FOX, GEORGE (1624–1691), was the chief founder and early leader of the Quakers, a popular movement without clergy, ritual, or sacraments, gathered from among English Puritan Separatists. Despite frequent imprisonments, he traveled throughout Britain, North America, and northern Europe, calling hearers to experience directly the Spirit of God, met as "the Light of Christ" or "Truth" within each person. Those who were open and obedient to the Light he called upon to gather as "Children of Light" and to bear witness to God's power, which was to conquer the world without outward violence in "the Lamb's War." Fox also gave structure to gatherings, or Meetings of Friends, and wrote 270 tracts and 400 "epistles."
Fox was the son of a Puritan weaver of Fenny Drayton in Leicestershire. As a young man he was apprenticed as a cobbler and shepherd; his sensitivity to temptations caused him intense strain, which in 1643 drove him away from his family and then from a series of prominent Puritan clergy and congregations whom he had sought out in the Midlands and in London. By contacts with Separatist and Baptist groups, and perhaps also among Ranters and Familists, he acquired beliefs about the inward nature of heaven, the Last Judgment, the sacraments, and Christ's "heavenly body." He experienced in 1646 and 1647 a series of "openings," or insights, into the Bible, much of which he knew by heart: namely, that true ministers are not made at universities; that Christ within "can speak to thy condition"; that Christ too experienced and conquered temptation; that the source of temptation is the evil within human hearts. Notably, Fox saw evil in his own heart, where "there was an ocean of darkness and death, but an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness."
Having faced his dark impulses, he called others to "the witness of God within them," which would "judge and guide them"—not into a vicarious righteousness but into a total purging and obedience. When he began preaching in the Midlands he was jailed at Derby in 1650–1651 for blasphemy, having glimpsed perfect holiness as he "was come up in spirit through the flaming sword into the paradise of God." He refused a captaincy in Oliver Cromwell's army, because he "lived in the virtue of that life and power that took away the occasion of all wars." In 1651 he preached through northern Yorkshire, winning his chief colleagues, Nayler, Dewsbury, Farnworth, and Aldam. In 1652 he went northwest by way of Pendle Hill, where he had a vision of "a great people to be gathered," and he went on to win to his cause several groups of Separatists who met on Firbank Fell and in villages around the English Lake District. Swarthmoor Hall, home of Margaret Fell and her family, became the center for a mass movement throughout the poorly served moorland parishes of Westmorland and Cumberland, despite jailings and mob violence in several towns. In 1654, a "valiant sixty" of the newly won Quaker men and women, mainly yeomen farmers, spread out on foot throughout Britain as "publishers of Truth," announcing "the Day of the Lord." Fox recalled them that winter to plan their further work and to have them agree to report their travels to Swarthmoor. In 1655 Fox was sent as a prisoner to London, which had already become a Quaker center through casual contacts and earlier missions. Freed by Oliver Cromwell, Fox talked sympathetically with him, attempting without success to persuade him to end the parish system.
While traveling through southern England to Lands End, Fox was jailed in Launceston's "Doomsdale" dungeon for a harsh winter, during which his colleague James Nayler let some women disciples stir up a breach between the two leaders and stage in Nayler's honor a reenactment of Palm Sunday at Bristol. Nayler was tried for blasphemy before Parliament and savagely punished, but this episode, offending England's growing conservatism from 1656 through 1658, cast a shadow over the Quakers. To rally them, Fox encouraged older Quakers to visit the struggling meetings already gathered for weekly worship in silence, while younger Friends carried the Quaker message overseas to Ireland, continental Europe, and the American colonies. Fox was mainly near London as the Puritan Commonwealth fell apart, and he went through weeks of doubt and exhaustion when the Quakers were asked by a radical Puritan government to provide Commissioners of Militia to protect twenty years' gains in justice and freedom. Fox's warning against reliance on arms became a standard to which Quakers could point after the returning Royalists in 1660 accused Friends of plotting rebellion against Charles II. Fox also organized weekly meetings of Quaker men and women leaders in London and wrote piecemeal his only long theological book, The Great Mistery (1659). Between and after two more long imprisonments for refusing the Oath of Allegiance (and all oaths) and defying the 1664 Conventicle Act, Fox again visited Quaker meetings throughout England and Ireland to set up a network of men's and women's monthly and quarterly meetings for local groups and for counties. At Bristol on October 17, 1669, he married Margaret Fell, eleven years a widow; though his letters to her were curiously formal, he began to express to her the affection and humor others had loved in him.
After the 1670 Second Conventicle Act, when Fox and thousands of "Nonconformists" to the Anglican church were again arrested, the Indulgence of 1672 freed him to sail with twelve other Quakers to visit Quaker groups in the American colonies. They proclaimed their Christian orthodoxy to the governor of Barbados and gathered into regular meetings the Friends of Jamaica and Chesapeake Bay and later those in New England and Virginia. Guided by Indians through the forests of New Jersey, Fox would urge Quakers to colonize there in 1675. Returning to England in June 1673, Fox was again imprisoned and seriously ill at Worcester in December. Later, recovering his health slowly at Swarthmoor Hall, Fox dictated to Margaret's son-in-law Thomas Lower the text of his Journal. In 1677 Fox traveled with William Penn and Robert Barclay to visit small Quaker groups in Holland and northwestern Germany. Fox revisited Holland in 1684 but spent most of his last years in or near London, where he died on January 13, 1691. Penn witnessed that "abruptly and brokenly as sometimes his sentences would fall from him … it showed that God had sent him, that he had nothing of man's wit or wisdom, so that he was an original, being no man's copy. He had an extraordinary gift in opening the Scriptures. But above all the most awful, living, reverent frame was his in prayer."
Works by Fox
A Battle-Dor for Teachers and Professors to Learn Singular and Plural (1660). Written with John Stubs and Benjamin Furly. Reprint, Menston, England, 1968. Shows that "thee & thou," as used by Quakers to all individuals, was true grammar in forty languages.
Catechism. London, 1657. Lessons for children.
Doctrinals (originally, Gospel Truth Demonstrated ). London, 1706. Ninety-nine of his 52 previously printed tracts.
Epistles. London, 1698. Four hundred letters, twenty-nine previously printed.
George Fox's Book of Miracles. Cambridge, U.K., 1973. Henry Cadbury's careful reconstruction of a lost Fox manuscript.
The Great Mistery of the Great Whore Unfolded. London, 1659. Refutes anti-Quaker tracts by Puritans, Baptists, and others.
Journal. Edited by Thomas Ellwood, with a preface by William Penn. London, 1694. Repeatedly reprinted in abridged form with prefaces by Rufus Jones, Henry Cadbury, et al.; currently available from Friends United Press (Richmond, Ind., 1983).
The Works of George Fox. 8 vols. Philadelphia, 1831. Reproduces first editions of Fox's works uncritically.
Works about Fox
Bensen, Lewis. Catholic Quakerism. Philadelphia, 1968. Presents Fox's ethic.
Braithwaite, William C. The Beginnings of Quakerism (1912). Rev. ed. Cambridge, U.K., 1955. Presents historical facts and settings of Fox's life.
Braithwaite, William C. The Second Period of Quakerism (1919). Revised by Henry Cadbury. Cambridge, U.K., 1961.
Hugh Barbour (1987)
Founder of the society of friends (Quakers); b. Drayton-in-the-Clay (Fenny Drayton), Leicestershire,
July 1624; d. London, Jan. 13, 1691. He was one of five or six children brought up in a household of piety. His father, a weaver, and his mother shared deep religious convictions. Fox was apprenticed to a shoemaker, and later was often referred to as a cobbler. In 1643, he began almost four years of restless wandering in search of enlightenment, until he was convinced that immediate revelation of truth comes from God to the individual in an experience of illumination. To Quakers, this is known as the Inner Light, Inward Light, or Light Within. Fox wrote in his Journal, "These things I did not see by the help of man, nor by the letter, though they are written in the letter, but I saw them in the light of the Lord Jesus Christ, and by His immediate Spirit and powers, as did the holy men of God, by whom the Holy Scriptures were written." He started a preaching ministry in 1647, but the beginning of his movement is usually dated 1652, the year of his vision on Pendle Hill. In this year Fox made his home at Swarthmore Hall, near Ulverstone, the house of Judge
Thomas Fell, vice-chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. In 1669, he married Margaret Fell, who had been a widow for eight years. Fox's compelling zeal attracted followers among the Friends of the Truth and the Seekers. After 1652, with Swarthmore Hall as the center, the Quaker movement grew in spite of persecution and the frequent imprisonment of Fox and his followers. The "Valiant Sixty" (actually 66), as they were called, traveled widely as missionaries of Quakerism. Fox himself made missionary journeys to Ireland (1669), the West Indies and North America (1671–72), and Holland (1677 and 1684). Among his disciples were James Nayler, Robert barclay, and William penn. Fox had great organizational ability, which enabled him to devise individualistic outlets in a larger complex for unity: the Particular Meeting, a local group, joins with other Particular Meetings in a Monthly Meeting, which in turn joins other similar Meetings in a Quarterly Meeting; these in turn form the Yearly Meeting. Fox left no theological treatises. His Journal was published posthumously in 1694, and edited by N. Penney in 1911.
Bibliography: g. fox, Book of Miracles, ed. h. j. cadbury (Cambridge, Mass. 1948). p. held, Der Quäker George Fox (Basel 1949). a. gordon, The Dictionary of National Biography from the Earliest Times to 1900, 63 v. (London 1885–1900; repr. with corrections, 21 v., 1908–09, 1921–22, 1938; suppl. 1901–) 7:557–562. a. n. brayshaw, The Personality of George Fox (London 1933). m. schmidt, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 7 v. (3rd ed. Tübingen 1957–65)3 2:1010. e. russell, The History of Quakerism (New York 1942).
[c. s. meyer]
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.
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). □
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.
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.
Revd Dr William M. Marshall