Who are the Shakers?

Enfield Connecticut Shaker Village
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 (2010).

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)

Visitors’ Accounts About the Shakers (Primary Source Materials)

Articles About the Shakers (Secondary Source Materials)

Web Sites for Shaker Researchers

Visit a Shaker Village or Shaker Museum

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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