Book Review – ‘The Fearless Benjamin Lay: The Quaker dwarf who became the first revolutionary abolitionist’ by Johan Francke

By Johan Francke, published January 2021


Marcus Rediker, Distinguished Professor of Atlantic History at the University of Pittsburgh and Senior Research Fellow at the Collège d’études mondiales/Fondation Maison des sciences de l’homme in Paris, encountered the remarkable story of the abolitionist Benjamin Lay while working on The Many Headed Hydra, reading Lay’s magnum opus All Slave-Keepers that Keep the Innocent in Bondage, Apostates, published in Philadelphia in 1738.

Rediker decided to write his first biography about this abolitionist and Lay is an especially rewarding subject for a biographer for even today such a person would arouse debate. His ideas were simply radical. Not only his abolitionist views, but those concerning veganism, biblical exegesis, cremation, gender neutrality, freedom of the press and production of clothes. All this was done by someone in a vulnerable position, for Lay was a four-foot tall hunchback midget.

… Rediker knows very well to restrain himself from becoming Lay’s hagiographer and makes it clear that the midget was someone whose high ambitions and uncompromising behaviour made him some eternal enemies. Lay never tried to achieve his goals with a soft or gradual approach, but went straight for it. Benjamin Lay was able finally to taste the sweetness of his own successful struggle. The Quakers prohibited the slave trade in October 1758. After an illness which kept him in bed for ten days, Lay died on 3 February 1759 …

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Filed under: Atlantic | Eighteenth Century | Other (Eighteenth C) | Caribbean
Subjects include: Biography | Miscellaneous

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