Whitefield and Benjamin Franklin

Overall, Whitefield can be said to have succeeded in his mission to spread his message through newsprint and the printed word. One way in which this can be seen is through the relationship of Whitefield and Benjamin Franklin, the latter of whom was one of the largest supporters of Whitefield, despite disagreements over theology (Gragg, 1978). Franklin recognized in Whitefield at once, between his skills as an orator and his new and unprecedented persona, that he was bound to be a profitable commodity. As a result, Franklin’s coverage of Whitefield was extensive. Indeed, “Franklin carried accounts of his services, reprints of his works, or advertisements for his books and pamphlets – sometimes all three – in forty-five of sixty issues of the paper printed during the evangelist’s fourteen months in the colonies" (Lambert, 1993, p. 538). A simple glance at Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette can illustrate this point. For example, on April 17, 1740, Franklin devoted the entire first page and a half to “A Letter from the Rev. Mr. GEORGE WHITEFIELD, to the Inhabitants of Maryland, Virginia, North and South-Carolina,” in which Whitefield exhorts slave owners to improve their treatment of their subjects (p. 1). Franklin then proceeds to dedicate another half-column to Whitefield’s activities and his coming schedule. Likewise, on May 1, 1740, Franklin devoted the entire first page and half to Whitefield’s defense against a rival preacher, and then proceeds to publish yet another schedule of Whitefield’s activities (p. 1).

(Source: http://goo.gl/LGZHp)

Indeed, Franklin devoted so much coverage to Whitefield and his ministry that he eventually came under attack by those anti-revivalists who felt that Franklin was neglecting his commitment to fair and unbiased news coverage. One opponent of Whitefield expressed his concern when he was challenged by the aforesaid preacher, commenting that colonial “printers would not publish anything for revival opponents, and that the press was shut against them" (Lambert, 1993, p. 544). While Whitefield denied any print conspiracy, the fact that he had to deny such allegations is telling in itself. Colonial printers were indeed dedicating significant resources to publishing Whitefield’s material. However, when one looks at sales numbers, he can hardly be surprised to find that this was the case. Franklin himself claims that he “tripled the number of titles issuing from his press” (Lambert, 1993, p. 529) by printing Whitefield’s material. In fact, according to Franklin’s ledgers, Whitefield’s works generated more revenue than his own Poor Richard’s Almanac, which was one of the most popular printed items of the day (Lambert, 1993).


Franklin, B. (1740, April 17). The Pennsylvania Gazette. Retrieved from http://www.bpl.org/electronic/history.asp

Franklin, B. (1740, May 01). The Pennsylvania Gazette. Retrieved from http://www.bpl.org/electronic/history.asp

Gragg, L. (1978). A mere civil friendship: Franklin and Whitefield. History Today, 28(9), 674-579. Retrieved from http://goo.gl/5ggfA

Lambert, F. (1993). Subscribing for profits and piety: The friendship of Benjamin Franklin and George Whitefield. William and Mary Quarterly, 50(3), 529-554. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/2947365