjustly imprisoned, their headquarters (located in Brooklyn, New York) was dismantled. The plates for printing were destroyed. The greatly reduced staff moved the office back to Pittsburgh to the third floor of a building at 119 Federal Street. Would this bring to an end their producing of Bible literature?

- Jehovah’s Witnesses—Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom, 1993 WTB&TS

The Jehovah's Witnesses and Bible Students, view Charles Taze Russell as the first president of the Watch Tower Society from the date that the Society was legally incorporated in 1884, not the date that the Society was formed in 1881. Some within the ex-JW community and other faultfinders have a difficult time comprehending the term legally incorporated.

"It was in 1881, during the early development of these activities, that Zion’s Watch Tower Tract Society was formed as a non-incorporated association, to provide funds and direction for expanding the preaching activity through distribution of Bible literature. In 1884 it was decided to incorporate it under the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania so that, as a legal instrument not dependent upon the life of any individuals, it could better carry on the work of expanding distribution of Bible literature. This was finalized by the Court of Common Pleas No. 1 of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, on December 13, 1884."

- Jehovah's Witnesses Centennial Brochure, 1984, WTB&TS

William Henry Conley’s association with Russell was short-lived but significant. Conley was born June 11, 1840, in Pittsburgh to George Washington Conley and Matilda Balsley. His father died about 1852, when Conley was twelve years old, and Conley went to work in a woolen mill in Alleghany.[i] In 1855 he was apprenticed to an uncle, a printer in Blairsville, Ohio. In 1857, he moved with his uncle to Plymouth, Ohio, where he met Sara Shaffer (also spelled Shafer), two years his junior and a transplanted Pennsylvanian. They married in 1860.

Significantly, Conley associated with the Lutheran Church in Plymouth, Ohio. There is little documentation for Conley’s life in Ohio, but it is into this time that one can fit his first acquaintance with George N. H. Peters, later the author of the massive three volume Theocratic Kingdom. Peter’s obituary as found in The Lutheran Observer of October 22, 1909, notes his service to the Plymouth, Ohio, church.[ii] Another source shows him serving as pastor in Plymouth during the years of Conley’s residence.[iii] While it is possible that Russell met Peters through another, it is likely that he met him through Conley. It is also extremely likely that Conley’s interest in the Lord’s return and last-times events derived from his association with Peters.

There are three William Conleys listed among Civil War soldiers from Ohio, but none of the biographical notices of William H. Conley list Civil War service. At or toward the end of the war the Conley’s moved back to Pittsburgh where he joined a commission house, a brokerage firm. Later he became a bookkeeper for James M. Riter whose company, established in 1861, worked in sheet metal and copper. The business seems to have been prosperous though not large. Riter supplied major portions of the iron work for the Escanaba furnace in 1872.[iv]

Riter died in 1873 Conley “took a half-interest in the business with Thomas B. Riter, the firm name being changed to Riter & Conley; he attended to the financial and office work while Mr. Riter attended to the outside and mechanical part.” Eventually Riter & Conley “became the most extensive of its kind in the world.” [v] That Conley focused on a major business venture that year is a strong indicator that he did not take the predictions of Jonas Wendell, Nelson Barbour and others seriously.

- Watch Tower History Blog - by Bruce W. Schulz, 9/18/2008

From The World's Hope, August 1, 1897, pages 235


On reaching home today (July 28.)–the day appointed for Bro. Conley's funeral–this word from Bro. Mann was handed me, and the sudden feeling of sadness that filled my heart cannot be expressed. And at the very hour of the funeral service, when brothers and sisters are gathered to mingle their tears of grief and sympathy, I am at my desk writing these lines. Had it been possible, I should have been with the friends in the house of mourning. I loved Bro. Conley, and none who knew him will wonder at this. For over twenty years he has been my faithful friend. Many times during these years I have shared the generous hospitality of that Christian home. Often has the spacious parlor been opened for the purposes of praise and prayer, and for the proclamation of the good tidings. It has been to many a Bethel–the house of God and the gate of heaven.

We cannot but mourn. Tears unbidden starts. But they are not hopeless. Our blessed Lord said, ‘Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.' May the Holy spirit bring needed consolation to the hearts of Sister Conley, the aged mother, and the many who have learned to think of the departed one as beloved in the Lord. And while we wait a little longer, until we shall follow him through the vail, may we be encouraged to faithfulness by the memory of his devoted life.."

Editor (J. H. Paton)

Also See:

From TheWorld's Hope, August 1, 1897, pages 234-235

Brother Conley At Rest

Dear Bro. Paton: Our very dear friend and brother, Wm H. Conley of Allegheny, passed behind the vail at about 8:30 this evening. (July 25). "his end was peace," as became a good soldier of Jesus anointed. You know much of his faithfulness, but we think no one but the Heavenly Father in whose love he lived, and loved and walked, knew how true, and kind, and good a friend he was. He has not been well for a long time, and had been running down for several months. He had an attack of La Grippe four or five months ago, from which he never fully rallied. He has been but twice out of the house in six weeks,–to the house of prayer on both occasions. About noon today, a few of his dearest Christian brothers and sisters had a season of prayer with him, and afterward sung some sweet trustful verses and choruses that he liked. For the first time in weeks his sweet bass voice went out in unison with ours, and he joined in the prayer and praise. You know what a splendid voice he had. I was certainly surprised today–knowing of his shortness of breath, etc.–to hear it once more. It was his last notes of praise in the flesh to the One he loved so well. Toward evening he sank rapidly. His wife, his dear old mother, some other relatives, and Christian friends stood around his bed as he passed over. There was a heavenly atmosphere. One sister said it seemed to her as if angels filled the room. And while there were many tears,-- for human love and sympathy must manifest itself,-- yet there were hallelujahs in loving hearts for the victory that only the faithful win.

He will be greatly missed. His clear cut testimonies as to the faithfulness of God, the integrity of His word, the doming of our Lord, and the restitution of the ages to come, will ong be remembered by many. "Christ in me the hope of glory," was one of his favorite hymns, and typical of the songs he loved to sing. He expected to be a member of the cabinet (as he so often expressed it) of the King of Kings, in the rule of the nations in power and blessing. "This honor have all His saints," Ps. cxlix. He gave liberally, counting himself only a steward of the wealth the Father placed in his hands. He counted himself a part of that Seed who is to bless all the families of the earth, and he began to practice down here with that which was put in his hand.

We believe fully that in this feature his work has only begun, and that he will share in the glory and exercise of that which he so dearly loved to do.

He rests in the blessed hope. Remember dear Sister Conley in this hour of bereavement and trial. In Christian love,

W. I. Mann,

Pittsburg, PA.

When Russell gathered interested parties around himself for "independent" Bible study, there were initially five individuals, including himself. These included himself, his father, his sister Margaret, and brother and sister Conley. They were strongly influenced by Wendell and by Stetson. Wendell died in short order, and Stetson moved to Edenboro. In 1874 Russell, his father and his sister we baptized. This came as a result of conversations with Storrs, and, I believe, from reading Horace Hastings' tract on Consecration. In various places Russell says that his views, and, hence, the views of the growing group, were the same as those entertained by Advent Christians generally. He was never a member of that Church in a formal way, but adopted many of their views–Especially those of the non-Trinitarian party in the AC church.

When Russell met Barbour and Paton in 1876, he met men who had been for some years active in the Advent Christian Church. Paton was a well known AC evangelist in the Michigan area, and is mentioned for that work in Isaac Wellcome's history. Barbour's association with the Advent Christians went back to the 1850s. By 1876 Barbour had modified certain AC views. He no longer saw the earth as the destiny of the Bride of Christ, but had come to understand Heaven as the intended home of the 144,000. This was a significant departure from Advent Christian teaching. He had read James Relly, and was influenced by him to a great degree. This lead to other slight departures from AC teachings too. This was not particularly unusual in Advent Christian circles, where there was a far greater diversity than usual in a denomination. This continued in that body until after 1903.

When Russell met Paton in (if I remember correctly) February 1876, he was readily convinced by him of the correctness of their views on the heavenly hope. (We taught as they did until 1934-1935.) In the meantime Barbour was expelled from the New York Conference of the AC church. This is reported in the World's Crisis. Partly this was due to his failed predications, and partly this was due to his very abrasive character. In Barbour's obituary in World's Hope, Paton recalled him as having an odd mixture of the Lion and the Lamb about him.

Russell took to the teachings of Barbour and Paton where they differed from standard AC teachings. Most if not all of the Allegheny-Pittsburgh group (now numbering somewhere between 20-30) did as well. Russell became a ready participant and evangelist in the new movement represented by the Herald of the Morning (formerly Midnight Cry and Herald of the Morning) and its prime financial backer. They were not totally distinct from the AC church. Barbour and Russell both attended the AC conference at Alton Bay in 1877. Yet, a new movement was developing. The Advent Christian Times issued a warning against Russell and Barbour's activities, and the rift grew. Things became more complex in 1878 with the failure of some expectations in that year. The movement fragmented. The Watch Tower started. Some groups that had been associated with Barbour's activity since 1869 began to call themselves Retitutionists. Most of these were left on their own and eventually became part of the Church of God of Abrahamic Faith. Certain long time associates of Barbour–Paton, Keith, Mann, Sunderlin and many others– associated with Russell and Zion's Watch Tower. In 1883 in ZWT Russell remarked that most of the magazine's readers were formerly associated with the Advent Christian Church. Conley stayed with Russell through the many fragmentations that followed. Conley, however, kept up friendly relations with some who drifted off into Universal Salvationism with Paton. In the special number of Zion's Watch Tower (June 11, 1894 Extra) a letter from Conley to Russell appears in which he made a point of saying he had no sharing with them in their false teachings. Of course, by the time Zion's Watch Tower was started, Conley was no longer an Advent Christian. It seems that age and health were the factors that kept Conley from being more active. Russell, however, did not note Conley's death in 1897, and what his final standing with the readers of Zion's Watch Tower was may be indicated by that. Conley was not an active Advent Christian when Zion's Watch Tower was started, but an associate of Russell and the others.

- 19th Century Pioneers of Jehovah's Witnesses Board, - by Bruce W. Schulz, 2/4/2003