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Simply Shaker

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Who Were The Shakers?

Shakers lived in small communes which they called “families”. The Sisters and Brothers were equal under God, which was a very progressive attitude for this time in history (1700’s). They were celibate and gave up all their worldly possessions when they became Shakers, although communal property offered security. The ministry normally consisted of two Brethren and two Sisters, and a ministry might have charge of two or more communities. The Order of Elders was also composed of two Brethren and two Sisters. Originally these would take care of a community, but as the societies grew, they were divided into “families”, and each family had its own Elders.

“Hands to work and hearts to God” was the philosophy they lived by, and they became one of the most innovative, creative inventors and craftspeople to influence our society. They sold many products to the outside world and they became very well known for their outstanding quality. They excelled in machine design, always bringing a high degree of imagination and inventive genius to any mechanical problem. One example of this was the invention of the circular saw blade, credited to Sister Sarah Babbitt of Harvard, Massachusetts. Shakers rapidly developed many industries such as; agriculture, architecture, woodworking, blacksmithing and forging, leather, broom making, cooperage, weaving, tin-smithing, printing and book-binding, and the list goes on. There are few shop crafts today that are not indebted to the Shakers for improvements or inventions of one kind or another.

A Brief History

The story of the Shakers began in the early 1700’s. It was here that the remnants of a group of religious revivalists, known as Camisards, or French Prophets, escaped from persecution. They brought with them the essential thinking from which both the Quaker and Shaker sects were to develop. By 1747, two Quakers, James and Jane Wardley had formed a Society of advanced thinkers at Manchester, England, some of whom were already being referred to as “Shaking Quakers” or “Shakers” due to their entering an almost trance-like state and shaking during certain religious observances. The group were profound believers that the Second Coming was near at hand, and also that this time, the Presence would be a woman.

Quietly, word of a spiritually gifted young woman, Ann Lee(s) had come to their attention and she joined the group in 1758. In the eyes of this small group of believers, this woman was the mother incarnation of the Word of God. She was Mother Ann Lee.

Constant and bitter persecution led Mother Ann and her small band of followers to sail to the New World in 1774 and the “Shaker Adventure” began. They settled in Niskayuna (later Watervliet) near Albany, New York. The first few years were hard, but by 1779 a great religious revival swept through the Lebanon Valley in New York State and many new Shaker communities were founded. By the time of Mother Ann’s death in 1784, the roots of Shakerism had been well established. In 1794 there were “families” in Hancock, Tyringham, Harvard and Shirley, Massachusetts;  Enfield, Connecticut; Enfield and Canterbury, New Hampshire; and Alfred and New Gloucester (Sabbathday Lake), Maine.

Today you can visit many Shaker Villages that are working museums. They are well worth the visit!