The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Fox, George

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The Encyclopedia Americana
Fox, George
Edition of 1920. See also George Fox on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

FOX, George, English religionist, founder of the Society of Friends: b. Drayton, Leicestershire, England, July 1624; d. London, 13 Jan. 1690. He was the son of a weaver in good circumstances. While yet a boy he 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 distressed state of mind, but 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 Dukinfied, Manchester and the neighborhood. In 1646 he ceased to attend church. From the first his preaching seems to have made many converts, mainly from the lower middle class, and excited much opposition. Fox's first imprisonment took place in the year 1649, 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, and it was he who on Fox's bidding him “tremble at the word of the Lord” first applied to him and his friends the name of Quakers. Fox lay in prison at Derby for about a year, the time having been lengthened in consequence of his refusal to accept a commission as captain of one of the regiments then being raised by Parliament. To his belief in non-resistance and in the unlawfulness of all war, which prompted this refusal, was added at the same time a clear view of the enormity of the punishment of death for crimes affecting property only, and he exerted himself to save the life of a poor woman then in jail for theft. Within 10 years of Fox's appearance as a preacher, meetings of the Friends were established in most parts of England. At the same time, so actively were they persecuted, that for many years there were seldom less than 1,000 of them in prison. Cromwell, though himself favorable to liberty of conscience, and before whom Fox appeared in 1655, seems to have been unable to curb the excesses of popular hostility launched in all quarters against a sect which denounced all state interference with religion and maintained that the gospel should be preached without fee or reward. His doctrine of “the inner light” rested on one central idea, “God is a spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.”

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 hopes entertained by the members of the young society that they would be allowed a breathing-time from persecution were dispelled at the commencement of 1661 by the atrocious measures which followed the mad attempt of Venner and his Fifth-Monarchy men. The act empowering magistrates to tender the oaths of allegiance and supremacy to any person whom they thought fit to suspect, also 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, who was 10 years his senior and the widow of one of the judges of the Welsh courts, and who proved a faithful coadjutor as well as helpmeet. 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. Soon after his recovery from a severe illness he sailed for Barbadoes, where he exerted himself greatly in the interests of religion and humanity. It was while in this island that Fox drew up a statement of his own and his friends' belief in all the great doctrines of Christianity — a statement clearly disproving their alleged sympathy with Socinian tenets. After a considerable time spent in Barbadoes, Jamaica and the North American continent, he returned to England in 1673, where further persecutions awaited him. He underwent 14 months' imprisonment in Worcester jail, and was at length liberated by the Court of King's Bench on account of the errors in his indictment. In all, he suffered eight terms of imprisonment. 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, but he continued to be actively engaged in various ways in promoting the welfare of his brethren. Their persecutions continued throughout the reign of Charles II. 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. Fox was a mystic and visionary; but there was another side of character; his mind was one of singular penetration, and his ‘Journal’ is one of the world's most famous books, rich in spiritual insight, in noble simplicity and in moral fibre. In his schemes for the relief of the poor and the education of the people he was far in advance of his age. He typified in his generation that manifestation of the love of God which has been so singularly exemplified in the history of Society of Friends in practical and unostentatious service to the well-being of their fellowmen. (See Friends, Society of). His works were issued in three volumes 1694-1700. The best edition was that published in Philadelphia (8 vols.) in 1831. Consult Sewell, ‘History of the Quakers’; Lives by Marsh (1848); Janney (1853); Watson (1860); Hodgkin (1897); Wood (1912); Tallack, ‘George Fox, the Friends and the Early Baptists’ (1868); Bickley, ‘George Fox and the Early Quakers’ (1884).