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For other uses, see Shaker (disambiguation).
"The Shakers" redirects here. It is not to be confused with Indian Shakers.

The United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, known as the Shakers, is a religious sect. Founded upon the teachings of Ann Lee,[1] Shakers today are mostly known for their cultural contributions (especially their style of music and furniture), and their model of equality of the sexes, which they institutionalized in their society in the 1780s.[2]


The Shakers were one of a few religious groups that formed in 18th-century England, and which branched off mainstream Protestantism.[3] New communities of “charismatic” Christians also took shape during this time. One of the most important of these new movements was the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing (USBCSA), or the Shakers. While their monastic, communitarian life has been studied extensively, little attention has been given to Shaker preaching, particularly in the early days of the order. The first members of the group were known as “Shaking Quakers” because of the ecstatic nature of their worship services. Begun in 1747, the members looked to women for leadership. Jane Wardley and Ann Lee were the most important. Jane Wardley was an articulate preacher who urged her followers to:

Repent. For the kingdom of God is at hand. The new heaven and new earth prophesied of old is about to come. The marriage of the Lamb, the first resurrection, the new Jerusalem descended from above, these are even now at the door. And when Christ appears again, and the true church rises in full and transcendent glory, then all anti-Christian denominations—the priests, the Church, the pope—will be swept away.

Ann Lee joined them by 1758 and soon assumed leadership of the small community. The loss of four children in infancy created great trauma for “Mother Ann,” as her followers later called her. She claimed numerous revelations regarding the fall of Adam and Eve and its relationship to sexual intercourse. She had become the “Mother of the new creation,” who called her followers to confess their sins, give up all their worldly goods, and take up the cross of celibacy. Her small community was soon known for its enthusiastic worship given to “singing and dancing, shaking and shouting, speaking with new tongues and prophesying, with all those various gifts of the Holy Ghost known in the primitive church.” The Shakers, as they were called, saw themselves as the avant garde of the kingdom of God, preparing the way for the new era when God’s will was done on earth. In the kingdom, as in the Shaker fellowship, there was “neither marrying nor giving in marriage.” Celibacy was a preparation for the kingdom. By 1774, Ann Lee and some eight of her followers had emigrated to New York state. There they preached their doctrines but, at first, had a difficult time establishing Shakerism in America. The members of the religion had to split up in order to generate revenue to establish Shakerism. They finally managed to buy a piece of land in the wild—approximately eight miles northwest of Albany—which later became known as Watervliet. Ann herself was a powerful preacher and charismatic personality, travelling around the colonies, particularly in New England, preaching her gospel views. When confronted about a female’s right to preach, she responded that “all the children, both male and female, must be subject to their parents; and the woman, being second, must be subject to her husband, who is the first; but when the man is gone, the right of government belongs to the woman: So is the family of Christ.”

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.[4]

The Shakers built more than 20 settlements that attracted at least 20,000 converts over the next century.[5] 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.[6] The Shaker educational system was very advanced. The educational subjects included reading, spelling, oration, arithmetic and manners. The boys would pick them up in several years to reap the benefits. The boys would attend class during the winter and the girls in the summer. Parents outside of the community respected the Shakers' schooling so much that they often took advantage of schooling that the Shaker villages provided. Parents would drop their child off at the village to be educated, only to return several years later to pick up the children. Those who were not removed from the Shaker community by their parents were not the only ones to leave. Once the child reached 21 years of age, they were given the option to remain Shakers. Less than 25 percent of the young adults remained in the community. Turnover was high; the group reached maximum size of about 5,000 full members in 1840,[7] but as of December 2009 had only three members left. They currently reside in Sabbathday Lake, Maine.[8] Only a few of the original Shaker buildings are still in use today.

The first Shaker societies: New Lebanon and Niskayuna

The Shaker community north of Albany was first called "Niskayuna." 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.[9]

Early chronology

In 1774, Shakers emigrated from England to America and settled in New York.[10]

In 1778, the first new members were recorded as joining the community.

In 1779, New Light Baptists held a spiritualistic revival in New Lebanon. They held daily meetings that included extraordinary spiritual phenomena, speaking in tongues, and visions.[11] Their religious fervor died down over the winter, but when they heard of Ann Lee's preaching in May 1780, many of those New Lights traveled to Niskayuna, some forty miles away, to meet her.

In 1780, soon after the "Dark Day," Ann Lee opened her gospel to the public. Soon thereafter, she and several of her followers were arrested as British spies or sympathizers and jailed. The Shakers were, in fact, pacifists during and after the American War of Independence.[12]

From 1781 to 1783, Ann Lee and some of her followers traveled on an extended missionary tour of New England, gathering converts and establishing a network of followers. In several localities, mobs attacked them, and the Shakers were whipped, beaten, and assaulted.[13]

In 1784, Ann Lee died at Watervliet, New York, perhaps due to the after-effects of the assaults during her missionary tour. One of the first Elders, James Whittaker, took over leadership of the society.

In 1787, James Whittaker died and Joseph Meacham became the first Elder.[14] Meacham began "gathering into order," bringing scattered Believers together and organizing them into communal families.[15]

In 1788, Joseph Meacham brought Lucy Wright into the Ministry to serve with him. Together they gathered Shakers "into order" in their own communities, established the administrative structure that would promote equality of the sexes, and began building the villages that would become the Shakers' most visible sign of success.

In 1790, Shaker enclaves were organized at Hancock, Massachusetts, and Enfield, Connecticut; in 1792, Canterbury, New Hampshire and Tyringham, Massachusetts followed suit; 1793, Alfred, Maine, Enfield, New Hampshire, Harvard and Shirley, Massachusetts; 1794, New Gloucester (Sabbathday Lake), Maine.[15]

In 1796, Joseph Meacham died. Lucy Wright remained at the head of the Ministry until her death in 1821.

By 1800, the Watervliet community totaled 87 members.

From 1802 to 1805, Lucy Wright sent Shaker missionaries to proselytize in Vermont, New York, Ohio, and Kentucky. As a result, Shakers established several new colonies (see below).

In 1810, the West Union community was organized at Busro, Indiana (but was abandoned in 1827).[16] In 1821, soon after Lucy Wright died, the Shakers codified their rules for the first time as the Millennial Laws of 1821.[17] In 1826, another Shaker group was organized at Groveland, Sodus Bay, New York.[18] The Sodus Bay Shaker Tract was established in 1833 and existed until 1844.[19] In 1837, the Shaker Era of Manifestations began at Watervliet, New York (see below).

After 1850 the Shakers lost their momentum and added only occasional new members—usually orphans left in their care.[20] In 1871, they started publishing a monthly magazine called The Shaker (later, Shaker and Shakeress, and Shaker Manifesto.)[21] In 1888, the Shakers amended their Millennial Laws for the fourth time; this version remains in effect.[22]

From 1889 to 1932, dwindling membership led to the closing of eleven Shaker villages and consolidation of members at the remaining sites.[23] In 1905, the Mount Lebanon Shakers hosted a Peace Convention.[24]


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. Each village was governed by a leadership team consisting of two men (Elders) and two women (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. 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.[25]

Communalism under Joseph Meacham

After Ann Lee and James Whittaker died, Joseph Meacham (1742–1796) became the leader of the Shakers in 1787. He had been a New Light Baptist minister in Enfield, Connecticut, and was reputed to have, second only to Mother Ann, the spiritual gift of revelation.[26]

Joseph Meacham brought Lucy Wright (1760–1821) into the Ministry to serve with him and together they developed the Shaker form of communalism (religious communism). By 1793 property had been made a "consecrated whole" in each Shaker community.[27]

Shakers developed written covenants in the 1790. Those who signed the covenant had to confess their sins, consecrate their property and their labor to the society, and live celibately. If they were married before joining the society, their marriages essentially ended when they joined. A few less-committed Believers lived in "noncommunal orders" as Shaker sympathizers who preferred to remain with their families. The Shakers never forbade marriage for such individuals, but considered it less perfect than the celibate state.

New Shaker communities formed in the 1780s and 1790s included Hancock and West Pittsfield, Massachusetts; Harvard, Massachusetts; East Canterbury, New Hampshire (or Shaker Village); Shirley, Massachusetts; Enfield, Connecticut (then also known as Shaker Station); Enfield, New Hampshire; ("Chosen Vale"), at Tyringham, Massachusetts; New Gloucester, Maine (since 1890: "Sabbathday Lake"); and Alfred, Maine, where, more than anywhere else among the Shakers, spiritualistic healing of the sick was practiced.

Western expansion of Shakerism under Lucy Wright's administration

After Joseph Meacham died, Lucy Wright continued Ann Lee's missionary tradition. Shaker missionaries proselytized at revivals, not only in New England and New York, but also farther west. Missionaries such as Issachar Bates and Benjamin Seth Youngs (older brother of Isaac Newton Youngs) gathered hundreds of proselytes into the faith.[28]

Mother Lucy Wright introduced new hymns and dances to make sermons more lively. She also helped write Benjamin S. Youngs’ book The Testimony of Christ’s Second Appearing (1808)

Shaker missionaries entered Kentucky and Ohio after the Cane Ridge, Kentucky revival of 1800–1803. From 1805 to 1807, they founded Shaker societies at Union Village, Ohio; South Union, Logan County, Kentucky; and Pleasant Hill, Kentucky (in Mercer County, Kentucky). In 1824, the Whitewater Shaker settlement was established in southwestern Ohio. The westernmost Shaker community was located at West Union (called Busro because it was on Busseron Creek) on the Wabash River a few miles north of Vincennes in Knox County, Indiana.[29]

Communal spiritual family

Shakers were celibate; procreation was forbidden after they joined the society (except for women who were already pregnant at admission). Children were added to their communities through indenture, adoption, or conversion. Occasionally a foundling was anonymously left on a Shaker doorstep.[30] They welcomed all, often taking in orphans and the homeless. For children, Shaker life was structured, safe, and predictable, with no shortage of adults who cared about their young charges.[31]

When Shaker youngsters, girls and boys, reached the age of 21, they were free to leave or to remain with the Shakers. Unwilling to remain celibate, many chose to leave; today there are thousands of descendants of Shaker-raised seceders.[32]

Shakers lived in "families," each family sharing a large house with separate entrances for women and men. A cluster of families constituted a Shaker village. Every family was designed to be self-supporting with its own farm and businesses, but in times of hardship, other Shaker villages pitched in to help the afflicted.

Shaker religion valued women and men equally in religious leadership. The church was hierarchical, and at each level women and men shared authority. This was reflective of the Shaker belief that God was both female and male. They believed men and women were equal in the sight of God, and should be treated equally on earth, too. Thus two Elders and two Eldresses formed the Ministry at the top of the administrative structure. Two lower-ranking Elders and two Eldresses led each family, women overseeing women and men overseeing men.[33]

In their temporal labor, Shakers followed traditional gender work-related roles. Their homes were segregated by sex, as were women and men’s work areas. Women worked indoors spinning, weaving, cooking, sewing, cleaning, washing, and making or packaging goods for sale. In good weather, groups of Shaker women were outdoors, gardening and gathering wild herbs for sale or home consumption. Men worked in the fields doing farm work and in their shops at crafts and trades. Shakers thus simultaneously valued women’s status in society and realized the importance and difficulty of women's work, not following traditional prejudices that would consider women a "weaker sex" simply to elevate the male, as it was unnecessary in their egalitarian social structure to do so. This also allowed the continuation of church leadership when there was a shortage of men.[34]

Shakers worshipped in meetinghouses painted white and unadorned; pulpits and decorations were eschewed as worldly things. In meeting, they marched, sang, danced, and sometimes turned, twitched, jerked, or shouted. The earliest Shaker worship services were unstructured, loud, chaotic and emotional. However, Shakers later developed precisely choreographed dances and orderly marches accompanied by symbolic gestures. Many outsiders disapproved of Shakers' mode of worship without understanding the symbolism of their movements or the content of their songs.[35]

Revelations and visions

Ann Lee's followers testified that she had many "spiritual gifts," including visions, prophecy, healing hands, and "the power of God" in her touch.[36] In addition, the first American Shakers appreciated the revival tradition, and brought those practices into Shaker worship.

Moreover, Shakers believed in ongoing revelation through visions and spiritual inspiration. An intense spirituality developed under this unique arrangement, with periodic revivals of enthusiastic worship which revitalized their meetings.

A time known as the 'Era of Manifestations' began at Watervliet in 1837 and soon spread throughout Shaker society. Children told of visits to cities in the spirit realm and brought messages from Mother Ann to the community. Members spoke in tongues. In 1841, a spiritual message was perceived to inaugurate the "sweeping gift," or spiritual cleansing of the village. Other messages led the Shaker Ministry to outlaw the use of pork, tea, and coffee, causing dissension rather than the union Shakers valued.[37]

In 1842, due to these unprecedented spiritual messages being received, the Ministry decided to bar the public from Shaker worship. The same year, Shakers set aside sacred places in each community, with names like Holy Mount and Mount Sinai, for "mountain meetings" or "mountain feasts" held spring and fall. Other revelations resulted in publishing visionary Philemon Stewart's A Holy, Sacred and Divine Roll and Book.[38]

Finally the revival ran its course, and in 1847, the spirits, after warning them, left the Believers. However, "spirit gifts" did not end. The next phase of inspiration included the "gift drawings" by Hannah Cahoon, Polly Reed, and other Shaker sisters. A number of those drawings remain as important artifacts of Shaker folk art.[39]

Shaker theology is based on the idea of the dualism of God as male and female: "So God created him; male and female he created them" (Genesis 1:27). This passage was interpreted as showing the dual nature of the Creator.[40]

Shakers believed that Jesus, born of a woman, the son of a Jewish carpenter, was the male manifestation of Christ and the first Christian Church; and that Mother Ann, daughter of an English blacksmith, was the female manifestation of Christ and the second Christian Church (which the Shakers believed themselves to be). She was seen as the Bride made ready for the Bridegroom, and in her, the promises of the Second Coming were fulfilled. Adam's sin was understood as sexual impurity; therefore, marriage was done away with in the body of the Believers in the Second Appearance, which was patterned after the Kingdom of God, in which there would be no marriage or giving in marriage. The four highest Shaker virtues were virgin purity; communalism; confession of sin—without which one could not become a Believer; and separation from the world.

Culture of work

The communality of the Believers was an economic success, and their cleanliness, honesty and frugality received the highest praise. All Shaker villages ran farms, using the latest scientific methods in agriculture. They raised most of their own food, so farming, and preserving the produce required to feed them through the winter, had to be priorities. Their livestock was fat and healthy, and their barns were commended for convenience and efficiency.[41]

When not doing farm work, Shaker brethren pursued a variety of trades and hand crafts, many documented by Isaac N. Youngs. When not doing housework, Shaker sisters did likewise, spinning, weaving, sewing, and making sale goods.

Shakers ran a variety of businesses to support their communities. Many Shaker villages had their own tanneries, sold baskets, brushes, bonnets, brooms, fancy goods, and homespun fabric that was known for high quality, but were more famous for their medicinal herbs, garden seeds, apple-sauce, and knitted garments (Canterbury).[42]

The Shaker goal in their temporal labor was perfection. Ann Lee's followers preserved her admonitions about work:

"Good spirits will not live where there is dirt."
"Do your work as though you had a thousand years to live and as if you were to die tomorrow."
"Put your hands to work, and your heart to God."

Mother Ann also cautioned them against getting into debt.[43]

Shaker craftsmen were known for a style of Shaker furniture that was plain in style, durable, and functional.[44] Shaker chairs were usually mass-produced because a great number of them were needed to seat all the Shakers in a community.

Around the time of the American Civil War, the Shakers at Mount Lebanon, New York, increased their production and marketing of Shaker chairs. They were so successful that several furniture companies produced their own versions of "Shaker" chairs. Because of the quality of their craftsmanship, original Shaker furniture is costly.

The Shakers believed in the value of hard work and kept comfortably busy. Mother Ann said, "Labor to make the way of God your own; let it be your inheritance, your treasure, your occupation, your daily calling."

Culture and artifacts

Shaker beliefs have generated a unique culture and ways of life that have enriched the cultural history of the United States as well as subsequently inspiring many modern fields.

The Shakers' dedication to hard work and perfection has resulted in a unique range of architecture, furniture and handicraft styles. They designed their furniture with care, believing that making something well was in itself, "an act of prayer." Before the late 19th century, they rarely fashioned items with elaborate details or extra decoration, but only made things for their intended uses. The ladder-back chair was a popular piece of furniture. Shaker craftsmen made most things out of pine or other inexpensive woods and hence their furniture was light in color and weight.

Early 19th-century Shaker interiors are characterized by an austerity and simplicity. For example, they had a "peg rail," a continuous wooden device like a pelmet with hooks running all along it near the lintel level. They used the pegs to hang up clothes, hats, and very light furniture pieces such as chairs when not in use. The simple architecture of their homes, meeting houses, and barns have had a lasting influence on American architecture and design. There is a collection of furniture and utensils at Hancock Shaker Village outside of Pittsfield, Massachusetts that is famous for its elegance and practicality.

At the end of the 19th century, however, Shakers adopted some aspects of Victorian decor, such as ornate carved furniture, patterned linoleum, and cabbage-rose wallpaper. Examples are on display in the Hancock Shaker Village Trustees' Office, a formerly spare, plain building "improved" with ornate additions such as fish-scale siding, bay windows, porches, and a tower.

Shakers won respect and admiration for their productive farms and orderly communities. Their industry brought about many inventions like Babbitt metal, the rotary harrow, the circular saw, the clothespin, the Shaker peg, the flat broom, the wheel-driven washing machine, a machine for setting teeth in textile cards, a threshing machine, metal pens, a new type of fire engine, a machine for matching boards, numerous innovations in waterworks, planing machinery, a hernia truss, silk reeling machinery, small looms for weaving palm leaf, machines for processing broom corn, ball-and-socket tilters for chair legs, and a number of other useful inventions.[45]

Shakers were the first large producers of medicinal herbs in the United States, and pioneers in the sale of seeds in paper packets.[46] Brethren grew the crops, but sisters picked, sorted, and packaged their products for sale, so those industries were built on a foundation of women's labor in the Shaker partnership between the sexes.[47]

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.[48]

By the middle of the 20th century, as the Shaker communities themselves were disappearing, some American collectors whose visual tastes were formed by the stark aspects of the modernist movement found themselves drawn to the spare artifacts of Shaker culture, in which "form follows function" was also clearly expressed.[49] Kaare Klint, an architect and famous furniture designer, used styles from Shaker furniture in his work.[50]

Other artifacts of Shaker culture are their spirit drawings, dances, and songs, which are important genres of Shaker folk art. Doris Humphrey, an innovator in technique, choreography, and theory of dance movement, made a full theatrical art with her dance entitled Dance of The Chosen, which depicted Shaker religious fervor.[51]

Shaker music

The Shakers composed thousands of songs, and also created many dances; both were an important part of the Shaker worship services. In Shaker society, a spiritual "gift" could also be a musical revelation, and they considered it important to record musical inspirations as they occurred.

Scribes, many of whom had no formal musical training, used a form of music notation called the letteral system.[52] This method used letters of the alphabet, often not positioned on a staff, along with a simple notation of conventional rhythmic values, and has a curious, and coincidental, similarity to some ancient Greek music notation.

Many of the lyrics to Shaker tunes consist of syllables and words from unknown tongues, the musical equivalent of glossolalia. It has been surmised that many of them were imitated from the sounds of Native American languages, as well as from the songs of African slaves, especially in the southernmost of the Shaker communities , but in fact the melodic material is derived from European scales and modes.

Most early Shaker music is monodic, that is to say, composed of a single melodic line with no harmonization. The tunes and scales recall the folksongs of the British Isles, but since the music was written down and carefully preserved, it is "art" music of a special kind rather than folklore. Many melodies are of extraordinary grace and beauty, and the Shaker song repertoire, though still relatively little known, is an important part of the American cultural heritage and of world religious music in general.

Shakers' earliest hymns were shared by word of mouth and letters circulated among their villages. Many Believers wrote out the lyrics in their own manuscript hymnals. In 1813, they published Millennial Praises, a hymnal containing only lyrics.[53]

In the late 19th century, the Shakers published several hymnbooks with both lyrics and music in conventional four-part harmonies. These works are less strikingly original than the earlier, monodic repertoire.

The surviving Shakers sing songs drawn from both the earlier repertoire and the four part songbooks. They perform all of these unaccompanied, in single-line unison singing. The many recent, harmonized arrangements of older Shaker songs for choirs and instrumental groups mark a departure from traditional Shaker practice.

Aaron Copland's iconic 1944 ballet score Appalachian Spring, written for Martha Graham, uses the now famous Shaker tune "Simple Gifts" as the basis of its finale. Given to Graham with the working title "Ballet for Martha," it was named by her for the scenario she had in mind, though Copland often said he was thinking of neither Appalachia nor Spring while he wrote it.[54]

"Simple Gifts" was composed by Elder Joseph Brackett and originated in the Shaker community at Alfred, Maine in 1848. Many contemporary Christian denominations incorporate this tune into hymnals, under various names, including "Lord of the Dance," adapted in 1963 by English poet and songwriter Sydney Carter.

Some scholars, such as Daniel W. Patterson and Roger Lee Hall, have compiled books of Shaker songs, and groups have been formed to sing the songs and perform the dances.[55]

The most extensive recordings of the Shakers singing their own music were made between 1960 and 1980 and released on a 2 CD set with illustrated booklet, "Let Zion Move: Music of the Shakers." .[56] Other recordings are available of Shaker songs, both documentation of singing by the Shakers themselves, as well as songs recorded by other groups (see external links). Two widely distributed commercial recordings by The Boston Camerata, "Simple Gifts" (1995) and "The Golden Harvest" (2000), were recorded at the Shaker community of Sabbathday Lake, Maine, with active cooperation from the surviving Shakers, whose singing can be heard at several points on both recordings.

The American rock band R.E.M. included a song called "Fireplace" on its 1987 album Document. The lyrics of the song ("Hang up your chairs to better sweep / Clear the floor to dance / Shake the rug into the fireplace") are adapted from a speech by Mother Ann Lee.

In 2008, the rock band Weezer released its so-called Red Album which includes a song entitled "The Greatest Man That Ever Lived" with the subtitle "(Variations on a Shaker Hymn)" as it uses the melody of "Simple Gifts".

Other works inspired by Shaker culture

Shaker lifestyle and tradition is celebrated in Arlene Hutton's play As It Is in Heaven, which is a re-creation of a decisive time in the history of the Shakers. The play is written by Arlene Hutton, the pen name of actor/director Beth Lincks. Born in Louisiana and raised in Florida, Lincks was inspired to write the play after visiting the Pleasant Hills Shaker village in Harrodsburg, Kentucky, a restored community that the Shakers occupied for more than a century, before abandoning it in 1927 because of the inability of the sect to attract new converts.

Novelist John Fowles wrote in 1985 A Maggot, a postmodern historical novel culminating in the birth of Ann Lee, and describing early Shakers in England.

In 2004 the Finnish choreographer Tero Saarinen and Boston Camerata music director Joel Cohen created a live performance work with dance and music entitled "Borrowed Light." While all the music is Shaker song performed in a largely traditional manner, the dance intermingles only certain elements of Shaker practice and belief with Saarinen's original choreographic ideas, and with distinctive costumes and lighting. "Borrowed Light" has been given over 60 performances since 2004 in eight countries, recently (early 2008) in Australia and New Zealand, and most recently (2011) in France, Germany, Finland, the Netherlands, and Belgium. In addition to Doris Humphrey, Martha Graham and Tero Saarinen cited above, choreographers Twyla Tharp (“Sweet Fields,” 1996) and Martha Clarke (“Angel Reapers,” 2011) also set movement to Shaker hymns. Playwright Alfred Uhry collaborated with Martha Clarke on "Angel Reapers" and used Shaker texts as source material. The music of "Angel Reapers" is derived almost entirely from two CD programs by Joel Cohen and the Boston Camerata (assisted by the Shakers of Sabbathday Lake), "Simple Gifts," and "The Golden Harvest."

In 2009, Toronto-based, American-born poet Damian Rogers released her first volume of poetry, Paper Radio. The lifestyle and philosophy of the Shakers and their matriarch Ann Lee are recurring themes in her work.

Modern-day Shakers

Membership in the Shakers dwindled in the late 19th century for several reasons: people were attracted to cities and away from the farms; Shaker products could not compete with mass-produced products that became available at a much lower cost; and Shakers could not have children, so adoption was a major source of new members. This continued until orphanages were established and the states began to limit adoption by religious groups.

Some Shaker sites have become museums, including Hancock Shaker Village in Hancock, Massachusetts; Enfield Shaker Museum in Enfield, New Hampshire; the North Family in New Lebanon, New York (Mount Lebanon Shaker Village; photos at Mount Lebanon Shaker Society), Harvard, Massachusetts (Fruitlands); and the Pleasant Hill community in Kentucky. The Canterbury, New Hampshire, Shaker village was operating as a historic site even before its last member, Ethel Hudson, died in September 1992.[57]

Believers have continually looked at the story of Ann Lee as a cornerstone of the theological architecture that has distinguished their church from other American religious groups. Shaker theology, its manifestation in material artifacts such as furniture and oval boxes, and the Ann Lee story draw the attention of outsiders either fascinated or repulsed by them.

Although there were 6,000 believers at the peak of the Shaker movement, there were only 12 Shaker communities left by 1920.[58] In the United States, there was one remaining active Shaker community, at Sabbathday Lake, Maine, which as of 2012 has only three members: Sister June Carpenter, Brother Arnold Hadd, and Sister Frances Carr.[8][59][60]

The Sabbathday Lake community still accepts new recruits, as it has since its founding. Shakers are no longer allowed to adopt orphans after new laws were passed in 1960 denying adoption to religious groups, but adults who wish to embrace Shaker life are welcome.

This community, founded in 1783, was one of the smaller Shaker groups during the sect's heyday. They farm and practice a variety of handicrafts; a Shaker Museum and Sunday services are open to visitors.[61] Mother Ann Day is celebrated on the first Sunday of August to commemorate the arrival of the English Shakers in America in 1774. The congregation sings and a Mother Ann cake is presented.

The daily schedule of a Shaker in Sabbathday Lake Village is as follows:

  • The day begins for many at 7:30 am; the Great Bell on Dwelling House rings, calling everyone to breakfast.
  • At 8:00 am morning prayers start. Two Psalms are read, then passages are read from elsewhere in the Bible. Following this is communal prayer and silent prayer, concluded with the singing of a Shaker hymn.
  • Work for the Shakers begins at 8:30.
  • Work stops at 11:30 for midday prayers.
  • Lunch begins at 12:00. This is the main meal for the Shakers.
  • Work continues at 1:00 pm
  • At 6:00 it is dinner time, the last meal of the day.
  • On Wednesdays at 5:00 pm they hold a prayer meeting which is followed by a Shaker Studies class.[62]

Shaker Trust

To preserve their legacy as well as their idyllic lakeside property at Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village, Maine, the Shakers announced in October 2005 that they had entered into a trust with the state of Maine and several conservation groups. Under the agreement, the Shakers will sell conservation easements to the trust, allowing the village to ward off development and continue operating as long as there are Shakers to live there.

The agreement does not specify whether the property will become a park, museum, or other public space should the Shakers die out. That decision would be made by a nonprofit corporation—the United Society of Shakers, Sabbathday Lake Inc.—whose board members are largely non-Shakers. The $3.7 million conservation plan relies on grants, donations, and public funds.[63]

See also


Further reading

  • Andrews, Edward Deming. The Gift to Be Simple: Songs, Dances and Rituals of the American Shakers (Dover, 1940)
  • Andrews, Edward Deming. The People Called Shakers: A Search for the Perfect Society (1953)
  • Brewer Priscilla J. Shaker Communities, Shaker Lives (University Press of New England, 1986)
  • Campbell, D'Ann. "Women's Life in Utopia: The Shaker Experiment in Sexual Equality Reappraised – 1810 to 1860," New England Quarterly Vol. 51, No. 1 (Mar., 1978), pp. 23–38 in JSTOR
  • Foster, Lawrence. "Shakers." Encyclopedia of Religion 1987. Volume 13, pages 200–201.
  • Foster Lawrence. Women, Family, and Utopia: Communal Experiments of the Shakers, the Oneida Community, and the Mormons (Syracuse University Press, 1991)
  • Madden; Etta M. (1998)
  • Mercadante Linda A. Gender, Doctrine, and God: The Shakers and Contemporary Theology (Abingdon Press, 1990)
  • Moore, William D., “‘You’d Swear They Were Modern’: Ruth Reeves, the Index of American Design, and the Canonization of Shaker Material Culture,” Winterthur Portfolio, 47 (Spring 2013), 1–34.
  • Murray John E. "Determinants of Membership Levels and Duration in a Shaker Commune, 1780–1880". Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 34 (1995): 35–48. In JSTOR
  • Portman, Rob and Cheryl Bauer. Wisdom's Paradise: The Forgotten Shakers of Union Village. Wilmington, Ohio: Orange Frazer Press, 2004. ISBN 1-882203-40-2. (About the Warren County, Ohio settlement.)
  • Stein Stephen J. The Shaker Experience in America: A History of the United Society of Believers (Yale University Press, 1992), a standard scholarly history


These titles are often cited by the major experts.

  • Andrews, Edward D. and Andrews, Faith. Work & Worship Among the Shakers. Dover Publications, NY. 1982.
  • Andrews, Edward D. The People Called Shakers. Dover Publications, NY. 1963.
  • Andrews, Edward D. The Gift to Be Simple: Songs, Dances & Rituals of the American Shakers. Dover Publications, NY. 1940.
  • Andrews, Edward Deming and Faith Andrews. Dover Publications. 1964.
  • Brewer, Priscilla. Shaker Communities, Shaker Lives. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1986.
  • Brewer, Priscilla. "The Shakers of Mother Ann Lee," in America's Communal Utopias ed. by Donald E. Pitzer. (1997) pp. 37–56.
  • Brewer, Priscilla. ‘“Tho’ of the Weaker Sex:’ A Reassessment of Gender Equality among the Shakers.” Signs: A Journal of Women in Culture and Society 17 (spring 1992): 609–35. JSTOR.
  • Burns, Deborah E. Shaker Cities of Peace, Love, and Union: A History of the Hancock Bishopric. U. Press of New England, 1993. 246 pp.
  • Campbell, D'Ann. "Women's Life in Utopia: The Shaker Experiment in Sexual Equality Reappraised, 1810–1860." New England Quarterly 51 (March, 1978): pp. 23–38. in JSTOR
  • Davenport, Guy. "Shaker Light," in The Hunter Gracchus: And Other Papers on Literature and Art. New York: Counterpoint, 1996. 52–59.
  • Deignan, Kathleen. Christ Spirit: The Eschatology of Shaker Christianity. Scarecrow Press / American Theological Library Association, 1992
  • Duffield, Holley Gene. Historical Dictionary of the Shakers. Scarecrow Press, 2000
  • De Wolfe, Elizabeth. Shaking the Faith: Women, Family, and Mary Marshall Dyer's Anti-Shaker Campaign, 1815–1867 (Palgrave 2002).
  • Emlen, Robert P. “The Shaker Dance Prints.” Imprint: Journal of the American Historical Print Collectors Society. Volume 17.2 (Autumn 1992): 14–26.
  • Foster, Lawrence. (1991).
  • Francis, Richard. Ann the Word: The Story of Ann Lee Female Messiah Mother of the Shakers, The Woman Clothed with the Sun. The Fourth Estate, London 2000. Where Stein provides the standard scholarly work on the Shakers in general and Rieman provides well researched work on Shaker craftsmanship, Francis provides the most comprehensive study on Mother Ann's life and work.
  • Garrett, Clarke. Origins of the Shakers. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987 and 1998.
  • Goodwillie, Christian. Shaker Songs: A Celebration of Peace, Harmony, and Simplicity. New York: Black Dog and Leventhal, 2002. See also Millennial Praises.
  • Gopnik, Adam. "Shining Tree of Life: What the Shakers did." New Yorker, Feb. 13 & 20, 2006. pp 162–168.
  • Gordon, Beverly. Shaker Textile Arts. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1980.
  • Gordon, Beverly. “Fossilized Fashion: ‘Old Fashioned’ Dress as a Symbol of a Separate, Work-Oriented Identity.” Dress. Volume 13 (1987): 49–60.
  • Grant, Jerry V. & Douglas R. Allen. Shaker Furniture Makers. Pittsfield, Mass.: Hancock Shaker Village, 1989.
  • Gutek, Gerald and Gutek, Patricia. Visiting Utopian Communities: A Guide to the Shakers, Moravians, and Others. U. of South Carolina Press, 1998. 230 pp.
  • Hall, Roger L. A Guide to Shaker Music—With Music Supplement 2006.
  • Hall, Roger L. The Story of Simple Gifts: Joseph Brackett's Shaker Dance Song 2006.
  • Humez, Jean. Mother’s First-Born Daughters: early Shaker writings on women and religion. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993.
  • Humez, Jean. “If I had to Study the Female Trait: Philemon Stewart, ‘Petticoat Government’ Issues and Later Nineteenth-Century Shakerism.” Shaker Quarterly. Volume 22, no. 4 (winter 1994):122–52.
  • Humez, Jean. “The Problem of Female Leadership in Early Shakerism.” Shaker Design: Out of this World. ed. Jean M. Burks. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2008. pp. 93–119.
  • Humez, Jean. “Weary of Petticoat Government”: The Specter of Female Rule in Early Nineteenth-Century Shaker Politics.” Communal Societies. Volume 11 (1991): 1–17.
  • Humez, Jean. ‘“Ye Are My Epistles:’ The Construction of Ann Lee Imagery in Early Shaker Sacred Literature.” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion. Spring 1992. pp. 83–103.
  • Johnson, Theodore E., ed. “The Millennial Laws of 1821.” Shaker Quarterly. Volume 7.2 (1967): 35–58.
  • McKinstry, E. Richard. The Edward Deming Andrews Memorial Shaker Collection. New York & London: Garland Publishing, 1987.
  • Mercadante, Linda A. Gender, Doctrine & God: The Shakers and Contemporary Theology. Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon Press, 1990.
  • Millennial Praises: A Shaker Hymnal. Christian Goodwillie and Jane Crosthwaite, eds. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2009.
  • Murray, John E. “A Demographic Analysis of Shaker Mortality Trends.” Communal Societies. Volume 13 (1993): 22–44.
  • Murray, John E. “The white plague in utopia: tuberculosis in nineteenth-century Shaker communes.” Bulletin of the History of Medicine: 1994, volume 68: 278–306; erratum, 510.
  • Paterwic, Stephen. “From Individual to Community: Becoming a Shaker at New Lebanon, 1780–1947.” Communal Societies, Volume 11 (1991): 18–33.
  • Paterwic, Stephen J. Historical Dictionary of the Shakers. Scarecrow Press, 2008.
  • Paterwic, Stephen J. “Mysteries of the Tyringham Shakers Unmasked: A New Examination of People, Facts, and Figures.” Historical Journal of Massachusetts. (Winter 2003).
  • Patterson, Daniel W. The Shaker Spiritual 2000.
  • Plummer, Henry. Stillness and Light: The Silent Eloquence of Shaker Architecture (2009)
  • Promey, Sally. Spiritual Spectacles: Vision and Image in Mid-Nineteenth-Century Shakerism. Indiana University Press, 1993.
  • Pushkar-Pasewicz, Margaret. “Kitchen Sisters and Disagreeable Boys: Debates over Meatless Diets in Nineteenth-Century Shaker Communities.” in Eating in Eden: Food and American Utopias. Etta M. Madden and Martha L. Finch, eds. University of Nebraska Press, 2006. pp. 109–24.
  • Rebecca Jackson. ed by Jean McMahon Humez; (1981).
  • Rieman, Timothy D. & Muller, Charles R. The Shaker Chair"; Line Drawings by Stephen Metzger, (The Canal Press, 1984) This is the definitive work .
  • Rieman, Timothy D. & Buck, Susan L. The Art of Craftsmanship : The Mount Lebanon Collection,Art Services International, and Chrysler Museum (Paperback—Feb 1995).
  • Rotundo, Barbara. “Crossing the Dark River: Shaker Funerals and Cemeteries.” Communal Societies. Volume 7 (1987): 36–46.
  • Sasson, Diane. The Shaker Spiritual Narrative. Knoxville, Tenn.: University of Tennessee Press, 1983.
  • Sasson, Diane. “Individual Experience, Community Control, and Gender: The Harvard Shaker Community During the Era of Manifestations,” Communal Societies 13 (1993): 45–70.
  • Skees, Suzanne. God Among the Shakers. New York: Hyperion, 1998.
  • Sprigg, June. Simple Gifts: Lessons in Living from a Shaker Village. New York: Random House, 1998.
  • Sprigg, June and Larkin, David. Shaker: Life, Work, & Art. 1987.
  • Stein, Stephen. The Shaker Experience in America. Yale University, Press, 1992. The standard scholarly study and best oveview.
  • Stein, Stephen. “Shaker Gift and Shaker Order: A Study of Religious Tension in Nineteenth-Century America.” Communal Societies. Volume 10 (1990): 102–13.
  • Stiles, Lauren A. “‘Rather Than Ever Milk Again’: Shaker Sisters’ Refusal to Milk at Mount Lebanon and Watervliet—1873–1877.” American Communal Societies Quarterly. Volume 3.1 (2009):13–25.
  • Thurman, Suzanne. ‘“Dearly Loved Mother Eunice”: Gender, Motherhood, and Shaker Spirituality.” Church History. Volume 66.4 (1997): 750–61.
  • Thurman, Suzanne. “‘No idle hands are seen’: The Social Construction of Work in Shaker Society.” Communal Societies. Volume 18 (1998): 36–52.
  • Thurman, Suzanne R. "O Sisters Ain't You Happy?": Gender, Family, and Community among the Harvard and Shirley Shakers, 1781–1918. Syracuse University Press, 2002. 262 pp.
  • Wenger, Tisa J.. “Female Christ and Feminist Foremother: The Many Lives of Ann Lee.” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion. Vol. 18, No. 2 (2002):5–32.
  • Wergland, Glendyne R. One Shaker Life: Isaac Newton Youngs, 1793–1865. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2006.
  • Wergland, Glendyne R. Sisters in the Faith: Shaker Women, 1780–1890. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2011.
  • Wergland, Glendyne R. “Validation in the Shaker Era of Manifestations: A Process Analysis.” Communal Societies. Volume 26.2 (2006): 121–40.
  • Wergland, Glendyne R. Visiting the Shakers, 1778–1849. Clinton, N.Y.: Richard W. Couper Press, 2007.
  • Wergland, Glendyne R. Visiting the Shakers, 1850–1899. Clinton, N.Y.: Richard W. Couper Press, 2010.
  • Wertkin, Gerard C. The Four Seasons of Shaker Life: An Intimate Portrait of the Community at Sabbathday Lake. Photographs by Ann Chwasky. Simon & Schuster, 1986. 189 pp.

External links

  • Enfield Shaker Singers, Enfield NH. Directed by Mary Ann Haagen
  • Shaker Heritage Society, Albany, NY
  • Music of the Shakers
  • Shaker Museum and Library
  • Travel Itinerary
  • Digital Shaker Collection (Hamilton College Library)
  • Dayton Metro Library

Major Shaker sites

  • Official website of the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing (Sabbath Day Lake Shakers in Maine, USA)
  • Sabbathday Lake Shaker Library and Museum
  • Friends of the Shakers
  • Enfield Shaker Museum
  • Canterbury Village
  • Hancock Village
  • Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill
  • Shaker Museum at South Union, Kentucky
  • Shirley Shaker Village

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