In the 1830s, Peoria, Illinois, became the home of a remarkable group of immigrants whose origins were unknown to their contemporaries and overlooked by historians for nearly 150 years. They were Shaker apostates, political and religious refugees from the utopian settlement of Pleasant Hill, Kentucky, a Shaker community noted for members’ communal ownership of property, dedication to altruistic labor, and the Shaker faith that demanded strict celibacy. The apostates’ lives cover two periods: first, at Pleasant Hill, where their dedication to an ideal of religious and social perfection demanded that they abandon worldly ties and family bonds; and second, in “the World,” which called for just the opposite. Their struggles and success in both realms are remarkable and testify both to the force and success of altruistic communal initiatives and centralized power as well as the countervailing force of bonds of marriage and family, democratic decision making, and private ownership of property.

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