Memorial to Fox's birthplace, situated on George Fox Lane in Fenny Drayton
George Fox was born in the strongly Puritan village of Drayton-in-the-Clay, Leicestershire, England (now known as Fenny Drayton), 15 miles (24 km) west-south-west of Leicester. He was the eldest of four children of Christopher Fox, a successful weaver, called "Righteous Christer" by his neighbours, and his wife, Mary née Lago. Christopher Fox was a churchwarden and was relatively wealthy; when he died in the late 1650s he left his son a substantial legacy. From childhood Fox was of a serious, religious disposition. There is no record of any formal schooling but he learned to read and write. "When I came to eleven years of age", he said, "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, and outwardly to man." Known as an honest person, he also proclaimed, "The Lord taught me to be faithful in all things...and to keep to Yea and Nay in all things."
As he grew up, his relatives "thought to have made me a priest" but he was instead apprenticed to a local shoemaker and grazier, George Gee of Mancetter. This suited his contemplative temperament and he became well known for his diligence among the wool traders who had dealings with his master. A constant obsession for Fox was the pursuit of "simplicity" in life, meaning humility and the abandonment of luxury, and the short time he spent as a shepherd was important to the formation of this view. Toward the end of his life he wrote a letter for general circulation pointing out that Abel, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Moses and David were all keepers of sheep or cattle and therefore that a learned education should not be seen as a necessary qualification for ministry.
George Fox knew people who were "professors" (followers of the standard religion), but by the age of 19 he had begun to look down on their behaviour, in particular drinking alcohol. He records that, in prayer one night after leaving two acquaintances at a drinking session, he heard an inner voice saying, "Thou seest how young people go together into vanity, and old people into the earth; thou must forsake all, young and old, keep out of all, and be as a stranger unto all."