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Introduction Utopian Literature Dystopian Literature Utopian Communities



Two Shaker Hymn Books, one from Enfield, Connecticut.

The name “Shaker” was originally derogatory and referred to the community’s dynamic worship – dancing, exultation, shaking, spinning, and singing without instruments. The most famous Shaker hymn is the ubiquitous “Simple Gifts,” popularized in Aaron Copland’s famous piece, Appalachian Spring, which celebrated the uniquely American quality of the Shaker movement.


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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.