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The Shakers

<center>" Do your work as though
you had a thousand years to live,
and as if you were to die tomorrow."

One of the numerous religious sects who emigrated to American shores in search of religious freedom, the Shakers followed Mother Ann Lee to the United States in 1774. Here they established several colonies-- the first in 1776 at Nikayuna near Albany, NY--whose governing principals included celibacy and agrarian communal living.

The term Shakers, originally used as a pejorative for members of a dissenting Quaker church which called itself the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing, referred to the sect's ecstatic form of worship. Founded in England in 1747 the Shakers practiced a religion that was also a lifestyle. The members lived in gender segregated, dormitory-like housing, but came together to work, and pray. Like the Quakers they believed in personal communication with a God who was both male and female and in the ability to find and give voice to the Inner Light. Those expressions took the form of hymns and work songs, of which SIMPLE GIFTS is the most famous, as well as rhythmic swaying and "dancing" when the spirit moved them.

Besides leading a simple but comfortably self-sufficient existence from the fruits of their land, the Shakers came to be known for their architecture, crafts, and furniture. Shaker design, with its clean, economic lines, is the quintessential statement of the happy marriage of form and function--a tangible embodiment of the Shaker credo: "Beauty rests on utility."


Except for Mother Ann's missionary trips to win converts and their cottage industries in which they sold furniture and crafts to their neighbors, the Shakers consciously insulated themselves from the rest of the world. At their peak they boasted eighteen communities in New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Maine, Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky, one of the largest of which was 300 strong. The Shakers flourished into 20th century when celibacy took its toll on the sect, and their numbers dwindled to near extinction. One of the last of the proud villages to close was The City of Peace, or Hancock Village near Pittsfield, MA, which became a ghost town in 1960 when the last of its inhabitants moved away. The village stands today as a museum and monument to the simplicity and integrity of the Shaker tradition and its continuing influence on American folk art and aesthetics.

Simple Gifts

The traditional Shaker work-song-hymn, SIMPLE GIFTS was originally published in THE GIFT TO BE SIMPLE: SHAKER RITUALS AND SONGS. Since then this folk tune has acquired the status of an American classic. One of its most famous permutations is to be found in Aaron Copland's vocal arrangement and in his variations on the tune which conclude his ballet, APPALACHIAN SPRING. It recently was played as a theme song for President and Mrs. Clinton when they greeted crowds celebrating their re-election in Little Rock, AK. Its rondo-like form combines the stomping pulses of work, with the swaying rhythms of the Shaker dancing prayer.

<center>'Tis the gift to be simple, 'Tis the gift to be free,
'Tis the gift to come down where you ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

<center>When true simplicity is gained
To bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
'Till by turning, turning we come round right

The Shakers, or the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearance, represent one of the most successful utopian communities in American history. Although their last remaining community currently numbers less than ten members, the Shakers have maintained a utopian presence in the United States for over two hundred years. One of the secrets of their success seems to be the fact that while they have lived since the 18th century by a set of basic tenets, they have always believed in constant re velation from the spirit world, and they never operated under the elaborate sets of rules that some less successful utopian communities imposed upon their members.

The Shakers were founded in England in 1770 by Ann Lee. In the 1760's, Lee joined a sect of Quakers called "Shaking Quakers". The Quakers were said to "shake" because they danced and spoke in tongues. Lee had become dissatisfied with the Anglican church , and this dissatisfaction was coupled with the fact that Lee and her husband had had four children, all of whom died in infancy. Following the death of her fourth child, Lee claimed to have had a vision from God in which it was explained to her that sex ual intercourse was the root of all sin, and that to truly serve God, one must be celibate. She came to believed that God was bisexual because both man and woman were made in His image, and that this was duplicated throughout nature. Every living thing, animal or vegetable, had both a male and female component. Her followers began to call her "Mother" Ann because they believed her to be the female component of Christ's spirit and that she represented the second appearance of Christ on earth. In 1772, Ann received another vision from God, in the form of a tree, in which it was communicated to her that "a place had been prepared" for the Shakers in America.

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.

According to Lee's visions, the Shakers were to live by four basic tenets. First, they must live communally. Second, they must be celibate. Third, they must regularly confess their sins. And fourth, they must separate themselves from the outside world . They believed that if they rigorously followed these tenets, they would be able to achieve perfection. The communities were revolutionary because they offered both spiritual and physical equality, an equality which also extended to non-Christians and individuals of different races who joined the communities. Although within the community men and women ha d separate spheres of activity and responsibilities which were sharply divided, they were fundamentally equal. Following Ann Lee's death, she was succeeded over time by both men and women.

Mother Ann believed that each member of the community had an obligation to work. Each member of the community had specific jobs that they were trained to do, many of which contributed to the great surplus of agricultural and material commodities that the Shakers produced for sale in order to support themselves. Mother Ann taught them that they should work: "As if you had 1000 years to live, and as if you were going to die tomorrow". Their beautiful crafts, buildings and grounds have therefore always re flected both the pride and care that they took in their work, and the simplicity and utility that their lives demanded.

The Shakers, like the Puritans fit the utopian model. Through Ann Lee and other leader's continuing visions, the Covenant of the Shaker's with God is established. And, through their righteous living and works, the Shakers felt that they could uphold thi s covenant and achieve perfection. One of their founding tenets was their communal life, and they maintained this tenet through their rigorous labor. They believed that by separating themselves from the population in general, they could establish a mode l that would lead others to the redemption that they hoped to attain - in fact their survival depended on it - because one of their tenets is celibacy, they must attract new members to join. Finally, one of Ann Lee's original visions from God told her th at the Shaker's place was to the West in the New World, where they will find the ideal place to found their utopian communities.

With less than a dozen members left remaining, it is hard to believe that the Shakers once peopled eighteen thriving communities in several states. In 1850, they numbered almost 4,000 members, and, over the 200 years that they have been established in th e United States, more than 20,000 Americans have lived a least some of their life as a Shaker.

Before her death, Mother Ann had a vision that the community would be renewed once its membership had dropped to five members. The last of the Shakers are awaiting the renewal and continuing to live their utopian lives according to the visions that Ann L ee received over 225 years ago.

Prophecies, Revelations and World Outreach from the Early Shakers

Shaker Manuscripts On-Line - Additional Background Information

At their peak productive, religious time, there were thousands of Shakers living in "order" at the various settlements. They differed from other similar "Plain People" sects of their day [and to the present time], in one main point — the Shakers believed in and rigorously practiced sexual abstinence. That is, they did not engage in any form of sexual gratification or sexual indulgences of any kind.

This practice availed them of tremendous extra energy and focus and resulted in a clarity of mind that was capable of hearing God and seeing heavenly Visions. When the communications from the Godhead began, those virgin vessels, who were chosen by God to receive and transcribe the messages, were generally excused from their daily chores and set aside, in solitude, for their more important tasks.

Many of the inspired messages were given only for the Shakers and contained much needed reproof and correction among themselves. Other messages were given for all of Mankind — it is of the latter type that you will find on this site. Also to be found here are those manuscripts that the Shakers authored themselves, to satisfy the inquiries of the world, as to what they were about and how they lived.

A Summary View of the Millennial Church or the United Society of Believers Commonly Called Shakers comprising the Rise, Progress and Practical Order of the Society together with the General Principles of Their Faith and Testimony Containing excerpts from the 2nd Edition, 1848 of over 400 pages as printed by the Shakers; — the book contained particular information concerning the United Society, adapted to the general class of readers and calculated to answer the usual enquiries respecting their religious principles and moral economy. First Edition was published in 1823. http://www.passtheword.org/SHAKER-MANUSCRIPTS/Millennial-Church/millndex.htm

Testimonies of the Life, Character, Revelations and Doctrines of Mother Ann Lee and the Elders With Her Collected from Living Witnesses in Union with the Church. Containing excerpts on practical and spiritual topics — timely subjects for modern thought. — Originally published by the Shakers in 1816; reprinted in 1888. http://www.passtheword.org/SHAKER-MANUSCRIPTS/Testimonies/tstmonys.htm

Shakers' Compendium The entire text of a small book . . . of the Origin, History, Principles, Rules and Regulations, Government, and Doctrines of the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing — Originally published by the Shakers in 1859. http://www.passtheword.org/SHAKER-MANUSCRIPTS/Shakers-Compendium/compndm.htm

Shakerism, Its Meaning and Message Excerpts on the subjects of the Shaker's beliefs and teaching including the duality of God, the equality of women, celibacy, the revelation of Christ to woman, etc. along with their own description of the founder of Shakerism, Ann Lee. — Originally published by the Shakers in 1904. http://www.passtheword.org/SHAKER-MANUSCRIPTS/Meaning-Message/meanmsg.htm

Morning Star - Pearly Gate Bible Lessons Excerpts from the Early Shaker textbook . . . presented as questions and answers on the topics of Good and Evil, God, Woman, the Holy Spirit, the Virgin Life and Character. — Originally published by the Shakers in 1894. http://www.passtheword.org/SHAKER-MANUSCRIPTS/Morning-Star/mstarndex.htm

Millennial Praises Gospel Hymns Collection Excerpts from the Early Shaker book of hymns . . . The first hardcover book ever published by the early Shakers. — 1813. http://www.passtheword.org/SHAKER-MANUSCRIPTS/Millennial-Praises/mpraisesndex.htm

The Virgin Life - Shown to be a Necessity for Serious and True followers of Jesus Christ; Concise Answers to a frequently asked question. http://www.passtheword.org/SHAKER-MANUSCRIPTS/Commentary/virgin-life.htm

Teenage Shootings at American Schools - Did the Early Shakers understand the driving Forces behind such outbursts? Could they offer counsel and insight about how teens are moved to commit violent acts? http://www.passtheword.org/SHAKER-MANUSCRIPTS/Commentary/school-shootings.htm


Researchers links http://www.nypl.org/research/chss/grd/resguides/shaker.html

A brief essay on the history of the Oneida Shaker community, with links to other Shaker and historical sites. The Shakers/Oneida Community http://www.webzonecom.com/ccn/cults/othr09b.txt

A brief history of the shakers within a larger website maintained by the historical preservation society maintaining the Hancock community site. Hancock Shaker Village http://www.hancockshakervillage.org/shakers.html

Very detailed description of Shaker's beginnings within the larger website for the preserved Shaker community in Pleasant Hill, KY. Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill http://www.shakervillageky.org/shakervillage/history.html

A quick introduction to the Shaker community at South Union that leads into the larger site maintained by the museum. Shaker Museum at South Union, Kentucky http://www.logantele.com/~shakmus/history.htm

The Shaker Garden, a glimpse of Shaker gardening and trade within a larger gardening interest site. http://www.isc.rit.edu/~gcmwww/garden/shakergarden.html

http://www.shakervillageky.org/home.asp http://www.shakers.org/history.html http://www.pbs.org/wnet/ihas/icon/shakers.html

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