Bethesda Academy

The Occom Circle

Bethesda Academy

Name (variant)

Orphan House


Bethesda Academy, located 10 miles south of Savannah, Georgia, is now a middle and high school. Originally called the Bethesda Orphan House (the source of Wheelock's term for it) and, after it burned down in 1773 and was rebuilt, the Bethesda Home for Boys, it was founded in 1740 by the English evangelist George Whitefield, and is the oldest institution for the care of children in the country. Even before he was ordained in England, Whitefield took a pastorate in the colony of Georgia in 1737 and soon after petitioned the Trustees of the colony and was granted 500 acres to establish an orphanage. His appeals throughout England and North America to collect contributions for this project increased his popularity and fueled the religious revivals then in progress. The orphanage gave Whitefield an independent base of operations and was a breeding ground for Methodist ministers. Controversially, in 1749 Whitefield successfully lobbied the Georgia legislature for the reintroduction of slavery, which had been outlawed in the colony, in order to help Bethesda's flagging finances. At his death in 1770, Whitefield bequeathed Bethesda to one of its English sponsors, the Countess of Huntingdon. Whitefield's vision, methods, and success at Bethesda were a model and inspiration to Wheelock and his Indian Charity School, which Whitefield supported enthusiastically, and influenced Wheelock's decision to send Occom and Whitaker on their fundraising tour of Great Britain.


"History." Bethesda Academy.; O'Connell, Neil J. "George Whitefield and Bethesda Orphan-House." Georgia Historical Society Quarterly. 54.1 (Spring 1970): 41-62; Stein, Stephen J. "George Whitefield on Slavery: Some New Evidence." Church History 42.2 (June 1973): 243-56.