Born Daniel Foe, the son of a successful butcher in London in 1660, he later changed his name to Defoe, in an attempt to sound more aristocratic. During his early life, he survived two of the most devastating events in English history: the 1665 Great Plague of London which killed 70,000 people, and the following year, the Great Fire of London which left only Defoe’s and two other houses standing in his neighbourhood.
Defoe later became a general merchant. Travelling widely he traded in hosiery, woollen goods, and wine but unfortunately, was rarely out of debt. He eventually went bankrupt and decided to leave the business altogether.
Having a lifelong interest in politics, Defoe became a journalist and activist, publishing literary and political pamphlets. Many of Defoe’s works concerning King William III, also known as ‘William Henry of Orange’ were often controversial and political opponents of Defoe’s repeatedly had him imprisoned for his writing.
Defoe took a new literary path around the age of 59, when he published his first fictional novel, Robinson Crusoe.