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Trans-Atlantic Protestantism, 1660-1789

The emergence of evangelicalism in the middle decades of the eighteenth century altered the religious dynamic within English-speaking Protestantism. Evangelicalism was from the outset a trans-national, even global, movement that upset the balance between established cores and peripheries. It was a movement that brought together like-minded people throughout the English-speaking world as well as much further afield.

One of the ways in which the movement was given expression was through the international activities of its leading figures. They adapted new technologies and media to create trans-national networks based on their own travels, letters, newspapers, tracts and books. None proved more entrepreneurial than George Whitefield (1714-70), who was the father of Methodism in England, the founder of Calvinistic Methodism, but also the leading itinerant preacher of the evangelical movement in its first phase. He facilitated the interaction of evangelicals in the constituent parts of the British Isles, the American colonies and many parts of Protestant Europe. His own fame and popularity were such that he has recently been described as ‘Anglo-Americas first religious celebrity’.

Whitefield produced a voluminous correspondence during the course of his public life, from the early 1730s until his death in 1770. It is one of the most remarkable eighteenth-century epistolary collections. It spans the Atlantic, reflecting Whitefield’s position as one of the leaders of the Evangelical Revival in the British Isles and one of the main instigators of the Great Awakening in the American colonies. It contains exchanges between Whitefield and many of the most prominent figures of his day, including the Wesley brothers, Philip Doddridge, Howel Harris, the Countess of Huntingdon, Count Zinzendorf, Jonathan Edwards and Benjamin Franklin, as well as personal letters from otherwise anonymous evangelicals. These give a remarkable insight into the nature of early evangelical spirituality, and allow historians to piece together a more textured understanding of early evangelicalism.

Whitefield’s correspondence has been largely untouched since John Gillies produced three volumes of heavily edited letters as part of his six volume Works of George Whitefield in 1771. Historians of Methodism and biographers of Whitefield universally bemoan the lack of source material relating to him. Led by Dr David Ceri Jones (History, Aberystwyth: and Professor Bruce Hindmarsh (Regent College, Vancouver), this project is designed to produce the first critical edition of the correspondence of George Whitefield.


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