The interplay of historical evidence with the researcher’s skill at historical reconstruction is what is at stake in this study of the formation of the Shaker settlement on the southern shore of the Great Sodus Bay. Although the Shaker settlement there lasted for a decade, from 1826 until 1837, attention here is on the years 1825-1827, which were the formative years of the community. Through the use of maps, and with the corroboration of Shaker journals and other writings, I will demonstrate that the Sodus Shakers did not purchase virgin land but rather a deserted, previously- settled town. This is the “what” of the article. In this case, however, the “how” — i.e., the process of discovery, the role of chance and serendipity, the need to address my own “hidden” assumptions, the mysteries created by incongruent facts and the detective work required to solve them — is perhaps of equal interest, and shapes how I will present my findings.
Any historical inquiry is dependent upon artifacts from the past, which for the most part are written documents. All too often maps are not extensively used. For this study, however, I found them invaluable. When used in comparative research, maps raise some unique issues, and these will be highlighted as they apply to specific maps under discussion. Additionally, like all artifacts of human creation, maps may be flawed. Detecting errors and erroneous conclusions drawn from them is as necessary as it is a challenge. Attention, therefore, will be paid to the quality of the data gathered, and, as in all empirical research, while singular findings are important, it is when they are substantiated by other sources, i.e., independently verified, that they achieve their greatest significance.
American Communal Societies Quarterly