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
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
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.
George Fox 20 Questions Game
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