Sometime between 1915 and 1925, the then elderly Maria Gerrish Ham (1833–1925) corresponded with Oakes K. Lawrence (1899–1971), the young son of former tenants who had rented a farmhouse on her family property in Canterbury, New Hampshire, fifteen to twenty years earlier. Ham’s property abutted the religious commune in Canterbury owned by the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Coming, commonly known as the Shakers, one of America’s most enduring communal religious societies. The Ham family had been neighbors of the Shakers since the founding of the community in the early 1790s. Maria was their neighbor for seventy-six years, had good relations with them, and counted dozens of Shaker brothers and sisters from the village as friends and acquaintances. One of the letters from Ham’s correspondence with Lawrence survives and is mixed in with Canterbury’s town records in the collections of the New Hampshire State Archives in nearby Concord. The unpublished eight-page letter is a reminiscence of Ham’s dealings with Canterbury Shakers, providing remarkable insight as to how their neighbors, and Ham in particular, a close friend and ally, interacted with them during the peak years of the community’s history.
American Communal Societies Quarterly
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