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The Bethesda Orphanage was founded by evangelist George Whitefield in the eighteenth century on a 500 acre (1,600 m²) land grant about south of Savannah, Georgiamarker. Whitefield raised funds by preaching; many people listened to him, and the large crowds donated generously.

When Whitefield was just 25, he established the orphanage in the newly-founded colony of Georgia. Whitefield called the orphanage Bethesda, which means "House of Mercy", for he hoped many acts of mercy would take place there. On March 25, 1740, construction began on the orphanage buildings. The main house was two stories high with twenty rooms. Two smaller buildings were built behind the orphanage; one was designed to be an infirmary and the other a workhouse.

Whitefield wanted the orphanage to be a place of strong Gospel influence with a wholesome atmosphere and strong discipline. Youngsters were taught trades so that they could earn a living as adults. Younger children learned spinning and carding, and all boys were taught mechanics and agriculture. Whitefield hoped that the orphanage would become the foundation of a university.

While the children grew most of the orphanage food, the enterprise was more expensive than anticipated, and Whitefield went into debt. Benjamin Franklin suggested that due to the scarcity of workmen and materials in Georgia, it might be better to move the orphanage and its children to Philadelphia. Whitefield refused to move the orphanage because his contributors donated money specifically for the Georgia project.

At his death, Whitefield bequeathed the orphanage to Lady Hastings, a charitable sponsor in England. He asked her to maintain the orphanage under its existing principles, and establish a college. However, she was not able to provide the oversight from away and no modern communications, and the orphanage almost closed.

In 1773, fire destroyed the home. Three years later, the American Revolution stymied plans to add a college. After several administrative changes, a new building and society, the Bethesda Home for Boys was established on the same site. A member of CORE: Coalition for Residential Education, this residential education program continues to this day.


  • Adapted from an earlier Christian History Institute story by Diane Severance, Ph.D.
  • Dallimore, Arnold A. George Whitefield; the life and times of the great evangelist of the eighteenth-century revival. (Banner of Truth Trust, 1970).
  • Demaray, Donald E. Pulpit Giants; what made them great. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1973).
  • Macartney, Clarence Edward Noble. Six Kings of the American pulpit. (Philadelphia, The Westminster press, 1942).
  • McGraw, James. Great Evangelical Preachers of Yesterday. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1961).
  • Whitefield, George. George Whitefield's Journals. (Banner of Truth Trust, 1960).

External links

  • [107021] Orphanages' Home -
  • [107022] CORE: Coalition for Residential Education -
  • [107023] Bethesda Home for Boys -

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