He was born in London in 1660. His father was a merchant, a typical middle class man, and belonged to an extreme protestant sect. Being a dissenter; he didn't accept some ceremonies of the Anglican Church and he refused to register his son's Birth. Daniel studied modern languages, economics and geography, and then decided to go into business. In 1680 he became a merchant and when he returned to England he opened a shop. He got married and began his political career, in 1685 he took part to a rebellion against the roman catholic king James II, however managed to escape punishment. He joined William of Orange's army, his business got worse and worse and he went in 1692 bankrupt. He eventually managed to pay back most of his debts but then he needed to re-make the money he had lost, so he started many other activities (journalism and literature) winning popularity and the king's friendship.
In 1701 Queen Anne ascended the throne, she was a supporter of the state Church, so Defoes'situation went worse. He got a very big fine and he was sentenced to 3 days in the pillory.
He was imprisoned in New Gate for 6 months, he was rescued by the Tory (conservative party against the Whigs, liberals) leader Mr Harley. In 1704 he started his famous newspaper 'The Review', for which he denied his whig ideas and became a Secret Agent for the new government. He became a writer when he was about 60 just because he needed money. He was forced to adopt another pen name, so some of his novels are written by using another name. He died alone and friendless in 1731.