Shakers
A spiritual community established in New Lebanon, New
York, near the Massachusetts line, formally known as the United
Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing. It had its
origin in England in 1747, when Jane and James Wardley became
the first leaders of a Lancashire revivalist sect. They were
Quaker tailors influenced by the French prophets, an enthusiastic
movement that had spread through southern France earlier
in the century. Ann Lee, 22-year-old daughter of a Manchester
blacksmith, joined this group of ‘‘shaking Quakers’’ in 1758
and through her strange visionary gifts became their leader.
She was imprisoned in 1772 for disturbing the Sabbath and
preaching a doctrine of celibacy, an idea stemming from her
own experience of losing four children at or soon after their
birth.
In 1774, after visions and inspired revelations, she moved
to America with a handful of followers. By 1780 the Shaker colony
had grown, attracting many settlers. Men and women lived
together in celibacy with common ownership of property.
Between 1781 and 1783 Lee and her elders visited 36 towns
in Massachusetts and Connecticut on a missionary campaign,
but the Shakers were ridiculed. They had become especially unpopular
for their pacifist ideas during the Revolution.
Lee died in 1784. The community eventually prospered, especially
under Lee’s successor, Joseph Meacham, and established
an enviable reputation for hard work, excellent furniture
making, and community spirit. The most characteristic behavior
of the Shakers, from which their popular name derived, was
an ecstatic dance. It seems clear that much of the very genuine
joy and creativeness of the Shaker community arose from the
intense energy of sexual sublimation.
Starting in 1837, the Watervliet community near Albany,
New York, was visited by Spiritualist-type manifestations of
shaking and jerking, and some Shakers were possessed by Indian
spirits and spoke in tongues (see Xenoglossis). Some of
them became Spiritualists.
The Shaker community grew throughout the nineteenth
century. The Shakers were able to gather many converts on the
frontier and found other members among the many orphans
to whom they provided a home. They originally had functioned
informally as an orphanage in many areas, but the creation of
a system of government and church-sponsored orphanages
had a significant impact on the movement’s development. The
eventual decline of Shakerism owed partly to materialistic influences
from outside and partly to the inevitable dwindling of
a community that outlawed sexual activity.
Sources
Andrews, Edward Deming. The People Called Shakers A
Search for the Perfect Society. New York Oxford University Press,
1953.
Shaddai Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
1394
Desroche, Henri. The American Shakers. Amherst, Mass.
University of Massachusetts Press, 1971.
[Evans, Frederick W.]. Autobiography of a Shaker. Mount Lebanon,
N.Y., 1869.
Evans, Frederick W. Shakers and Shakerism. New York, 1859.
Flinn, H. C. Spiritualism Among the Shakers. East Canterbury,
N.H., 1899.
Garrett, Clarke. Spirit Possession and Popular Religion From
the Camisards to the Shakers. Baltimore, Md. Johns Hopkins University
Press, 1987.
Holloway, Emory. ‘‘Walt Whitman’s Visit to the Shakers;
With Whitman’s Notebook Containing his Description and Observations
of the Shaker Group at Mt. Lebanon.’’ The Colophon
1 (spring 1930).
MacLean, John P. Bibliography of Shaker Literature. 1905. Reprint,
Burt Franklin, 1971.
Taylor, Michael Brooks. ‘‘&43‘Try the Spirits’ Shaker Responses
to Supernaturalism.’’ Journal of Religious Studies 7 (fall
1979) 30–38.

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