Who are the Shakers?
Enfield Shaker Village, Enfield, Connecticut.
Engraving from Connecticut Historical Collections by John Warner Barber, 1836.
Who Are the Shakers?
The Shakers are a small Protestant religious denomination founded in Manchester, England in the mid-1700’s as a dissident group of the Society of Friends (Quakers). Derisively called “Shaking Quakers” because their meetings included both singing and dancing, they were joined by a young woman, Ann Lees [later shortened to “Lee”] (b. 1736 – d. 1784), who was, according to those who knew her, at times “filled with visions and revelations of God.” The “light and power of God” revealed in Ann caused her fellow believers to acknowledge her as the “first spiritual Mother in Christ” and to give her the title of “Mother” Ann. However, the Shakers’ manner of worship stirred up “rage and enmity” and the Shakers decided for their own safety to leave England.
The first group of Shakers, five men and three women led by Mother Ann Lee, arrived in America from England in August 1774. Within a few years, they had settled at Watervliet, New York, a tiny hamlet near Albany. After the American Revolution, many people were converted to the new faith and nine Shaker communities were founded in New York state and throughout New England. In the early 1800’s, the movement spread west into Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana. By 1824, the Shakers had 19 self-sufficient communities from Maine to Indiana. Each community was a “society” and as a group they called themselves the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing. At their peak in the mid-19th century, they were the largest and most successful utopian group in existence. Today, one Shaker community remains-at Sabbathday Lake, Maine.
The essential principles of the Shaker faith, as it developed in America, include celibacy, equality of the sexes, community of goods, oral confession of sin (to Shaker Elders and Eldresses), pacifism, and withdrawal into their own communities from the “World” (their term for all non-believers). The Shakers accept that Mother Ann Lee’s revelations have led them into the Millennium foretold in the New Testament (Revelation 20: 1-6). Since 1821, all Shaker communities have lived under the “Orders and Rules of the Church,” known also as the “Millennial Laws”. The Orders, as modified in January 1938, are still in force within the United Society today (2016).
Source Materials on the History of the Shakers
If you are working on an essay, a term paper, a research project, or perhaps even some genealogy about the Shakers and are looking for some online resources, look no further. Start with our Basic Shaker Reading List, which includes reviews of what’s in each book. These books are in print and available in many public libraries. Also, take a moment to check out our primary and secondary source materials on the Shakers. If you really get excited about your project, use our list of Web Sites for Shaker Researchers and get yourself to a Shaker Museum or Shaker Library. These librarians are very knowledgeable about the Shakers and serious researchers are always welcome. Good luck with your Shaker research.
Books About the Shakers
Books and Articles by the Shakers (Primary Source Materials)
- FIRST – Read the Principles and Beliefs of the Shakers in their own words (2016)
- Interested in Becoming A Shaker? Read the Requirements and Process for Membership (2016)
- Shakerism: Its Meaning and Message, by Anna White & Leila S. Taylor (1904)
This is the most complete Shaker-written history of the sect.
- Life With the Shakers, edited by Elder Frederick W. Evans (1888)
- Orders for the Church of Christ’s Second Appearing (1887)
- The Beauty of My Shaker Faith, by Eldress Harriet Bullard (1872)
Very compelling testimony by a member of the Central Ministry at Mt. Lebanon.
- A Petition to President Abraham Lincoln on the Draft, by the Shakers (1863)
- Christmas Among the Shakers in the Olden Time, by Elmina Phillips (1850?)
- War and Peace – A Shaker Viewpoint (1848)
- Autobiography of Brother Issachar Bates (1832)
- Letter Announcing the Death of Brother John Vining at New Lebanon, New York (1827)
- Some Further Sketches of the Life and Character of Mother Ann Lee, by Mehetabel Farrington (1816)
- Read and download digital copies of 19th century Shaker books at Google Books
[search “Shaker”, select “Search tools” from the menu across the top, click on “Any time” for a drop down menu, then select “19th century”.]
- Read and download digital copies of 19th century Shaker books at the Internet Archive
- Search the entire digitized run of "The Shaker Manifesto" in the Hamilton College Library
- Search digitized Shaker images and postcards in the Hamilton College Library, Clinton, NY
- Search digitized Shaker product labels in the Hamilton College Library, Clinton, NY
- Search digitized Shaker images and postcards in the Emma B. King Library, Old Chatham, NY
- Search digitized historic photographs from the Andrews Collection at Winterthur Museum
Visitors’ Accounts About the Shakers (Primary Source Materials)
- The Last Shakers?, by Sarah Mahoney (2006)
An interview with contemporary Shaker Brother Arnold Hadd.
- Living a Tradition – Shaker Communities in New England, by Richard & Joyce Wolkomir (2001)
- Eldress Gertrude Soule Remembered (1998)
- A Shaker Village, by William Dean Howells (1876)
- The Shakers – A Visit to Their Establishment, by Henriette Lucie Dillon La Tour du Pin (1795)
Articles About the Shakers (Secondary Source Materials)
- The Shakers – Another America, by Karl Mang
- Shining Tree of Life: What the Shakers Did, by Adam Gopnik
- Shakerism and the God Head, by Arthur Gagnon, Jr.
- The Shaker Legacy, by Christian Becksvoort
- The Distinctiveness of Shaker Architecture, by Robert P. Emlen
- Shaker Design, by Timothy D. Rieman and Jean M. Burks
- When the Bauhaus met the Shakers, by Susan Jackson Keig
- Shaker Fancy Baskets, by Martha Wetherbee and Nathan Taylor
- Excursions in Medical History: Shaker Medicine, by T., an Anesthesioboist
- Shaker Education, by Dr. Sherman B. Barnes
- The Shakers and Their Relationship to the Culture at Large, by Michael Pratt
A commentary primarily on Shaker music.
- Enfield’s Shaker Legacy, by Mike Miller
A brief history of the Enfield, Connecticut Shaker community.
- In Time and Eternity: Maine Shakers in the Industrial Age, by David L. Richards
- Shakers and Kirkland, by Louis Baus
Eighty-three (83) early images of the North Union (Cuyahoga County), Ohio Shaker Village.
- Union Village and the Shakers of Warren County, Ohio, by Katherine Lollar Rowland
- Gleanings From Old Shaker Journals, by Clara Endicott Sears
- The Great Stone Barn Project at Mt. Lebanon Shaker Village
Web Sites for Shaker Researchers
- Guide to the Collection of The Shaker Library, Sabbathday Lake, ME
- A Guide to the Holdings of The Shaker Museum and Library, Old Chatham, NY
- Search the Catalog of the American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, MA
- Finding Aid to the Nellie Pierce Collection in the Dartmouth College Library
Manuscripts, ephemera, and records concerning the Enfield Shakers and the Town of Enfield, NH.
- Guide to the Shaker Manuscript and Book Collection at the Dayton Metro Library
Primary focus is the former Whitewater Shaker community at New Haven (Hamilton County), Ohio
- Guide to the Shaker Manuscript Collection at Fruitlands Museum, Harvard, MA
Original material primarily from the Shaker villages at Harvard, MA and Shirley, MA.
- Online Catalog of Books in the Shaker Collection in the Hamilton College Library
Searches both the Rare Book Room and Communal Societies holdings.
- Online Catalog of the Digital Images of the Shaker Collection in the Hamilton College Library
There are more than 2,400 images related to the Shakers on the Hamilton College web site.
- Guide to Bound Shaker Manuscripts in the Library at Hancock Shaker Village, Pittsfield, MA
- Guide to Unbound Shaker Manuscripts in the Library at Hancock Shaker Village, Pittsfield, MA
- Guide to Printed Shaker Works in the Library at Hancock Shaker Village, Pittsfield, MA
- Guide to Printed Shaker Ephemera in the Library at Hancock Shaker Village, Pittsfield, MA
- Finding Aid for Shaker Artifacts in the Collection of Hancock Shaker Village, Pittsfield, MA
- Finding Aid to the Shaker Manuscript Collection at the University of Kentucky
The primary focus is on the Shaker community at South Union, Kentucky.
- Finding Aid to Shaker Manuscripts and Papers in the Library of Congress
Note contents list on right side of screen.
- Search Online for Shaker HABS Drawings in the Library of Congress
- Samuel Kravitt Photos and Films Come to the Library of Congress
- Finding Aid for Shaker Objects in the Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Incomplete (search “dining table” for example, for additional item) and not all objects are photographed.
- Catalog of Shaker Manuscripts and Collections at the University of New Hampshire
- Guide to the Eleanor Parmenter Churchill Papers 1924-1992 at the University of New Hampshire
Materials and photos relating to Churchill’s childhood with the Canterbury Shakers (1926-1939) and her correspondence with Shaker sisters in the community throughout her life.
- Catalog of the David R. Proper Shaker Book Collection at the University of New Hampshire
Returns over 300 books and pamphlets.
- Guide to the David R. Proper Shaker Manuscript Collection at the University of New Hampshire
- Shakers and Shakerism, A Guide to the Collections of The New York Public Library
- Shaker Manuscript Collection 1780-1952 at the New York Public Library
- Finding Aid to the Shaker Collection 1784-1992 at the New York State Library
- The J. E. West Collection of New Lebanon Shaker Photographs at the New York State Library
Remarkable images officially commissioned by the Shaker community in 1875.
- Guide to Shaker Collection 1769-1893 at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC
Original records (chiefly 1809-1843) from the Shaker community at South Union, Kentucky.
- Index to “Ohio History”, the scholarly journal of the Ohio Historical Society[search “Shaker”]
- Finding Aid for Shaker Objects in the Collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
Primarily the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Julius Zieget, donated in 1963.
- Catalog of Shaker Books at the Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, OH
Returns more than 1,040 items, sorted by author.
- Catalog of Shaker Periodicals at the Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, OH
- Finding Aid for Shaker Manuscripts at the Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, OH
Probably the largest collection of Shaker manuscripts in the world.
- Finding Aid for Shaker Photographs at the Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, OH
- Guide to Shaker Collection in the Library at Williams College, Williamstown, MA
The Unpublished Items Index is particularly important.
- Annotated Guide to the Edward Deming Andrews Shaker Collection at The Winterthur Library
Written by E. Richard McKinstry (1987) with call numbers added in pencil.
- Guide to Artifacts and Printed Ephemera in the Andrews Shaker Collection at The Winterthur Library
- Guide to Media Materials in the Andrews Shaker Collection at The Winterthur Library
- Guide to Photographs and Postcards in the Andrews Shaker Collection at The Winterthur Library
There are more than 1,600 images in this collection.
- Shaker Music, by Roger L. Hall.
The definitive site on the music of the Shakers, past and present.
Visit a Shaker Village or Shaker Museum
- Addresses of Shaker Museums, Villages, Societies, etc.
- Directory of Shaker Villages and Museums in the United States
- Interpreting Shakers: Opening the Villages to the Public 1955-1965, by William D. Moore
A fascinating study of the decisions that shaped four of our most important Shaker outdoor living history museums. Published in CRM:The Journal of Heritage Stewardship by the National Park Service.
- The Enfield Shaker Singers, dedicated to the music of the Shakers
- The Western Shaker Singers, preserving the musical traditions of the Western Shaker communities
- Photographs of the Shakers
- Stereoviews of Shaker Villages
- Shaker Poplarware
Note to Shaker researchers:
Your suggestions and corrections help to keep this site up-to-date. We do appreciate your assistance.
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