THE KEY FIGURE of evangelical revivalism, George Whitfield (1714-1770), was a prolific preacher during the eighteenth century. Working on both sides of the Atlantic while the United States were still forming and colonies being established, he wrote to many other public figures of the time. Now, Dr Ceri Jones of Aberystwyth University has signed a major contract to publish Whitfield’s life correspondence.
The contract, signed with leading academic publisher Oxford University Press, will see the Whitefield letters published in full for the first time.
The first volume, which will be jointly-edited by Dr Jones and Dr Geordan Hammond, is scheduled for publication in 2018, with a further six volumes scheduled to appear at eighteenth month intervals subsequently.
In 2014 Dr Jones, Reader in Welsh and Atlantic History at the Department of History and Welsh History at Aberystwyth University, was awarded £115,527 by the Leverhulme Trust to study the early evangelical movement through a reassessment of Whitefield’s life, context and legacy.
Working with research assistant Dr Geordan Hammond, Dr Jones has spent the past year locating, collecting and transcribing the 3000 letters written by Whitefield between 1735 and his death in 1770.
Located in almost 60 repositories in Britain, North America and Germany finding and getting copies of all of the letters has been a major logistical task.
Dr Jones said: “Oxford University Press’ commitment to the publication of the Whitefield correspondence over the next decade is a major and exciting undertaking”.
“The appearance of the letters in print for the first time has the potential not only to revolutionise understandings of Whitefield and the eighteenth-century evangelical and Methodist movements, but also the internal dynamics of the Atlantic World, and relations between Britain and America on the cusp of the Revolution.”
Largely forgotten outside religious circles today, George Whitefield was one of the mid-eighteenth-century’s best-known public figures, and certainly its most famous and widely travelled evangelical revivalist.
An Anglican clergyman, Whitefield inspired a Protestant renewal movement as a result of his charismatic preaching – often to large open-air crowds throughout Britain, and in nearly every town along the eastern seaboard of the American colonies.
Whitefield was also a significant figure in the Welsh context: a frequent sight in Wales, the Calvinistic Methodist movement he founded in partnership with the Welsh Methodists brought the Welsh into the eighteenth-century Atlantic World.
A bridge between the Old World and the New, at times Whitefield appeared to live up to his moniker: ‘the apostle of the English Empire’; yet he could also be seen as one of the inspirers of the American Revolution, bringing the thirteen American colonies together for the first time under the umbrella of the ‘Great Awakening’. Contentious during his lifetime, Whitefield has continued to polarise opinion.