Carol Medlicott


While Shakerism was spreading in the several decades following the 1780s, America itself was also expanding territorially. Just as America’s territorial expansion was the stimulus for map-making, Shaker expansion produced a need for maps and for the skills of the surveyor and the cartographer. The Shaker movement was long distinctive among American utopian sects, in that it attempted to encompass a large number of communities arrayed across a thousand miles of geographic distance. This expansive geographic structure produced an array of interesting and contradictory strategies among the Shakers. Even while leading Shakers expressed doubt about the appropriateness of geography as a field of study among believers, they nonetheless embraced geographic awareness in ways both explicit and subtle. Shakers learned and practiced surveying, and they relied upon cartography to help them maintain “gospel order” across geographical distance. Additionally, some Shaker maps provide evidence of remarkably sophisticated geographical knowledge, knowledge that indicates that at least some Shakers were following key debates that were ongoing among leading geographers in the Early Republic.

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