From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Butler, William F.

(born: 1835  -  died: February 21, 1886) 

Rev. William F. Butler was a civil rights activist and fought for the rights of African Americans through the church and equal rights organizations that were established for the formerly enslaved African Americans. He was in Kentucky for only a few years. In Louisville, KY, Rev. William F. Butler served as president of the Negro Republican Party that was formed at the close of the U.S. Civil War. The organization's first convention was held in Lexington, KY, in 1867. That same year, at a Civil Rights meeting held in Louisville, KY, William Butler stood and demanded equal rights for African Americans. Following the meeting, the Law League was established to "finance and secure" lawyers who would fight for African Americans' civil rights. In 1867, Rev. William F. Butler served as pastor of the A. M. E. Center Street Church.

There was a school in the church named General Palmer School. Rev. Butler was the supervisor of the school. The teachers were Miss E. M. Jones, Mrs. Elizabeth Butler (Rev. Butler's wife), and Miss Alice A. Sherman. The students were taught reading, spelling, arithmetic, geography, grammar, and music. The General Palmer School was established by the U.S. Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands. Mr. Noble, who was superintendent of the Kentucky Freedmen's Bureau Schools, gave a report of the schools when he attended the A. M. E. Zion Conference held at Center Street Church in June of 1867.

Rev. Butler was not head of the school and church for long. He had come to Kentucky around 1866, and he and his family left Kentucky three years later. Starting in 1869, Rev. Butler lived and/or was a pastor in New York, Philadelphia, Rhode Island, and Delaware. He was pastor at the African Zion Methodist Church in New York. A couple of incidents surrounding Rev. Butler in New York were reported in the newspapers in England. There was a physical altercation between congregation members and the deacons. The story was published in The Philadelphia Inquirer, 05/31/1870, p.3 and in the Nottinghamshire Guardian, 08/05/1870, p.2. Another published article told of Rev. Butler and his wife being refused service at an ice cream parlor and a restaurant. Service was denied them because they were African Americans. The incidents were mentioned in the newspaper article "The Prejudice against the coloured race in New York," which was published in The Glasgow Daily Herald, 03/17/1869, p.6.   

Rev. Butler was pastor of the Zion Methodist Episcopal Church on the corner of Bleeker and W. 10th Street in Philadelphia. In August of 1870, Rev. Butler was one of the speakers at the 15th Amendment Celebration held in Newburg, Delaware (voting rights). He was also elected president of the New York State Labor Convention (African Americans). In June of 1871, Rev. Butler was pastor of St. Mark's M. E. Church in New York. In 1875, Rev. Butler had been pastor at St. Luke's Colored Methodist Episcopal Church in New York City for three years. He was the only African American member of the New York Methodist Conference. Rev. Butler was a pastor in Rhode Island, followed by his appointment to E. Zion M. E. Church in Wilmington, Delaware. In March of 1881, he had been pastor at E. Zion for three years and had established the Butler Literary Society that celebrated the anniversary of the Fifteenth Amendment. In 1882, Rev. Butler was elected prelate of St. John's Commandery No.2 Knights Templar. He was next appointed pastor of the Zoar Church in Philadelphia.

Around 1883-1884, Rev. William F. Butler became sick. His tongue was paralyzed and he had developed "brain trouble." He was placed in the "insane asylum" in Wilmington, Delaware, where he died in 1886. He was buried in Wilmington, Delaware. Rev. William F. Butler was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He immigrated from Canada to the United States aboard the ship named Pearl, May 23, 1857. He was a pastor in Springfield, MA in 1861. When he came to Kentucky, he was part of the A. M. E. Zion Conference. Rev. Butler was married twice and had several children. He and his family are listed in the 1870 Census when they were living in New York City, NY, and in the 1880 U.S. Census when they were living in Wilmington, Delaware. 

For more see Kentucky's Black Heritage, by the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights; V. B. Howard, "The Black testimony controversy in Kentucky, 1866-1872," The Journal of Negro History, vol. 58, issue 2 (April 1973), pp. 140-165; Victor B. Howard, "Negro Politics and the Suffrage Question in Kentucky, 1866-1872," The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, vol. 72, no. 2 (April, 1974), pp. 111-133; 1857 Immigration Record from Nova Scotia to Boston, MA (FamilySearch); "Notice - Arrangements for the celebration of the first of August," Hartford Courant, 07/30/1861, p.2; "On Center Street," Louisville Daily Courier, 01/02/1867, front page; "A. M. E. Zion Conference," The Louisville Daily Courier, 06/20/1867, p.4; "Disturbance in a church," The Philadelphia Inquirer, 05/31/1870, p.3; "Fifteenth Amendment Celebration," The Burlington Free Press, 08/12/1870, p.3; "Telegraphic items," Hartford Courant, 08/25/1870, p.3; "Local news in brief: The annual festival of the Sabbath-school ...," The New York Times, 06/27, 1871, p.8; "The only colored member ...," The Weekly Commonwealth, 04/21/1875, p.3; "Another Negro Meeting," The Daily Gazette, 03/31/1881, front page; "Officers installed," Daily Republican, 04/10/1882, p.4; "A Minister's death in an insane asylum," The Times-Philadelphia, 02/23/1886, p.3.

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Cited in this Entry

NKAA Entry: African American Schools in Louisville and Jefferson County, KY
NKAA Source: Kentucky's Black heritage; the role of the Black people in the history of Kentucky from pioneer days to the present
NKAA Source: The Journal of Negro history (periodical)
NKAA Source: Philadelphia inquirer (newspaper)
NKAA Source: The Nottinghamshire guardian (newspaper)
NKAA Source: The Glasgow herald (newspaper)
NKAA Source:
NKAA Source: The Hartford courant (newspaper)
NKAA Source: Louisville daily courier (newspaper)
NKAA Source: Burlington weekly free press (newspaper)
NKAA Source: The New York times (newspaper)
NKAA Source: Kansas weekly commonwealth (newspaper)
NKAA Source: The Daily gazette (newspaper)
NKAA Source: Daily Republican (newspaper)
NKAA Source: The Register of the Kentucky State Historical Society (periodical)

Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Butler, William F.,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed September 27, 2022,

Last modified: 2022-03-03 16:16:36