Blue plaque updated to better reflect Gloucester preacher's past
By Punchline Reporter | 4th May 2023
A blue plaque commemorating the life of famous 18th-century Gloucester-born evangelist, George Whitefield, has been updated to reveal his support for slavery.
The plaque on the wall of the De Crypt School, off Southgate Street, Gloucester, is dedicated to Whitefield, who was born at the nearby Bell Inn in 1714 and attended the school before going on to become one of the most famous preachers in America.
He travelled widely around the world and founded the Bethesda Orphanage in Georgia, U.S.
Now, however, following a review of Gloucester's monuments and statues by the City Council, which has committed to providing a 'more balanced view' of the city's links to the transatlantic slave trade, more information has been added.
The plaque now gives details of Whitefield's support for slavery and his campaign for it to be re-legalised in the American state of Georgia. It also mentions that he owned a plantation which helped fund an orphanage he had set up to teach young boys.
Born at the Bell Inn on Southgate Street in 1714, Whitefield's life is currently the subject of an exhibition at the Museum of Gloucester, which encourages visitors to look at all aspects, both good and bad, of the life of one of Gloucester's most famous historic figures.
After studying at Oxford University, Whitefield was ordained in Gloucester Cathedral in 1736. He became a noted public speaker and preacher and went on to become one of the most well-known evangelists of his age, preaching to huge audiences in both Britain and America.
He died in 1770 in the parsonage of Old South Presbyterian Church at Newburyport, Massachusetts, and was buried, according to his wishes, in a crypt under the pulpit of the church.
Gloucester's blue plaque in memory of Whitefield now shows that despite initially advocating for better treatment of people who were enslaved, he later promoted the economic benefits of the legalising of slavery in Georgia, which at that time had outlawed the use of enslaved labour.
He also bought two plantations to finance his orphanage.
Since a 2022 review into the city statues and monuments, the council has pledged to do more to reveal Gloucester's hidden history and how the city benefited from the slave trade.
Cllr Richard Cook, Leader of Gloucester City Council, said: "It's a small but important and symbolic step to better reflect the historical accuracy of George Whitefield's legacy.
"The more we know about our past, the easier is it to understand how it has affected the lives of others, both then and now.
"We are committed to ensuring that our history is open and honest and grateful to the trustees of Discover DeCrypt, St Mary de Crypt Church, the Diocese of Gloucester and the Civic Trust for their willingness to shed light on this particular aspect."
The Rector of St Mary de Crypt Church, Rev Canon Nikki Arthy, said: "It has been good to work with Gloucester City Council and the Civic Trust on the wording of this new plaque taking into account the advice of the Church Buildings Council.
"Systemic failures of the past and present can only be addressed when we learn more about our history. Discover DeCrypt continues to reaffirm a commitment to racial justice seeking to respect, honour and care for all people."
Rupert Walters, Chair of the Gloucester Commission to Review Race Relations, said: "There are several monuments and plaques within Gloucester, that celebrates individuals that were involved in the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
"When working with the Race and Equality Commission to better understand race relations in the city, there was an overwhelming impression that we should take this opportunity to educate rather than remove or conceal the truth behind the memorials."
'Tradition and Legacy: A Spotlight on George Whitefield' runs until Sunday, 8 October and is being held in the Overmantel Gallery, first floor of the Museum of Gloucester.
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