Whitefield, George

Whitefield, George, 1714–70, English evangelistic preacher, leader of the Calvinistic Methodist Church. At Oxford, which he entered in 1732, he joined the Methodist group led by John Wesley and Charles Wesley. Ordained (1736) a deacon in the Church of England, Whitefield soon demonstrated his power as a preacher. The first of his seven trips to America was made in 1738, when he spent a short time in Georgia in the mission post vacated by John Wesley. He returned to England to seek funds for an orphanage in Georgia and to take orders as an Anglican priest, but his connection with the Wesleys and the evangelical character of his preaching led to his exclusion from most of the pulpits of the Church of England. He then began a series of open-air meetings in Bristol and elsewhere, to which huge audiences were attracted. He persuaded John Wesley to carry on the work while he again visited (1739–41) America; there he was an influential figure in the Great Awakening, preaching to congregations in the large settlements from Georgia to New England.

About 1741 Whitefield adopted Calvinistic views, especially in regard to predestination. Breaking away from the Wesleys, he became the leader of the Calvinistic Methodists, whose greatest numbers were in Wales. However, Whitefield's personal friendship with John Wesley continued. In London his work was centered in the Moorfields Tabernacle, near Wesley's church. Returning to England after another evangelistic tour (1744–48) in America, he was appointed a chaplain in the Connexion, the Methodist association sponsored by the countess of Huntingdon. Whitefield's evangelistic tours in Great Britain and America continued to draw throngs; in 1756 the noted Tottenham Court Chapel, London, was opened for him. His last sermon was delivered in the open air at Exeter, Mass., the day before he died in Newburyport, where he is buried.

See his works (6 vol., 1771–72); biographies by L. Tyerman (2 vol., 1876), S. C. Henry (1957), and H. S. Stout (1991); studies by A. A. Dallimore (1970) and J. C. Pollock (1972).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2024, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: Protestant Christianity: Biographies