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

Butler, William F.

(born: 1835  -  died: Feb. 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 formerly enslaved African Americans. He was in Kentucky for only a few years. In Louisville, KY, Rev. 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, 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. Butler served as pastor of the A. M. E. Center Street Church.

A school in the church was named General Palmer School; Rev. Butler was the school's supervisor. 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, 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 1867.

Rev. Butler was not head of the school and church for long. He had come to Kentucky around 1866; he and his family left the state 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 newspapers in England. A physical altercation between congregation members and the deacons was reported in The Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/31/1870, p. 3 and in the Nottinghamshire Guardian, 8/5/1870, p. 2. Another published article told of Rev. Butler and his wife being refused service at an ice cream parlor and a restaurant because they were African Americans; it appeared in "The Prejudice against the coloured race in New York," in The Glasgow Daily Herald, 3/17/1869, p. 6.   

Rev. Butler was pastor of the Zion Methodist Episcopal Church on the corner of Bleeker and W. 10th Street in Philadelphia, PA. In August 1870, Rev. Butler was one of the speakers at the 15th Amendment Celebration held in Newburg, DE concerning voting rights. He was also elected president of the New York State Labor Convention (African Americans).

In June 1871, Rev. Butler was pastor of St. Mark's M. E. Church in New York. In 1875, he 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, DE. 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. Butler became ill. His tongue was paralyzed and he had developed "brain trouble." He was placed in the "insane asylum" in Wilmington where he died and was buried in 1886.

Rev. William F. Butler was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He immigrated from Canada to the United States aboard the ship named Pearl, 5/23/1857. 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 and in the 1880 U.S. Census when they were living in Wilmington. 

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, 7/30/1861, p. 2; "On Center Street," Louisville Daily Courier, 1/2/1867, front page; "A. M. E. Zion Conference," The Louisville Daily Courier, 6/20/1867, p. 4; "Disturbance in a church," The Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/31/1870, p. 3; "Fifteenth Amendment Celebration," The Burlington Free Press, 8/12/1870, p. 3; "Telegraphic items," Hartford Courant, 8/25/1870, p. 3; "Local news in brief: The annual festival of the Sabbath-school ...," The New York Times, 6/27/1871, p. 8; "The only colored member ...," The Weekly Commonwealth, 4/21/1875, p. 3; "Another Negro Meeting," The Daily Gazette, 3/31/1881, front page; "Officers installed," Daily Republican, 4/10/1882, p. 4; and "A Minister's death in an insane asylum," The Times-Philadelphia, 2/23/1886, p. 3.

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“Butler, William F.,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed June 12, 2024,

Last modified: 2022-10-03 20:16:03