Biography of Daniel Defoe

Portrait of Daniel Defoe

Daniel Defoe was a seventeenth/eighteenth century novelist and writer as well as a government spy. He is most famous for his stories “Robinson Crusoe” and “Moll Flanders”.

When and Where was he Born?

1660 in the parish of St. Giles Cripplegate, London, England.

Family Background:

Daniel Defoe was the son of a tallow Chandler and Butcher of Flemish descent, James Foe and his wife Alice.


Firstly at Dorking in 1670 then at Morton’s Academy at Newington Green under the Reverend Charles Morton, to become a Presbyterian Minister.

Timeline of Daniel Defoe:

1666: Defoe witnesses the Great Fire of London as a young boy.

1671: He studies to become a Presbyterian Minister.

1681: Defoe starts work as a wholesale hose-factor in the City of London, trading in hosiery for men and women which required him to travel extensively outside London.

1682: He trades as a merchant in the hosiery business.

1684: He receives a dowry on his wedding to Mary Tuffley although the money is insufficient to keep him from bankruptcy and he is jailed for debt.

1685: Defoe rides out to support the Duke of Monmouth’s Rebellion but he is defeated at the Battle of Sedgemoor and Defoe becomes a Supporter of William of Orange during the “Glorious Revolution.” He now deals in tobacco and wine and consequently travels to Spain, Holland, Italy and France.

1687: He receives a pardon from King William the Third for supporting the rebel cause. He was lucky not to have been found out before or he may have been tried by Judge Jeffreys at the “Bloody Assizes”.

1690: He begins writing pamphlets for clients which became more and more controversial.

1692: He owes £17,000 and becomes bankrupt. Agrees to pay his creditors.

1697: Works as an Agent for King William the Third in Scotland and England.

1700: Defoe publishes the “True Born Englishmen” pamphlet denouncing those who saw the King as a foreigner.

1702: His ironic tract “The Shortest Way with Dissenters” misfires and he is pilloried and then flung in Newgate Prison in 1703 but is later released after a plea from the Tory Minister Robert Harley. He continued as a secret agent for the Government and wrote over 500 pamphlets on politics, crime, geography, marriage, religion, the supernatural and psychology.

1704: Defoe begins producing the newspaper “The Review” which is published three times a week. This is to continue for the next ten years with Defoe as the only editor.

1705: He works for Robert Harley as an agent and promotes the cause of Anglo-Scottish union. 

Defoe Plaque
Plaque at Gateshead where Defoe lived between 1706-1710 (copyright Anthony Blagg)

1711: The formation of the South Sea Company after an idea put to the Prime Minister by Defoe.

1713: He is arrested two times for debt and for publishing seditious political pamphlets.

1715: Defoe is arrested again for suggesting that the Earl of Anglessey was a Jacobite but he escaped prison as he was asked to become a spy by Robert Walpole.

1718: He begins writing novels.

1719: The publication of his first novel “Robinson Crusoe” which is successful although later sequels fail.

1722: No less than six books by Defoe are published including “Captain Jack.”

1724: The publication of his final novel “Roxanna”.

1725: After success of his novels “Moll Flanders” etc he writes even more political and moralising tracts.

1730: He is now in ill health and hiding from his debtors in Greenwich but continues to write political tracts.

When and Where did he Die?

24th April 1731, At his lodgings in Ropemaker’s Alley, Moorefields, London. The cause of his death was written as lethargy, but he probably had a stroke.

Age at Death:


Written Works:

1688: “A letter to a Dissenter from his friend at the Hague”. (political tract)
1697: “Essays upon Projects”.
1701: “A True Born Englishman”.
1702: “The Shortest Way with Dissenters”. (ironic tract).
1703: “A Hymn to the Pillory”.
1706: “The Apparition of Mrs Veal”. “Jure Divino”.
1709: “The History of the Union of Great Britain”.
1715: “The Family Instructor”.
1719: “Robinson Crusoe”. “Further Adventures of Robinson Crusoe”.
1720: “Adventures of Captain Singleton”. “Memoirs of a Cavalier”.
1722: “The History of Colonel Jack”. “Journal of the Plague Year”. “Moll Flanders”.
1724: “The Fortunate Mistress or a History of the Life of the Lady Roxana”. “A Tour through the Whole Island of Great Britain”.
1727: “The History and Reality of Apparitions”. “A System of Magic”.
1728: “Captain Carleton”.


1st January 1684 to Mary Tuffley the daughter of a wealthy barrel maker.

Site of Grave:

Bunhill Fields Burial Ground, City Road, Finsbury, London, England.

Daniel Defoe's Grave
Daniel Defoe’s Grave Memorial in Bunhill Fields with a close up of the inscription which states that it was erected by public subscription amongst the boys and girls of England in 1870 
(copyright Anthony Blagg)
Defoe inscription
Closeup of memorial

Places of Interest:


Bunhill Fields, City Road, Finsbury, London.


Tyne Bridge area.

Tyne Bridge, Newcastle
Tyne Bridge seen from the Sage, Gateshead. Much altered River scene since Defoe’s day!  (copyright Anthony Blagg)

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