George Fox was the founder of the Religious Society of Friends, commonly known as the Quakers because they were said to quake before the Lord. Always a seeker of wisdom, Fox finally discovered that true wisdom from God was to be found within rather than outside of oneself. His story is one of a seeker pursuing divine wisdom, only to discover wisdom was to be found within, in his own "Inner Light." Fox came from humble means, was imprisoned many times, but in the end left an important legacy in the history of Christianity.
Fox was born in 1624 in Leicestershire, England into very simple circumstances. His father was a weaver, and he himself eventually took up shoemaking. The church of his day left him unsatisfied and seeking more. He was a serious young man in his teens and was put off by any form of hypocrisy and/or deceit. In his Journal he tells of one episode at the age of 19 where he was at a party. The drunken behavior of these "nominal" Christians so disgusted him that he knew he needed to find something more. In 1643 he left home and traveled around England looking for enlightenment.
In 1646 Fox discovered what he called the "Inner Light of the Living Christ" already within him. In moments of stillness and contemplation that Inner Light would reveal itself to him, and to any others who sought after it. He believed that this inner enlightenment was a form of revelation, like the scriptures.
Therefore he believed that God's revelation was not limited to the Bible but continued to come from the Holy Spirit to each believer. He argued that the Church of England did not have any special authority to mediate God's voice. Its ordained clergy had no special revelation from God and therefore were not necessary for knowing God. He was very critical of the professional ministry of his day and argued anyone can minister if God has illuminated his or her Inner Light. Likewise, he began to criticize the liturgical worship of the Church. He argued that if one was right with God on the inside and could hear that inner voice, then there was no need for such things as the Eucharist and baptism.
Fox began to travel around preaching this message in 1647, trying to persuade others that truth is found in the inner voice of God that speaks to each and every soul. Fox continued to discount the need for the clergy of his day and argued against what he called artificial titles and the swearing of oaths. Two very important points that distanced Fox from the other nonconformists of his day were his rejection of slavery and the declaration that war of any sort is unlawful for any Christian. These ideas did not sit well with the English authorities and the Church of England, and by 1649 he found himself thrown into prison in Nottingham. It was in a courtroom that the name Quaker came into usage for the Friends. Fox and his followers had thought of themselves as the Society of Friends based on Jesus' words found in John 15:15 where Jesus said to his followers, "I have called you friends." While in court, a judge asked Fox if he was a part of the group known as Quakers. To this Fox was reported to have replied that all must tremble and quake at the Word of the Lord, and so yes, he was a Quaker in the sense that he quaked because of God's holiness. From this point forward The Society of Friends referred to themselves as Quakers as well as Friends.
Fox was eventually released and settled at Swarthmore Hall, home of Judge Thomas and Margaret Fell. Here Fox had a base to operate from, and spent time writing and traveling from there. In 1652 the Friends had their first community, or Meeting House as it was called, in Preston Patrick in northern England. By 1654, Quakers had spread to London, Bristol, and Norwich. By this time Swarthmore Hall had become the official headquarters for the preachers of the Religious Society of Friends. Fox continued to operate out of Swarthmore and after the death of Thomas Fell, Fox married his widow, Margaret, in 1669.