The Shakers

Madame du Pin (see previous post), the French aristocrat who, with her husband and children, had fled to the United States in 1794, adjusted amazingly well to life on a farm near Albany. A sect called the Shakers—they worshiped by ecstatic dancing or “shaking”, hence the name Shaking Quakers or Shakers—living nearby in Niskayuna, now Watervliet, interested her, and she arranged to be taken with her husband on a tour of their property.

A nice wagon, loaded with fine vegetables, often passed before our door. It belonged to the Shakers, who were located at a distance of six or seven miles. The driver of the wagon always stopped at our house, and I never failed to talk with him about their manner of life, their customs, and their belief. He urged us to visit their establishment, and we decided to go there some day. It is known that this sect of Quakers belonged to the reformed school of the original Quakers who took refuge in America with Penn.

After the war of 1763, an English woman [Ann Lee] set herself up for a reformer apostle. She made many proselytes in the states of Vermont and Massachusetts. Several families put their property in common and bought land in the then uninhabited parts of the country. … Those of whom I speak were then protected on all sides by a forest several miles deep. This establishment was a branch of their headquarters at Lebanon [New York]. …

We came out in a vast clearing traversed by a pretty stream and surrounded on all sides by woods. In the midst was erected the establishment, composed of a large number of nice wooden houses, a church, schools, and a community house of brick. The Shakers … greeted us with kindness, although with a certain reserve. … We had been advised that nobody would offer us anything, and that our guide would be the only one to speak to us. He first led us to a superb kitchen-garden perfectly cultivated. Everything was in a state of the greatest prosperity, but without the least evidence of elegance. Many men and women were working at the cultivation or the weeding of the garden. The sale of vegetables represented the principal source of revenue to the community.

We visited the schools for the boys and girls, the immense community stables, the dairies, and the factories in which they produced the butter and cheese. Everywhere we remarked upon the order and the absolute silence. The children, boys and girls alike, were clothed in a costume of the same form and the same color. The women of all ages wore the same kind of garments of gray wool, well kept and very neat. Through the windows we could see the looms of the weavers, and the pieces of cloth which they were dyeing, also the workshops of the tailors and dress-makers. But not a word or a song was to be heard anywhere. …

Having … visited all parts of the establishment, we took leave of our kind guide and entered our wagon to return home. …

This description appears on page 311 of In the Words of Women. Recollections of the Revolution and the Empire From the French of the “Journal D’une Femme de Cinquante Ans”. was written about 1843 and first published in 1906, edited and translated by Walter Geer (New York: Brentano’s, 1920), p. 214 ff. The photograph of the headstone of Mother Ann Lee comes from this SITE.

posted December 10th, 2012 by Janet, CATEGORIES: Farming, New York, Religion, Shakers


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