The Communistic Societies of the United States, by Charles Nordhoff, , at sacred-texts.com
The "Millennial Church, or United Society of Believers, commonly called Shakers," was formally organized at New Lebanon, a village in Columbia County, New York, in September, 1787, three years after the death of Ann Lee, whose followers they profess themselves, and whom they revere as the second appearance of Christ upon this earth, holding that Christ appeared first in the body of Jesus.
Ann Lee, according to the account of her accepted among and published by the Shakers, was an English woman, born of humble parents in Manchester, February 29th, 1736. Her father was a blacksmith; she was one of eight children; in her
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A GROUP OF SHAKERS.
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SHAKER DWELLING—MOUNT LEBANON
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GRANITE DWELLING, OF THE ENFIELD SHAKERS
childhood she was employed in a cotton factory, and later as a cutter of hatters’ fur. She was also at one time cook in a Manchester infirmary; and to the day of her death she could neither read nor write.
About the year 1747, some members of the Society of Quakers, under the influence of a religious revival, formed themselves into a society, at the head of which was a pious couple, Jane and James Wardley. To these people Ann Lee and her parents joined themselves in 1758, Ann being then twenty-three years of age and unmarried. These people suffered persecution from the ungodly, and some of them were even cast into prison, on account of certain unusual and violent manifestations of religious fervor, which caused them to receive the name of "Shaking Quakers;" and it was while Ann Lee thus lay in jail, in the summer of 1770, that "by a special manifestation of divine light the present testimony of salvation and eternal life was fully revealed to her," and by her to the society, "by whom she from that time was acknowledged as mother in Christ, and by them was called Mother Ann." *
She saw the Lord Jesus Christ in his glory, who revealed to her the great object of her prayers, and fully satisfied all the desires of her soul. The most astonishing visions and divine manifestations were presented to her view in so clear and striking a manner that the whole spiritual world seemed displayed before her. In these extraordinary manifestations she had a full and clear view of the mystery of iniquity, of the root and foundation of human depravity, and of the very act of transgression committed by the first man and woman in the garden of Eden. Here she saw whence and wherein all mankind were lost from God, and clearly realized the only possible way of recovery." † "By the immediate revelation
of Christ, she henceforth bore an open testimony against the lustful gratifications of the flesh as the source and foundation of human corruption; and testified, in the most plain and pointed manner, that no soul could follow Christ in the regeneration while living in the works of natural generation, or in any of the gratifications of lust." *
In a volume of "Hymns and Poems for the Use of Believers" (Watervliet, Ohio, 1833), Adam is made to confess the nature of his transgression and the cause of his fall, in a dialogue with his children:
"First Adam being dead, yet speaketh, in a dialogue with his children.
"Children. First Father Adam, where art thou?
With all thy num'rous fallen race;
We must demand an answer now,
For time hath stript our hiding-place.
Wast thou in nature made upright—
Fashion'd and plac'd in open light?
"Adam. Yea truly I was made upright:
This truth I never have deni'd,
And while I liv'd I lov'd the light,
But I transgress'd and then I died.
Ye've heard that I transgress'd and fell—
This ye have heard your fathers tell.
"Ch. Pray tell us how this sin took place—
This myst'ry we could never scan,
That sin has sunk the human race,
And all brought in by the first man.
'Tis said this is our heavy curse—
Thy sin imputed unto us.
"Ad. When I was plac'd on Eden's soil,
I liv'd by keeping God's commands—
To keep the garden all the while,
And labor, working with my hands.
I need not toil beyond my pow'r,
Yet never waste one precious hour. p. 121
"But in a careless, idle frame,
I gazed about on what was made:
And idle hands will gather shame,
And wand'ring eyes confuse the head:
I dropp'd my hoe and pruning-knife,
To view the beauties of my wife.
"An idle beast of highest rank
Came creeping up just at that time,
And show'd to Eve a curious prank,
Affirming that it was no crime:—
'Ye shall not die as God hath said—
'Tis all a sham, be not afraid.'
"All this was pleasant to the eye,
And Eve affirm'd the fruit was good;
So I gave up to gratify
The meanest passion in my blood.
O horrid guilt! I was afraid:
I was condemn'd, yea I was dead.
"Here ends the life of the first man,
Your father and his spotless bride;
God will be true, his word must stand—
The day I sinn'd that day I died:
This was my sin, this was my fall!—
This your condition, one and all.
"Ch. How can these fearful things agree
With what we read in sacred writ—
That sons and daughters sprung from thee,
Endu'd with wisdom, power, and wit;
And all the nations fondly claim
Their first existence in thy name?
"Ad. Had you the wisdom of that beast
That took my headship by deceit,
I could unfold enough at least
To prove your lineage all a cheat.
Your pedigree you do not know,
The SECOND ADAM told you so. p. 122
"When I with guile was overcome,
And fell a victim to the beast,
My station first he did assume,
Then on the spoil did richly feast.
Soon as the life had left my soul,
He took possession of the whole.
"He plunder'd all my mental pow'rs,
My visage, stature, speech, and gait;
And, in a word, in a few hours,
He was first Adam placed in state:
He took my wife, he took my name;
All but his nature was the same.
"Now see him hide, and skulk about,
Just like a beast, and even worse,
Till God in anger drove him out,
And doom'd him to an endless curse.
O hear the whole creation groan!
The Man of Sin has took the throne!
"Now in my name this beast can plead,
How God commanded him at first
To multiply his wretched seed,
Through the base medium of his lust.
O horrid cheat! O subtle plan!
A hellish beast assumes the man!
"This is your father in my name:
Your pedigree ye now may know:
He early from perdition came,
And to perdition he must go.
And all his race with him shall share
Eternal darkness and despair."
The same theory of the fall * is stated in another hymn:
"We read, when God created man,
He made him able then to stand
United to his Lord's command
That he might be protected;
But when, through Eve, he was deceiv'd,
And to his wife in lust had cleav'd,
And of forbidden fruit receiv'd,
He found himself rejected.
"And thus, we see, death did begin,
When Adam first fell into sin,
And judgment on himself did bring,
Which he could not dissemble:
Old Adam then began to plead,
And tell the cause as you may read;
But from his sin he was not freed,
Then he did fear and tremble.
"Compell'd from Eden now to go,
Bound in his sins, with shame and woe,
And there to feed on things below—
His former situation:
For he was taken from the earth,
And blest with a superior birth,
But, dead in sin, he's driven forth
From his blest habitation.
"Now his lost state continues still,
In all who do their fleshly will,
And of their lust do take their fill,
And say they are commanded:
Thus they go forth and multiply,
And so they plead to justify
Their basest crimes, and so they try
To ruin souls more candid."
The "way of regeneration" is opened in another hymn in the same collection:
"Victory over the Man of Sin.
"Souls that hunger for salvation,
And have put their sins away,
Now may find a just relation,
If they cheerfully obey;
They may find the new creation,
And may boldly enter in
By the door of free salvation,
And subdue the Man of Sin.
"Thus made free from that relation,
Which the serpent did begin,
Trav'ling in regeneration,
Having pow'r to cease from sin;
Dead unto a carnal nature,
From that tyrant ever free,
Singing praise to our Creator,
For this blessed jubilee.
"Sav'd from passions, too inferior
To command the human soul;
Led by motives most superior,
Faith assumes entire control:
Joined in the new creation,
Living souls in union run,
Till they find a just relation
To the First-born two in one.
"But this prize cannot be gained.
Neither is salvation found,
Till the Man of Sin is chained,
And the old deceiver bound.
All mankind he has deceived,
And still binds them one and all,
Save a few who have believed,
And obey'd the Gospel call.
"By a life of self-denial,
True obedience and the cross,
We may pass the fiery trial,
Which does separate the dross. p. 125
If we bear our crosses boldly,
Watch and ev'ry evil shun,
We shall find a body holy,
And the tempter overcome.
* * * * * *
"By a pois'nous fleshly nature,
This dark world has long been led;
There can be no passion greater—
This must be the serpent's head:
On our coast he would be cruising,
If by truth he were not bound:
But his head has had a bruising,
And he's got a deadly wound.
"And his wounds cannot be healed,
Light and truth do now forbid,
Since the Gospel has revealed
Where his filthy head was hid:
With a fig-leaf it was cover'd,
Till we brought his deeds to light;
By his works he is discover'd,
And his head is plain in sight."
It should be said that Ann Lee had married previously to these manifestations, her husband being Abraham Stanley, like her father, a blacksmith. By him she had four children, all of whom died in infancy. It is related that she showed from girlhood a decided repugnance to the married state, and married only on the long-continued and urgent persuasion of her friends; and after 1770 she seems to have returned to her parents.
She and her followers were frequently abused and persecuted; and in 1773 "she was by a direct revelation instructed to repair to America;" and it is quaintly added that "permission was given for all those of the society who were able, and who felt any special impressions on their own minds so to do, to accompany her." * She had announced, says the
same authority, that "the second Christian Church would be established in America; that the colonies would gain their independence; and that liberty of conscience would be secured to all people, whereby they would be able to worship God without hinderance or molestation." Accordingly Ann Lee embarked at Liverpool in May, 1774, eight persons accompanying her, six men and two women, among them her husband and a brother and niece. They landed in New York in August; and, after some difficulties and hardships on account of poverty, finally settled in what appears to have been then a wilderness, "the woods of Watervliet, near Niskeyuna, about seven miles northwest of Albany." In the mean time Ann Lee had supported herself by washing and ironing in New York, and her husband had misconducted himself so grossly toward her that they finally separated, he going off with another woman.
At Niskeyuna, Ann Lee and her companions busied themselves in clearing land and providing for their subsistence. They lived in the woods, and Ann was their leader and preacher. She foretold to them that the time was near when they should see a large accession to their numbers; but they had so long to wait that their hearts sometimes failed them. They settled at Watervliet in September, 1775, and it was not until 1780 that, by a curious chance, their doctrines were at last brought to the knowledge of persons inclined to receive them.
In the spring of that year there occurred at New Lebanon a religious revival, chiefly among the Baptists, who had a church in that neighborhood. Some of the subjects of this revival wandered off, seeking light and comfort from strangers, and found the settlement of which Ann Lee was the chief. Her doctrines, which inculcated rigid self-denial and repression of the passions, were at once embraced by them; they brought others to hear Ann Lee's statements, and thus a beginning was at last made.
New Lebanon, where the new converts lived, lies upon the border of Massachusetts and Connecticut; and into these states, particularly the first, the new doctrine spread. Ann Lee, now called by her people Mother Ann, or more often Mother, traveled from place to place, preaching and advising; in Massachusetts she appears to have remained two years. It is asserted, too, that she performed miracles at various places, healing the sick by laying on of hands, and revealing to others their wickedness and concealed sins. For instance:
"Mary Southwick, of Hancock [in Massachusetts, where there was a colony of Ann Lee's followers], testifies: That about the beginning of August, 1783 (being then in the twenty-first year of her age), she was healed of a cancer in her mouth, which had been growing two years, and which for about three weeks had been eating, attended with great pain and a continual running, and which occasioned great weakness and loss of appetite.
"That she went one afternoon to see Calvin Harlowe, to get some assistance; that Mother being at the house, Calvin asked her to look at it. That she accordingly came to her, and put her finger into her mouth upon the cancer; at which instant the pain left her, and she was restored to health, and was never afflicted with it afterward.
"Taken from the mouth of the said Mary Southwick, the 23d day of April, 1808. In presence of Jennet Davis, Rebecca Clarke, Daniel Cogswell, Daniel Goodrich, and Seth Y. Wells. (Signed) MARY SOUTHWICK."
The volume from which this formal statement is extracted * contains a number of similar affidavits, which show that miraculous powers of healing diseases are claimed to have been
exercised during Ann Lee's life, not only by her, but by her chief followers, Elder William Lee her brother, John Hocknell, Joseph Markham, and others.
It does not appear that Ann Lee made any attempts to settle her followers in colonies or communities, or that she interrupted the family life, except that she insisted on celibacy. But she seems to have gathered her followers in congregations, because she from the first required, as a sign of true repentance and a condition of admission, that "oral confession of all the sins of the past life, to God, in the presence of an elder brother," which is still one of the most rigorous rules of the order.
She is reported to have said: "When I confessed my sins, I labored to remember the time when and the place where I committed them. And when I had confessed them [to Jane and James Wardley, in Manchester], I cried to God to know if my confession was accepted; and by crying to God continually I traveled out of my loss." * Also she said: "The first step of obedience that any of you can take is to confess your sins to God before his witnesses." "To those who came to confess to her she said: 'If you confess your sins, you must confess them to God; we are but his witnesses.' To such as asked her forgiveness, she used to say: 'I can freely forgive you, and I pray God to forgive you. It is God that forgives you; I am but your fellow-servant.'" †
Ann Lee died at Watervliet, N. Y., on the 8th of September, 1784, in the forty-ninth year of her age.
In the "Summary View of the Millennial Church," as well as in some other works published by the Shakers, there are recorded details of her life and conversation, from which one gets the idea that she was a woman of practical sense, sincerely pious, and humble-minded. She was "rather below the common stature of woman, thickset but straight, and otherwise
well-proportioned and regular in form and feature. Her complexion was light and fair, and her eyes were blue, but keen and penetrating; her countenance mild and expressive, but grave and solemn. Her manners were plain, simple, and easy. She possessed a certain dignity of appearance that inspired confidence and commanded respect. By many of the world who saw her without prejudice she was called beautiful; and to her faithful children she appeared to possess a degree of dignified beauty and heavenly love which they had never before discovered among mortals." * She never learned to read or write. Aside from her strictly religious teachings, she appears to have inculcated upon her followers the practical virtues of honesty, industry, frugality, charity, and temperance. "Put your hands to work and give your hearts to God." "You ought never to speak to your children in a passion; for if you do, you will put devils into them." "Do all your work as though you had a thousand years to live; and as you would if you knew you must die to-morrow." "You can never enter the kingdom of God with hardness against any one, for God is love, and if you love God you will love one another." "Be diligent with your hands, for godliness does not lead to idleness." "You ought not to cross your children unnecessarily, for it makes them ill-natured." To a woman: "You ought to dress yourself in modest apparel, such as becomes the people of God, and teach your family to do likewise. You ought to be industrious and prudent, and not live a sumptuous and gluttonous life, but labor for a meek and quiet spirit, and see that your family is kept decent and regular in all their goings forth, that others may see your example of faith and good works, and acknowledge the work of God in your family." To some farmers who had gathered at Ashfield, in Massachusetts, in the winter, to listen to her instructions: "It is now spring
of the year, and you have all had the privilege of being taught the way of God; and now you may all go home and be faithful with your hands. Every faithful man will go forth and put up his fences in season, and will plow his ground in season, and put his crops into the ground in season; and such a man may with confidence look for a blessing."
These are some of the sayings reported of her. They are not remarkable, except as showing that with her religious enthusiasm she united practical sense, which gave her doubtless a power over the people with whom she came in contact, mostly plain farmers and laborers.
Mother Ann was succeeded in her rule over the society, or "Church," as they preferred to call it, by Elder James Whittaker, one of those who had come over with her. He was called Father James; and under his ministry was built, in 1785, "the
[paragraph continues] "During her administration the several societies in the states of Ohio and Kentucky were established, and large accessions were made to the Eastern societies." *While Joseph Meacham was elder, and in the period between 1787 and 1792, eleven societies were formed, of which two were in New York, four in Massachusetts, two in New Hampshire, two in Maine, and one in Connecticut.
Meantime, in the first year of this century broke out in Kentucky a remarkable religious excitement, lasting several years, and attended with extraordinary and in some cases horrible physical demonstrations. Camp-meetings were held in different counties, to which people flocked by thousands; and here men and women, and even small children, fell down in convulsions, foamed at the mouth and uttered loud cries. "At first they were taken with an inward throbbing of the heart; then with weeping and trembling; from that to crying out in apparent agony of soul; falling down and swooning away, until every appearance of animal life was suspended, and the person appeared to be in a trance." "They lie as though they were dead for some time, without pulse or breath, some longer, some shorter time. Some rise with joy and triumph, others crying for mercy." "To these encampments the people flocked by hundreds and thousands—on foot, on horseback, and in wagons and other carriages." At Cabin Creek, in May, 1801, a "great number fell on the third night; and to prevent their being trodden under foot by the multitude, they were collected together and laid out in order in two squares of the meetinghouse; which, like so many dead corpses, covered a considerable part of the floor." At Concord, in Bourbon County, in June, 1801, "no sex or color, class or description, were exempted from the pervading influence of the Spirit; even from the age of eight months to sixty years." In August, at Cane Ridge,
in Bourbon County, "about twenty thousand people" were gathered; and "about three thousand" suffered from what was called "the falling exercise." These brief extracts are from the account of an eye-witness, and one who believed these manifestations to be of divine origin. * The accuracy of McNemar's descriptions is beyond question. His account is confirmed by other writers of the time.
Hearing of these extraordinary events, the Shakers at New Lebanon sent out three of their number—John Meacham, Benjamin S. Youngs, and Issachar Bates—to "open the testimony of salvation to the people, provided they were in a situation to receive it." They set out on New-Year's day, 1805, and traveled on foot about a thousand miles, through what was then a sparsely settled country, much of it a wilderness. They made some converts in Ohio and Kentucky, and were, fortunately for themselves, violently opposed and in some cases attacked by bigoted or knavish persons; and with this impetus they were able to found at first five societies, two in Ohio, two in Kentucky, and one in Indiana. The Indiana society later removed to Ohio; and two more societies were afterward formed in Ohio, and one more in New York.
All these societies were founded before the year 1830; and no new ones have come into existence since then.
Following the doctrines put forth by Ann Lee, and elaborated by her successors, they hold:
I. That God is a dual person, male and female; that Adam was a dual person, being created in God's image; and that "the distinction of sex is eternal, inheres in the soul itself; and that no angels or spirits exist who are not male and female."
II. That Christ is a Spirit, and one of the highest, who
appeared first in the person of Jesus, representing the male, and later in the person of Ann Lee, representing the female element in God.
III. That the religious history of mankind is divided into four cycles, which are represented also in the spirit world, each having its appropriate heaven and hell. The first cycle included the antediluvians—Noah and the faithful going to the first heaven, and the wicked of that age to the first hell. The second cycle included the Jews up to the appearance of Jesus; and the second heaven is called Paradise. The third cycle included all who lived until the appearance of Ann Lee; Paul being "caught up into the third heaven." The heaven of the fourth and last dispensation "is now in process of formation," and is to supersede in time all previous heavens. Jesus, they say, after his death, descended into the first hell to preach to the souls there confined; and on his way passed through the second heaven, or Paradise, where he met the thief crucified with him.
IV. They hold themselves to be the "Church of the Last Dispensation," the true Church of this age; and they believe that the day of judgment, or "beginning of Christ's kingdom on earth," dates from the establishment of their Church, and will be completed by its development.
V. They hold that the Pentecostal Church was established on right principles; that the Christian churches rapidly and fatally fell away from it; and that the Shakers have returned to this original and perfect doctrine and practice. They say: "The five most prominent practical principles of the Pentecost Church were, first, common property; second, a life of celibacy; third, non-resistance; fourth, a separate and distinct government; and, fifth, power over physical disease." To all these but the last they have attained; and the last they confidently look for, and even now urge that disease is an offense to God, and that it is in the power of men to be healthful, if they will.
VI. They reject the doctrine of the Trinity, of the bodily resurrection, and of an atonement for sins. They do not worship either Jesus or Ann Lee, holding both to be simply elders in the Church, to be respected and loved.
VII. They are Spiritualists. "We are thoroughly convinced of spirit communication and interpositions, spirit guidance and obsession. Our spiritualism has permitted us to converse, face to face, with individuals once mortals, some of whom we well knew, and with others born before the flood." * They assert that the spirits at first labored among them; but that in later times they have labored among the spirits; and that in the lower heavens there have been formed numerous Shaker churches. Moreover, "it should be distinctly understood that special inspired gifts have not ceased, but still continue among this people." It follows from what is stated above, that they believe in a "probationary state in the world of spirits."
VIII. They hold that he only is a true servant of God who lives a perfectly stainless and sinless life; and they add that to this perfection of life all their members ought to attain.
IX. Finally, they hold that their Church, the Inner or Gospel Order, as they call it, is supported by and has for its complement the world, or, as they say, the Outer Order. They do not regard marriage and property as crimes or disorders, but as the emblems of a lower order of society. And they hold that the world in general, or the Outer Order, will have the opportunity of purification in the next world as well as here.
In the practical application of this system of religious faith, they inculcate a celibate life; "honesty and integrity in all
words and dealings;" "humanity and kindness to friend and foe;" diligence in business; prudence, temperance, economy, frugality, "but not parsimony;" "to keep clear of debt;" "suitable education of children;" a "united interest in all things," which means community of goods; suitable employment for all; and a provision for all in sickness, infirmity, and old age.
119:* "Shakers' Compendium of the Origin, History, etc., with Biographies of Ann Lee," etc. By F. W. Evans, 1859.
119:† "A Summary View of the Millennial Church," etc. Albany, 1848.
120:* "A Summary View of the Millennial Church," etc.
122:* It is curious that the Jewish Talmud (according to Eisenmenger) has a somewhat similar theory—namely, that Eve cohabited with devils for a period of one hundred and thirty years; and that Cain was not the child of Adam, but of one of these devils.
125:* "Shakers' Compendium."
127:* "Testimony of Christ's Second Appearing," etc. Published by the United Society of Shakers. Albany, 1856. [The first edition was printed in 1808.]
128:* "Shakers' Compendium."
128:† "Summary View," etc.
129:* "Summary View."
131:* "Shakers' Compendium."
132:* "The Kentucky Revival, or a Short History of the late extraordinary Outpouring of the Spirit of God in the Western States of America," etc. By Richard McNemar. Turtle Hill, Ohio, 1807.
134:* "Plain Talks upon Practical Religion; being Candid Answers," etc. By Geo. Albert Lomas (Novitiate Elder at Watervliet). 1873.