The Fearless Benjamin Lay

The Quaker Dwarf Who Became the First Revolutionary

Reddit icon
e-mail icon
Twitter icon
Facebook icon
Google icon
LinkedIn icon
Marcus Rediker
  • Boston, MA: 
    Beacon Press
    , September
     2017.
     232 pages.
     $26.95.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9780807035924.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Description

The little-known story of an eighteenth-century Quaker dwarf who fiercely attacked slavery and imagined a new, more humane way of life.

In The Fearless Benjamin Lay, renowned historian Marcus Rediker chronicles the transatlantic life and times of a singular man—a Quaker dwarf who demanded the total, unconditional emancipation of all enslaved Africans around the world. Mocked and scorned by his contemporaries, Lay was unflinching in his opposition to slavery, often performing colorful guerrilla theater to shame slave masters, insisting that human bondage violated the fundamental principles of Christianity. He drew on his ideals to create a revolutionary way of life, one that embodied the proclamation “no justice, no peace.”

Lay was born in 1682 in Essex, England. His philosophies, employments, and places of residence—spanning England, Barbados, Philadelphia, and the open seas—were markedly diverse over the course of his life. He worked as a shepherd, glove maker, sailor, and bookseller. His worldview was an astonishing combination of Quakerism, vegetarianism, animal rights, opposition to the death penalty, and abolitionism.

While in Abington, Philadelphia, Lay lived in a cave-like dwelling surrounded by a library of two hundred books, and it was in this unconventional abode where he penned a fiery and controversial book against bondage, which Benjamin Franklin published in 1738. Always in motion and ever confrontational, Lay maintained throughout his life a steadfast opposition to slavery and a fierce determination to make his fellow Quakers denounce it, which they finally began to do toward the end of his life.

With passion and historical rigor, Rediker situates Lay as a man who fervently embodied the ideals of democracy and equality as he practiced a unique concoction of radicalism nearly three hundred years ago. Rediker resurrects this forceful and prescient visionary, who speaks to us across the ages and whose innovative approach to activism is a gift, transforming how we consider the past and how we might imagine the future.

About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Marcus Rediker is distinguished professor of Atlantic history at the University of Pittsburgh and senior research fellow at the Collège d’études mondiales in Paris. His books have won numerous awards and been translated into fourteen languages. They include The Many-Headed Hydra (Beacon Press, 2000; with Peter Linebaugh), Villains of All Nations (Beacon Press, 2004), The Slave Ship (2007), The Amistad Rebellion (2012), and Outlaws of the Atlantic(Beacon Press, 2015). Rediker is also the producer of the prize-winning documentary film Ghosts of Amistad: In the Footsteps of the Rebels (Tony Buba, director), about the popular memory of the 1839 Amistad rebellion in contemporary Sierra Leone. He lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Add New Comment

Reading Religion welcomes comments from AAR members, and you may leave a comment below by logging in with your AAR Member ID and password. Please read our policy on commenting.

Log in to post comments