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March 2018 Vol. 55 No. 7

Beacon Press

The following review appeared in the March 2018 issue of CHOICE. The review is for your internal use only. Please review our Permission and Reprints Guidelines or email

Social & Behavioral Sciences
History, Geography & Area Studies - North America

Rediker, Marcus. The fearless Benjamin Lay: the Quaker dwarf who became the first revolutionary abolitionist. Beacon Press, 2017. 212p index ISBN 9780807035924, $26.95; ISBN 9781786634733 ebook, contact publisher for price.

In his introduction, historian Rediker (Pittsburgh) tells readers, “Benjamin Lay is little known among historians. He appears occasionally in histories of abolition, usually as a minor, colorful figure of suspect sanity.” The author makes clear his admiration for Lay, whom he depicts instead as “a class-conscious, gender-conscious, race-conscious, environmentally conscious vegetarian ultraradical.” Rediker concludes that Lay is “a more suitable hero” than, say, Thomas Jefferson, “for a society that values democracy, diversity, and equality.” Lay (1682–1759) was a dwarf, a Quaker, and an uncompromising opponent of slavery. Born in England, Lay spent time at sea and as a merchant in Barbados, where his firsthand experiences convinced him that slavery was among the worst of evils. After migrating to Pennsylvania in 1732, Lay was outraged to discover that leading Friends there were slave owners and slave traders, and he became their nemesis, offering blistering denunciations in Quaker worship and early forms of guerrilla theater, as well as in print. Later, less-theatrical abolitionists found Lay inspiring, but the loss of Lay’s papers discouraged potential biographers. Rediker’s persistent research has given Lay the biography he deserves.

--T. D. Hamm, Earlham College

Summing Up: Recommended. All levels/libraries.