The Shakers

by Nicole Kelly

the shakers origins

The Shakers were a utopian religious sect. Ann Lee, the founder of the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing, a Christian sect known as the Shakers, was created in Manchester, England. In 1770, "Mother" Ann broke from the Quakers to establish her own religious movement based on celibacy, sexual equality, energetic worship, pacifism, and a communal economy. The Shakers derived originally from a small branch of radical English Quakers--known as the "Shaking Quakers"--who had adopted the French Camisards' ritual practices of shaking, shouting, dancing, whirling, and singing in tongues. In 1774, Lee led her flock to the New World. By the mid-19th century, some 17,000 Shakers lived in America.

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Important Leader of the Shakers

The founder of the Shakers, Ann Lee, was a blacksmith’s daughter and a mill hand in Manchester, England. Looking for a more personal and emotional religion than the official Church of England, in 1758 she joined a group called the Wardley Society that had left the Quakers. Because the Wardley’s version of religious worship including shakings of the body and motions of the head and arms, they came to be called “Shaking Quakers” and this in time was shortened to Shakers. The group’s official name, which they used after emigrating to America, was the “United Society of Believers in the Second Coming of Christ.” In their earlier years they usually referred to themselves as “Believers.”

Ann Lee was not very active in the group until she experienced several unhappy events — her father arranged a marriage for her with another blacksmith, Abraham Standernin, and her four children all died either at birth or in early infancy. She also began to have visions; these, and her innate leadership ability and charisma, led to her becoming leader of the group. However, their untraditional mode of worship also brought the group much persecution. Finally one of Ann Lee’s visions directed her to take her followers to America.

They arrived in New York City on August 6, 1774 (a date later celebrated by the Shakers) and set about to find a place to settle, while taking jobs in the city to earn their living. There were eight others in the group including Ann’s brother, William. These early Shakers found a suitable site — land eight miles northwest of Albany and, accompanied by four others who had come from England, settled there in 1776.

The Shakers Major Beliefs and Practices

Shaker religious beliefs are essentially fundamental Christianity, although there are some clearly unique beliefs that deviate from the main branches of Christianity and other sects. The Shakers reject the Trinity; instead they believe in a God made up of female and male elements reflected both in the supernatural and the real worlds.
The Shakers believed in separation of sexes and especially celibacy. The requirement of celibacy is based on the belief that sin arose from Adam and Eve's sexual behavior in the Garden of Eden, although they do not feel that non-Shakers who marry and have sexual relations are sinners. The Shakers were also strong believers in active, direct communication with the deceased, but this practice apparently declined over the years. They especially believed in communialism and hoped to do everything within the community. Familys that were made up of husbands, wives, and children would be split up and placed into own communal "families". The Shakers especially believed in eating good (healthy) and wholesome food because they believed that the soul could only advance in a calm and healthy body. Also the Shakers were very into their simplicity with their everyday life. The furniture was simple and around the house everything else was simple.The Shakers would worship through dancing and whirling. However by the 1820s the movement turned into a formal pattern. The brothers and sisters would face each other with their hands cupped upward to accept the gifts from God.

Other interesting facts about the Shakers

-The Shakers would install wooden pegs into the walls, which would be six feet from the ground. Hanging from the wooden pegs would be the chairs, brooms, hats, cloaks. They would place the chairs on the pegs so that it would not collect so much dust, it would be easier to sweep, and it would be a convenient storage area. The Shakers not only tried to live healthy, good lives, they favored every second of their life.

-Shaker communities were large self-sufficient farms with a variety of cottage industries such as furniture making, metalworking, seed packaging, basketry, broom making, and weaving.

-Nine Shakers emigrated to America in 1774, and lived in New York until they could raise enough money to buy a tract of wilderness for themselves in Western New York State, which they called Niskeyuna. There they built the first of the Shaker communities in America, which eventually numbered eighteen and stretched from Kentucky to Maine.