The Making of Global Evangelicalism: Transatlantic Discipleship during the Great Awakening

This paper will explore how leaders of the eighteenth-century Evangelical Revival intentionally connected recent converts with other believers for the purpose of spiritual direction and encouragement, creating a transatlantic network of discipleship. As a primary example, this paper will analyze the co-labors of George Whitefield (1714–1770) and Anne Dutton (1692–1765), a Baptist pastor’s wife in rural England whom Whitefield enlisted to correspond with various individuals associated with his ministry in Georgia and South Carolina.

While Whitefield’s contributions to the Evangelical Awakening are well known, Dutton is less familiar to modern readers, despite being one of the most published females of the eighteenth century. She authored over fifty works and published hundreds of letters, demonstrating a combination of theological acumen, spiritual wisdom, and fervent piety that came to be appreciated on both sides of the Atlantic. In the last twenty years, her work has begun to receive overdue attention from scholars—resulting in two doctoral dissertations, a small collection of academic articles, and a six-volume reprinting of her major works by Mercer University Press. Her extensive corpus coupled with the limited Dutton scholarship to date provides an ample opportunity to delve deeper into various aspects of her life and influence. 

How did a Baptist pastor’s wife in a remote English village contribute to the evangelistic labors of the most celebrated preacher of her day? As the Revival spread, Bruce Hindmarsh has noted that women found various ways to express their religious experiences and enthusiasm, including diaries and spiritual autobiographies. Cultural changes offered increased opportunities to females, but the pressure to conform to traditional societal expectations persisted. To mitigate such concerns, Dutton published under various pseudonyms, despite believing she possessed a divine call to write and a biblical warrant for doing so, which she defended in a published letter addressed to Christians who may have “scruples about the lawfulness of printing anything written by a woman.”

One avenue for women to engage in interpersonal ministry at the time was through writing letters of spiritual encouragement to fellow believers. In her work on early transatlantic Evangelical networks, Susan [Durden] O’Brien identified Anne Dutton as one of the key participants in such endeavors. Through her relationship with Whitefield, she corresponded with various Evangelical luminaries such as Howell Harris (1714–1773), Selena Hastings (1707–1791), and John Wesley (1703–1791)—in addition to several young believers to whom Dutton wrote at Whitefield’s request. Through these connections, Dutton exchanged letters of spiritual encouragement with a broad range of correspondents—including the leaders of Whitefield’s Bethesda, the orphans in Georgia, and a group of converted slaves in South Carolina.

This paper will explore her letter-writing ministry with particular focus on her correspondence with new Christians in the American colonies, which supplies an example of the transatlantic discipleship that resulted from the Evangelical Awakening.