Whitefield, George 
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Time Period
12/27/1714  - 9/30/1770
Description
George Whitefield was a Church of England clergyman and itinerant preacher who became the most famous revivalist during and after the First Great Awakening. Although born in England, he made seven trips to the American colonies between 1738 and 1770. His focus was to spread the message of God’s free grace to all people regardless of denominational affiliation. Although this helped bridge ties to other denominations, it often alienated Anglicans, leading them to reject his message.

His famous American preaching tours would attract large crowds in both the northern and southern colonies. Some suggest he may have reached at least half the population of the colonies in which he evangelized. His open air preaching style inspired audiences and set the tone for future revivals, such as those of 19th century preacher Charles Grandison Finney, and for the rise of evangelicalism among a number of Protestant churches.
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Narrative
George Whitefield (pronounced Whitfield) was born in England in 1714. He was educated at Oxford, where he made the acquaintance of Charles Wesley and John Wesley, the founders of Methodism, who were fellow members of the university’s Holy Club. After gaining experience preaching in his native England and being ordained a deacon in the Church of England in 1736, Whitefield responded to the Wesleys’ call to travel to the colony of Georgia to minister to its local population in 1738. Over the next year, he worked as an itinerant preacher and opened schools and an orphanage. He returned to England in 1738 to receive ordination as a Church of England priest, but it is also important to note Whitefield's Calvinist theological leanings.

However, it was his second visit to the American colonies from 1739 to 1740 that would establish Whitefield’s reputation as the foremost preacher of what is later known as the First Great Awakening. During this preaching tour, which included hundreds of individual sermons and thousands of miles of travel, much of which took place on horseback, Whitefield ranged across the colonies, beginning in Pennsylvania in October 1739. Over the next several months, Whitefield preached throughout the Mid-Atlantic region, Northeast, and New England, both in cities and smaller communities. In larger urban centers, such as Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, he preached to enormous crowds that occasionally exceeded 15,000 people, by far the largest such assemblies up to that point in North American colonial history. Historian Mark Noll has estimated that Whitefield’s preaching may have reached at least half the population of the colonies in which he evangelized. Whitefield also made his way back South, preaching in Charleston and Savannah, the latter of which served as the final stop on his tour in November 1740 and where he maintained an active involvement with the orphanage he had founded previously.

Whitefield’s preaching tour of 1739-1740 made innovative use of open-air meetings to maximize the number of people who could attend, and his focus on the necessity of believers experiencing a “new birth” played an important role in influencing the thought of future evangelicals. Additionally, Whitefield was among the earliest pioneers of advances in print technology to spread his sermons and other writings to ever wider audiences and to advertise his tour stops.

Although Whitefield was ordained in the Church of England, he was often denied the use of its pulpits in the colonies. However, he was frequently welcomed by Presbyterians and Congregationalists, and his open-air meetings drew crowds representing a variety of denominations, upon whose respective theologies Whitefield’s preaching would exercise a significant influence. His tour and fervent preaching style set the tone for future revivals, such as those of 19th century preacher Charles Grandison Finney, and for the rise of evangelicalism among a number of Protestant churches.

He died on September 30, 1770.
Religious Groups
Timeline Entries for the same religious group Anglicanism Family
Anglicanism Family: Other ARDA Links

Events
Benjamin Randall Organizes the Free Will Baptists
George Whitefield's First American Preaching Tour
Life of David Brainerd Published
The First Great Awakening
Synod of 1737 and the Old Side-New Side Controversy
Photographs

George Whitefield portrait- Internet Archive- from The Life of George Whitefield by Luke Tyerman

George Whitefield portrait- Internet Archive- from The Life and Times of the Reverend George Whitefield by Robert Philip

George Whitefield portrait- Internet Archive- from George Whitefield M.A., Field Preacher by James Patterson Gledstone

George Whitefield preaching- Internet Archive- from Memoirs of Rev. George Whitefield by John Gillies

George Whitefield preaching- Internet Archive- from The Great Revival of the Eighteenth Century by Edwin Paxton Hood
Web Page Contributor
Paul Matzko
Affliated with: Pennsylvania State University, Ph.D. in History

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