At Whitefield, we often hear questions about the origin of our school’s name. Pronounced “Whit – field,” our historic namesake may not be commonly known today, but was one of the most famous men in England and America in his lifetime.
George Whitefield was born in Gloucester, England in 1714 and attended Oxford University. There, he met brothers John and Charles Wesley, and became one of the co-founders of the Methodist movement. In 1740, he traveled to America to preach a series of revivals that would come to be pivotal in American history and would be referred to by historians as the “Great Awakening.” As he criss-crossed the colonies, he continued to draw larger and larger crowds and quickly became one of the most recognizable and famous men in colonial America.
Having heard of Whitefield’s speaking prowess, Ben Franklin attended a revival in Philadelphia. He had previously assumed that reports were exaggerated of Whitefield’s abilities to be heard by crowds numbering in the thousands. As he listened to Whitefield preach at the Philadelphia court house, Franklin walked away until he could no longer hear Whitefield clearly. He then measured the distance he had walked, calculated the area of a semicircle that centered on Whitefield and then estimated that Whitefield could be heard by over thirty thousand people.
Despite never being assigned a church in which to pastor, Whitefield became one of the most influential preachers in the colonies. Thanks to speaking events and print media, at the time of his death, it was estimated that more than half of Americans had heard or read Whitefield’s words. As for his worthiness as the namesake of our school, Whitefield not only possessed extraordinary rhetorical skills, but the compassionate leadership that we strive to produce in all of our graduates.