Put God at 
the center of your life.

 

  George Fox
 1624-1691

An English dissenter and a founder of the Religious Society of Friends, George Fox was born in the strongly Puritan village of Drayton-in-the-Clay, Leicestershire, England in July 1624 to Christopher Fox, known as "Righteous Christer" by his neighbors, and his wife, Mary. The eldest of four children, he gained a substantial inheritance when his father died in the late 1650s. From early on, young Fox was a serious, religious person. And although there’s no record he had any formal schooling, he did learn to read and write.

At the age of eleven, he became the apprentice of George Gee, a cobbler from Mancetter. As an apprentice, he also had to tend sheep for Gee, then take the wool to market. This suited his contemplative temperament, and he became well-known for his diligence among the wool traders who had dealings with his master.

When he was almost 19, Fox had a revelation that changed his life. He met a cousin, whose religion professed sobriety, at a pub where he was taking part in a drinking game. This disturbed Fox so much so that he left. As he made his way home, an inner voice spoke to him about how a person can say one thing and do another. After looking in the Bible and seeking the answer from priests and ministers, he concludes that the answer lies within his own heart.

And for this reason, Fox left Drayton-in-the-Clay in September 1643, moving toward London in a state of mental torment and confusion. The English Civil War had begun and troops were everywhere. While in the town of Barnet, Fox suffered from severe depression and would alternately shut himself in his room for days at a time or go out alone into the countryside.

After almost a year, he returned to Drayton. Fox rebelled against the religious and political beliefs of his day by proposing an unusual and uncompromising approach to the Christian faith. Abandoning his trade, he toured Britain as a dissenting preacher, for which the authorities often persecuted him. Fox believed that rituals could be ignored, as long as a person experiences a true spiritual conversion. He also believed the Holy Spirit gives the qualification for ministry, not ecclesiastical study. This implies that anyone has the right to minister, assuming the Spirit guides them. He also believed that religious experience isn’t confined to a church building and. Indeed, refused to apply the word "church" to a building, using instead the name "steeple-house." Fox would just as soon worship in fields and orchards, believing that God's presence could be felt anywhere. Though Fox used the Bible to support his views, he reasoned that because God was within the faithful believers could follow their own inner guide rather than rely on a strict reading of scripture.

In 1647, Fox began to preach publicly in market-places, in fields, in appointed meetings of various kinds, or even sometimes in "steeple-houses" after the priests had finished. His preaching was powerful, and he began to attract a following who traveled with him. It isn’t clear at what point the Society of Friends was formed but there was certainly a group of people who often traveled together. At first, they called themselves "Children of the Light" or "Friends of the Truth", and later simply "Friends". Fox seems, however, to have had no desire to found a sect, but only to proclaim what he saw as the pure and genuine principles of Christianity in their original simplicity—though he afterward showed great prowess as a religious legislator, in the organization which he gave to the new society.

Over the next few years, Fox continued to travel around the country as his particular religious beliefs took shape. At times, he actively sought the company of clergymen, but found no comfort from them, for they were unable to help him with the matters that troubled him. One clergyman in Warwickshire advised him to take tobacco, which Fox disliked, and sing psalms. Another, in Coventry, lost his temper when Fox accidentally stepped on a flower in his garden. And a third suggested bloodletting. Through all this, he became fascinated by the Bible.

By 1651 Fox had gathered other talented preachers around him and continued to roam the country seeking out new converts. Despite a harsh reception from some listeners, who would whip and beat them to drive them away, they continued to do this. The worship of Friends, in the form of silent waiting, seems to have been well-established by this time, though no one knows how this came about.

Over the years, Fox received one prison sentence after another, mostly for blasphemy. These beginnings of persecution forced him to form his ideas on oaths and violence. The refusal to swear or take up arms became an important part of his public ministry. And he promised that neither he nor his followers would give in under pressure.

In June 1652, Fox stayed at Swarthmoor Hall, near Ulverston, where he first met his future wife, Margaret Fell. At the time, she was the wife of Thomas Fell, one of his wealthier supporters who later died. She was 10 years older than Fox and herself a Quaker, as were seven of her eight children. He married her on October 27, 1669. She campaigned for equality and the acceptance of women as preachers. As there were no priests at Quaker weddings to perform the ceremony, the union took the form of a civil marriage approved by the principals and the witnesses at a meeting. Ten days after the marriage, Margaret returned to Swarthmoor to continue her work there while George went back to London. Their shared religious work was at the heart of their life together, and they later collaborated on a great deal of the administration the Society required. Shortly after their marriage, Margaret was sent to prison at Lancaster while George remained in southeast England, becoming so ill and depressed that for a time he lost his sight.

Fox’s ministry expanded, and he toured the Colonies in North America and also the Low Countries, between which he was imprisoned for over a year. He spent the final decade of his life working in London to organize the expanding Quaker movement. Two days after preaching at the Gracechurch Street Meeting House in London, George Fox died between 9 and 10 P.M. on January 13, 1691. He was buried in the Quaker burying ground at Bunhill Fields in London three days later in the presence of thousands of mourners.

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