Archive for the ‘Abolitionist Movement’ Tag

Feast of Benjamin Lay (January 22)   3 comments

Above:  Portrait of Benjamin Lay (1750), by William Williams

Image in the Public Domain

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BENJAMIN LAY (JANUARY 26, 1682-FEBRUARY 8, 1759)

American Quaker and Abolitionist

Benjamin Lay comes to this, A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  An Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, via historical accounts.

The association of Quakers with the movement to abolish race-based chattel slavery in North America has deep historical roots.  Yet the historical record reveals that this association did not exist from day one.  This may seem odd, given the Quaker doctrine of the Inner Light.  The historical record also indicates that Lay did much to popularize opposition to race-based chattel slavery among members of the Religious Society of Friends.

Lay was a man far ahead of his time.

Benjamin Lay, born in Copland, England, on January 26, 1682, was a radical.  The family belonged to the working class.  Young Benjamin worked as a shepherd and a glove-maker.  He converted to the Religious Society of Friends, perhaps the most radical version of Protestantism.  When 21 years old, our saint became a sailor.  No later than 1718, he married Sarah Smith.  The Lays moved to Barbados, where our saint worked as a merchant.  The majority of settlers supported race-based chattel slavery, from which they benefited financially.  Lay, already a radical, opposed human trafficking, though.  This position made him unpopular in Barbados.

This position also made him unpopular in Pennsylvania, where he and Sarah settled in 1731.  The Lays arrived in Philadelphia before eventually moving to Abington.  Some Quaker fellowships, alarmed the Lays’ position on slavery, made the couple unwelcome.

Lay was unusual.  He was, objectively, odd, relative to the majority of his neighbors.  The may, about four feet tall, had a hunchback.  His arms and legs were the same length as each other.  “Little Benjamin,” as our saint referred to himself, lived in a cave with his wife.  After Sarah died, he lived in that cave as a hermit.  Our saint, who respected animals, was a vegetarian.  He drank only water and milk.  The Lays tended goats and fruit trees, spun flax, made their own clothes, and were as close to self-sufficient as possible.  They refused to wear any garment that entailed either slavery or the killing of an animal.  The couple was also bookish; they kept about 200 books in their cave.

Lay also wrote and published on topics that concerned him.  These topics concerned the prison system, slavery, the death penalty, and the leaders of the colony.  Lay mostly wrote pamphlets, but he did write a book.  Benjamin Franklin, a frequent visitor to the cave, published All Slave-Keepers That Keep the Innocent in Bondage, Apostates (1737).  Franklin had acquired two slaves, Peter and Jemima, in time.  Yet Lay persuaded that Founding Father to free Peter and Jemima in his will.

Lay, 77 years old, died in Abington, Pennsylvania, on February 8, 1759.  He remained an inspiration for abolitionist Quakers for a long time after his decease.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 5, 2021 COMMON ERA

PROPER 18:  THE FIFTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF CARL JOHANNES SODERGREN, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER AND THEOLOGIAN; AND HIS COLLEAGUE, CLAUS AUGUST WENDELL, SWEDISH-AMERICAN LUTHERAN MINISTER AND THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF ATHOL HILL, AUSTRALIAN BAPTIST BIBLICAL SCHOLAR AND SOCIAL PROPHET

THE FEAST OF SAINT TERESA OF CALCUTTA, FOUNDER OF THE CONGREGATION OF THE MISSIONARIES OF CHARITY

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM F. ALBRIGHT AND G. ERNEST WRIGHT, U.S. BIBLCAL SCHOLARS AND ARCHAEOLOGISTS

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM MORTON REYNOLDS, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER, EPISCOPAL PRIEST, EDUCATOR, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

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Holy and righteous God, you created us in your image.

Grant us grace to contend fearlessly against evil

and to make no peace with oppression.

Help us [like your servant Benjamin Lay] to use our freedom

to bring justice among people and nations,

to the glory of your name;

through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Hosea 2:18-23

Psalm 94:1-14

Romans 12:9-21

Luke 6:20-36

–Adapted from the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 37

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