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Our latest Tales From TikTok is the story of Benjamin Lay, an English Quaker and early white abolitionist, an unsung hero in Black History. In the 1700s, the Quaker dwarf and esteemed author was one of the first abolitionists to fearlessly advocate for the liberation of enslaved Black people at a time when slavery was widely accepted.

On March 3, a TikTok historian named @MrCrim3 shared a few anecdotes about the freedom fighter’s untold story.

According to Crim, after Lay witnessed the brutality and inhumanity of the transatlantic slave trade in Barbados, he was compelled to take action. He vehemently denounced the institution of slavery and did everything in his power to “dissociate” with the grave violation of human rights and dignity. According to historian Marcus Rediker, who is the author of Lay’s biography, The Quaker Dwarf Who Became the First Revolutionary Abolitionist, the Essex, England, native and his wife, Sarah Smith, were set to open a general store in Barbados in the 1730s, but the pair were horrified when they witnessed the atrocity of slavery.

“It was the leading slave society of the world,” Rediker said during a 2018 interview with BBC. “He saw slaves starved to death, he saw them beaten to death and tortured to death, and he was horrified.”

The Quaker boldly denounced slavery, openly challenging plantation owners, but he was swiftly expelled from the region, according to the informative Tales From TikTok.

Lay was one of the first abolitionists to practice non-violent activism.

According to Crim, what set Lay apart from other abolitionists of his time was his bold and theatrical methods of protest. He challenged conventional wisdom and staged dramatic performances to draw attention to the horrors of slavery, often confronting slave owners and challenging their moral conscience.

The TikTok historian cited that the 4-foot-tall hunched-back abolitionist did not wear cotton and other slave-produced products in the 1700s. In one memorable act, Lay attended the annual Philadelphia Yearly Meeting – the Quakers’ annual business meeting —  in a military uniform, brandishing a sword and holding an animal bladder filled with red pokeberry juice inside his Bible. The “blood-like” substance symbolized the blood of enslaved Africans, the Swarthmore College Bulletin noted. He struck open the pokeberry juice bag, spraying attendees at the conference. The dramatic gesture shocked and unsettled his audience, forcing them to confront the harsh realities of their complacency and participation in slavery.

To underscore his commitment to freeing enslaved individuals, Lay once took the drastic step of kidnapping a slave owner’s child, Crim mentioned in his TikTok video. His intention was to illustrate the cruelty and anguish caused by separating enslaved children from their families. The Swarthmore College Bulletin noted that Lay safely returned the 6-year-old child to his family after they went on a frantic search for the little one.

“Your child is safe in my house, and you may now conceive of the sorrow you inflict upon the parents of the Negro girl you hold in slavery, for she was torn from them by avarice,” he told the family.

Upon settling in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the 1730s, Lay lived in a cave that he built into a cottage for himself and his wife to further distance them from society, Crim said. Made from stone and “springs of evergreen,” Lay’s biographer, Rediker, claimed that the freedom fighter’s home was “quite spacious” and contained a large library.

Despite facing ostracism and persecution from his own Quaker community, Lay remained steadfast in his convictions, believing that the fight for justice was worth any personal sacrifice. In addition to his theatrical protests, the passionate abolitionist wrote All Slave-Keepers That Keep the Innocent in Bondage, Apostates, a pamphlet condemning the practice of slavery as a grave sin. The book called upon fellow Quakers to renounce the institution and free their enslaved individuals.

Have you heard of Benjamin Lay? Tell us in the comments section.


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