Divine Destiny: Gender and Race in Nineteenth-Century Protestantism

By Carolyn A. Haynes | Go to book overview

Chapter One
"From Conquering to Conquer"
Olaudah Equiano, George Whitefield,
and a New Christian Masculinity

O n a Sunday morning in Philadelphia in 1766, Olaudah Equiano happened upon "a church crowded with people":

church-yard was full likewise, and a number of people were even mounted on ladders, looking in at the windows. I thought this a strange sight...I therefore made bold to ask some people the meaning of all this, and they told me the Rev. George Whitfield [sic] was preaching. I had often heard of this gentleman, and had wished to see and hear him...I now therefore resolved to gratify myself with the sight, and pressed in amidst the multitude. When I got into the church I saw this pious man exhorting the people with the greatest fervour and earnestness, and sweating as much as ever I did while in slavery on Montserrat-beach. I was very much struck and impressed with this; I thought it strange I had never seen divines exert themselves in this manner before; and was no longer at a loss to account for the thin congregations they preached to. ( "Narrative,"97)

Equiano's description underscores the immense popularity of George Whitefield, the "Grand Itinerant," who rose from humble origins in England to achieve notoriety on both sides of the Atlantic. It also emphasizes the fact that the narrator, a young enslaved African man, was so enthralled with Whitefield's persona and preaching that he boldly ventured into a confined public setting filled undoubtedly with hundreds of white people. Whitefield's willingness to

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