Monthly Archives: July 2022

“The Fearless Benjamin Lay – The Quaker Dwarf Who Became the First Revolutionary Abolitionist” by Marcus Rediker

“The Fearless Benjamin Lay – The Quaker Dwarf Who Became the First Revolutionary Abolitionist” by Marcus Rediker: Beacon Press, 2017, 150 pages plus notes, index and illustrations. 

A fascinating book by a distinguished historian! Benjamin Lay was born in 1682, a third generation Quaker who was more serious about religion than his parents. He described himself as having been “born contentious”. He was radically outspoken. 

Lay was a dwarf, about 4 feet tall. This had so little impact on his life and self image that I don’t know why Rediker put it into the title of the book. I also wonder why Rediker consistently referred to Lay as “Benjamin”. It seems patronizing, when everyone else in the book is identified by his or her last name or full name. 

This books provided me with an expanded perception of Quaker history and the roles of George Fox and James Nayler. Several dissenting movements of the same era (Ranters, Diggers, Levellers,) were suppressed, and left no organized legacy of their aims and accomplishments. George Fox imposed discipline and saved Quakerism from that fate. But he dampened the spontaneity of the first generation of Quakers, and people like Lay wanted to get back that initial wildness sometimes referred to an antinomianism. Lay initially turned his attention to “false preachers” and prideful, dominating ministers. He raised trouble in several English meetings. 

Lay worked as a shepherd, glove maker and sailor (ordinary seaman), after which he settled into trade, dealing mostly in books. His twelve years at sea gave him a wide range of experience and considerable sophistication. Time spent in Barbados opened his eyes to the violence and cruelty of slavery, and he devoted much of his life to abolition, starting with elimination of slave trading by Quakers. 

This book is worth your attention.