FOX, GEORGE: Founder of the Society of Friends; b. at Drayton-in-the-Clay (Fenny Drayton, 15 m. s.w. of Leicester), Leicestershire, July, 1624; d. in London Jan. 13, 1691. His father, Christopher Fox, was a weaver, called "righteous Christer" by his neighbors; his mother, Mary Lago, was, he tells us, "of the stock of the martyrs."
Early Life. From childhood, Fox was of a serious, religious disposition. "When I came to eleven years of age," he says (Journal, p. 2), "I knew pureness and righteousness; for, while I was a child, I was taught how to walk to be kept pure. The Lord taught me to be faithful in all things, and to act faithfully two ways; viz., inwardly to God, outwardly to man." As he grew up, his relations "thought to have made him a priest"; but he was put as an apprentice to a man who was a shoemaker and grazier. In his nineteenth year the conduct of two companions, who were professors of religion, grieved him because they joined in drinking healths, and he heard an inward voice from the Lord, "Thou seest how young people go together into vanity, and old people into the earth; and thou must forsake all, both young and old, and keep out of all, and be as a stranger unto all." Then began a life of solitary wandering in mental temptations and troubles, in which he "went to many a priest to look for comfort, but found no comfort from them." At one time, as he was walking in a field, "the Lord opened unto" him "that being bred at Oxford or Cambridge was not enough to fit and qualify men to be ministers of Christ," but that a spiritual qualification was necessary. Not seeing this requisite in the priest of his parish, he "would get into the orchards and fields" by himself with his Bible. Regarding the priests less, he looked more after the dissenters, among whom he found "some tenderness," but no one that could speak to his need. "And when all my hopes in them," he says, "and in all men, were gone, so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could tell what to do, then, oh! then, I heard a voice which said, 'There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition.' "
His Ministry. The Society of Friends. In 1648 he began to exercise his ministry publicly in market-places, in the fields, in appointed meetings of various kinds, sometimes in the "steeple-houses," after the priests had got through. His preaching was powerful; and many joined him in professing the same faith in the spirituality of true religion. In a few years the Society of Friends had formed itself spontaneously under the preaching of Fox and his companions (see FRIENDS, SOCIETY OF, I., § 1). Fox afterward showed great powers as a religious legislator, in the admirable organization which he gave to the new society. He seems, however, to have had no desire to found a sect, but only to proclaim the pure and genuine principles of Christianity in their original simplicity. He was often arrested and imprisoned for violating the laws forbidding unauthorized worship, for refusal to take an oath, and for wearing his hat in court. He was imprisoned at Derby in 1650, Carlisle in 1653, London in 1654, Launceston in 1656, Lancaster in 1660 and 1663, Scarborough in 1666, and Worcester in 1674, in noisome dungeons, and with much attendant cruelty. In prison his pen was active, and hardly less potent than his voice.
In 1669 Fox married Margaret Fell of Swarthmoor Hall, a lady of high social position, and one of his early converts. In 1671 he went to Barbados and the English settlements in America, where he remained two years. In 1677 and 1684 he visited the Friends in Holland, and organized their meetings for discipline.
Fox is described by Thomas Ellwood, the friend of Milton, as "graceful in countenance, manly personage, grave in gesture, courteous in conversation." Penn says he was "civil beyond all forms of breeding." We are told that he was "plain and powerful in preaching, fervent in prayer," "a discerner of other men's spirits, and very much master of his own," skilful to "speak a word in due season to the conditions and capacities of most, especially to them that were weary, and wanted soul's rest;" "valiant in asserting the truth, bold in defending it, patient in suffering for it, immovable as a rock."