Today’s museums tend to preserve what was known as the Church, or Centre, Family of the Shaker villages. These families were so named because of the presence of the meetinghouse, or the central position it occupied in relation to the other communal families. The Church Family was typically only one of several that made up a village. Smaller families surrounded the Church Family, and were often named for their geographic relation to the Church Family. Each family was an independent entity (sometimes in association with another family), complete with agriculture and/or industry, elders and eldresses, trustees, and deacons.
This article will focus on the history of the West Family at Hancock, which was founded only two years after the establishment of the Church Family in 1790 and lasted until 1867. The documentary and physical evidence about this family provides a case study of the small, but important, contribution they made to the community as a whole.
American Communal Societies Quarterly
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