Many great authors draw from personal experiences when writing their works. Defoe was no different. Throughout his life, he suffered through many devastations and calamitous situations.
When he was seven, a plague killed over 70,000 people throughout England, and the Great Fire of London swept through his neighborhood leaving only his and one other home standing. By the time he was thirteen, his mother had died. He married and had eight children, two of whom died. Throughout his adult life, he was always in debt. He was very involved in politics and was very outspoken on government issues. He eventually took to writing and wrote over 500 books, pamphlets, and journals on various topics. It was his political pamphlets that got him into serious trouble and prison in 1703! He witnessed a horrific hurricane sweep through his country in 1703; the experience later provided the material for his literary piece, "The Storm," in 1704.
It is believed that in writing Robinson Crusoe, Defoe may have used the true story of Scottish castaway, Alexander Selkirk. It also could have been based upon the experiences of a Henry Pitman, a surgeon to the Duke of Monmouth who was imprisoned in a Caribbean penal colony for his part in the Monmouth Rebellion of 1685.
Whichever character Defoe wrote about is unimportant. What is important is that Robinson Crusoe is one of the best pieces of literature ever written! It has been called an allegory for the development of civilisation, as a manifesto of economic individualism, and as an expression of European colonial desires. But it also shows the importance of repentance and illustrates the strength of Defoe's religious convictions.