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Abstract

One of the three major tenets of Shakerism is community. While Shakers did have intense loyalty to the particular family unit where they lived, they knew that they were part of a much larger network of families and societies. Indeed the Ministry and the elders commonly transferred members when conditions called for it. Shakerism is so diminished today that it is often forgotten that until the middle years of the twentieth century, it was common practice for Shakers to move from one Shaker family to another or to other societies. This fluidity of membership helped Shaker leaders manage various families within a bishopric.

In 1787, when Father Joseph Meacham became the head of the Shakers, New Lebanon, New York became the “center of union.” Although Union Village, Ohio, for a very brief time was larger, New Lebanon dominated Shaker demographics until shortly after 1900. From the earliest years, hundreds of Shakers from New Lebanon were sent out to distant communities, first as missionaries, later as leaders to build up new societies. In time, as Shaker fortunes declined, fervent members were sent to bolster societies that were fading or having troubles. Finally, the Ministry and trustees from New Lebanon helped to close communities. This pattern repeated itself all over Shakerdom until the New Lebanon society itself was dissolved in October 1947. For their entire history the Shakers of western New York certainly benefited from this type of close parental leadership by New Lebanon.

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