A RADICAL anti-slavery campaigner from Colchester has been exonerated - nearly 300 years after he was ousted.

Benjamin Lay was a hunchbacked Quaker with dwarfism, who was a vegetarian, feminist, an abolitionist and opposed to the death penalty.

Born in 1682 in Copford, he trained as a glove-maker in Colchester before emigrating to the USA.

In the US, his campaign saw him disowned by Christian Quakers in Abington and Philadelphia - where many leading Quakers kept slaves.

His radicalism also saw him disowned by Quakers in Colchester and London.

Now Colchester Quakers have re-embraced the 4ft-tall anti-slavery campaigner.

Alison Parkes, clerk to the Southern East Anglia Quaker Meeting which includes Clacton, Colchester, Earls Colne, Harwich and Sudbury, said: “When we looked into the detail of what Benjamin Lay was purported to have done we were in agreement with his principles so we had no difficulty in coming to the decision that we would uphold Benjamin Lay and state we were in unity with him.”

The agreement was made at the November meeting.

It came about after the branch, which has a meeting house in Church Street, Colchester, was approached by a Quaker from London who had been contacted by Lay’s biographer Marcus Rediker.

The biographer's research revealed how Lay had been disowned with Quakers claiming he undertook “evil practices”.

Lay's most famous stunt involved spraying people with mock blood at the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of Quakers in 1798.

He had used a hollowed-out book which hid a tied-off animal bladder containing red berry juice.

Lay told the gathering, which included wealthy Quaker slave-owners: "Thus shall God shed the blood of those persons who enslave their fellow creatures."

He then plunged a sword into the book and the liquid splattered over people at the gathering.

The four groups linked to those who disowned him - the Abington Monthly Meeting, the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, the North London Monthly Meeting and the Friends of the Southern East Anglia Meeting - have all now recognised the error of their predecessors’ ways.

The Quakers would go on to be at the forefront of the campaign against slavery, which would ultimately be abolished in the US in 1865.

The Southern East Anglia Quaker Meeting agreed: “Benjamin Lay was a prophetic voice who was ahead of his time.

"Today, in a reputedly "post-truth" era, we must speak up for the value of truth, and in particular examine our own consciences. "While we cannot put right the wrongs of the past, we can quietly declare what our consciences have revealed to be the truth of what happened to Benjamin Lay.

"We, the Friends of Southern East Anglia Quaker Meeting, 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. “