Several years ago, I had the opportunity to purchase a group of letters from bookseller Scott De Wolfe, most of which were written by Caroline Tate, one of the last members of the Enfield, Connecticut, community— and “First in the Enfield Ministry” at the time of its closing in 1917. Several others were from a few of her close relatives, both Shakers and former Shakers. All twenty-four letters were addressed to Caroline’s biological sister, Martha Emily, one of a pair of twins (the other being Lucy A.). Neither twin ever became a Shaker. The final two were written to Martha’s daughter, Averill.
My intent here is to use selections from these letters to display the human and emotional interplay primarily between birth sisters: Caroline, a lifelong Believer who was left with the Shakers at the age of two and never left communal life, and Martha, a thoroughly secular and worldly woman who was only known to have visited Enfield twice after the age of five. Several other letters were sent to Martha from blood relations at Enfield; these further amplify Shaker and non-Shaker interactions within a larger biological family.