Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Quaker Dwarf Who Became the First Revolutionary Abolitionist

He spent his later life living in a cave, a vegetarian and animal rights activist who made his own clothing and traveled by foot. Yet his estate at his death in 1759 was valued at $117,000 (in today's dollars).

He was an early convert to abolition, causing disturbances that drove his Quaker meeting house to remove him from membership.

He was a dwarf who married another Little Person, Sarah, a well-liked Quaker preacher, while he himself was reviled for his extremism.

The Fearless Benjamin Lay by Marcus Rediker resurrects the forgotten man who dared to stand up to wealth and power with the message that all creatures are God's children, and that to own a slave is to be steeped in sin.

Lay went to extremes to get his message across. Lay had been pressuring a neighbor Quaker in Abington, PA over their owning a slave girl. One day Lay encountered the couple's son and invited him to his cave. When the distraught couple found their son with Lay, he chastised them saying, "You may now conceive of the sorrows you inflict upon the parents of the negroe [sic] girl you hold in slavery, for she was torn from them by avarice."

Without a formal education, Lay wrote a book that was printed by Benjamin Franklin. It was Deborah Franklin who commissioned a portrait of Lay, a gift for her husband. It resides in the National Portrait Museum.
Lay's book printed by Benjamin Franklin
This vivid portrait of a unique personality is interesting as history, but Lay's vision transcends the years, for his concerns remain with us to this day and are more relevant than ever. As society struggles with issues of wealth trumping morality, consumerism and its impact on the environment and human health, and the continual fight against hate groups that devalue certain human lives, Lay's life stands as an example of how to live according to one's values and one's faith.

I received a free book from the publisher through LibraryThing.

Read an excerpt at

The Fearless Benjamin Lay
by Marcus Rediker
ISBN: 978-080703592-4
Publication Date: 9/5/2017
Price:  $26.95

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