In the summer of 1781, Mother Ann Lee and an entourage of English and American Shakers arrived at the Square House in Harvard, Massachusetts—the spiritual and temporal headquarters of the radical perfectionist society that had been gathered by the immortalist Shadrach Ireland. The Shakers intended to “gather souls” and hoped to recruit the remnants of Ireland’s society, many of whom still lived at the Square House after Ireland’s unexpected death about 1778. While the Shakers met with considerable success, they also encountered violent opposition from enraged mobs and were driven from the town on several occasions.
Why were the Shakers so violently persecuted in Harvard? One reason was that they were the victims of malevolent attacks in the press. Several pamphlets published in Boston and Worcester in 1782 and 1783 (when the Shaker leadership was often in Harvard) were exceptionally inflammatory, charging not only that the Shakers were “strange” and guilty of innumerable heresies, but also that they were agents of Great Britain and intent on subverting the American cause during the Revolution.