These are materials related to the Shakers of America. All of the original materials can be found in the Rare Books and Special Collections Department of the Hamilton College Library.
The Shakers were one of the most successful communal societies in America. Established in eastern New York in 1774 when Ann Lee and a small group of followers emigrated from Manchester, England, the Shakers developed a system of communal living with rules governing all aspects of life. Initially they established villages in New England and New York, but later spread into Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana (the western communities). At its peak there were about 6,000 members in the mid-19thcentury. There followed a long slow decline in their membership throughout the late 19th and the 20th centuries. Today there is just one village left in Sabbathday Lake, Maine.
In the world today, "Shaker" is most commonly associated with a style of furniture or baskets. While Shakers were very industrious and inventive, we sometimes lose sight of the religious underpinning of their society. They were, first and foremost, a religious society, with a theology that developed and changed over time. Prominent in Shaker theology, is the doctrine of celibacy. What is less well-known, but central to Shaker theology, is that Mother Ann Lee is the second appearing of Jesus Christ. This, in fact, is where Shakers depart most radically from traditional Christian theology. For Shakers, God is both male and female.
Then the man who is called Jesus and the woman who is called Mother are verily the two first foundation pillars of the Church of Christ-the two anointed ones-the two first heirs of promise, between whom the covenant of eternal life is established-the two first visible parents of the work of redemption-and the invisible joint parentage in the new creation, for the increase of that seed through which all the families of the earth shall be blessed.
Besides elevating Ann Lee to the position of divinity, this view implied an equality of the sexes. The leadership of the Shakers was always shared between a woman and a man, and especially in the early years the woman played the predominant role (particularly Ann Lee and Lucy Wright). In later years women again played a dominant role as the male membership declined and women took on major positions within the Ministry. Given the choices available to women in the 19thcentury, Shakerism provided one of the few opportunities for women to exercise leadership.
The name "Shakers" comes from the practice of shaking out evil. They shook their bodies and hands to rid themselves of evil. Initially called "Shaking Quakers," the name was shortened to "Shakers," though their full name is United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing.
The Shakers initially kept to themselves and did not publish anything for the outside world. It was only after conflicts developed with the outside world and they faced the need to defend and explain themselves to the rest of the world that they began to systematize their thinking and publish their views for all to read. Their first publication is Joseph Meacham's A Concise Statement of the Principles of the Only True Church, published in 1790. Over time Shakers published many documents and recorded their millenial laws and spirit revelations.
Shaker material can be organized according to the historical analysis by Steven J. Stein (The Shaker Experience in America, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992). Stein's historical study stands as the authoritative analysis to date. In it he identifies five periods in Shaker history:
Founder's Period (to 1787)
Formative Period (1787-1826)
Middle Period (1827-1875)
Time of Transformation (1876-1947)
Recent history (1948-present)
The Hamilton College Library has significant holdings in all five periods. These works include statements by Shakers about their beliefs, ideals, and organization, as well as statements by apostates and critics of the Shakers. They include testimonials to the founders of the United Societies and theological treatises as the Shakers developed fuller theological positions. The historical periods identified by Stein reveal the changing preoccupations of Shakers and different ways of responding to the issues they faced.
Shakers had an impact on American society that extended well beyond its religious beliefs. Shakers were innovators and entrepreneurs. Their name is synonymous with a style of furniture and a whole sense of design. However, their industries extended well beyond furniture to include clothing, brooms, garden seeds, herbs, medicines, canned fruits and vegetables, and even candies.
Youngs, Benjamin Seth, The Testimony of Christ's Second Appearing, Containing a General Statement of All Things Pertaining to the Faith and Practice of the Church of God in this Latter-day (Lebanon, Ohio: Press of John M'Clean, 1808), 436-7.
The Hamilton College Library began collecting materials by and about the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing (Shakers) in 1989. The intention from the outset was to build as comprehensive a collection of primary and secondary materials as possible, a collection that reflected both the origins and development of the Society and the current scholarship on the topic. Several reasons prompted the beginning of the collection: one, the collection fits well with the Library's strong collections in religion; two, the Shakers were an important element in New York history in which the Library has a strong interest; three, the collection would complement the strong holdings of the Syracuse University Library about the Oneida Community; four, the Hamilton College Library was in a good position to assemble and preserve these materials and to make them accessible to users in the region and the rest of the world; and finally, there was strong interest in the subject of communal societies.
Initial efforts concentrated on finding sources of Shaker materials. The major dealers of Shaker materials were soon located, and they provided guidance in identifying the core items of Shaker theology and history, and in determining their availability. Mary L. Richmond's Shaker Literature: a Bibliography has been used as a buying guide and the bibliographical notes in Stephen J. Stein's The Shaker Experience in America have been helpful in identifying the background sources necessary for describing the context in which the Shakers began and developed.
In assembling the collection emphasis was placed first on printed materials. Basic descriptive and doctrinal works written by the Shakers were collected at the same time that printed secondary sources of history and description were acquired. As the collection grew we began to buy manuscript materials and ephemeral items related mostly to the Shaker chair, seed, and herbal industries. Photographs, postcards, broadsides, and scrapbooks were also acquired as they became available. Shaker periodicals were added also and we continue to add secondary periodical literature.
The collection now contains about 2,200 printed items. Of this total more than 600 are listed in volume 1 of Richmond's Bibliography and about 575 in volume 2. An additional 1,200 items printed after publication of Richmond's Bibliography are also included in the collection.
Manuscript materials include fifteen Shaker hymnals, manuscript copies of the millenial laws, several spirit writings, and a number of letters written by Shakers in the various communities.
Ephemeral materials consist of a large collection of postcards, a sampling of labels and broadsides used in the Shaker industries, and a number of artifacts such as seed packets and medicinal bottles. The Library has also acquired a number of scrapbooks assembled in the 20th century. Photographs are not numerous, but include portraits and scenes of the communities.
The collection is most comprehensive in material about the eastern communities; while the Ohio and Kentucky communities are strongly represented. Materials from the western communities have been less available with some simply not available for purchase and likely never will be. To supplement the materials in our collection, the library has acquired the microfilmed collections of the Western Reserve Historical Society, The Library of Congress, The New York Public Library, and the New York State Library.
The Library continues to acquire Shaker material as it is available. Within the last few months we have added:
Meacham, Joseph. A Concise Statement of the Principles of the Only True Church - 1790.
Rathbun, Daniel. A Letter from Daniel Rathbun, of Richmond in the County of Berkshire, to Janes Whittacor, Chief Elder of the Church called Shakers. 1785.
Rathbun, Valentine. A Brief Account of a Religious Scheme, Taught and Propagated by a Number of Europeans, who Lately lived in a Place called Nisquenunia, in the State of New York - 1782.
Journal of the Second Family [Watervliet] from January 1, 1857 to December 31, 1881 [mss.].
Journal of the West or Second Family [Watervliet] from Jan. 1882-Dec. 1893 [mss.].
Journal No. 8 of the South Family [Watervliet], Comencing [!] with the 1st of May 1865 [mss.].
Bowers, Lucy, A Collection of Six Diaries, 1919, 1922, 1923, 1924, 1925, 1929.
Lomis, George A. Plain Talks Upon Practical Religion: being Candid Answers to Ernest Inquirers - 1878?
New York. Senate. Report of the Trustees of the United Society of Shakers in the town of New Lebanon, Columbia Co., N.Y. 1850.
Although Hamilton's emphasis has been on collecting Shaker items, we have also acquired materials from a number of other communal societies, most notably the Harmony Society, Amana Colony, Icarians, Ephrata, Zoar, Koreshan Unity and a number of others. We have paid little attention to 20th century communities.
The Hamilton Library's general collection, strong in religion and history, provides much of the background material needed to provide the context for the development of communal societies. This strong general collection, together with the microfilmed collections, and our own collection provide an extensive resource for the study of the Shakers and other communal societies.
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