Benjamin Franklin And The First Great Awakening


It's a curious thing when an unexpected alliance forms, two seemingly unrelated individuals become intertwined in the birth of a new American identity.

The First Great Awakening, a religious and social revival that swept through the American colonies in the 1730s and 1740s, was a time of transformation that laid the groundwork for the United States we know today.

Although Benjamin Franklin was not a religious man himself, his entanglement with the charismatic preacher George Whitefield played a pivotal role in the spread of the Great Awakening.

In this post, we'll explore the fascinating dynamics between these two men and the lasting impact of their peculiar partnership on American society.


evangelicals in the first great awakening
© History Oasis

Enter Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and John Wesley.

These fiery preachers had a knack for capturing the hearts and minds of their listeners with emotional sermons about personal relationships with God, sin, and the need for repentance.

Their ability to rally the masses in their pursuit of spiritual fulfillment was no small feat, and their message quickly spread through the colonies like wildfire.


Benjamin FRanklin in his print shop
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The 18th century witnessed a revolution in communication - the printed word.

This powerful medium allowed ideas to travel far and wide at unprecedented speed.

Sermons, religious tracts, and other writings spread rapidly, reaching an ever-growing audience hungry for spiritual nourishment.

The Great Awakening capitalized on this new technology, using it to challenge the status quo and ignite change in the hearts and minds of the colonists.


© HIstory Oasis

The message of the Great Awakening transcended social, economic, and racial boundaries. The movement was inclusive, embracing rich and poor, men and women, African Americans, and Native Americans.

This diversity was one of its great strengths, as it forged a sense of unity among the colonists, paving the way for a shared American identity.


© History Oasis

As the Great Awakening gained momentum, established religious institutions found themselves on shaky ground.

The revival gave birth to new denominations such as the Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians, while diminishing the influence of established churches like the Anglicans and Congregationalists.

The colonists, emboldened by their newfound spiritual freedom, began to question the traditional authorities that had long governed their lives.


George Whitefield
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It was in this backdrop of revolution and transformation that Benjamin Franklin first encountered George Whitefield.

In 1739, the preacher arrived in Philadelphia, and though Franklin was a religious skeptic, he couldn't help but admire Whitefield's oratory skills and the electrifying effect he had on audiences.

Seeing opportunity in this alliance, Franklin began printing Whitefield's sermons and religious tracts.

This unlikely partnership, forged out of mutual admiration and shared goals, played a critical role in the dissemination of the Great Awakening's ideas.


© History Oasis

Beyond their print collaboration, Franklin and Whitefield also shared a commitment to philanthropy.

Together, they established the Bethesda Orphan House in Georgia, providing care for disadvantaged children.

Despite their differing beliefs, their shared values and mutual respect allowed them to work together for the greater good.

The First Great Awakening left an indelible mark on American society, ultimately contributing to the development of a unique national identity. Through the peculiar partnership of Benjamin Franklin and George Whitefield, the movement gained momentum and changed the religious, social, and political landscape of the colonies.

The story of Franklin and Whitefield serves as a powerful reminder that collaboration and mutual respect can lead to profound change, even between individuals with differing beliefs.

Their alliance underscores the importance of challenging established norms and finding common ground in the pursuit of a better society.

As we reflect on this period of religious and social transformation, it's essential to recognize the contributions of individuals like Benjamin Franklin and George Whitefield, who played a vital role in the spread of the First Great Awakening.

Their intriguing involvement in the movement highlights the power of collaboration, the influence of print media, and the importance of fostering a spirit of unity and inclusivity in the face of adversity.

By understanding the complexities of this historical event, we can better appreciate the foundations of American identity and the forces that shaped the nation we know today.

The unlikely alliance between Benjamin Franklin and George Whitefield is a testament to the power of human connection and a reminder that sometimes, the most remarkable change can come from the most unexpected partnerships.