The Shakers are a sect of Christianity which practices celibacy, communal living, confession of sin, egalitarianism, and pacifism. After starting in England, the Shakers left that country for the English colonies in North America in 1774. As they gained converts, the Shakers established numerous communities in the late-18th century through the entire 19th century. The first villages organized in Upstate New York and the New England states, and, through Shaker missionary efforts, Shaker communities appeared in the Midwestern states. Communities of Shakers were governed by area bishoprics and within the communities individuals were grouped into "family" units and worked together to manage daily activities. By 1836 eighteen major, long-term societies were founded, comprising some sixty families, along with a failed commune in Indiana. Many smaller, short-lived communities were established over the course of the 19th century, including two failed ventures into the Southeastern United States and an urban community in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Shakers peaked in population by the 1840s and early 1850s, with a membership between 4,000 and 9,000. Growth in membership began to stagnate by the mid 1850s. In the turmoil of the American Civil War and subsequent Industrial Revolution, Shakerism went into severe decline. As the number of living Shakers diminished, Shaker communes were disbanded or otherwise ceased to exist. Some of their buildings and sites have become museums, and many are historic districts under the National Register of Historic Places. The only active community is Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village in Maine, which is composed of at least three active members.
The first Shaker societies
The first Shaker community was established north of Albany, and was first called "Niskayuna", a rendering of the Indian name for the land. Later the town they were in was officially named Watervliet. That part of the town of Watervliet is now in the town of Colonie (since 1895), and the name Watervliet is now limited to the city of Watervliet (1896). In addition, Niskayuna is now the name of a town to the northwest. This has led to some confusion, because many historical accounts refer to them as the Niskayuna Shakers, while others refer to them as Watervliet Shakers. The Watervliet Shaker Historic District is where Mother Ann Lee was buried.
By 1780, the missionary work of the Shakers had attracted many new converts. An extensive series of trips throughout New England from 1781 through 1783 brought in followers across the entire region. Converts began appearing in New Lebanon and Canaan, New York; Hancock, Pittsfield, Richmond, Ashfield, Harvard, and Shirley, Massachusetts; and the states of Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Maine (then part of Massachusetts), among other locations.
In 1784, Ann Lee and her brother both died, leaving James Whittaker to lead the faith. By 1787, he too had died, and Joseph Meacham assumed the role as leader. Meacham appointed Lucy Wright of Pittsfield to co-lead, and under their auspices they organized a central village in New Lebanon, as well as organizing the original settlement of Watervliet. By 1790, the Hancock Village was also organized. After the formation of the New Lebanon, Watervliet, and Hancock communities, within three years nine more communities would organize in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Maine.
The Shakers built more than 20 settlements that attracted at least 20,000 converts over the next century. Strict believers in celibacy, Shakers acquired their members through conversion, indenturing children, and adoption of orphans. Some children, such as Isaac N. Youngs, came to the Shakers when their parents joined, then grew up to become faithful members as adults.
As their communities grew, women and men shared leadership of the Shaker communities. Women preached and received revelations as the Spirit fell upon them. Thriving on the religious enthusiasm of the first and second Great Awakenings, the Shakers declared their messianic, communitarian message with significant response. One early convert observed: "The wisdom of their instructions, the purity of their doctrine, their Christ-like deportment, and the simplicity of their manners, all appeared truly apostolical." The Shakers represent a small but important Utopian response to the gospel. Preaching in their communities knew no boundaries of gender, social class, or education.
Shaker communities were grouped into bishoprics, which were governing units. The leadership team, called a ministry, resided in the bishopric's primary community. This ministry consisted of two men known as Elders and two women known as Eldresses. The New Lebanon Bishopric, the primary bishopric unit, was located in New York and included the Mount Lebanon and Watervliet Shaker Villages, as well as, after 1859, Groveland Shaker Village. In addition to its own member communities, the ministry of New Lebanon Bishopric oversaw all other Shaker bishoprics and communes. After New Lebanon closed in 1947, this central Ministry relocated to Hancock Shaker Village, and after the closure of that community in 1960, to Canterbury Shaker Village. When Canterbury closed in 1992, Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village remained as the last extant Shaker commune.
A Shaker village was divided into groups or "families." The leading group in each village was the Church Family, and it was surrounded by satellite families that were often named for points on the compass rose. Managing each family was a leadership team consisting of two Elders and two Eldresses. Shakers lived together as brothers and sisters. Each house was divided so that men and women did most things separately. They used different staircases and doors. They sat on opposite sides of the room in worship, at meals, and in "union meetings" held to provide supervised socialization between the sexes. However, the daily business of a Shaker village required the brethren and sisters to interact, as did the dancing and other vigorous activity of their worship services. Though there was a division of labor between men and women, they also cooperated in carrying out many tasks, such as harvesting apples, food production, laundry, and gathering firewood. Every family was designed to be self-supporting with its own farm and businesses, but in times of hardship, other parts of the village, or even other Shaker villages, pitched in to help the afflicted.
|Image||Site||Spiritual name||Bishopric||City||State||Dates||Historic designation|
|Alfred Shaker Village||Holy Land||Alfred[nb 1]||Alfred||Maine||1793-1931||NRHP|
|Canterbury Shaker Village||Holy Ground||Canterbury||Canterbury||New Hampshire||1792-1992||NRHP|
|New Enfield Shaker Village||Chosen Vale||Canterbury||Enfield||New Hampshire||1793-1923||NRHP|
|Old Enfield Shaker Village||City of Union||Hancock||Enfield||Connecticut||1792-1917||NRHP|
|Gorham Shaker Village||Union Branch||Alfred||Gorham||Maine||1808-1819|
|Groveland Shaker Village||Union Branch||Groveland[nb 2]||Groveland||New York||1836-1892|
|Hancock Shaker Village||City of Peace||Hancock||Hancock and Pittsfield[nb 3]||Massachusetts||1790-1960||NRHP|
|Harvard Shaker Village||Lovely Vineyard||Harvard||Harvard||Massachusetts||1792-1918||NRHP|
|Mount Lebanon Shaker Village||Holy Mount||New Lebanon||New Lebanon||New York||1785-1917||NRHP|
|Narcoosee Shaker Village||Olive Branch||Union Village||Narcoosee||Florida||1895-1924[nb 4]|
|New Canaan Shaker Village||None||New Lebanon||New Canaan||Connecticut||1810-1812|
|North Union Shaker Village||Holy Grove||North Union[nb 5]||Cleveland||Ohio||1822-1899||NRHP|
|Philadelphia Shakers||None||Watervliet[nb 6]||Philadelphia[nb 7]||Pennsylvania||1858-c.1910|
|Pleasant Hill Shaker Village||None||Pleasant Hill[nb 5]||Harrodsburg||Kentucky||1806-1910||NRHP|
|Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village||Chosen Land||Alfred[nb 1]||New Gloucester||Maine||1794–present||NRHP|
|Savoy Shaker Village||None||New Lebanon||Savoy||Massachusetts||1817-1821[nb 8]|
|Shirley Shaker Village||Pleasant Garden||Harvard||Shirley||Massachusetts||1793-1908||NRHP|
|Sodus Bay Shaker Village||None||New Lebanon||Sodus and Huron||New York||1826-1836|
|South Union Shaker Village||Jasper Valley||South Union[nb 5]||South Union||Kentucky||1807-1922||NRHP|
|Tyringham Shaker Village||City of Love||Hancock||Tyringham||Massachusetts||1792-1875||NRHP|
|Union Village Shaker Village||Wisdom's Paradise||Union Village[nb 5]||Turtlecreek Township||Ohio||1805-1912|
|Watervliet Shaker Village||Wisdom's Valley||New Lebanon||Albany||New York||1776-1926||NRHP|
|Watervliet Shaker Village (Ohio)||Vale of Peace||Union Village[nb 5]||Kettering||Ohio||1806-1900||Marker #6-57|
|West Union Shaker Village (Busro)||None||Union Village||Busro||Indiana||1807-1827|
|White Oak Shaker Village||None||Union Village||White Oak||Georgia||1898-1902|
|Whitewater Shaker Village||Lonely Plain of Tribulation||Whitewater[nb 5]||New Haven||Ohio||1822-1916||NRHP|
Out-families, short-lived settlements, and missions
Some organized In addition to the organized communities, other small and very short-lived communities emerged during the history of the Shakers, as well as various missions. These included:
- Numerous communities throughout New England: Cheshire, Ashfield, Richmond, Shelburne Falls, Turners Falls, Norton, Petersham, Grafton, Upton, and Rehoboth in Massachusetts; Windham, Preston, Stonington, and Saybrook, Connecticut; Guilford and Pittsford, Vermont; and Tuftonboro, New Hampshire. These emerged during the 1780s but were eventually absorbed into the larger Shaker communities.
- Two families in Canaan, New York. These began in 1813, and were part of the larger New Lebanon Village.
- Poland Hill at Poland, Maine. This community, founded by the former residents of Gorham when that village closed, served as the North Family and Gathering Order of the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village.
- A community in Darby Plains in Union County, Ohio, which existed from 1822-1823. Quickly abandoned, the Shakers there relocated to the Whitewater Settlement.
- Missions to Straight Creek and Eagle Creek in Ohio.
- A short-lived settlement at Red Banks, Kentucky.
- Missions to San Francisco and San Diego, California, in the 1880s and 1890s. Arthur W. Dowe, from Canterbury Shaker Village, operated a mission in San Francisco for several years in the early- and mid-1890s at 948 Mission Street. A small urban community of Shakers persisted in the city until the 1906 earthquake and ensuing fire. Cornelia R. Powers, of Watervliet Shaker Village, was in San Diego by the late 1880s and missionized there for several years.
Shaker village tourism
In the 19th century, hundreds of tourists visited Shaker villages, and many of them later wrote about their experiences there. Outsiders were invariably impressed by Shaker cleanliness, prosperity, and agriculture. Shaker food was delicious, and they were hospitable to outsiders. Shakers had a reputation for honesty and their products were the best of their kind.
- Alfred Shaker Museum, Alfred, Maine
- Canterbury Shaker Village, Canterbury, New Hampshire
- Enfield Shaker Museum, Enfield, New Hampshire
- Fruitlands Museum, Harvard, Massachusetts
- Hancock Shaker Village, Hancock, Massachusetts
- Pleasant Hill, Kentucky, Harrodsburg, Kentucky
- Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village, New Gloucester, Maine
- Shaker Historical Museum, Shaker Heights, Ohio
- Shaker Historical Society, Colonie, New York
- Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, New Lebanon, New York
- Shaker Museum at South Union, Auburn, Kentucky
- The Alfred Bishopic was placed under the Canterbury Ministry from 1830 to 1859.
- Groveland came under New Lebanon after 1859.
- The Hancock Village spread out over Hancock, Pittsfield, and Richmond. In 1950, Eldress Francis Hall moved the Ministry from New Lebanon to Pittsfield.
- After the last Shakers left Narcoossee in 1924, it took until 1933 to successfully sell all the property
- After 1862, North Union fell under Union Village. After 1889, Union Village oversaw all societies in Kentucky and Ohio.
- Watervliet itself was part of the New Lebanon Bishopric, but the Philadelphia Shakers operated under the authority of the Watervliet Village
- Unique among Shaker communities, the Philadelphia Shakers were an urban community
- Some property in Savoy was retained by the Shakers until the 1880s
- Stein 1992, pp. 10–37.
- Brewer 1986, p. xx; Stein 1992, p. 114
- Wergland 2006, Chapter 2.
- Duduit 1992, pp. 32-33.
- Paterwic 2008, p. 18.
- Stein 1992, p. 94.
- Stein 1992, p. 181.
- Paterwic 2008, p. 235.
- Patweric 2008, p. 18.
- Alfred Shaker Historic District; Paterwic 2008, p. 2
- National Register of Historic Places.
- Canterbury Shaker Village; Paterwic 2008, p. 29
- Enfield Shaker Historic District; Paterwic 2008, p. 65
- Enfield Shakers Historic District; Paterwic 2008, p. 63
- Murray 1994, p. 35.
- Paterwic 2008, p. 96.
- Paterwic 2008, p. 101.
- Harvard Shaker Village Historic District; Paterwic 2008, p. 104
- Mount Lebanon Shaker Society.
- Murray 1994, p. 235.
- Murray 1994, p. 125.
- North Union Shaker Site.
- National Women's History Museum; Danker 2005, p. 121; Smith 2013, p. 603; Paterwic 2008, p. 171
- Shakertown at Pleasant Hill Historic District; Paterwic 2008, p. 174
- Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village; Paterwic 2008, p. xx
- Murray 1994, p. 95.
- Shirley Shaker Village; Paterwic 2008, p. 191
- Paterwic 2008, p. 197.
- South Union Shakertown Historic District; Paterwic 2008, p. 201
- Tyringham Shaker Settlement Historic District; Paterwic 2008, p. 218
- Murray 1994, p. 185; Whitewater Shaker Settlement; Paterwic 2008, p. xxi
- Watervliet Shaker Historic District.
- Ohio Historical Society; Paterwic 2008, p. 229
- Ohio Historical Society.
- Murray 1994, p. 229.
- Whitewater Shaker Settlement; Paterwic 2008, pp. xxi, xxiii
- Andrews 1963, pp. 291-293; Stein 1992, p. 19; Paterwic 2008, p. 141; Merchant 2010, p. 248
- Andrews 1963, pp. 291-293.
- The San Francisco Call 1895, p. 10; Stein 1992, p. 331; Dowe 1983, p. 341-342; Powers 1894, p. 110; Anstatt 1894, p. 117
- Whitson 1983, p. 24-25.
- Stein 1992, p. 502, n. 176; The San Francisco Call 1895, p. 10; Powers 1894, p. 110; Anstatt 1894, p. 117
- Wergland 2007; Wergland 2010
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- "Their Tenet, Celibacy, Missionary Dowe Is Here Organizing a Community of Shakers" (PDF), The San Francisco Call, p. 10, April 29, 1895
- "Tyringham Shaker Settlement Historic District". Shaker Historic Trail. National Park Service. Archived from the original on September 6, 2017. Retrieved August 21, 2019.
- "Watervliet Shaker Historic District". Shaker Historic Trail. National Park Service. Archived from the original on September 6, 2017. Retrieved August 21, 2019.
- "Whitewater Shaker Settlement". Shaker Historic Trail. National Park Service. Archived from the original on November 7, 2007. Retrieved August 21, 2019.
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- Alfred Shaker Village, Alfred, Maine
- Canterbury Shaker Village, Canterbury, New Hampshire
- Enfield Shaker Village, Enfield, New Hampshire; Enfield Shaker Singers, Enfield, New Hampshire
- Hancock Shaker Village, Hancock, Massachusetts
- Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, New Lebanon, New York
- Pleasant Hill Shaker Village, Pleasant Hill, Kentucky
- Sabbath Day Lake Shakers, Maine; Interview of the Sabbath Day Lake Shakers; Sabbath Day Lake Shaker Library and Museum
- Shirley Shaker Village, Shirley, Massachusetts
- South Union Shaker Village, South Union, Kentucky
- Whitewater Shaker Village, Whitewater, Ohio