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The Shaker

The Manifesto/ The Shaker - January, 1872

The first editions of the Shaker, published by the brilliant Shaker theologian and Elder, F.W. Evans, include the history of the movement and a serial biography of the Shaker founder, Mother Ann Lee. It reads like an apocryphal gospel in which Mother Ann calms storms, walks on water, passes unscathed through violent mobs, and “speaks in tongues.” Evans writes of one Mother Ann miracle: “…the clergy men, being learned linguists, stated that she had spoken of the wonderful works of God in seventy two languages!”

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The Shakers are the quintessential American utopian commune to which all others are compared. With one small Shaker community still in existence in Maine, the Shakers are by far the longest-lived American utopian experiment. The Shaker version of utopia – often encapsulated in the word “simplicity” is part of the American popular imagination: Shaker influence can be found in fashion, furniture design, textiles, and music.

In 1774, a Scottish woman named Ann Lee, who had received visions from God declaring the supremacy of a celibate life, brought her followers to America. “I knew by revelation that God had a chosen people in America. I saw some of them in a vision and I met them in America. I knew that I had a vision of America, I saw a large tree, every leaf of which shown with such brightness as made it appear like a burning torch representing the Church of Christ which will yet be established in this land.”

While the Shakers are known for their simplicity, their devotion is by no means simple-minded. The Shaker credo demands duty to god, duty to man, separation from the world, simplicity of language, right use of property, and a celibate life.

At their height in 1830, there were over 18 Shaker communities from Kentucky to Maine, including one in Enfield, Connecticut.