Marcus Rediker is a Distinguished Professor of Atlantic History at the University of Pittsburgh. His books have won numerous awards and have been translated into sixteen languages. The most recent is The Fearless Benjamin Lay: The Quaker Dwarf who Became the First Revolutionary Abolitionist (2017). He is the producer of the prize-winning documentary film Ghosts of Amistad: In the Footsteps of the Rebels, based on his book The Amistad Rebellion: An Atlantic Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom (2012) and directed by Tony Buba. Rediker is currently writing a play, The Return of Benjamin Lay, with playwright Naomi Wallace, and working as guest curator in the J.M.W. Turner collection at Tate Britain.
This lecture, based on my forthcoming book on Lay (September 2017) chronicles the transatlantic life and times of a singular and astonishing man—a Quaker dwarf who became one of the first ever to demand the total, unconditional emancipation of all enslaved Africans around the world. He performed public guerrilla theater to shame slave masters, insisting that human bondage violated the fundamental principles of Christianity. He wrote a fiery, controversial book against bondage that Benjamin Franklin published in 1738. He lived in a cave, made his own clothes, refused to consume anything produced by slave labor, championed animal rights, and embraced vegetarianism. He acted on his ideals to create a new, practical, revolutionary way of life.