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Catalog Data

William Williams, Sr., 1727 - 27 Apr 1791  Search this
Benjamin Lay, c. 1681 - 3 Feb 1759  Search this
Oil on mahogany panel
Panel: 37.8 x 36.2 x 3.8cm (14 7/8 x 14 1/4 x 1 1/2")
Frame: 54.3 x 51.4 x 5.1cm (21 3/8 x 20 1/4 x 2")
c. 1750-1758
Exhibition Label:
Born Colchester, England
Quaker reformer Benjamin Lay was a key figure in the emerging antislavery movement prior to the Revolutionary War. Having witnessed slavery's horrors while working as a merchant in Barbados, Lay dedicated himself to the abolitionist cause. He was forced, however, to leave this Caribbean island in 1731 in the wake of intensifying hostility by local slave owners. Settling in Philadelphia, he resumed his campaign, writing pamphlets and speaking out at Quaker meetings. His efforts ultimately compelled the Philadelphia Society of Friends in 1758 to pass a resolve expelling those members who owned slaves.
This portrait of the diminutive activist was commissioned by Benjamin Franklin, whose printing shop had published one of Lay's most stinging abolitionist tracts. Here, Lay stands before the cavelike dwelling in which he and his wife lived and holds a treatise "on happiness" by English Quaker philosopher Thomas Tryon.
(Brown Brothers Auction, Buckingham, Penn., 1976); purchased by (Patrick Bell and Edwin Hild, Jr., Olde Hope Antiques, New Hope, Pa.); purchased 1979 NPG
Costume\Headgear\Hat  Search this
Nature & Environment\Clouds  Search this
Printed Material\Book  Search this
Exterior\Landscape\Rural  Search this
Nature & Environment\Plant\Tree  Search this
Equipment\Walking stick\Cane  Search this
Personal Attribute\Facial Hair\Beard  Search this
Container\Basket  Search this
Nature & Environment\Fruit\Grapes  Search this
Nature & Environment\Fruit\Watermelon  Search this
Benjamin Lay: Male  Search this
Benjamin Lay: Society and Social Change\Reformer  Search this
Benjamin Lay: Society and Social Change\Philanthropist  Search this
Benjamin Lay: Society and Social Change\Reformer\Abolitionist  Search this
Portrait  Search this
Credit Line:
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; this acquisition was made possible by a generous contribution from the James Smithson Society
Object number:
See more items in:
National Portrait Gallery Collection
American Origins
On View:
NPG, East Gallery 150a
Data Source:
National Portrait Gallery