Skip to main content
Select Source:

George Fox

George Fox

The English spiritual reformer George Fox (1624-1691) was the chief inspirer of the Society of Friends, or Quakers.

The son of a weaver, George Fox was born in July 1624 at Fenny Drayton, Leicestershire. He became a cobbler with little book learning beyond the Bible. When he was 19, a voice told him to "forsake all"; so he became a dropout, wandering about England in a solitary quest for religious truth. Gradually he clarified his beliefs, convinced that he derived them from direct experiences of God's light within him, "without the help of any man, book, or writing."

Holding that every man and woman could be similarly enlightened by Christ, Fox began "declaring truth" in public and developed into a dynamic, fanatically sincere speaker. He preached in barns, houses, and fields and in churches "after the priest had done"; but because his zeal sometimes led him to interrupt services, he was imprisoned as a disturber of public order. Inspired by the "Inner Voice," he became spiritual leader of some Nottinghamshire former Baptists but then went to the north of England, preaching, praying, and protesting at every opportunity. In 1652 he trudged about Yorkshire, a sturdy figure in leather breeches wearing a broadbrimmed hat over the ringlets of hair which fell to his shoulders.

Though Fox denounced creeds, forms, rites, external sacraments, and a "man-made" ministry, he became something of a negative formalist, refusing to doff his hat to anyone or to call months and days by their pagan names; and he used "thee" and "thou" instead of "you." Such flouting of conventions provoked intense opposition. Fox was repeatedly beaten by rowdies and persecuted by the pious, and the forces of law and order imprisoned him eight times for not conforming to the establishment. But his indomitable courage and his emphasis on the spirit rather than the letter of religion won him converts, even among his persecutors.

Paradoxically, this opponent of institutional religion showed a genius for organizing fellowships of Friends complete with unpaid officers, regular meetings, and funding arrangements. As a result, though his message was universal, individualistic, and spiritual, Fox founded what, by 1700, became the largest Nonconformist sect in England. In 1654 he organized a team of some 60 men and women as a mission to southern England. After converting many there, he extended his own preaching to Scotland (1657-1658), Wales (1657), Ireland (1669), the West Indies and America (1671-1673), the Netherlands (1677 and 1684), and Germany (1677). By 1660 he was issuing epistles to the Pope, the Turkish Sultan, and the Emperor of China. He was a strange mixture of fanaticism and common sense, selflessness and exhibitionism, liberalism and literalism.

In 1669 Fox married the outstanding female leader in the Quaker movement, Margaret, widow of his friend and patron Thomas Fell. But God's service took priority over their partnership, which was interrupted by his missions, his imprisonments in 1673-1675, and his supervision of the movement. He died in London on Jan. 13, 1691.

Fox composed hundreds of tracts for his times, defending principles of the Friends and exposing other men as sinners and ministers of the "Great Whore of Babylon;" but it is by his Journal, a record of his day-to-day activities and thoughts, that he is best remembered.

Further Reading

The first edition of Fox's Journal (1694) was a revision of the original texts. The two-volume edition by Norman Penney, with an introduction by T. Edmund Harvey (1911), is based on the chief source manuscript; and there is a revised text of it, also by Penney (1924). The standard edition of the Journal is the revised edition of John L. Nickalls (1952). All of these editions contain the preface by William Penn. The eight-volume edition of Fox's Works (1831) is not readily accessible.

Among biographical studies, Vernon Noble, The Man in Leather Breeches: The Life and Times of George Fox (1953), is for the general reader. More specialized are Rachel Hadley King, Fox and the Light Within, 1650-1660 (1940), and Henry E. Wildes, Voice of the Lord: A Biography of George Fox (1965). Isabel Ross, Margaret Fell: Mother of Quakerism (1949), is a study of Fox's wife. Hugh Barbour, The Quakers in Puritan England (1964), relates Fox to the historical background, including the findings of more recent research. There is more background detail in William C. Braithwaite, The Beginnings of Quakerism (1912; 2d ed. rev. 1955) and The Second Period of Quakerism (1919; 2d ed. 1961). □

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"George Fox." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"George Fox." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/george-fox

"George Fox." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved July 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/george-fox

Fox, George (1624-1691)

Fox, George (1624-1691)

Mystic and founder of The Society of Friends (Quakers). In his Journal (1694), one of the great religious autobiographies, he testifies to many extraordinary psychic experiences. In the 1920s Walter Prince cited him as one of the "noted witnesses for psychic occurrences." Once he lay in trance for 14 days, had great spiritual struggles and ecstasies, heard voices that he believed to be of the Lord, and proclaimed by direct revelation the doctrine of the Inner Light: "I saw that Christ enlightened all men and women with his divine and saving light, and I saw that the manifestation of the spirit of God was given to every man to profit withal."

It was said that there was a wonderful magnetism and power about the eyes of George Fox. He had gifts of healing and himself made many wonderful recoveries. He foretold the fall of the Rump Parliament; he had a striking presentiment of the approaching death of Cromwell; he had a vision of the fire of London years before it happened; and he had a foreshadowing of the coming revolution of 1689. He reportedly had so much psychic power that during some of the meetings at which he was present the house was shaken, and on one occasion a clergyman ran out of the church fearing it would fall on his head.

Fox's journal contains accounts of the miraculous events of his life.

Sources:

Cadbury, H. J. George Fox's "Book of Miracles." Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1948.

Fox, George. Journal. Edited by John L. Nickalls. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1952.

Prince, Walter F. Noted Witnesses for Psychic Occurrences. Boston: Boston Society for Psychic Research, 1928. Reprint, New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1963.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Fox, George (1624-1691)." Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Fox, George (1624-1691)." Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/fox-george-1624-1691

"Fox, George (1624-1691)." Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology. . Retrieved July 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/fox-george-1624-1691

Fox, George

George Fox, 1624–91, English religious leader, founder of the Society of Friends, b. Fenny Drayton in Leicestershire. As a boy he was apprenticed to a shoemaker and wool dealer. By nature serious and contemplative, Fox at the age of 19 entered upon a wandering quest for spiritual enlightenment. In 1646 he underwent a mystical experience that convinced him that Christianity was not an outward profession but an inner light by which Christ directly illumines the believing soul. Revelation was for Fox not confined to the Scriptures. In 1647 he began to preach. Although often the victim of mob brutality and eight times imprisoned between 1649 and 1675, Fox won many followers, especially among groups of separatists. In 1668 he prepared the first pattern of organization, which was for some years to serve as the discipline of the Society of Friends. The London Yearly Meeting was started in 1671. To confirm his followers in their beliefs and to spread the truths, Fox went in 1671 to the West Indies and to America, where he made arduous journeys to various colonies scattered between New England and North Carolina. Later he twice visited Holland. His sincerity, serenity, fearlessness, and powerful preaching are attested to by a number of his contemporaries. His journal (1694, with a preface by William Penn) has appeared in various editions.

See George Fox: An Autobiography (ed. by R. M. Jones, 2 vol., 1903–4); his narrative papers (ed. by H. J. Cadbury, 1972); biography by H. E. Wildes (1965); study J. H. Yolen (1972).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Fox, George." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Fox, George." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/fox-george

"Fox, George." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved July 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/fox-george

Fox, George

Fox, George (1624–91). Founder of the Society of Friends (quakers). A Leicestershire man of puritan upbringing, Fox was an apprentice shoemaker who, after religious experiences, found no church spiritually satisfying. He began (1647) widespread itinerant preaching, rallying the many small groups of ‘Seekers’ of similar views. Rejecting organized ecclesiasticism, hierarchical authority, and contemporary social convention, even courtesy, and relying not on sacraments or Scriptures, but on mystical ‘Inner Light’, his followers were called ‘Children of Light’ then ‘Friends of Truth’ and popularly quakers (1654). They only became pacifist and non-political after 1660. Until 1689 they were much persecuted, Fox being imprisoned eight times. By 1660 there were about 30,000–40,000 quakers drawn mainly from rural and urban craftsmen. With the help of Margaret Fell, whom he married in 1669, he gave the movement cohesion. Fox himself travelled all over the British Isles, to the West Indies, and North America. A prolific pamphleteer, his Journal was published posthumously (1694).

Revd Dr William M. Marshall

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Fox, George." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Fox, George." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/fox-george

"Fox, George." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Retrieved July 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/fox-george

Fox, George

Fox, George (1624–91). Founder of the Society of Friends (also known as Quakers). Despite poor health he travelled widely throughout England, Ireland, the West Indies, N. America (where Penn found him ‘civil beyond all forms of breeding’), and Holland. His famous Journal was published three years after his death (ed. J. L. Nickalls, 1952; R. M. Jones, 1976).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Fox, George." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Fox, George." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/fox-george

"Fox, George." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Retrieved July 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/fox-george

Fox, George

Fox, George (1624–91) English religious leader, founder of the Quakers. He embarked upon his evangelical calling in 1646 in response to an ‘inner light’. Imprisoned eight times between 1649 and 1673, his missionary work included visits to Quaker colonies in Caribbean and America (1671–72). His Journal (1694) is a record of the early Quaker movement.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Fox, George." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Fox, George." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/fox-george-0

"Fox, George." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved July 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/fox-george-0