Benjamin Lay ‘undisowned’ by four Meetings

A fourth Meeting has 'undisowned' Quaker abolitionist Benjamin Lay

Benjamin Lay painted by William Williams in 1790. | Photo: From National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, via Art Resource, New York / Wikimedia Commons.

Southern East Anglian Friends have expressed unity with the formerly disowned radical Quaker abolitionist Benjamin Lay.

The Area Meeting (AM) is the final of the four Meetings whose predecessors disowned him in the eighteenth century to reconsider. The others are Abington Monthly Meeting and Philadelphia Yearly Meeting in the United States, and North London Area Meeting.

Marcus Rediker, who has written a biography of Benjamin Lay, welcomed the decision.

He said: ‘After 280 years, Benjamin Lay has now been fully re-embraced by all four Quaker Meetings that disowned him in the eighteenth century.’

According to the minute ‘2018/64 Benjamin Lay’, Southern East Anglia Area Meeting decided on 11 November to ‘recognise the integrity and courage of a man who called slave-holders, including Quakers, to account, who protested the abomination of slavery, upheld the equality of the sexes, and lived his life with integrity according to his Quaker beliefs.

‘We hold that Benjamin Lay was a Friend of the Truth; we are in unity with the spirit of Benjamin Lay.’

Rosalind Kaye, AM archivist, pointed out that Benjamin Lay’s membership had evidently been at Devonshire House (now North London Area Meeting) rather than Colchester Two Weeks Meeting, ‘so that to “undisown” him would not necessarily be relevant or appropriate’.
However, according to the minute, ‘we can reconsider whether we are in unity with him, recognising the intent behind his often provocative behaviour’.

Rosalind Kaye also read out the original eighteenth century minute, which referred to Colchester Two Weeks Meeting’s ‘great dislike to and dissatisfaction with his irregular disorderly and evil practices tending to Confusions’.

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