Monday, June 13, 2016

Not a Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On Anymore

By Jeff Burns

In the mid- 1700s, an offshoot of Quakerism arrived in the American colonies.  Members called their faith the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearance.  Outsiders called them the “Shaking Quakers” or Shakers, because their religious ecstasy was often expressed physically through dance.  Eventually led by Mother Ann Lee, who was later revealed as the second coming of Christ herself, the sect developed dozens of small communities that all practiced communalism, pacificism, and celibacy.  They were ahead of their time by believing in the equality of the sexes and races, and they were often innovators and early adopters of agricultural and technological  developments, supporting their communities by selling fruits, vegetables, foods, furniture, and crafts.  At Shaker-ism’s peak in the mid 19th century, there were about 6,000 believers. Today, there is only one active community, Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village in Maine, with four members, and Shaker furniture and crafts are highly prized for their aesthetics of simplicity and functional beauty, and several Shaker villages are now village museums.

My first Shaker village was Canterbury in New Hampshire ( Canterbury Shaker Village was created as an historic site in 1969, and visitors can see 25 restored original Shaker buildings, 4 reconstructed Shaker buildings, and 694 acres of forests, fields, gardens, nature trails, and mill ponds.  The exhibits are very interesting and informative, and you can choose to take a tour or see it on your own.  Be sure to stop at the restaurant for lunch as well, and the gift shop has a great selection of book, crafts, and gifts to choose from.

Dormitory at Canterbury.  Shakers lived communally in shared rooms, with men on one side of the building and women on the other. 

School at Canterbury.  Even though Shakers practice celibacy, they accepted pregnant women and widows with children, along with orphans.  At 21, children are given a choice to either remain in the community as Shakers or to “secede” and leave the community.

The Guest House, just outside the community for family visitors and others who had business with the community.  They stayed here and met with Shakers here so that they wouldn’t contaminate the community with sin from the outside world.

Hancock Shaker Village is in western Massachusetts, and it became a historic farm village in 1959. It’s a little more interactive than Canterbury, with tours as well as interpreters demonstrating Shaker community life. You can see demonstrations of farming, blacksmithing, weaving, baking, woodworking, and oval box-making. Be sure to check out the unique round barn also. 

 The round barn interior

Shaker Village Museums are a great way to spend a day.  If you find yourself near one, be sure to check it out.  Here’s a site that lists locations:

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