Wakefield was the third son of the Rev. George Wakefield, then rector of St Nicholas' Church, Nottingham but afterwards at Kingston-upon-Thames. He was educated at Jesus College, Cambridge, where he graduated B.A. as second wrangler in 1776. Wakefield took orders, but left the ministry and the Church of England to become a Unitarian. He earned his living as a classical tutor in various Dissenting academies, including the famous one at Warrington.
Wakefield was a controversial writer, and both he and his publisher, Joseph Johnson, went to prison for his writing. Wakefield was a strong defender of the French Revolution and partook in the Revolution Controversy; he wrote a seditious pamphlet, and was imprisoned in Dorchester gaol for two years for it.
Wakefield wrote A Reply to Some Parts of the Bishop Llandaff's Address to the People of Great Britain, a Unitarian work attacking the privileged position of the wealthy. This was in response to An Address to the People of Great Britain (1798), by Richard Watson, Bishop of Llandaff, which argues that national taxes should be raised to pay for the war against France and to reduce the national debt. Johnson and others were put on trial for sedition for selling Wakefield's Reply. Johnson was fined £50 and sentenced to six months imprisonment at King's Bench Prison in February 1799, after which he published very few political works and no controversial ones.
Towards the end of 1791 appeared Wakefield's Translation of the New Testament, with Notes, in three volumes octavos. In his memoirs Wakefield records that the work was laborious particularly in the comparison of the Oriental versions with the received text, but was well received and "much more profitable to me than all my other publications put together". A revised edition followed in 1795.
Wakefield also published editions of various classical writers, and among his theological writings are Early Christian Writers on the Person of Christ (1784), Silva Critica (1789–95), illustrations of the Scriptures, and An Examination of Paine's Age of Reason in (1794).
- "Wakefield's New Testament" - A new translation of those parts only of the New Testament, which are wrongly translated in our common version 1789
- Autobiography Memoirs of the life of Gilbert Wakefield 1792 - 405 pages
- Correspondence, ed. Charles James Fox Correspondence of the late Gilbert Wakefield, B. A. 1813
- A Catalogue of the library of the late Rev. Gilbert Wakefield - 1802 - 57 pages
- William Turner The lives of eminent unitarians: with a notice of dissenting academies: Volume 2 Page 239, Gilbert Wakefield.
- "Wakefield, Gilbert (WKFT772G)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
- Gilbert Wakefield, Arnold Wainewright, John Towill Rutt Memoirs of the life of Gilbert Wakefield: Volume 1 1804 - Page 355
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Cousin, John William (1910). A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature. London: J. M. Dent & Sons. Wikisource
- Burke, Paine, Godwin, and the revolution controversy By Marilyn Butler, 1984