Info on Benjamin Lay

On November 12, 2017, Abington Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends approved this minute into record:

Abington Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends recognizes Benjamin Lay’s dedication to equality, and his willingness to repeatedly speak his messages of Truth to a society that was in denial about the evils of slavery. We acknowledge that Benjamin Lay used radical activism in his attempts to teach his peers to recognize the equality before God of all people, regardless of race or gender. He lived his life with integrity according to his Quaker beliefs, and he called others, especially slave-owners, to accountability.

Benjamin Lay was written out of membership at Abington Monthly Meeting on the thirtieth day, eleventh month, 1737 (which by the Quaker calendar, while the Julian calendar was in use, would have been January 30, 1738), because his zealous actions were considered disruptive. It is now known that at least two of the Friends who led the discernment about writing Benjamin Lay out of membership in the Society of Friends were slave-owners and were likely targeted by Benjamin Lay’s anti-slavery activism. Benjamin Lay was disowned decades before Quakers were disowned for being slave-owners.

We now recognize the truth behind Benjamin Lay’s abolitionist efforts. Although we may not reinstate membership for someone who is deceased, we recognize Benjamin Lay as a Friend of the Truth and as being in unity with the spirit of our Abington Monthly Meeting.

A grave marker for Benjamin and Sarah Lay will be placed in our Abington Meeting graveyard during the winter of 2017-18. Although the exact location of the grave is not known, as will be indicated on the marker, we do know approximately where they were buried.

Distinguished professor and author Marcus Rediker presented two lectures at Abington Meeting, the first in February 2016 and the second in October 2017, on his book The Fearless Benjamin Lay.  To view the October lecture, click here Please note that there is a time-coded list below each video so viewers can scan the topics Rediker covered to see the order and where to find each topic in the video.  Marcus Rediker has also written articles on Benjamin Lay for the New York Times and The Smithsonian Magazine.  An interview with Marcus Rediker can be viewed here.

For those who may be interested in Benjamin Lay’s cave, please contact the Meeting office for some information.

In the UK, the North London Area Meeting minute, Agreed on 18 November 2017 reads as follows:  

“Quakers are proud of the times in history we have been ahead of our time on progressive social issues – but preceding those moments, there have often been long periods when we have not walked the path we would later understand to be the just one. At a time when racism seems as present and ugly as ever – both globally and nationally – and the structures of white supremacy are being defended and strengthened by powerful forces in our societies, this seems a timely moment for North London Area Meeting to reflect on its involvement in the struggle for racial justice.

North London Area Meeting recognises Benjamin Lay’s dedication to equality – and his willingness to repeatedly speak his messages of Truth. We also recognise Benjamin Lay as being a Friend of the Truth – and as being in unity with the spirit of our Area Meeting. We ask our Clerking team to write to Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, Abington Monthly Meeting and Southern East Anglia Area Meeting (successor to Colchester & Coggeshall Monthly Meeting) to clarify that Lay is in good standing with North London Area Meeting (successor to Devonshire House Monthly Meeting).”

The North London decision was supported by a letter from Tim Gee of Peckham Meeting (close to the now defunct Deptford Meeting where Lay attended as a Young Adult Friend), outlining how the decision would be a manifestation of three 21st century Quaker principles.

“Firstly it is a timely reminder of the Advice to ‘listen for the spirit, even if it is expressed in ways unfamiliar to you’.

Secondly it is a reiteration of the insight that every person ‘has a measure of the light’ with a recognition that then as now, our interpretation of the spirit can be distorted by privilege and hierarchy

Thirdly, it builds on the statement against racism made by Meeting for Sufferings in February 2017, by showing that for a long as racism exists – whether in society or in the Society of Friends – ‘without justice there can be no peace”.