Of the seven major western Shaker sites, one in particular stands out as distinctive. This elusive and puzzling western site is the village of West Union, located along the Wabash River in Knox County, Indiana, several miles north of Vincennes. Although it was planted early by the original eastern missionaries who first directed their proselytizing efforts at frontier settlers in that area in the summer of 1808, it was also abandoned early and abruptly, after nearly twenty years of building, improvements, and expansion.
This article will offer fresh analysis of West Union from the perspective of historical geography. I will argue that the significance of the site has been misunderstood and misread by past scholars, and I will suggest that more systematic attention to the site’s physical and social geography will yield a deeper understanding. Additionally, attention to the rich complexity of the events and evolution of West Union will provide a necessary corrective to existing analyses of the Shaker West, which overlook or marginalize West Union.