The Shakers

by James Fang


Despite having achieved a level of recognition during the 1830s and reaching their peak in 1840, Shakerism was actually founded in the U.S. during 1774, by the illiterate English factory worker, Ann Lee, who, along with eight other pilgrims, had come to the colonies in order to spread this new divine "insight" that Lee wished to spread. Shakerism, however, has it's earliest roots in England, with "Shaker Quakerism" in 1758 despite the religous group having broken all ties with Quakerism.

Important Leaders

Ann Lee is often seen as the founder, as she was the one who spread it to the United States. However, she was not very active in it's early stages as a religion. It was until she experienced the birth and death of all four of her children in their infant years with her arranged husband, Abraham Standernin, that she became an active part of the Shaker society. She became known as the founder of Shaker Religion in the United States. She was also the first to be officially recognized in Shaker religion to have the spiritual gift of revelation.

In 1784, after Ann Lee's death, James Whittaker took over as Shaker Leader. He was the second Shaker to have been officially recognized as one to have the spiritual gift of revelation.

Joseph Meacham became the First Elder after James Whittaker died in 1787. Joseph Meacham was the first Shaker Leader to bring another person to share the role of leader of the Shakers. Lucy Wright, a female, became the First Elderess and together they headed the ministry. Together, they formed the beginnings of religious communism in the Shaker Community. Meacham later died in 1796, and Wright continued to lead the Shaker community until 1810.

Under the guidance of Wright, Shakerism expanded westward. To make Shakerism more appealing, Wright made the dances more lively, and eventually the Shaker religion reached as far out as Kentucky and Ohio.

Major Beliefs and Practices

The Shakers did not marry or bear children. Rather, they practiced an egalitarian society, where both men and women were seen as equals in every aspect. Possibly the greatest illustration of this practice was the use of separate entrances by both men and women. However, each building was built such that the women's side of the building was exactly the same as the men's side of the building. This separation simply prevented any sexual tensions/actions from happening. The belief in equal rights for both men and women is due to the belief that God was a spirit that had both male and female characteristics. The Shakers were ordinary people that gave up worldly possessions and their families in order to achieve something greater, something more spiritually fulfilling. The communities that emerged as Shakers as a whole were seen as a "holy families" in which everyone (usually 50-150 people per community) was brothers and sisters, with one male and one female acting as the leaders (called the Elder and Eldress) of each community. These communities were often envisioned as utopias as hard work was a common theme in all of them. However, they were given gender-roles, as women did "feminine things" such as sewing and cooking while the men worked the fields. They had the belief that Christ had come again in the form of Mother Ann first, but eventually Christ would come to anyone who had lived their life pure enough for Christ's consciousness to awaken inside them, and they did this through hard work and by confessing their sins. Perhaps the most distinguishing aspect of their religious practices was that it included the shaking of the body and more specifically the arms and head, thus earning them the name "Shakers." They practiced this in meetinghouses where they practiced their religious practices. The Shakers were very pacifist. They resisted the U.S.'s call for military service and during the 1860s, Benjamin Gates and Frederwick W. Evans met President Lincoln and expressed the Shaker's intent on remaining pacifist and not participating in the war for their communities' best interests.

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