The Communistic Societies of the United States
Part 3 out of 8
longer, some shorter time. Some rise with joy and triumph, others crying
for mercy." "To these encampments the people flocked by hundreds and
thousands--on foot, on horseback, and in wagons and other carriages." At
Cabin Creek, in May, 1801, a "great number fell on the third night; and
to prevent their being trodden under foot by the multitude, they were
collected together and laid out in order in two squares of the
meetinghouse; which, like so many dead corpses, covered a considerable
part of the floor." At Concord, in Bourbon County, in June, 1801, "no
sex or color, class or description, were exempted from the pervading
influence of the Spirit; even from the age of eight months to sixty
years." In August, at Cane Ridge, in Bourbon County, "about twenty
thousand people" were gathered; and "about three thousand" suffered from
what was called "the falling exercise." These brief extracts are from
the account of an eye-witness, and one who believed these manifestations
to be of divine origin. The accuracy of McNemar's descriptions is beyond
question. His account is confirmed by other writers of the time.
[Footnote: "The Kentucky Revival, or a Short History of the late
extraordinary Outpouring of the Spirit of God in the Western States of
America," etc. By Richard McNemar. Turtle Hill, Ohio, 1807.]
Hearing of these extraordinary events, the Shakers at New Lebanon sent
out three of their number--John Meacham, Benjamin S. Youngs, and
Issachar Bates--to "open the testimony of salvation to the people,
provided they were in a situation to receive it." They set out on
New-Year's day, 1805, and traveled on foot about a thousand miles,
through what was then a sparsely settled country, much of it a
wilderness. They made some converts in Ohio and Kentucky, and were,
fortunately for themselves, violently opposed and in some cases attacked
by bigoted or knavish persons; and with this impetus they were able to
found at first five societies, two in Ohio, two in Kentucky, and one in
Indiana. The Indiana society later removed to Ohio; and two more
societies were afterward formed in Ohio, and one more in New York.
All these societies were founded before the year 1830; and no new ones
have come into existence since then.
Following the doctrines put forth by Ann Lee, and elaborated by her
successors, they hold:
I. That God is a dual person, male and female; that Adam was a dual
person, being created in God's image; and that "the distinction of sex
is eternal, inheres in the soul itself; and that no angels or spirits
exist who are not male and female."
II. That Christ is a Spirit, and one of the highest, who appeared first
in the person of Jesus, representing the male, and later in the person
of Ann Lee, representing the female element in God.
III. That the religious history of mankind is divided into four cycles,
which are represented also in the spirit world, each having its
appropriate heaven and hell. The first cycle included the
antediluvians--Noah and the faithful going to the first heaven, and the
wicked of that age to the first hell. The second cycle included the Jews
up to the appearance of Jesus; and the second heaven is called Paradise.
The third cycle included all who lived until the appearance of Ann Lee;
Paul being "caught up into the third heaven." The heaven of the fourth
and last dispensation "is now in process of formation," and is to
supersede in time all previous heavens. Jesus, they say, after his
death, descended into the first hell to preach to the souls there
confined; and on his way passed through the second heaven, or Paradise,
where he met the thief crucified with him.
IV. They hold themselves to be the "Church of the Last Dispensation,"
the true Church of this age; and they believe that the day of
judgment, or "beginning of Christ's kingdom on earth," dates from the
establishment of their Church, and will be completed by its development.
V. They hold that the Pentecostal Church was established on right
principles; that the Christian churches rapidly and fatally fell away
from it; and that the Shakers have returned to this original and perfect
doctrine and practice. They say: "The five most prominent practical
principles of the Pentecost Church were, first, common property; second,
a life of celibacy; third, non-resistance; fourth, a separate and
distinct government; and, fifth, power over physical disease." To all
these but the last they have attained; and the last they confidently
look for, and even now urge that disease is an offense to God, and that
it is in the power of men to be healthful, if they will.
VI. They reject the doctrine of the Trinity, of the bodily resurrection,
and of an atonement for sins. They do not worship either Jesus or Ann Lee,
holding both to be simply elders in the Church, to be respected and loved.
VII. They are Spiritualists. "We are thoroughly convinced of spirit
communication and interpositions, spirit guidance and obsession. Our
spiritualism has permitted us to converse, face to face, with individuals
once mortals, some of whom we well knew, and with others born before the
flood." [Footnote: "Plain Talks upon Practical Religion; being Candid
Answers," etc. By Geo. Albert Lomas (Novitiate Elder at Watervliet).
1873.] They assert that the spirits at first labored among them; but
that in later times they have labored among the spirits; and that in
the lower heavens there have been formed numerous Shaker churches.
Moreover, "it should be distinctly understood that special inspired gifts
have not ceased, but still continue among this people." It follows from
what is stated above, that they believe in a "probationary state in the
world of spirits."
VIII. They hold that he only is a true servant of God who lives a
perfectly stainless and sinless life; and they add that to this perfection
of life all their members ought to attain.
IX. Finally, they hold that their Church, the Inner or Gospel Order, as
they call it, is supported by and has for its complement the world, or,
as they say, the Outer Order. They do not regard marriage and property as
crimes or disorders, but as the emblems of a lower order of society. And
they hold that the world in general, or the Outer Order, will have the
opportunity of purification in the next world as well as here.
In the practical application of this system of religious faith, they
inculcate a celibate life; "honesty and integrity in all words and
dealings;" "humanity and kindness to friend and foe;" diligence in
business; prudence, temperance, economy, frugality, "but not parsimony;"
"to keep clear of debt;" "suitable education of children;" a "united
interest in all things," which means community of goods; suitable
employment for all; and a provision for all in sickness, infirmity,
and old age.
III.--THE ORDER OF LIFE AMONG THE SHAKERS.
A Shaker Society consists of two classes or orders: the Novitiate and
the Church Order. There is a general similarity in the life of these
two; but to the Novitiate families are sent all applicants for admission
to the community or Church, and here they are trained; and the elders of
these families also receive inquiring strangers, and stand in somewhat
nearer relations with the outer world than the Church families.
To the Church family or commune belong those who have determined to
seclude themselves more entirely from contact with the outer world; and
who aspire to live the highest spiritual life. Except so far as
necessary business obliges deacons and care-takers to deal with the
world, the members of the Church Order aim to live apart; and they do
not receive or entertain strangers or applicants for membership, but
confine their intercourse to members of other societies.
Formerly there was a considerable membership living in the world,
maintaining the family relation so far as to educate children and
transact business, but conforming to the Shaker rule of celibacy. This
was allowed because of the difficulty of disposing of property, closing
up business affairs, and perhaps on account of the unwillingness of
husband or wife to follow the other partner into the Shaker family.
There are still such members, but they are fewer in number than
formerly. The Novitiate elders and elderesses keep some oversight, by
correspondence and by personal visits, over such outside members.
The Shaker family, or commune, usually consists of from thirty to eighty
or ninety persons, men and women, with such children as may have been
apprenticed to the society. These live together in one large house,
divided as regards its upper stories into rooms capable of accommodating
from four to eight persons. Each room contains as many simple cot-beds
as it has occupants, the necessary washing utensils, a small
looking-glass, a stove for the winter, a table for writing, and a
considerable number of chairs, which, when not in use, are suspended
from pegs along the wall. A wide hall separates the dormitories of the
men from those of the women. Strips of home-made carpet, usually of very
quiet colors, are laid upon the floors, but never tacked down.
On the first floor are the kitchen, pantry, store-rooms, and the common
dining-hall; and in a Novitiate family there is also a small separate
room, where strangers--visitors--eat, apart from the family.
Ranged around the family house or dwelling are buildings for the various
pursuits of the society: the sisters' shop, where tailoring,
basket-making, and other female industries are carried on; the brothers'
shop, where broom-making, carpentry, and other men's pursuits are
followed; the laundry, the stables, the fruit-house, wood-house, and
often machine shops, saw-mills, etc.
If you are permitted to examine these shops and the dwelling of the
family, you will notice that the most scrupulous cleanliness is every
where practiced; if there is a stove in the room, a small broom and
dust-pan hang near it, and a wood-box stands by it; scrapers and mats at
the door invite you to make clean your shoes; and if the roads are muddy
or snowy, a broom hung up outside the outer door mutely requests you to
brush off all the mud or snow. The strips of carpet are easily lifted,
and the floor beneath is as clean as though it were a table to be eaten
from. The walls are bare of pictures; not only because all ornament is
wrong, but because frames are places where dust will lodge. The bedstead
is a cot, covered with the bedclothing, and easily moved away to allow
of dusting and sweeping. Mats meet you at the outer door and at every
inner door. The floors of the halls and dining-room are polished until
[Illustration: SHAKER WOMEN AT WORK.]
Moreover all the walls, in hall and rooms, are lined with rows of wooden
pegs, on which spare chairs, hats, cloaks, bonnets, and shawls are hung;
and you presently perceive that neatness, order, and absolute
cleanliness rule every where.
The government or administration of the Shaker societies is partly
spiritual and partly temporal. "The visible Head of the Church of Christ
on earth is vested in a Ministry, consisting of male and female, not
less than three, and generally four in number, two of each sex. The
first in the Ministry stands as the leading elder of the society. Those
who compose the Ministry are selected from the Church, and appointed by
the last preceding head or leading character; and their authority is
confirmed and established by the spontaneous union of the whole body.
Those of the United Society who are selected and called to the important
work of the Ministry, to lead and direct the Church of Christ, must be
blameless characters, faithful, honest, and upright, clothed with the
spirit of meekness and humility, gifted with wisdom and understanding,
and of great experience in the things of God. As faithful embassadors of
Christ, they are invested with wisdom and authority, by the revelation
of God, to guide, teach, and direct his Church on earth in its spiritual
travel, and to counsel and advise in other matters of importance,
whether spiritual or temporal.
"To the Ministry appertains, therefore, the power to appoint ministers,
elders, and deacons, and with the elders to assign offices of care and
trust to such brethren and sisters as they shall judge to be best
qualified for the several offices to which they may be assigned. Such
appointments, being communicated to the members of the Church concerned,
and having received the mutual approbation of the Church, or the family
concerned, are thereby confirmed and established until altered or
repealed by the same authority." [Footnote: "Summary View," etc.]
"Although the society at New Lebanon is the centre of union to all the
other societies, yet the more immediate duties of the Ministry in this
place extend only to the two societies of New Lebanon and Watervliet.
[Groveland has since been added to this circle.] Other societies are
under the direction of a ministry appointed to preside over them; and in
most instances two or more societies constitute a bishopric, being
united under the superintendence of the same ministry."
Each society has ministers, in the Novitiate family, to instruct and
train neophytes, and to go out into the world to preach when it may be
desirable. Each family has two elders, male and female, to teach,
exhort, and lead the family in spiritual concerns. It has also deacons
and deaconesses, who provide for the support and convenience of the
family, and regulate the various branches of industry in which the
members are employed, and transact business with those without. Under
the deacons are "care-takers," who are the foremen and forewomen in the
It will be seen that this is a complete and judicious system of
administration. It has worked well for a long time. A notable feature of
the system is that the members do not appoint their rulers, nor are they
consulted openly or directly about such appointments. The Ministry are
self-perpetuating; and they select and appoint all subordinates, being
morally, but it seems not otherwise, responsible to the members.
Finally, "all the members are equally holden, according to their several
abilities, to maintain one united interest, and therefore all labor
_with their hands_, in some useful occupation, for the mutual
comfort and benefit of themselves and each other, and for the general
good of the society or family to which they belong. Ministers, elders,
and deacons, all without exception, are industriously employed in some
_manual_ occupation, except in the time taken up in the necessary
duties of their respective callings." So carefully is this rule observed
that even the supreme heads of the Shaker Church--the four who constitute
the Ministry at Mount Lebanon, Daniel Boler, Giles B. Avery, Ann Taylor,
and Polly Reed--labor at basket-making in the intervals of their travels
and ministrations, and have a separate little "shop" for this purpose
near the church. They live in a house built against the church, and eat
in a separate room in the family of the first order; and, I believe,
generally keep themselves somewhat apart from the people.
The property of each society, no matter of how many families it is
composed, is for convenience held in the name of the trustees, who are
usually members of the Church family, or first order; but each family or
commune keeps its own accounts and transacts its business separately.
The Shaker family rises at half-past four in the summer, and five
o'clock in the winter; breakfasts at six or half-past six; dines at
twelve; sups at six; and by nine or half-past all are in bed and the
lights are out.
They eat in a general hall. The tables have no cloth, or rather are
covered with oil-cloth; the men eat at one table, women at another, and
children at a third; and the meal is eaten in silence, no conversation
being held at table. When all are assembled for a meal they kneel in
silence for a moment; and this is repeated on rising from the table, and
on rising in the morning and before going to bed.
When they get up in the morning, each person takes two chairs, and,
setting them back to back, takes off the bed clothing, piece by piece,
and folding each neatly once, lays it across the backs of the chairs,
the pillows being first laid on the seats of the chairs. In the men's
rooms the slops are also carried out of the house by one of them; and
the room is then left to the women, who sweep, make the beds, and put
every thing to rights. All this is done before breakfast; and by
breakfast time what New-Englanders call "chores" are all finished, and
the day's work in the shops or in the fields may begin.
Each brother is assigned to a sister, who takes care of his clothing,
mends when it is needed, looks after his washing, tells him when he
requires a new garment, reproves him if he is not orderly, and keeps a
general sisterly oversight over his habits and temporal needs.
In cooking, and the general labor of the dining-room and kitchen, the
sisters take turns; a certain number, sufficient to make the work light,
serving a month at a time. The younger sisters do the washing and
ironing; and the clothes which are washed on Monday are not ironed till
the following week.
[Illustration: SHAKER COSTUMES.]
Their diet is simple but sufficient. Pork is never eaten, and only a
part of the Shaker people eat any meat at all. Many use no food produced
by animals, denying themselves even milk, butter, and eggs. At Mount
Lebanon, and in some of the other societies, two tables are set, one
with, the other without meat. They consume much fruit, eating it at
every meal; and the Shakers have always fine and extensive vegetable
gardens and orchards.
After breakfast every body goes to work; and the "caretakers," who are
subordinate to the deacons, and are foremen in fact, take their
followers to their proper employments. When, as in harvest, an extra
number of hands is needed at any labor, it is of course easy to divert
at once a sufficient force to the place. The women do not labor in the
fields, except in such light work as picking berries. Shakers do not
They are not in haste to be rich; and they have found that for their
support, economically as they live, it is not necessary to make labor
painful. Many hands make light work; and where all are interested alike,
they hold that labor may be made and is made a pleasure.
Their evenings are well filled with such diversions as they regard
wholesome. Instrumental music they do not generally allow themselves,
but they sing well; and much time is spent in learning new hymns and
tunes, which they profess to receive constantly from the spirit world.
Some sort of meeting of the family is held every evening. At Mount
Lebanon, for instance, on Monday evening there is a general meeting in
the dining-hall, where selected articles from the newspapers are read,
crimes and accidents being omitted as unprofitable; and the selections
consisting largely of scientific news, speeches on public affairs, and
the general news of the world. They prefer such matter as conveys
information of the important political and social movements of the day;
and the elder usually makes the extracts. At this meeting, too, letters
from other societies are read. On Tuesday evening they meet in the
assembly hall for singing, marching, etc. Wednesday night is devoted to
a union meeting for conversation. Thursday night is a "laboring
meeting," which means the regular religious service, where they "labor
to get good." Friday is devoted to new songs and hymns; and Saturday
evening to worship. On Sunday evening, finally, they visit at each
other's rooms, three or four sisters visiting the brethren in each room,
by appointment, and engaging in singing and in conversation upon general
In their religious services there is little or no audible prayer; they
say that God does not need spoken words, and that the mental aspiration
is sufficient. Their aim too, as they say, is to "walk with God," as
with a friend; and mental prayer may be a large part of their lives
without interruption to usual avocations. They do not regularly read the
The Sunday service is held either in the "meeting-house," when two or
three families, all composing the society, join together; or in the
large assembly hall which is found in every family house. In the
meeting-house there are generally benches, on which the people sit until
all are assembled. In the assembly hall there are only seats ranged
along the walls; and the members of the family, as they enter, take
their accustomed places, standing, in the ranks which are formed for
worship. The men face the women, the older men and women in the front,
the elders standing at the head of the first rank. A somewhat broad
space or gangway is left between the two front ranks. After the singing
of a hymn, the elder usually makes a brief address upon holiness of
living and consecration to God; he is followed by the eldress; and
thereupon the ranks are broken, and a dozen of the brethren and sisters,
forming a separate square on the floor, begin a lively hymn tune, in
which all the rest join, marching around the room to a quick step, the
women following the men, and all often clapping their hands.
The exercises are varied by reforming the ranks; by speaking from men
and women; by singing; and by dancing as they march, "as David danced
before the Lord"--the dance being a kind of shuffle. Occasionally one of
the members, more deeply moved than the rest, or perhaps in some
tribulation of soul, asks the prayers of the others; or one comes to the
front, and, bowing before the elder and eldress, begins to whirl, a
singular exercise which is sometimes continued for a considerable time,
and is a remarkable performance. Then some brother or sister is
impressed to deliver a message of comfort or warning from the
spirit-land; or some spirit asks the prayers of the assembly: on such
occasions the elder asks all to kneel for a few moments in silent
In their marching and dancing they hold their hands before them, and
make a motion as of gathering something to themselves: this is called
gathering a blessing. In like manner, when any brother or sister asks
for their prayers and sympathy, they, reversing their hands, push toward
him that which he asks.
[Illustration: SHAKER WORSHIP--THE DANCE]
All the movements are performed with much precision and in exact order;
their tunes are usually in quick time, and the singers keep time
admirably. The words of the elder guide the meeting; and at his bidding
all disperse in a somewhat summary manner. It is, I believe, an object
with them to vary the order of their meetings, and thus give life to
New members are admitted with great caution. Usually a person who is
moved to become a Shaker has made a visit to the Novitiate family of
some society, remaining long enough to satisfy himself that membership
would be agreeable to him. During this preliminary visit he lives
separately from the family, but is admitted to their religious meetings,
and is fully informed of the doctrines, practices, and requirements of
the Shaker people. If then he still desires admission, he is expected to
set his affairs in order, so that he shall not leave any unfulfilled
obligations behind him in the world. If he has debts, they must be paid;
if he has a wife, she must freely give her consent to the husband
leaving her; or if it is a woman, her husband must consent. If there are
children, they must be provided for, and placed so as not to suffer
neglect, either within the society, or with other and proper persons.
It is not necessary that applicants for admission shall possess
property. The only question the society asks and seeks to be satisfied
upon is, "Are you sick of sin, and do you want salvation from it?" A
candidate for admission is usually taken on trial for a year at least,
in order that the society may be satisfied of his fitness; of course he
may leave at any time.
The first and chief requirement, on admission, is that the neophyte
shall make a complete and open confession of the sins of his whole past
life to two elders of his or her own sex; and the completeness of this
confession is rigidly demanded. Mother Ann's practice on this point I
have quoted elsewhere. As this is one of the most prominent
peculiarities of the Shaker Society, it may be interesting to quote here
some passages from their books describing the detail on which they
insist. Elder George Albert Lomas writes:
"Any one seeking admission as a member is required, ere we can give any
encouragement at all, to settle all debts and contracts to the
satisfaction of creditors, and then our rule is If candid seekers after
salvation come to us, we neither accept nor reject them; we _admit_
them, leaving the Spirit of Goodness to decide as to their sincerity, to
bless their efforts, if such, or to make them very dissatisfied if
hypocritical. After becoming thoroughly acquainted with our principles,
we ask individuals to give evidence of their sincerity, if really sick
of sin, by an honest confession of every improper transaction or sin
that lies within the reach of their memory. This confession of sin to
elders of their own sex, appointed for the purpose, _we_ believe to
be the door of hope to the soul, the Christian valley of Achor, and one
which every sin-sick soul seizes with avidity, as being far more
comforting than embarrassing. And this opportunity remains a permanent
institution with us--to confess, retract our wrongs as memory may recall
them; and aids individuals in so thoroughly repenting of past sins that
they are enabled to leave them in the rear, while they pass on to
greater salvations. It often takes years for individuals to complete
this work of _thorough confession and repentance_; but upon this,
more than upon aught else, depends their success as permanent and happy
members. Those who choose to use deceit, often do so, but _never_
make reliable members: always uncomfortable while they remain; and very
few do or can remain, unless they fulfill this important demand of
'_opening the mind.'_ If _we_ do not detect their insincerity,
God does, and they are tempted of the devil beyond their wish to remain
with the Shakers; while he that _confesseth_ and _forsaketh_
his sins shall find mercy. This is not a confession to mortality, but
unto God, witnessed by those who have thoroughly experienced the
practical results of the ordeal. 'My son, give glory to the God of
heaven; _confess unto him_, and _tell_ me what thou hast
done.'" [Footnote: "Plain Talks on Practical Religion," etc.]
Another authority says on this subject:
"All such as receive the grace of God which bringeth salvation, first
honestly bring their former deeds of darkness to the light, by
confessing all their sins, with a full determination to forsake them
forever. By so doing they find justification and acceptance with God,
and receive that power by which they become dead indeed unto sin, and
alive unto God, through Jesus Christ, and are enabled to follow his
example, and walk even as he walked." [Footnote: "Christ's First and
Second Appearing. By Shakers."]
A third writer reasons thus upon confession:
"As all the secret actions of men are open and known to God, therefore a
confession made in secret, though professedly made to God, can bring
nothing to light; and the sinner may perhaps have as little fear of God
in confessing his sins in this manner as he had in committing them. And
as nothing is brought to the light by confessing his sins in this
manner, he feels no cross in it; nor does he thereby find any
mortification to that carnal nature which first led him into sin; and is
therefore liable to run again into the same acts of sin as he was before
his confession. But let the sinner appear in the presence of a faithful
servant of Christ, and there confess honestly his every secret sin, one
by one, of whatever nature or name, and faithfully lay open his whole
life, without any covering or disguise, and he will then feel a
humiliating sense of himself, in the presence of God, in a manner which
he never experienced before. He will then, in very deed, find a
mortifying cross to his carnal nature, and feel the crucifixion of his
lust and pride where he never did before. He will then perceive the
essential difference between confessing his sins in the dark, where no
mortal ear can hear him, and actually bringing his evil deeds to the
light of one individual child of God; and he will then be convinced that
a confession made before the light of God in one of his true witnesses
can bring upon him a more awful sense of his accountability both to God
and man than all his confessions in darkness had ever done." [Footnote:
"Summary View," etc.]
Community of property is one of the leading principles of the Shakers.
"It is an established principle of faith in the Church, that all who are
received as members thereof do freely and voluntarily, of their own
deliberate choice, dedicate, devote, and consecrate themselves, with all
they possess, to the service of God forever." In accordance with this
rule, the neophyte brings with him his property; but as he is still on
trial, and may prove unfit, or find himself uncomfortable, he is not
allowed to give up his property unreservedly to the society; but only
its use, agreeing that so long as he remains he will require neither
wages for his labor nor interest for that which he brought in. On these
terms he may remain as long as he proves his fitness. But when at last
he is moved to enter the higher or Church order, he formally makes over
to the society, forever, and without power of taking it back, all that
he owns. The articles of agreement by which he does this read as
"We solemnly and conscientiously dedicate, devote, and give up ourselves
and services, together with all our temporal interest, to God and his
people; to be under the care and direction of such elders, deacons, or
trustees as have been or may hereafter be established in the Church,
according to the first article of this Covenant.
"We further covenant and agree that it is and shall be the special duty
of the deacons and trustees, appointed as aforesaid, to have the
immediate charge and oversight of all and singular the property, estate,
and interest dedicated, devoted, and given up as aforesaid; and it shall
also be the duty of the said deacons and trustees to appropriate, use,
and improve the said united interest for the benefit of the Church, for
the relief of the poor, and for such other charitable and religious
purposes as the Gospel may require and the said deacons or trustees in
their wisdom shall see fit; _Provided nevertheless_, that all the
transactions of the said deacons or trustees, in their use, management,
and disposal of the aforesaid united interest, shall be for the benefit
and privilege, and in behalf of the Church (to which the said deacons or
trustees are and shall be held responsible), and not for any personal or
private interest, object, or purpose whatsoever.
"As the sole object, purpose, and design of our uniting in a covenant
relation, as a Church or body of people, in Gospel union, was from the
beginning, and still is, faithfully and honestly to receive, improve,
and diffuse the manifold gifts of God, both of a spiritual and temporal
nature, for the mutual protection, support, comfort, and happiness of
each other, as brethren and sisters in the Gospel, and for such other
pious and charitable purposes as the Gospel may require; _Therefore_
we do, by virtue of this Covenant, solemnly and conscientiously, jointly
and individually, for ourselves, our heirs, and assigns, promise and
declare, in the presence of God and each other, and to all men, that we
will never hereafter, neither directly nor indirectly, make nor require
any account of any interest, property, labor, or service which has been,
or which may be devoted by us or any of us to the purposes aforesaid;
nor bring any charge of debt or damage, nor hold any demand whatever
against the Church, nor against any member or members thereof, on
account of any property or service given, rendered, devoted, or
consecrated to the aforesaid sacred and charitable purpose."
As under this agreement or covenant no accounts can be demanded, so the
societies and families have no annual or business meetings, nor is any
business report ever made to the members.
Agriculture and horticulture are the foundations of all the communes or
families; but with these they have united some small manufactures. For
instance, some of the families make brooms, others dry sweet corn, raise
and put up garden seeds, make medicinal extracts; make mops, baskets,
chairs; one society makes large casks, and so on. A complete list of
these industries in all the societies will be found further on. It will
be seen that the range is not great.
Besides this, they aim, as far as possible, to supply their own needs.
Thus they make all their own clothing, and formerly made also their own
woolen cloths and flannels. They make shoes, do all their own
carpentering, and, as far as is convenient, raise the food they consume.
They have usually fine barns, and all the arrangements for working are
of the best and most convenient. For instance, at Mount Lebanon the
different families saw their firewood by a power-saw, and store it in
huge wood-houses, that it may be seasoned before it is used. In their
farming operations they spare no pains; but, working slowly year after
year, redeem the soil, clear it of stones, and have clean tillage. They
are fond of such minute and careful culture as is required in raising
garden seeds. They keep fine stock, and their barns are usually
admirably arranged to save labor.
Their buildings are always of the best, and kept in the best order and
Their savings they invest chiefly in land; and many families own
considerable estates outside of their own limits. In the cultivation of
these outlying farms they employ hired laborers, and build for them
comfortable houses. About Lebanon, I am told, a farmer who is in the
employ of the Shakers is considered a fortunate man, as they are kind
and liberal in their dealings. Every where they have the reputation of
being strictly honest and fair in all their transactions with the
The dress of the men is remarkable for a very broad, stiff-brimmed,
white or gray felt hat, and a long coat of light blue. The women wear
gowns with many plaits in the skirt; and a singular head-dress or cap of
light material, which so completely hides the hair, and so encroaches
upon the face, that a stranger is at first unable to distinguish the old
from the young. Out of doors they wear the deep sun-bonnet known in this
country commonly as a Shaker bonnet. They do not profess to adhere to a
uniform; but have adopted what they find to be a convenient style of
dress, and will not change it until they find something better.
[Illustration: SISTERS IN EVERY DAY COSTUME]
IV.--A VISIT TO MOUNT LEBANON.
It was on a bleak and sleety December day that I made my first visit to
a Shaker family. As I came by appointment, a brother, whom I later found
to be the second elder of the family, received me at the door, opening
it silently at the precise moment when I had reached the vestibule, and,
silently bowing, took my bag from my hand and motioned me to follow him.
We passed through a hall in which I saw numerous bonnets, cloaks, and
shawls hung up on pegs, and passed an empty dining-hall, and out of a
door into the back yard, crossing which we entered another house, and,
opening a door, my guide welcomed me to the "visitors' room." "This,"
said he, "is where you will stay. A brother will come in presently to
speak with you." And with a bow my guide noiselessly slipped out, softly
closed the door behind him, and I was alone.
I found myself in a comfortable low-ceiled room, warmed by an air-tight
stove, and furnished with a cot-bed, half a dozen chairs, a large wooden
spittoon filled with saw-dust, a looking-glass, and a table. The floor
was covered with strips of rag carpet, very neat and of a pretty, quiet
color, loosely laid down. Against the wall, near the stove, hung a
dust-pan, shovel, dusting-brush, and small broom. A door opened into an
inner room, which contained another bed and conveniences for washing. A
closet in the wall held matches, soap, and other articles. Every thing
was scrupulously neat and clean. On the table were laid a number of
Shaker books and newspapers. In one corner of the room was a bell, used,
as I afterward discovered, to summon the visitor to his meals. As I
looked out of a window, I perceived that the sash was fitted with
screws, by means of which the windows could be so secured as not to
rattle in stormy weather; while the lower sash of one window was raised
three or four inches, and a strip of neatly fitting plank was inserted
in the opening--this allowed ventilation between the upper and lower
sashes, thus preventing a direct draught, while securing fresh air.
I was still admiring these ingenious little contrivances, when, with a
preliminary knock, entered to me a tall, slender young man, who, hanging
his broad-brimmed hat on a peg, announced himself to me as the brother
who was to care for me during my stay. He was a Swede, a student of the
university in his own country, and a person of intelligence, some
literary culture, and I should think of good family. His attention had
been attracted to the Shakers by Mr. Dixon's book, "The New America;" he
had come over to examine the organization, and had found it so much to
his liking that, coming as a visitor, he had remained as a member. He
had been here six or seven years. He had a fresh, fine complexion, as
most of the Shaker men and women have--particularly the latter; his hair
was cut in the Shaker fashion, straight across the forehead, and
suffered to grow long behind, and he wore the long, blue-gray coat, a
collar without a neck-tie, and the broad-brimmed whitish-gray felt hat
of the order. His voice was soft and low, his motions noiseless, his
conversation in a subdued tone, his smile ready; but his expression was
that of one who guarded himself against the world, with which he was
determined to have nothing to do. Frank and communicative he was, too,
though I do not doubt that my tireless questioning sometimes bored him.
Such as I have described him I have found all or nearly all the Shaker
people--polite, patient, noiseless in their motions except during their
"meetings" or worship, when they are sometimes quite noisy; scrupulously
neat, and much given to attend to their own business.
[Illustration: ELDER FREDERICK W EVANS]
The Sabbath quiet and stillness which prevailed I attributed to the fact
that there had been a death in the family, and the funeral was to be
held that morning; but I discovered afterwards that an eternal Sabbath
stillness reigns in a Shaker family--there being no noise or confusion,
or hum of busy industry at any time, although they are a most
While the Swedish brother was, in answer to my questions, giving me some
account of himself, to us came Elder Frederick, the head of the North or
Gathering Family at Mount Lebanon, and the most noted of all the
Shakers, because he, oftener than any other, has been sent out into the
world to make known the society's doctrines and practice.
Frederick W. Evans is an Englishman by birth, and was a "reformer" in
the old times, when men in this country strove for "land reform," the
rights of labor, and against the United States Bank and other monopolies
of forty or fifty years ago. He is now sixty-six years of age, but
looks not more than fifty; was brought to this country at the age of
twelve; became a socialist in early life, and, after trying life in
several communities which perished early, at last visited the Shakers at
Mount Lebanon, and after some months of trial and examination, joined
the community, and has remained in it ever since--about forty-five years.
He is both a writer and a speaker; and while not college bred, has
studied and read a good deal, and has such natural abilities as make him
a leader among his people, and a man of force any where. He is a person
of enthusiastic and aggressive temperament, but with a practical and
logical side to his mind, and with a hobby for science as applied to
health, comfort, and the prolongation of life. In person he is tall,
with a stoop as though he had overgrown his strength in early life; with
brown eyes, a long nose, a kindly, serious face, and an attractive
manner. He was dressed rigidly in the Shaker costume.
[Illustration: VIEW OF A SHAKER VILLAGE.]
Mount Lebanon lies beautifully among the hills of Berkshire, two and a
half miles from Lebanon Springs, and seven miles from Pittsfield. The
settlement is admirably placed on the hillside to which it clings,
securing it good drainage, abundant water, sunshine, and the easy
command of water-power. Whoever selected the spot had an excellent eye
for beauty and utility in a country site. The views are lovely, broad,
and varied; the air is pure and bracing; and, in short, a company of
people desiring to seclude themselves from the world could hardly have
chosen a more delightful spot.
As you drive up the road from Lebanon Springs, the first building
belonging to the Shaker settlement which meets your eye is the enormous
barn of the North Family, said to be the largest in the three or four
states which near here come together, as in its interior arrangements it
is one of the most complete. This huge structure lies on a hillside, and
is two hundred and ninety-six feet long by fifty wide, and five stories
high, the upper story being on a level with the main road, and the lower
opening on the fields behind it. Next to this lies the sisters' shop,
three stories high, used for the women's industries; and next, on the
same level, the family house, one hundred feet by forty, and five
stories high. Behind these buildings, which all lie directly on the main
road, is another set--an additional dwelling-house, in which are the
visitors' room and several rooms where applicants for admission remain
while they are on trial; near this an enormous woodshed, three stories
high; below a carriage-house, wagon sheds, the brothers' shop, where
different industries are carried on, such as broom-making and putting
up garden seeds; and farther on, the laundry, a saw-mill and grist-mill
and other machinery, and a granary, with rooms for hired men over it.
The whole establishment is built on a tolerably steep hillside.
[Illustration: THE HERB HOUSE, MOUNT LEBANON]
A quarter of a mile farther on are the buildings of the Church Family,
and also the great boiler-roofed church of the society; and other
communes or families are scattered along, each having all its interests
separate, and forming a distinct community, with industries of its own,
and a complete organization for itself.
[Illustration: MEETING HOUSE AT MOUNT LEBANON]
The initiations show sufficiently the character of the different
buildings and the style of architecture, and make more detailed
description needless. It need only be said that whereas on Mount Lebanon
they build altogether of wood, in other settlements they use also brick
and stone. But the peculiar nature of their social arrangements leads
them to build very large houses.
Elder Frederick came to give me notice that I was permitted to witness
the funeral ceremonies of the departed sister, which were set for ten
o'clock, in the assembly-room; and thither I was accordingly conducted
at the proper time by one of the brethren. The members came into the
room rapidly, and ranged themselves in ranks, the men and women on
opposite sides of the room, and facing each other. All stood up, there
being no seats. A brief address by Elder Frederick opened the services,
after which there was singing; different brethren and sisters spoke
briefly; a call was made to the spirit of the departed to communicate,
and in the course of the meeting a medium delivered some words supposed
to be from this source; some memorial verses were read by one of the
sisters; and then the congregation separated, after notice had been
given that the body of the dead sister would be placed in the hall,
where all could take a last look at her face. I, too, was asked to look;
the good brother who conducted me to the plain, unpainted pine coffin
remarking very sensibly that "the body is not of much importance after
it is dead."
[Illustration: INTERIOR OF MEETINGHOUSE AT MOUNT LEBANON]
Afterwards, in conversation, Elder Frederick told me that the
"spiritual" manifestations were known among the Shakers many years
before Kate Fox was born; that they had had all manner of
manifestations, but chiefly visions and communications through mediums;
that they fell, in his mind, into three epochs: in the first the spirits
laboring to convince unbelievers in the society; in the second proving
the community, the spirits relating to each member his past history, and
showing up, in certain cases, the insincerity of professions; in the
third, he said, the Shakers reacted on the spirit world, and formed
communities of Shakers there, under the instruction of living Shakers.
"There are at this time," said he, "many thousands of Shakers in the
spirit world." He added that the mediums in the society had given much
trouble because they imagined themselves reformers, whereas they were
only the mouth-pieces of spirits, and oftenest themselves of a low
order of mind. They had to teach the mediums much, after the spirits
ceased to use them.
In what follows I give the substance, and often the words, of many
conversations with Elder Frederick and with several of the brethren,
relating to details of management and to doctrinal points and opinions,
needed to fill up the sketch given in the two previous chapters.
As to new members, Elder Frederick said the societies had not in recent
years increased--some had decreased in numbers. But they expected large
accessions in the course of the next few years, having prophecies among
themselves to that effect. Religious revivals he regarded as "the
hot-beds of Shakerism;" they always gain members after a "revival" in
any part of the country. "Our proper dependence for increase is on the
spirit and gift of God working outside. Hence we are friendly to all
They had changed their policy in regard to taking children, for
experience had proved that when these grew up they were oftenest
discontented, anxious to gain property for themselves, curious to see
the world, and therefore left the society. For these reasons they now
almost always decline to take children, though there are some in every
society; and for these they have schools--a boys' school in the winter
and a girls' school in summer-teaching all a trade as they grow up.
"When men or women come to us at the age of twenty-one or twenty-two,
then they make the best Shakers. The society then gets the man's or
woman's best energies, and experience shows us that they have then had
enough of the world to satisfy their curiosity and make them restful. Of
course we like to keep up our numbers; but of course we do not sacrifice
our principles. You will be surprised to know that we lost most
seriously during the war. A great many of our younger people went into
the army; many who fought through the war have since applied to come
back to us; and where they seem to have the proper spirit, we take them.
We have some applications of this kind now."
A great many Revolutionary soldiers joined the societies in their early
history; these did not draw their pensions; most of them lived to be
old, and "I proved to Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Stanton once, when we were
threatened with a draft," said Elder Frederick, "that our members had
thus omitted to draw from the government over half a million of dollars
due as pensions for army service."
With their management, he said, they had not much difficulty in
sloughing off persons who come with bad or low motives; and in this I
should say he was right; for the life is strictly ascetic, and has no
charms for the idler or for merely sentimental or romantic people. "If
one comes with low motives, he will not be comfortable with us, and will
presently go away; if he is sincere, he may yet be here a year or two
before he finds himself in his right place; but if he has the true
vocation he will gradually work in with us."
He thought an order of celibates ought to exist in every Protestant
community, and that its members should be self-supporting, and not
beggars; that the necessities and conscience of many in every civilized
community would be relieved if there were such an order open to them.
In admitting members, no property qualification is made; and in practice
those who come in singly, from time to time, hardly ever possess any
thing; but after a great revival of religion, when numbers come in,
usually about half bring in more or less property, and often large
As to celibacy, he asserted in the most positive manner that it is
healthful, and tends to prolong life; "as we are constantly proving." He
afterward gave me a file of the _Shaker_, a monthly paper, in which
the deaths in all the societies are recorded; and I judge from its
reports that the death rate is low, and the people mostly long-lived.
[Footnote: In nine numbers of the _Shaker_ (year 1873), twenty-seven
deaths are recorded. Of these, Abigail Munson died at Mount Lebanon,
aged 101 years, 11 months, and 12 days. The ages of the remainder were
97, 93, 88, 87, 86, 82, six above 75, four above 70, 69, 65, 64, 55, 54,
49, 37, 31, and two whose ages were not given.]
"We look for a testimony against disease," he said; "and even now I hold
that no man who lives as we do has a right to be ill before he is sixty;
if he suffer from disease before that, he is in fault. My life has been
devoted to introducing among our people a knowledge of true
physiological laws; and this knowledge is spreading among all our
societies. We are not all perfect yet in these respects; but we grow.
Formerly fevers were prevalent in our houses, but now we scarcely ever
have a case; and the cholera has never yet touched a Shaker village."
"The joys of the celibate life are far greater than I can make you know.
They are indescribable."
The Church Family at Mount Lebanon, by the way, have built and fitted up
a commodious hospital, for the permanently disabled of the society
there. It is empty, but ready; and "better empty than full," said an
aged member to me.
Among the members they have people who were formerly clergymen, lawyers,
doctors, farmers, students, mechanics, sea-captains, soldiers, and
merchants; preachers are in a much larger proportion than any of the
other professions or callings. They get members from all the religious
denominations except the Roman Catholic; they have even Jews. Baptists,
Methodists, Presbyterians, and Adventists furnish them the greatest
proportion. They have always received colored people, and have some in
several of the societies.
"Every commune, to prosper, must be founded, so far as its industry
goes, on agriculture. Only the simple labors and manners of a farming
people can hold a community together. Wherever we have departed from
this rule to go into manufacturing, we have blundered." For his part, he
would like to make a law for the whole country, that every man should
own a piece of land and work on it. Moreover, a community, he said,
should, as far as possible, make or produce all it uses. "We used to
have more looms than now, but cloth is sold so cheaply that we gradually
began to buy. It is a mistake; we buy more cheaply than we can make, but
our home-made cloth is much better than that we can buy; and we have now
to make three pairs of trousers, for instance, where before we made one.
Thus our little looms would even now be more profitable--to say nothing
of the independence we secure in working them."
[Illustration: SHAKER TANNERY, MOUNT LEBANON]
In the beginning, he said, the societies were desirous to own land; and
he thought immoderately so. They bought to the extent of their means;
being economical, industrious, and honest, they saved money rapidly, and
always invested their surplus in more land. Then to cultivate these
farms they adopted children and young people. Twenty years ago the
Legislature of New York had before it a bill to limit the quantity of
land the Shakers should be allowed to hold, and the number of
apprentices they should take. It was introduced, he said, by their
enemies, but they at once agreed to it, and thereupon it was dropped;
but since then the society had come generally to favor a law limiting
the quantity of land which any citizen should own to not more than one
[Illustration: SHAKER OFFICE AND STORE AT MOUNT LEBANON]
He thought it a mistake in his people to own farms outside of their
family limits, as now they often do. This necessitates the employment of
persons not members, and this he thought impolitic. "If every out-farm
were sold, the society would be better off. They are of no real
advantage to us, and I believe of no pecuniary advantage either. They
give us a prosperous look, because we improve them well, and they do
return usually a fair percentage upon the investment; but, on the other
hand, this success depends upon the assiduous labor of some of our
ablest men, whose services would have been worth more at home. We ought
to get on without the use of outside labor. Then we should be confined
to such enterprises as are best for us. Moreover we ought not to make
money. We ought to make no more than a moderate surplus over our usual
living, so as to lay by something for hard times. In fact, we do not do
much more than this."
Nevertheless nearly all the Shaker societies have the reputation of
In their daily lives many profess to have attained perfection: these are
the older people. I judge by the words I have heard in their meetings
that the younger members have occasion to wish for improvement, and do
discover faults in themselves. One of the older Shakers, a man of
seventy-two years, and of more than the average intelligence, said to
me, in answer to a direct question, that he had for years lived a
sinless life. "I say to any who know me, as Jesus said to the Pharisees,
'which of you convicteth me of sin.'" Where faults are committed, it is
held to be the duty of the offender to confess to the elder, or, if it
is a woman, to the eldress; and it is for these, too, to administer
reproof. "For instance, suppose one of the members to possess a hasty
temper, not yet under proper curb; suppose he or she breaks out into
violent words or impatience, in a shop or elsewhere; the rest ought to
and do tell the elder, who will thereupon administer reproof. But also
the offending member ought not to come to meeting before having made
confession of his sin to the elder, and asked pardon of those who were
the subjects and witnesses of the offense."
As to books and literature in general, they are not a reading people.
"Though a man should gain all the natural knowledge in the universe, he
could not thereby gain either the knowledge or power of salvation from
sin, nor redemption from a sinful nature." [Footnote: "Christ's First
and Second Appearing"] Elder Frederick's library is of extremely limited
range, and contains but a few books, mostly concerning social problems
and physiological laws. The Swedish brother, who had been a student,
said in answer to my question, that it did not take him long to wean
himself from the habit of books; and that now, when he felt a temptation
in that direction, he knew he must examine himself, because he felt
there was something wrong about him, dragging him down from his higher
spiritual estate. He did not regret his books at all. An intelligent,
thoughtful old Scotchman said on the same subject that he, while still
of the world, had had a hobby for chemical research, to which he would
probably have devoted his life; that he still read much of the newest
investigations, but that he had found it better to turn his attention to
higher matters; and to bring the faculties which led him naturally
toward chemical studies to the examination of social problems, and to
use his knowledge for the benefit of the society.
The same old Scotchman, now seventy-three years old, and a cheery old
fellow, who had known the elder Owen, and has lived as a Shaker forty
years, I asked, "Well, on the whole, reviewing your life, do you think
it a success?" He replied, clearly with the utmost sincerity:
"Certainly; I have been living out the highest aspirations my mind was
capable of. The best I knew has been realized for and around me here.
With my ideas of society I should have been unfit for any thing in the
world, and unhappy because every thing around me would have worked
contrary to my belief in the right and the best. Here I found my place
and my work, and have been happy and content, seeing the realization of
the highest I had dreamed of."
Considering the homeliness of the buildings, which mostly have the
appearance of mere factories or human hives, I asked Elder Frederick
whether, if they were to build anew, they would not aim at some
architectural effect, some beauty of design. He replied with great
positiveness, "No, the beautiful, as you call it, is absurd and
abnormal. It has no business with us. The divine man has no right to
waste money upon what you would call beauty, in his house or his daily
life, while there are people living in misery." In building anew, he
would take care to have more light, a more equal distribution of heat,
and a more general care for protection and comfort, because these things
tend to health and long life. But no beauty. He described to me
amusingly the disgust he had experienced in a costly New York dwelling,
where he saw carpets nailed down on the floor, "of course with piles of
dust beneath, never swept away, and of which I had to breathe;" and with
heavy picture-frames hung against the walls, also the receptacles of
dust. "You people in the world are not clean according to our Shaker
notions. And what is the use of pictures?" he added scornfully.
[Illustration: A SHAKER ELDER.]
They have paid much attention to the early Jewish policy in Palestine,
and the laws concerning the distribution of land, the Sabbatical year,
service, and the collection of debts, are praised by them as
establishing a far better order of things for the world in general than
that which obtains in the civilized world to-day.
They hold strongly to the equality of women with men, and look forward
to the day when women shall, in the outer world as in their own
societies, hold office as well as men. "Here we find the women just as
able as men in all business affairs, and far more spiritual." "Suppose a
woman wanted, in your family, to be a blacksmith, would you consent?" I
asked; and he replied, "No, because this would bring men and women into
relations which we do not think wise." In fact, while they call men and
women equally to the rulership, they very sensibly hold that in general
life the woman's work is in the house, the man's out of doors; and there
is no offer to confuse the two.
Moreover, being celibates, they use proper precautions in the
intercourse of the sexes. Thus Shaker men and women do not shake hands
with each other; their lives have almost no privacy, even to the elders,
of whom two always room together; the sexes even eat apart; they labor
apart; they worship, standing and marching, apart; they visit each other
only at stated intervals and according to a prescribed order; and in all
things the sexes maintain a certain distance and reserve toward each
other. "We have no scandal, no tea-parties, no gossip."
Moreover, they mortify the body by early rising and by very plain
living. Few, as I said before, eat meat; and I was assured that a
complete and long-continued experience had proved to them that young
people maintain their health and strength fully without meat. They wear
a very plain and simple dress, without ornament of any kind; and the
costume of the women does not increase their attractiveness, and makes
it difficult to distinguish between youth and age. They keep no pet
animals, except cats, which are maintained to destroy rats and mice.
They have, of course, none of the usual relations to children--and the
boys and girls whom they take in are in each family put under charge of
a special "care-taker," and live in separate houses, each sex by itself.
Smoking tobacco is by general consent strictly prohibited. A few chew
tobacco, but this is thought a weakness, to be left off as standing in
the way of a perfect life.
[Illustration: A GROUP OF SHAKER CHILDREN]
[Illustration: SHAKER DINING HALL]
The following notice in the _Shaker_ shows that even some very old
sinners in this respect reform:
On Tuesday, Feb. 20th, 1873, _Died,_ by the power of truth, and for
the cause of Human Redemption, at the Young Believers' Order, Mt. Lebanon,
in the following much-beloved Brethren, the aged respectively.
No funeral ceremonies, no mourners, no grave-yard; but an honorable
RECORD thereof made in the Court above. Ed.
In D.S. .............. 51 years' duration.
In C.M. .............. 57 "
In A.G. .............. 15 "
In T.S. .............. 36 "
In OLIVER PRENTISS ... 71 "
In L.S. .............. 45 "
In H.C. .............. 53 "
In O.K. .............. 12 "
Reviewing all these details, it did not surprise me when Elder Frederick
remarked, "Every body is not called to the divine life." To a man or
woman not thoroughly and earnestly in love with an ascetic life and
deeply disgusted with the world, Shakerism would be unendurable; and I
believe insincerity to be rare among them. It is not a comfortable place
for hypocrites or pretenders.
The housekeeping of a Shaker family is very thoroughly and effectively
done. The North Family at Mount Lebanon consists of sixty persons; six
sisters suffice to do the cooking and baking, and to manage the
dining-hall; six other sisters in half a day do the washing of the whole
family. The deaconesses give out the supplies. The men milk in bad
weather, the women when it is warm. The Swedish brother told me that he
was this winter taking a turn at milking--to mortify the flesh, I
imagine, for he had never done this in his own home; and he used neither
milk nor butter. Many of the brethren have not tasted meat in from
twenty-five to thirty-five years. Tea and coffee are used, but very
There is no servant class.
"In a community, it is necessary that some one person shall always know
where every body is," and it is the elder's office to have this
knowledge; thus if one does not attend a meeting, he tells the elder the
Obedience to superiors is an important part of the life of the order.
Living as they do in large families compactly stowed, they have become
very careful against fires, and "a real Shaker always, when he has gone
out of a room, returns and takes a look around to see that all is
The floor of the assembly room was astonishingly bright and clean, so
that I imagined it had been recently laid. It had, in fact, been used
twenty-nine years; and in that time had been but twice scrubbed with
water. But it was swept and polished daily; and the brethren wear to the
meetings shoes made particularly for those occasions, which are without
nails or pegs in the soles, and of soft leather. They have invented many
such tricks of housekeeping, and I could see that they acted just as a
parcel of old bachelors and old maids would, any where else, in these
particulars--setting much store by personal comfort, neatness, and
order; and no doubt thinking much of such minor morals. For instance, on
the opposite page is a copy of verses which I found in the visitors'
room in one of the Shaker families--a silent but sufficient hint to the
careless and wasteful.
Like the old monasteries, they are the prey of beggars, who always
receive a dole of food, and often money enough to pay for a night's
lodging in the neighboring village; for they do not like to take in
The visiting which is done on Sunday evenings is perhaps as curious as
any part of their ceremonial. Like all else in their lives, these visits
are prearranged for them--a certain group of sisters visiting a certain
group of brethren. The sisters, from four to eight in number, sit in a
row on one side, in straight-backed chairs, each with her neat hood or
cap, and each with a clean white handkerchief spread stiffly across her
lap. The brethren, of equal number, sit opposite them, in another row,
also in stiff-backed chairs, and also each with a white handkerchief
smoothly laid over his knees. Thus arranged, they converse upon the news
of the week, events in the outer world, the farm operations, and the
weather; they sing, and in general have a pleasant reunion, not without
gentle laughter and mild amusement. They meet at an appointed time, and
at another set hour they part; and no doubt they find great satisfaction
in this--the only meeting in which they fall into sets which do not
include the whole family.
GATHER UP THE FRAGMENTS THAT REMAIN, THAT NOTHING BE LOST.--Christ.
Here then is the pattern
Which Jesus has set;
And his good example
We cannot forget:
With thanks for his blessings
His word we'll obey;
But on this occasion
We've somewhat to say.
We wish to speak plainly
And use no deceit;
We like to see fragments
Left wholesome and neat:
To customs and fashions
We make no pretense;
Yet think we can tell
What belongs to good sense.
What we deem good order,
We're willing to state--
Eat hearty and decent,
And clear out our plate--
Be thankful to Heaven
For what we receive,
And not make a mixture
Or compound to leave.
We find of those bounties
Which Heaven does give,
That some live to eat,
And that some eat to live--
That some think of nothing
But pleasing the taste,
And care very little
How much they do waste.
Tho' Heaven has bless'd us
With plenty of food:
Bread, butter, and honey,
And all that is good;
We loathe to see mixtures
Where gentle folks dine,
Which scarcely look fit
For the poultry or swine.
We often find left,
On the same china dish,
Meat, apple-sauce, pickle,
Brown bread and minc'd fish;
With butter and cheese;
With pie, cake, and toast,
Perhaps, added to these.
Now if any virtue
In this can be shown,
By peasant, by lawyer,
Or king on the throne,
We freely will forfeit
Whatever we've said,
And call it a virtue
To waste meat and bread.
Let none be offended
At what we here say;
We candidly ask you,
Is that the best way?
If not--lay such customs
And fashions aside,
And take this Monitor
Henceforth for your guide.
[VISITORS' EATING-ROOM, SHAKER VILLAGE.]
Since these chapters were written, Hervey Elkins's pamphlet, "Fifteen
Years in the Senior Order of the Shakers," printed at Hanover, New
Hampshire, in 1853, has come into my hands. Elkins gives some details
out of his own experience of Shaker life which I believe to be generally
correct, and which I quote here, as filling up some parts of the picture
I have tried to give of the Shaker polity and life:
"The spiritual orders, laws, and statutes, never to be revoked, are in
substance as follows: None are admitted within the walls of Zion, as
they denominate their religious sphere, but by a confession to one or
more incarnate witnesses of every debasing and immoral act perpetrated
by the confessor within his remembrance; also every act which, though
the laws of men may sanction, may be deemed sinful in the view of that
new and sublimer divinity which he has adopted. The time, the place, the
motive which produced and pervaded the act, the circumstances which
aggravated the case, are all to be disclosed. No stone is to be left
unturned--no filth is suffered to remain. The temple of God, or the
soul, must be carefully swept and garnished, before the new man can
enter it and there make his abode. (Christ, or the Divine Intelligence
which emanated from God the Father, transforms the soul into the new man
spoken of in the Scriptures.)
"Those who have committed deeds cognizable by the laws of the land,
shall never be admitted, until those laws have dealt with their
transgressions and acquitted them.
"Those who have in any way morally wronged a fellow-creature, shall make
restitution to the satisfaction of the person injured.
"Wives who have unbelieving husbands must not be admitted without their
husbands' consent, or until they are lawfully released from the marriage
contract, and vice versa. They may confess their sins, but cannot enter
the sacred compact.
"All children admitted shall be bound by legal indentures, and shall, if
refractory, be returned to their parents.
"There shall exist three Orders, or degrees of progression, viz.: The
Novitiate, the Junior, and the Senior.
"All adults may enter the Novitiate Order, and then may progress to a
higher, by faithfulness in supporting the Gospel requirements.
"When at the age of twenty-one, the Church Covenant is presented to all
the young members to peruse, and to deliberate and decide whether or not
they will maintain the conditions therein expressed. To older members it
is presented after all legal embarrassments upon their estates are
settled, and they desire to be admitted to full fellowship with those
who have consecrated _all._ And whoever, after having escaped the
servility of Egypt, shall again desire its taskmasters and flesh-pots,
are unfit for the kingdom of God; and in case of secession or apostasy
shall, by their own deliberate and matured act (that of placing their
signatures and seals upon this instrument when in the full possession of
all their mental powers), be debarred from legally demanding any
compensation whatever for the property or services which they had
dedicated to a holy purpose.
"This instrument is legally and skillfully formed, and none are
permitted to sign it until they have counted well the cost; or, at
least, pondered for a time upon its requirements.
"Members also stipulate themselves by this signature to yield implicit
obedience to the ministry, elders, deacons, and trustees, each in their
respective departments of authority and duty.
"The Shaker government, in many points, resembles that of the military.
All shall look for counsel and guidance to those immediately before
them, and shall receive nothing from, nor make application for any thing
to those but their immediate advisers. For instance: No elder in either
of the subordinate bishoprics can make application for any amendment,
any innovation, any introduction of a new system, of however trivial a
nature, to the ministry of the first bishopric; but he may desire and
ask of his own ministry, and, if his proposal meet their concurrence,
they will seek its sanction of those next higher. All are to regard
their spiritual leaders as mediators between God and their own souls;
and these links of divine communication, successively descending from
Power and Wisdom, who constitute the dual God, to their Son and
Daughter, Jesus and Ann, and from them to Ann's successors of the Zion
of God on earth, down to the prattling infant who may have been gathered
within this ark of safety--this concatenated system of spiritual
delegation is the river of life, whose salutary waters flow through the
celestial sphere for the cleansing and redemption of souls.
"Great humility and simplicity of life is practiced by the first
ministry--two of each sex--upon whom devolves the charge of subordinate
bishoprics, besides that of their own immediate care, the societies of
Niskeyuna and Mount Lebanon. They will not even (and this is good
policy) allow themselves those expensive conveniences of life which are
so common among the laity of their sect. But extreme neatness is the
most prominent characteristic of both them and their subordinates. They
speak much of the model enjoined by Jesus, that whosoever would be the
greatest should be the servant of all.
"A simple song, of a beautiful tune, inculcating this spirit, is often
sung in their assemblies. The words are these:
"'Whoever wants to be the highest
Must first come down to be the lowest;
And then ascend to be the highest
By keeping down to be the lowest.'
"It is common for the leaders to crowd down, by humiliation, and
withdraw patronage and attention from those whom they intend to
ultimately promote to an official station. That such may learn how it
seems to be slighted and humiliated, and how to stand upon their own
basis, work spiritually for their own food without being dandled upon
the soft lap of affection, or fed with the milk designed for babes. That
also they be not deceived by the phantoms of self-wisdom; and that they
martyr not in themselves the meek spirit of the lowly Jesus. Thus, while
holding one in contemplation for an office of care and trust, they first
prove him--the cause unknown to himself--to see how much he can bear,
without exploding by impatience or faltering under trial.
"Virtually for this purpose, but ostensibly for some other, have I known
many promising young people moved to a back order, or lower grade of
fellowship. By such trials the leaders think to try their souls in the
furnace of affliction, withdraw them from earthly attachments, and imbue
them with reliance upon God. In fact, to destroy terrestrial idols of
every kind, to dispel the clouds of inordinate affection and
concentrative love, which fascinatingly float around the mind and screen
from its view the radiant brightness of heaven and heavenly things, is
the great object of Shakerism.
"Whoever yields enough to the evil tempter to gratify in the least the
sensual passions--either in deed, word, or thought--shall confess
honestly the same to his elders ere the sun of another day shall set to
announce a day of condemnation and wrath against the guilty soul. These
vile passions are--fleshly lusts in every form, idolatry, selfishness,
envy, wrath, malice, evil-speaking, and their kindred evils.
"The Sabbath shall be kept pure and holy to that degree that no books
shall be read on that day which originated among the world's people,
save those scientific books which treat of propriety of diction. No idle
or vain stories shall be rehearsed, no unnecessary labor shall be
performed--not even the cooking of food, the ablution of the body, the
cutting of the hair, beard, or nails, the blacking and polishing of
shoes or boots. All these things must be performed on Saturday, or
postponed till the subsequent week. All fruit, eaten upon the Sabbath,
must be earned to the dwelling-house on Saturday. But the dormitories
may be arranged, the cows milked, all domestic animals fed, and food and
drink warmed on Sunday. No one is allowed to go to his workshop, to walk
in the gardens, the orchards, or on the farms, unless immediate duty
requires; and those who of necessity go to their workshops, shall not
tarry over fifteen minutes but by the direct liberty of the elders. The
dwelling-house is the place for all to spend the Sabbath; and thither
all concentrate--elders, deacons, brethren, and sisters. If any property
is likely to incur loss--as hay and grain that is cut and remaining in
the field, and is liable to be wet before Monday, it may be secured upon
"All shall rise simultaneously every morning at the signal of the bell,
and those of each room shall kneel together in silent prayer, strip from
the beds the coverlets and blankets, lighten the feathers, open the
windows to ventilate the rooms, and repair to their places of vocation.
Fifteen minutes are allowed for all to leave their sleeping apartments.
In the summer the signal for rising is heard at half-past four, in the
winter at half-past five. Breakfast is invariably one and a half hours
after rising--in the summer at six, in the winter at seven; dinner
always at twelve; supper at six. These rules are, however, slightly
modified upon the Sabbath. They rise and breakfast on this day half an
hour later, dine lightly at twelve, and sup at four. Every order
maintains the same regularity in regard to their meals.
"In the Senior Order, at the ringing of a large bell, ten minutes before
meal-time, all may gather into the saloons, and retire the ten minutes
before the dining-hall alarm summons them to the table. All enter four
doors and gently arrange themselves at their respective places at the
table, then all simultaneously kneel in silent thanks for nearly a
minute, then rise and seat themselves almost inaudibly at the table. No
talking, laughing, whispering, or blinking are allowed while thus
partaking of God's blessings. After eating, all rise together at the
signal of the first elder, kneel as before, and gently retire to their
places of vocation, without stopping in the dining-hall, loitering in
the corridors and vestibules, or lounging upon the balustrades,
doorways, and stairs.
"The tables are long, three feet in width, highly polished, without
cloth, and furnished with white ware and no tumblers. The interdict
which excludes glass-ware from the table must be attributed to
conservatism rather than parsimony, for in _most_ useful
improvements the Shakers strive to excel. They tremble at adopting the
_customs_ of the world. At the tables, each four have all the
varieties of food served for themselves, which precludes the necessity of
continual passing and reaching.
"At half-past seven P.M. in the summer, and at eight in the winter, the
large bell summons all of every order to their respective dwellings,
there to retire, each individual in his own room, half an hour before
evening worship. To retire is for the inmates of every room--generally
from four to eight individuals--to dispose themselves in either one or
two ranks, and sit erect, with their hands folded upon their laps,
without leaning back or falling asleep; and in that position labor for a
true sense of their privilege in the Zion of God--of the fact that God
has prescribed a law which humbles and keeps them within the hollow of
his hand, and has favored them with the blessing of worshiping him, with
soul and body, unmolested, and according to the dictation of an
enlightened mind and a tender and good conscience. If any chance to fall
asleep while thus mentally employed, they may rise and bow four times,
or gently shake, and then resume their seats.
"The man who is now the archbishop of Shakerism was, when a youth, very
apt to fall into a drowsy state in retiring time; but he broke up that
habit by standing erect the half-hour before every meeting for six
months. And there are many as zealous as he in supporting every order.
No unnecessary walking in the corridors or passing in and out of doors
are in this sacred time allowed. When the half-hour has expired, a small
hand-bell summons all to the hall of worship. None are allowed to
absent themselves without the elder's liberty. If any are unwell or
tired, it is but a little matter to rap at the elder's door, or ask a
companion to do it, where any one may receive liberty to retire to rest
if it is expedient. All pass the stairs and corridors, and enter the
hall, two abreast, upon tiptoe, bowing once as they enter, and pass
directly to their place in the forming ranks.
"The house, of course, is vacated through the day, except by sisters,
who take turns in cooking, making beds, and sweeping. When brethren and
sisters enter, they must uncover their heads, and hang their hats and
bonnets in the lower corridors, and walk softly, and open and shut doors
gently, and in the fear of God. None are allowed to carry money into
sacred worship. In a word, the sanctuary and the whole house shall be
kept sacred and holy unto the Lord; and all shall spend the time
allotted to be in the house mostly in their own rooms. Three evenings in
the week are set apart for worship, and three for 'union meetings.'
Monday evenings all may retire to rest at the usual meeting time, an
hour earlier than usual. For the union meetings the brethren remain in
their rooms, and the sisters, six, eight, or ten in number, enter and
sit in a rank opposite to that of the brethren's, and converse simply,
often facetiously, but rarely profoundly. In fact, to say 'agreeable
things about nothing,' when conversant with the other sex, is as common
there as elsewhere. And what of dignity or meaning could be said? where
talking of sacred subjects is not allowed, under the pretext that it
scatters those blessings which should be carefully treasured up; and
bestowing much information concerning the secular plans of economy
practiced by your own to the other sex is not approved; and where to
talk of literary matters would be termed bombastic pedantry and small
display, and would serve to exhibit accomplishments which might be
enticingly dangerous. Nevertheless, an hour passes away very agreeably
and even rapturously with those who there chance to meet with an
especial favorite; succeeded soon, however, when soft words, and kind,
concentrated looks become obvious to the jealous eye of a female
espionage, by the agonies of a separation. For the tidings of such
reciprocity, whether true or surmised, is sure before the lapse of many
hours to reach the ears of the elders; in which case, the one or the
other party would be subsequently summoned to another circle of colloquy
"No one is permitted to make mention of any thing said or done in any of
these sittings to those who attend another, for party spirit and
mischief might be the result. Twenty minutes of the union hour may be
devoted to the singing of sacred songs, if desired.
"All are positively forbidden ever to say aught against their brother or
their sister, whatever may be their defects; but such defects shall be
made known to the elders, and to none else. 'If nothing good can be said
of one, say nothing,' is a Shaker maxim. If one member is known by
another to violate an ordinance of the Gospel, the witness thereto shall
gently remind the transgressor, and request him to confess the deed to
the elder. If he refuses, the witness shall divulge it; if he consents,
then is the witness free, as having performed his duty.
"Brethren and sisters shall not visit each other's rooms unless for
errands; and in such cases shall tarry no more than fifteen minutes. A
sister shall not go to the brethren's work places unless accompanied by
another. Brethren's and sister's workshops shall not be under one or the
same roof; they shall not pass each other upon the stairs; nor one of
each converse together unless a third person be present of more than ten
years of age. They shall in no case give presents to each other, nor
lend with the intention of never again receiving. If a sister desires
any assistance, or desires any article made by the brethren, she must
make application to the female deaconesses or stewards, and they will
convey her wishes to the male stewards, who will provide the article or
assistance requested. The converse is required of a brother; although it
is more common for the brother to express his requests direct to the
female steward, thus excluding one link of the concatenation. In each
order a brother is generally appointed to aid the sisters in doing the
heavy work of the laundry, dairy, kitchen, and similar places. All are
required to spend their mornings and evenings, and their leisure time,
in the performance of some good act.
"No one shall leave the premises of the family in which he lives without
the consent of the elders; and he shall obtain the consent by stating
the purpose or business which calls him away. This interdiction includes
the act of going from one family to another. But on their own grounds
_brethren_ may range at pleasure; and the families are so large that
the territory included in the domain of each extends in some directions
for miles around.
"No conversation is allowed between members of different families,
unless it be necessary, succinct, and discreet.
"Before a brother enters a sister's apartment, or a sister enters a
brother's, they shall rap and enter by permission. When they enter the
apartment of their own sex, they may open the door and ask, 'May I come
"The name of a person shall never be used to designate a dumb beast. No
one is allowed to play with or handle unnecessarily any beast whatever.
Brethren and sisters may not unnecessarily touch each other. If a
brother shakes hands with an unbelieving woman, or a sister with an
unbelieving man, they shall make known the same to the elders before
they attend worship. Such salutes are admissible, for the sake of
civility or custom, if the world party first present the hand--never
without. All visiting of the world's people, even their own relations,
is forbidden, unless there exist a prospect of making converts, or of
gathering some one into the fold. All visiting of other societies of
their own sect is under the immediate superintendence of the ministry,
who prescribe the number, select the persons, appoint the time, define
the length of their stay, and the routes by which they may go and come.
"The deacons are empowered to change the employment of an individual for
an hour, a day, or a week, to perform a necessary piece of labor. But a
permanent removal to another vocation can be required only by the
"No trading is to be done by any save the trustees, and those whom the
trustees may license. No new literary work or new-fangled article can be
admitted, unless it be first sanctioned by the ministry and elders.
Trustees may purchase any thing they believe may be admissible, and
present the same for the inspection of the leaders. If they disapprove
it, it must be sold. The property is all legally held by trustees, who
may at any time be removed by the ministry. The trustees are to
supervise all financial transactions with the world and other families
and societies of their own denomination, and do all by knowledge and
union of the ministry and elders. There must be two trustees in every
order, and they shall make their financial returns known to each other
every journey they perform. An exact book account of every cent of
disbursement and income shall be presented to the ministry at the close
of every year. The deacons are also to keep an exact account of every
thing manufactured or produced for sale in the family, and these two
registers are compared by the ministry.
"Not a single action of life, whether spiritual or temporal, from the
initiative of confession, or cleansing the habitation of Christ, to that
of dressing the right side first, stepping first with the right foot as
you ascend a flight of stairs, folding the hands with the right-hand
thumb and fingers above those of the left, kneeling and rising again
with the right leg first, and harnessing first the right-hand beast, but
that has a rule for its perfect and strict performance.
"The children, or all under the age of sixteen, unless very precocious,
live, eat, work, play, sleep, and worship, accompanied only by their
caretakers. Once upon the Sabbath do they worship with the adults. Their
meetings are not so long, neither do they retire but fifteen minutes
before them. They never attend union meetings until they emerge into the
adult's degree. Stubborn children are sometimes corrected with a rod;
but any child or beast that requires an extreme severity of coercion to
induce them to conform, the society are not allowed to keep. The
contumacious child must be returned to his parents or guardian, and the
perverse beast must be sold.
"Prayer, supplication, persuasion, and keen admonition constitute the
only means used to incline the disposition and bend the will of those
arrived to years of understanding and reason."
* * * * *
"The boys' shop, so called, is a building two stories in height. In the
upper loft is a large room where the care-takers reside, and where the
boys who wish to read, write, or reflect may retire from the jabbering
and confusion below. Whenever they leave their house or shop, they are
required to go two abreast and keep step with each other. No loud
talking was allowable in the court-yards at any time. No talking or
whispering when passing through the tasteful courts to their work, their
school, their meetings, or their meals; a still, soft walk on tiptoe,
and an indistinct closing of doors in the house; a gentle, yet a more
brisk movement in the shops; a free and jovial conversation when by
themselves in the fields; but not a word, unless when spoken to, when
other brethren than their care-takers were present--such were the orders
we saw rigorously enforced, and the lenities we freely granted. We
allowed them to indulge in the _innocent_ sports practiced
elsewhere. But wrestling and scuffling were rarely permitted. No sports
were allowed in the courtyards, unless all loud talk was suppressed. We a
few times permitted them to roll trucks there, but allowed no verbal
communication only by whispering.
"All were taught to confess all violations of their instructions, and a
portion of every Saturday was set apart for that purpose. They enter one
at a time, and kneel before the care-taker; and, after confessing their
faults, the care-taker makes some necessary inquiries in relation to
other boys, gives them generally some good advice, and they depart.
After eighteen years of age they are not required to kneel during the
act of confession. To watch over a company of boys like these is, with a
little tact, an easy task. The vigils must be incessant; but there are
in so large a number those upon whom the care-taker may rely; and if ill
conduct or bad habits are creeping in, it may soon be detected by a
The contracting of a special liking between individuals of opposite
sexes is in some of the societies called "sparking."
* * * * *
DETAILS OF THE SHAKER SOCIETIES.
To describe particularly each of the eighteen Shaker societies would
involve a great deal of unnecessary repetition. In their buildings,
their customs, their worship, their religious faith, their extreme
cleanliness, their costume, and in many other particulars, they are all
nearly alike; and the Shaker of Kentucky does not to the cursory view
differ from his brother of Maine. But I have thought it necessary, to a
complete view of the order, to present some particulars of each society,
as to its location, numbers, the quantity of land it owns, its
industries, and present and past prosperity, as also peculiarities of
thought or custom; and these details will be found below.
There are two Shaker societies in Maine--one at Alfred, the other at New
The society is near Alfred, in York County, about thirty miles
southwesterly from Portland. Its estate of eleven hundred acres lies in
a pretty situation, between hills, and includes a large pond and an
important water-power. The land is not very fertile or easily
cultivated. They sold off last year an outlying tract of timber-land for
$28,000, and were glad to be rid of it.
The society consists now of two families, having between sixty-five and
seventy members, of whom two fifths are men and the remainder women.
They are all Americans but two, of whom one is Irish and one Welsh.
The society was "gathered" in 1794; there were then three families; and
in 1823 it had two hundred members. Twelve years ago one of the
families, being small, was drawn in to the others, and the buildings it
occupied have since been let out. The decrease began to be rapid about
thirty years ago, when the founders, who had become very aged, died off,
and new members did not come in in sufficient numbers to take their
places. Two thirds of the present members were brought into the society
as children, many being brought by their parents: others, orphans,
adopted. Twenty per cent, of the present membership are over fifty years
The two families now raise a few garden seeds, make brooms, hair sieves,
dry measures, keep a tan-yard, and make besides most of their home
supplies. They also farm their own land. They have leased to outside
people a saw-mill and grist-mill which they own. The young women make
small baskets, fans, and other fancy articles, which are sold during the
summer at neighboring sea-side watering-places. They hire a few outside
About a quarter of the people eat no meat. They have improved their
sanitary regulations in the last twenty years, and have almost
extirpated fevers. Formerly cancer was a frequent disease among them,
but since they ceased to eat pork this has disappeared.
They take nine or ten newspapers, and encourage reading; have a small
library, and a good school, in which thirteen children are taught. The
people have been long-lived; only a few weeks before I visited Alfred,
died at the Church Family Lucy Langdon Nowell, aged ninety-eight. She
was born on the 4th of July, 1776, and had lived almost all her life in
the society, her father having been one of its founders, and the owner
of some of the land on which the society now live. Had she lived long
enough, she was to have been taken to the proposed Centennial Exhibition
In the last ten years this society has maintained its numbers, but has
not gained. They do not receive many applications for membership; and of
those who apply, not more than one in ten "makes a good Shaker."
The Alfred Society desired a year or two ago to remove to a milder
climate; they offered their entire property for $100,000, but found no
purchaser at the price, and determined to remain. Their buildings are in
excellent order; and they are prosperous, having, besides the income
from their different industries, a fund at interest. They have never had
any defalcation or loss from unfaithful agents or trustees, and they
have no debt.
I was told that the first circular saw ever made in the United States
was invented by a Shaker at Alfred.
The New Gloucester Society lies in Cumberland County, about twenty-five
miles northwest of Portland. It consists of two families, having
together about seventy members, of whom one third are men. In 1823 it
had three families, the third being gathered in 1820, and broken up in
1831. The society had in 1823 one hundred and fifty members.
It was "gathered" in 1794; its members are now all Americans except two,
who are Scotch. Among them are persons who were farmers, merchants,
printers, wool-weavers, and Some mechanics.
The Church Family lives in a valley, the Gathering Family on a high
ridge, about a mile off, and overlooking an extensive tract of country.
The society has two thousand acres of land, and owns a saw-mill,
grist-mill, and a very complete machine shop. The people raise garden
seeds, make brooms, dry measures, wire sieves, and the old-fashioned
spinning-wheel, which, it seems, is still used in Maine and New
Hampshire by country-women to make stocking yarn. But its most
profitable industry is the manufacture of oak staves for molasses
hogsheads, which are exported to the West Indies. One of the elders of
this society, Hewitt Chandler, a man of uncommon mechanical ingenuity,
and the inventor of a mowing-machine which was made here for some years,
has contrived a way of bending staves without setting them up in the
cask, which saves much time and labor, and makes this part of their
business additionally profitable. They made last year also a thousand
dollars' worth of pickles; and the women make fancy articles in their
They employ from fifteen to twenty laborers in their mills and other
works, most of whom are boarded and lodged on the place.
The meeting-house at this place was built in 1794, and the dwelling of
the Church Family in the following year. Both are of wood, are still in
good order, and have never been re-shingled.
The second family at this place was "gathered" in 1808, at Gorham, in
Maine, and removed to its present location in 1819. It had then twenty
brethren and thirty-two sisters; and has now only twenty members in all.
Very few of the people here eat meat. Some drink tea, but coffee is not
used. They have flower gardens, and would have an organ or melodeon if
they could afford it. The young people promise well; and they have
lately received several young men as members, sons of neighboring
farmers, who had worked for them as hired people for a number of years.
This society is less prosperous than most of the others. It has met with
several severe losses by unfaithful and imprudent agents and trustees,
who in one case ran up large debts for several years, contrary to the
wise rule of the Shakers to "owe no man any thing," and in another case
brought loss by defalcation. The hill family have built a large stone
house, but owing to losses have not been able to complete it. The
buildings at New Gloucester show signs of neglect; but the people are
very industrious, and have in the last three years paid off a large sum
which they owed through the default of their agents; and they will work
their way out in the next two years. To prevent their being entirely
crippled, the other societies helped them with a subscription.
At New Gloucester, also, the people are long-lived, some having died at
the age of eighty-six; and very many living beyond seventy.
The societies at Alfred and New Gloucester were founded after a
"revival" among the Free-will Baptists; and of the present members who
came in later, there were Universalists, Baptists, Methodists, and
Adventists or Millerites.
There are two societies in New Hampshire, both prosperous: one at
Canterbury, the other at Enfield.
The society at Canterbury lies on high ground, about twelve miles north
by east from Concord. It consists of three families, of which, however,
two only are independent; the third, which has but fifteen members,
receiving its supplies from the Church Family, which contains one
hundred members. The three families have in all one hundred and
forty-five members. In 1823 they had over two hundred, and forty years
ago they had about three hundred.
Forty of the whole number are under twenty-one; and one third are males,
two thirds females. The majority are young and middle-aged people; the
oldest member is now eighty-three, and half a dozen are near seventy.
The people have been generally long-lived, and one member lived to over
one hundred years of age.
The greater part grew up in the society; but they have five young Scotch
people, brought over by their parents. Of those who have joined in later
years, the most were Adventists; others Free-will Baptists and
Methodists. They have not gained in numbers in ten years, and few
applicants nowadays remain with them.
This society is prosperous. It owns three thousand acres of rather poor
farming land, some of which is in wood and timber. It has also a farm in
Western New York, where it maintains eight hundred sheep. Its industries
are varied: they make large washing-machines and mangles for hotels and
public institutions, weave woolen cloths and flannels, make sarsaparilla
syrup, checkerberry oil, and knit woolen socks. They also make brooms,
and sell hay; have a saw-mill; make much of what they use; and they keep
excellent stock, having one enormous and admirably arranged barn. The
sisters also make fancy articles, for which they have a good market from
the summer visitors to the mountains, with whom the Canterbury Shakers
are justly favorites.
Their buildings are very complete and in excellent order. They have a
steam laundry, with mangle, and an admirably arranged ironing-room; a
fine and thoroughly fitted school-house, with a melodeon, and a special
music-room; an infirmary for the feeble and sick, in which there is a
fearful quantity of drugs; and they take twelve or fifteen newspapers,
and have a library of four hundred volumes, including history, voyages,
travels, scientific works, and stories for children, but no novels.
The Canterbury Society was "gathered" in 1792; the leading men owned the
farm on which the buildings now stand, and gave the land to the
community. The old gambrel-roofed meeting-house was built in 1792, and
still stands in good order. The founders and early members were
Free-will Baptists, who became Shakers after a great "revival." They had
some property originally; and soon began to manufacture spinning-wheels,
whips, sieves, mortars, brooms, scythe-snaths, and dry measures; they
established also a tannery. As times changed, they dropped some of these
industries and took up others. One of their members invented the
washing-machine which they now make, and they hold the patent-right for
They employ six mechanics, non-members, and occasionally others. The
members mostly eat meat, drink tea but not coffee, and a few of the aged
members are indulged in the use of chewing-tobacco. They take fewer
children than formerly, and prefer to take young men and women from
eighteen to twenty-four. They take great pains to amuse as well as
instruct the children; for the girls, gymnastic exercises are provided
as well as a flower garden; the boys play at ball and marbles, go
fishing, and have a small farm of their own, where each has his own
garden plot. Once a week there is a general "exercise" meeting of the
children, and they are, of course, included in the usual meetings for
worship, reading, and conversation.
The "shops" or work-rooms are all excellently fitted; in the girls'
sewing-room I found a piano, and a young sister taking her music-lesson.
The children are trained to confess their sins to the elders, in the
Shaker fashion, and this is thought to be a most important part of their
In the dwelling-house and near the kitchen I noticed a great number of
buckets, hung up to the beams, one for each member, and these are used
to carry hot water to the rooms for bathing. The dwellings are not
heated with steam. The dining-room was ornamented with evergreens and
flowers in pots.
They have no physician, but in the infirmary the sisters in charge have
sufficient skill for ordinary cases of disease.
The people are not great readers. The Bible, however, is much read. They
are fond of music.
In summer they entertain visitors at a set price, and have rooms fitted
for this purpose. In the visitors' dining-room I saw this printed
"At the table we wish all to be as free as at home, but we dislike the
wasteful habit of leaving food on the plate. No vice is with us the less
ridiculous for being fashionable.
"Married persons tarrying with us overnight are respectfully notified
that each sex occupy separate sleeping apartments while they remain."
They had at Canterbury formerly a printing-press, and printed a now
scarce edition of hymns, and several books. This press has been sold.
The trustees here give once a year an inventory and statement of
accounts to the elders of the Church Family. In the years 1848-9 they
suffered severe losses from the defalcation of an agent or trustee, but
they have long ago recovered this loss, and now owe no debts.
Agriculture they believe to be the true base of community life, and if
their land were fertile they would be glad to leave off manufacturing
entirely. But on such land as they have they cannot make a living.
The leading elder of the society remarked to me that, though in numbers
they were less than formerly, the influence of the Canterbury Society
upon the outside world was never so great as now: their Sunday meetings
in summer are crowded by visitors, and they believe that often their
doctrines sink deep into the hearts of these chance hearers.
_Enfield, N. H._
The Society at Enfield lies in Grafton County, about twelve miles
southeast from Dartmouth College, and two miles from Enfield Station, on
the Northern New Hampshire Railroad. It is composed of three families,
having altogether at this time one hundred and forty members, of whom
thirty-seven are males and one hundred and three females. This
preponderance arises chiefly, I was told, from the large number of young
sisters. There are thirty-five youth under twenty-one years of age, of
whom eight are boys and twenty-seven girls. In 1823 the Enfield Society
had over two hundred members; thirty years ago it had three hundred and
thirty members. They do not now receive many applications for
membership, and of those who apply but few remain.
This society was "gathered" in 1793, and consisted then of but one
family or community. It arose out of a general revival of religion in
this region. A second family was formed in 1800, and the third, the
"North Family," in 1812. They lost some members during the war of the
Rebellion, young men who became soldiers, and some others who were drawn
away by the general feeling of unrest which pervaded the country. They
like to take children, but are more careful than formerly to ascertain
the characters of their parents. "We want a good kind; but we can't do
without some children around us," I was told.
The society has about three thousand acres of land, part of it being an
outlying farm, ten or a dozen miles away. The buildings are remarkably
substantial. The dwelling of the Church Family is of a beautiful
granite, one hundred feet by sixty, and of four full and two attic
stories; some of the shops are also of granite, others of brick, and in
the other families stone and brick have also been used. There is an
excellently arranged infirmary, a roomy and well-furnished school-room,
a large music-room in a separate building; and at the Church Family they
have a laundry worked by water-power, and use a centrifugal dryer,
instead of the common wringer.
Nearly the whole of their present real estate was brought into the
society as a free gift by the founders, who were farmers living there;
and many of the early members brought in considerable means, for those
days. When they gathered into a community they began to add
manufacturing to their farming work, and the Enfield Shakers were among
the first to put up garden seeds. Besides this, they made
spinning-wheels, rakes, pitchforks, scythe-snaths, and had many looms.
Until within thirty years they wove linen and cotton as well as woolen
goods, and in considerable quantities.
At present they put up garden seeds, make buckets and tubs, butter-tubs,
brooms, dry measures, gather and dry roots and herbs for medicinal use,
make maple-sugar in the spring and apple-sauce in the winter; sew shirts
for Boston, and keep several knitting-machines busy, making flannel
shirts and drawers and socks. They also make several patent medicines,
among which the "Shaker anodyne" is especially prized by them; and
extracts, such as fluid valerian; and in one of the families the women
prepare bread, pies, and other provisions, which they sell in a
neighboring manufacturing village. Finally, they own a woolen-mill and a
grist-mill; but these they have leased. One of their members has
invented and patented for the society a folding pocket-stereoscope.
Besides all these industries, uncommonly varied and numerous even for
the Shakers, they have carpenter, blacksmith, tailor, and shoemaker
shops, and produce or make up a great part of what they consume.
Moreover, as in most of the Shaker societies, the women make up fancy
articles for sale.
The members of the society are almost all Americans, and the greater
part of them came in as little children. Of foreigners, there are one
Englishman, two of Irish birth, one of Welsh, and two French Canadians.
As elsewhere, Baptists, Methodists, and Millerites or Second Adventists
contributed the larger part of the membership.
They hire from twenty to thirty-five laborers, according to the season
of the year.
Most of the members are under forty, and almost all are farmers. I heard
of one lawyer; and one when he entered had been a law student. Almost
all are meat eaters, and they use both tea and coffee. A few of the
older men are allowed to chew tobacco. There are no fevers in the
society, and their health is excellent, which arises partly I suppose
from the fact that the ground upon which the buildings stand has
thorough natural drainage. Some of their members have lived to the age
of ninety--which is not an uncommon age, by the way, for Shakers--and on
the register of deaths I found these ages: 89, 86, 86, 80, 80, 79, 76,
75, and so on.
They have a library of about two hundred volumes in each family,
exclusive of strictly religious books; and almost all the younger people
can read music, one of the members being a thorough teacher and good
musical drill-master. They read the Bible a good deal, and sometimes
pray aloud in their meetings. Once or twice a week they hold reading
meetings, at which some one reads either from a book of history or
biography, or extracts from newspapers.
There was some years ago a defalcation in one of the societies, which
"came largely if not entirely through neglect of the rule not to owe
money." The family which suffered in this case has not entirely
recovered from the blow; it still owes a small debt.
An annual business report is now made by the trustees to the ministry
who are set over this society and that at Canterbury.
There is but one Shaker Society in Connecticut, at _Enfield, Conn._
The Society is in Hartford County, about twelve miles from Springfield,
Massachusetts. It was founded in 1792; and the meeting-house then built,
of brick, is still standing, but is now used for other purposes. There
were formerly five families, and in 1823 this society had two hundred
members. At present there are but four families, one of which is small,
and contains only a few aged people, too much attached to their old home
to be removed. There are in the four families one hundred and fifteen
persons, of whom the Church Family has sixty, and the Gathering Family
twenty-five. One third are males and two thirds females; and there are
forty-three children and youth under twenty-one, of whom eighteen are
boys and twenty-four girls. So late as 1848 this society numbered two
They own about three thousand three hundred acres of land, and make
their living almost entirely by farming. Before the rebellion they had
built up a large trade in the Southern States in garden seeds; but the
outbreak of the war not only lost them this trade, but in bad debts they
lost nearly all they had saved in thirty years. They now breed fine
stock, which they sell; and they sell some hay, but only to buy Indian
corn in its stead. They are careful and excellent farmers. The women
make some articles of fancy work. They employ fifteen hired men
This society is prosperous. One of the families has just erected a large
and, for Shakers, uncommonly stylish dwelling; and all the buildings are
in good repair and well painted. Nevertheless they have not had an easy
task to make a living. "If we have got any thing here," said an elder to
me, "it is because we saved it." They have, however, the advantage of an
excellent farm. In the beginning they raised garden seeds, and were
among the first in this country to establish this business, and at one
time they made lead pipe--but the invention of machinery drove them out
of that business.
They eat meat, and use tea and coffee moderately; and a few of the old
members take snuff. They are mostly Americans, with a few Scotch and
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