Collier's New Encyclopedia (1921)/Fox, George

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FOX, GEORGE, founder of the Society of Friends; born in Drayton in Leicestershire, England, in July, 1624. His father was a weaver, and by the strict honesty of his conduct had won from his neighbors the sobriquet of “Righteous Christer.” George, while yet a boy, was distinguished by his gravity and exemplary conduct. When in the 20th year of his age, and for some two or three years afterward, Fox describes himself as having been in a very distressed state of mind, from which the various professors and clergymen to whom he applied for counsel were unable to relieve him. From this condition he was at length delivered by that which he regarded as the voice of God in his soul, directing him to Christ as alone able “to speak to his condition.” Very soon after this he commenced his public ministrations at Dukinfield, Manchester, and the neighborhood. From the first, his preaching seems to have made many converts and excited much opposition. Fox's first imprisonment took place in the year 1648, in consequence of his opposing the preacher in “the great steeple-house at Nottingham,” on a point of doctrine. In 1650 he was imprisoned at Derby under a false charge of blasphemy. One of the committing justices, Bennet, acted with great violence on this occasion. Cromwell, though himself favorable to liberty of conscience, seems to have been unable to curb popular hostility launched against a sect which denounced all state interferences with religion and maintained that the gospel should be preached without fee or reward. About a month after the restoration of Charles II., Fox was committed to Lancaster Castle “on the charge of being a common disturber of the peace, and of endeavoring to make insurrection and embroil the whole kingdom in blood.” After lying in jail some months, a habeas corpus was obtained, and the authorities showed their disbelief of these grave charges by allowing Fox himself, unbailed and unguarded, to convey to London the sheriff's return to the writ. The act empowering magistrates to tender the oaths of allegiance and supremacy to any person whom they thought fit to suspect, operated with great severity against the Friends; under its provisions Fox was committed to prison at Lancaster in the beginning of 1664, whence he was removed to Scarborough Castle, where he lay till the autumn of 1666. In 1669 Fox married Margaret Fell, the widow of one of the judges of the Welsh courts. The year 1670 witnessed the passing of the most stringent of the Conventicle Acts, forbidding under heavy penalties the assembling for religious worship, in any house, of more than four persons besides the family, except according to the usages of the Church of England. Fox exhorted his friends to firmness, and himself remained in London, to share with their sufferings. Soon after his recovery from a severe illness he sailed for Barbadoes, where he exerted himself greatly in the interests of religion and humanity. After a considerable time spent in Barbadoes, Jamaica, and the North American continent, he returned to England in 1673. Here further persecutions awaited him. He underwent 14 months' imprisonment, and was at length liberated by the Court of King's Bench on account of the errors in his indictment. In 1677, in company with Penn and Barclay, who had joined the Society about 10 years before, he paid a visit to Holland and some parts of Germany, where his services seem to have been well received. The last 15 years of his life were tranquil as regards personal molestation. Persecution of Quakers continued throughout the reign of Charles II.; and though James, by a stretch of the royal prerogative, ordered a general release of those imprisoned for conscience's sake, the legal toleration of dissent was reserved for the next roign. In the first year of William and Mary was passed the bill which nullified the Conventicle Acts, and allowed the Friends to make a solemn declaration in lieu of taking the oaths, and Fox had the gratification of seeing the public worship of the Society legally recognized before his death. He died in London, Jan. 13, 1690. See Friends, Society of.