Sometimes an object can provide a unique point of reference for understanding a particular period of time. Such is the case of a desk that was made by Harvard Shaker Alfred Collier for the long-standing village ministry leader Grove Blanchard in 1861. The 1820s to the 1860s were arguably the “golden age” for the Harvard Shakers. The rich documents that have survived from that period in archives around the region, including at Fruitlands, provide valuable insights into the social dynamics within the village. The Harvard and Shirley journals are particularly fruitful in illuminating the daily routines within these villages, and enable us to better understand relationships between people over time. In this article I focus on the second generation of Harvard Shakers, those born after about 1825, one of whom was Alfred Collier. For this generation we know a great deal about the circumstances of their arrival into what was at the time a growing, successful, and spiritually exciting village. In fact, this generation was particularly well positioned to play a very active role in the Era of Manifestations, a seminal period in Shaker history. A variety of evidence including objects, period photographs, and journal entries will be developed to enable us to follow this generation over time as its members mature and the village population peaks and then begins its slow decline. A comprehensive picture of the dynamics within the village emerges from this analysis, and clarifies the relationship of this bishopric with the Central Ministry, the roles played by people in the village, and the nature of their relationships—in particular both Collier and Blanchard, but also others as the village history unfolds.
American Communal Societies Quarterly