No formal provision was made for the significant number of orphan children living in Georgia in the 1730s, and shortly after Whitefield
Whitefield's attitudes toward the children in his care were shaped by his belief that all children were inherently willful and therefore wicked. The regime at the orphanage was meant to instill discipline in the children and to reform them into useful and pious citizens. This view of child care was not shared by all residents of Georgia. Some commented on the harsh regime, others on Whitefield's desire to "save" all children, even those who had relatives to care for them. Further criticism stemmed from Whitefield's close association with Methodism, though he never actually left the Anglican Church. Some believed that the orphans at Bethesda were being indoctrinated in fanaticism so that they could follow in Whitefield's footsteps as evangelical preachers.
On the countess's death in 1791, the state of Georgia assumed control of Bethesda and appointed trustees to manage it. For a number of years the trustees funded a school on the site, at last realizing one of Whitefield's aims, to teach the children of the poor. Just when Bethesda's situation was improving, the site was again ravaged by fire in 1805. The trust was eventually dissolved in 1808, and the land on which Bethesda had been built was sold.
In 1855 the Union Society, a charitable organization that had been closely associated with Bethesda since 1750, purchased the old site and resolved to rebuild the orphan house. Bethesda has offered residential care to orphan boys ever since, fulfilling its original mission. A school has periodically operated at the site, and the orphan house now has many alumni who otherwise might have lived in poverty all their lives.
Edward Cashin, Beloved Bethesda: A History of George Whitefield's Home for Boys, 1740-2000 (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 2001).
Timothy J. Lockley, University of Warwick, United Kingdom
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