|Benjamin Lay in America|
Benjamin was troublesome to Friends in London because of his practice of interrupting any ministry which he felt went beyond the guidance of God and used the minister's own words. When remonstrated with he said that he would prefer not to disturb meetings but had to be true to his own discernment. Eventually he was disowned in 1720. Benjamin took his wife back to Colchester and opened a shop, but he continued to disturb meetings and also other denominations' services. As he was already disowned Colchester Friends could do little but issued a public condemnation of him in 1723. Eventually Benjamin and Sarah left England for America in 1731.
They went first to Barbados where Benjamin obtained land and built a cottage. It was here that an incident occurred which made a great impression on Benjamin and which also illustrates the extremes of his character. One day Benjamin was furious to discover that a wild hog had got into his newly planted garden and uprooted everything. He killed the hog but then went further, dismembering it and nailing the pieces to his gate. Later, when his temper cooled, he was so stricken with remorse that he vowed never again to eat food or wear clothes that involved the death of any animal. He became a vegetarian and refused to wear leather.
In 1738 during a Yearly Meeting session in Burlington, New Jersey, Benjamin entered dressed in a long white overcoat with a large book under his arm. He exclaimed against the hypocrisy of Quaker slave owners saying that they 'might as well throw off the plain coat as I do.' At this he took off his overcoat and revealed himself dressed in a bright military coat with a sword at his side. Saying that owning a slave was like thrusting a sword through his heart, 'as I do this book', Benjamin drew his weapon and plunged it into the book, piercing a bladder full of red poke-berry juice which he had concealed within its hollowed-out centre. People next to him were splashed with the scarlet liquid and several women fainted.
Eccentric to the last Benjamin wanted to be cremated and offered a friend £100 if he would burn his body and throw the ashes into the sea. But his friend refused, recoiling in horror at such an unheard-of request. So when he died, on 3 April 1759 at the age of seventy-six, Benjamin Lay was buried at Abington, Pennsylvania. Today we may associate the struggle against slavery with the name of Woolman rather than Lay but Benjamin's legacy continued to inspire the movement for generations and throughout the first half of the 19th century it was common for abolitionist Quakers to keep pictures of him in their homes.