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The Fearless Benjamin Lay: The Quaker Dwarf Who Became the First Revolutionary Abolitionist

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  222 ratings  ·  56 reviews
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. Mocke
Hardcover, 212 pages
Published September 5th 2017 by Beacon Press
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Start your review of The Fearless Benjamin Lay: The Quaker Dwarf Who Became the First Revolutionary Abolitionist
Nov 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
He spent his later life living in a cave, a vegetarian and animal rights activist who made his own clothing. 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 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 t
Jul 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
To honor July 4th I am reviewing a biography of a true American original whose life expands our knowledge of the history of American abolitionism, Quakerism and alternative lifestyles. Benjamin Lay was a very independent man who should be celebrated while we celebrate American independence. "Let your lives speak" is an old Quaker motto. Lay certainly did that with his own life. I received an ARC of The Fearless Benjamin Lay by Marcus Rediker from the publisher via Edelweiss in return for this re ...more
Tonstant Weader
Aug 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Marcus Rediker has written an important correction to the history of abolitionism with his biography The Fearless Benjamin Lay. Lay was born in 1682, a commoner who worked as a shepherd, a glove-maker, a sailor, and a merchant and lived in Essex, Barbados, and Pennsylvania. He was a Quaker, perhaps more authentically devout than the many Quakers with whom he shared fellowship.

Lay was a child of the Glorious Revolution. influenced by the democratic idealism that animated that victory for the righ
Sharon Huether
Benjamin Lay: A Quaker Dwarf who became the first Revolutionary Abolitionist. He was born in Essex England in 1682 and traveled to Barbados and Philadelphia . He used metaphors of sheep and lambs to admonish Quakers and others to free their slaves.
He often disrupted church meetings to make his point in his beliefs. He even did theactrics to get the attention of a crowd.
By trade he was a Glover and a book seller. He also traveled the seas in earlier days.
Benjamin married Sarah, she was also a dw
Dec 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely fascinating biography of a bold, tender hearted and just man. Inspiration to all social justice activist today. If he could, we can.
I became aware of The Fearless Benjamin Lay when I caught wind of an event with the author in my city. The event highlighted Benjamin as a Quaker, Dwarf, and abolitionist, so my interest was already piqued. When I sought out a description of the book and found that Lay was also an animal liberation proponent, it intrigued me even further. Benjamin Lay is someone that reactionaries would consider a dangerous, uber-radical, mega-snowflake by today's standards. It is truly remarkable that he held s ...more
Jan 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
incredible man, well worth reading, races along. There is a part near the beginning where you get way too much Quaker bureaucracy and it needs some repetition deleting in the final section, but by gum what a man, what a life. If in doubt, read this! Both historically accurate research and a fast writing style, i'll definitely read more by this author. Will make you cry at the end. A complete hero. If you buy from Verso, you get ebook free with print book and you can download it forever after fro ...more
Jan 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
Marcus Rediker’s The Fearless Benjamin Lay: The Quaker Dwarf Who Became the First Revolutionary Abolitionist (Kindle Edition) is a decently written biography of an early voice in what would become the American Abolitionist movement. By the end I am not sure I was convinced that Mr. Lay was more than a noisy link in the chain that would end in, depending on your point of view, The Civil War or the end of Slavery. Like Rediker, I will get this out of the way quickly. Benjamin Lay was a hunchback a ...more
Aug 14, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: biography
This was a case of the author including every scrap of information he found on the person. The overview at the beginning turned out to be the most interesting part, in my opinion. I was expecting a book about what Benjamin Lay did in the fight against slavery, but most of that information was adequately summarized in the overview.

The book also talked about how many chimneys his parent's house had (and what this indicated about how much money they had), notes that he made in the margins of the bo
This is likely going to be my favorite book that I've read in 2020. This is also going to be a long and rambling review.

I found this book quite accidentally while browsing for books on Amazon about Quakers. I was raised by my Jewish grandmother and my Quaker grandfather. For a while I gravitated more towards my grandmother's beliefs, and then into atheism, but I've been feeling a pull towards the Quaker side of my childhood lately.

My grandfather was a freaking badass Quaker. This was a man who
Edward Sullivan
In an admiring and affectionate biography, Rediker tells the remarkable story of a singular individual—a Quaker hunchbacked dwarf who, in the first half of the 18th century, devoted his life to demanding the total, unconditional emancipation of all enslaved Africans around the world. In addition to spending years at sea as a sailor, he worked as a shepherd, glove maker, and bookseller. His worldview evolved in an astonishing amalgam of Quakerism, vegetarianism, animal rights, opposition to the d ...more
Jul 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An amazing biography of such an important early abolitionist, who had been relatively unknown until this book was published. His life story should be adapted to film.
Spicy T AKA Mr. Tea
I've read several books by Marcus Rediker over the years. And I swear, each one just gets better. This was an amazing read. I'd never heard of Benjamin Lay but Rediker's description of him coming to a Quaker meeting then simultaneously damning those Quakers who enslaved and traded in Africans while slamming his sword down in the middle of his Bible appearing to spray Christ's blood all over those gathered was fucking amazing! A brilliant piece of street theatre! (He had hallowed out his bible an ...more
Stan  Prager
Sep 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Imagine this: a hunchbacked dwarf living in early Enlightenment-era England, variously a farmhand, shepherd and glovemaker, but also a devoted autodidact gifted with great intelligence who despite his station in life becomes not only literate but highly-educated. Passionate and outspoken, he often dominates local meetings of the Society of Friends, flirting with antinomianism and distinguising himself as a Quaker radical, often an outcast, publicly rebuking authority and earning the antipathy of ...more
Oliver Bateman
Sep 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This was an excellent biography. I profiled its author, Marcus Rediker, in this Pacific Standard feature: ...more
Melody Sciarratta
I ended up loving this biography although it had some challenging aspects. The author is a scholar and his writing style was very straightforward in an "this is what happened" kind of way. Also, he repeated information a lot. I mean A LOT. To the point that I actually wondered if I was clairvoyant! lol Quite a few times I thought "didn't I read that a while back?" If so, why isn't a new perspective added on that info?
But having said that..... Benjamin Lay is a figure like no other I've heard of
Param Singh
May 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I finished this book only today, and it already feels like one of the most important reads of my life. Well researched and academic, but never loses its moral urgency. A strong argument for replacing the morally compromised Founding Fathers with a more apt model for the kinds of virtues America pretends to aspire to.
Mar 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Benjamin Lay was a fascinating individual who's life work was to end slavery.
Not quick and easy reading.
Robin Tierney
Feb 26, 2018 rated it liked it
Just some notes:
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 o
Feb 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is a compelling and accessible biography of an extraordinary person. Thoroughly debunking the common historical evaluation of Benjamin Lay as a deranged or immoderate person, Rediker shows his readers that this "fearless" Trans-Atlantic Quaker acted consistently and strategically in his radical protests against slavery. He persuasively argues that Lay's abolitionist convictions derived principally from two sources: first, Lay's antinomian and pacifist Quaker principles and second, the pract ...more
Zack McCullough
Dec 09, 2019 rated it it was ok
Marcus Rediker has written a biography about an interesting person that few people, including historians, have ever heard of. Benjamin Lay, as the title says, was opposed to slavery, seeing it as a immoral and vile institution that must be eliminated and could not be tolerated, especially as a Christian. Benjamin Lay took more extreme methods of convincing people that slavery was evil though, and he did this much earlier than most revolutionary abolitionists. It would be difficult to deny that B ...more
Sep 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
"Benjamin's prophecy speaks to our times. He predicted that for Quakers, and for America, slave-keeping would be a long destructive burden."

"Benjamin Lay was, in sum, a class-conscious, gender-conscious, race-conscious, environmentally conscious vegetarian ultra-radical. Most readers of this book would think this combination of beliefs possible only since the 1960s, two full centuries after Lay's remarkable life ended."

Really fascinating bio of a truly outstanding personality. He used street the
David Dunlap
Jan 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
"Benjamin Lay was, in sum," author Rediker writes, "a class-conscious, gender-conscious, race-conscious, environmentally conscious vegetarian ultraradical." In other words, Benjamin Lay (1681-1759) was a man ahead of his time. He was also a Quaker who preached abolition to the generation of Quakers before the one which would take up the cause as holy and righteous. As Rediker points out in his gracefully written biography, Lay's abrasive personality and confrontational style placed him in direct ...more
Elliot Ratzman
Benj Lay gets five stars! This bio, fewer. Lay (1682-1759) was a radical abolitionist, vegetarian, anti-capitalist Quaker who was for gender equality, an immediate freeing of all slaves, and a constant thorn in the side of the powerful and haughty. He and his equally radical wife Sarah witnessed and were traumatized by the evils of slavery in Barbados. In the Philadelphia area he agitated Quaker meetings and Anglican services through guerrilla theater (splattering the gentry with blood), a proph ...more
Joseph Eckhardt
Oct 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Benjamin Lay was a vegetarian hunchback dwarf who lived in a cave. And that's not the most surprising aspect of this remarkable story about a remarkable man. Lay was also one of the first anti-slavery activists, vigorously berating his fellow Quakers for keeping slaves, and using guerilla tactics to call attention to his cause. Professor Rediker has managed to find and make sense of a disparate assortment of sources and he tells the tale in a compelling way. He treats Lay sympathetically but doe ...more
Maughn Gregory
One of the most inspiring books I've read in many years. Rediker explains that the early abolitionists were not educated, upper-class saints but working class people whose difficult lives prompted empathy with people whose suffering was even greater. Benjamin Lay was the first person to boycott goods produced by slave labor. He invented guerilla theater events to protest slavery. He studied Diogenes and practiced the Cynic virtue of parrhesia (blunt truth-speaking to the powerful). His abolition ...more
Sep 01, 2020 rated it it was ok
My rating is not a reflection on Benjamin Lay, but of a poorly written book. I found it to be very repetitive and felt the author should have written more of his own sentences instead of having practically every one contain a quote. At times, this felt more like a summary of Lay's book, All slave-keepers that keep the innocent in bondage, apostates pretending to lay claim to the pure & holy Christian religion; of what congregation so ever; but especially in their ministers. ...more
Nov 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
Benjamin Lay was someone whose stories are important to preserve. Rediker paints the portrait of Benjamin Lay well while also shining light on how history might look from the bottom-up, larger movements and ideas of resistance coalescing in the settler colonial NE, roles individuals might play in sustaining social movements, and of early settler history. While well researched and written, the book tends to be somewhat repetitive--while this might allow the chapters to stand alone better, it make ...more
Jake Krakovsky
Jul 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Not dry reading at all. Lay is a fascinating person. He had moral concerns, in addition to abolition, that were unusual in the 1700's, but are very current today. Such as vegetarianism, fair treatment of animals, and environmentalism.

Ridiculed for his abolitionist guerrilla theater, and his size, he replied,
"Thee has taken the Freedom to publish to the World, that I am neither tall nor strait in Body. - Friend, - we neither made or own Bodies, nor can we mend them. But our bad Lives and Manners
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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. He is the author of numerous prize-winning books, including The Many-Headed Hydra (with Peter Linebaugh), The Slave Ship, and The Amistad Rebellion. He produced the award-winning documentary film Ghosts of Amistad (Tony Buba, director) ...more

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