SHAKERS COMPENDIUM
     AUTHENTIC MANUSCRIPT — SECTION 2 of 4
Chapters I through III.
Published by the Shakers in 1859.  

COPYRIGHT NOTICE
This E-Text 1997, 1999, 2013   Pass the WORD Services.
E-Text Copyright renews with each published update.

On-line at PTW: November 30, 1997
  Last update: July 29, 2013


 

SHAKERS AND SHAKERISM.


CHAPTER I.

ORIGIN OF THE SOCIETY.

1. SHAKERISM is claimed, by its advocates, to be the ultimate, or second Christian church — the Millennium.

2. The inquiry naturally arises, What elements produced the Shaker Societies?  To meet this, reference must be had to historical facts bearing upon the subject.  But let the following proposition be first considered: namely, that at a given part, point, and time of every cycle of human affairs, in all ages, nations, and tribes, there have invariably arisen an order and people analogous (in some measure) to the American Shakers.  No matter what the name by which history designates them; they are easily recognized by certain distinguishing marks.

3. China, Persia, India had their ascetics; Rome, her sibyls and vestals; Egypt, her Therapeutics; and Judea, the self-denying Essenes, among whom it is thought Jesus received his education and early training.  Speaking of these, Philo says: “In many parts of the earth, such a people exist; for it is fitting that both Greek and Barbarian share in the absolute good.”  Pliny the Elder says: “The Essenes were a sort of people who lived without women and money.”

4. As the lowest types of humanity are those who seek happiness the most exclusively in the indulgence of the baser and animal propensities, so the saints of all times have moved the farthest in the opposite direction.  Abstinence from sexual intercourse, from private property, from war, oaths, and the honors of the world, have ever been the chief characteristics of ascetics, in all ages.

5. The principles and maxims of Jesus, as explained and confirmed by his own teaching and practice, and measurably by that of his first twelve converts and most intimate friends, the Apostles, seem to give countenance to the idea, that some great and important truths underlie all these (often) abnormal operations of mind that, from age to age, were struggling for expression and embodiment in human action.

6. The whole of human history is comprised within four large cycles, three of which are already past, and the fourth has commenced.  Within these exist an almost infinity of smaller cycles, as was well and beautifully illustrated to the prophet Ezekiel, in a vision of a number of wheels revolving within wheels.

7. Every cycle of human history, whether on a low or high plane, or small or large scale, has its point of highest development:  first, of the physical; devoted to the supply of the mere animal or bodily wants:  second, of the moral; which subserves a negative protective influence to the physical:  third, of the intellectual powers; by which tools and machinery are created (constituting man a tool-making animal), which facilitate and increase the means of physical subsistence, and greatly enhance the enjoyment of the moral faculties, on the one hand; and, on the other, they prepare the soul for the opening of its spiritual capacities; by which means an intelligent union and connection is formed and sustained between the visible and invisible earths, or worlds, and their respective inhabitants.

8. All these, combined, form the basis of the final unfoldment of the last and highest property and faculty of the soul, viz. the religious.  Consequently the quality and abstract truthfulness of the purest form of religion evolved in any given cycle, was determined by the time of day in the great year of progress, and the number and plane of the cycle.  But, whether higher or lower, it was, in its degree, the witness of the Church of the future — a lively type of Shakerism, the ultimate Christian, or Millennial, Church, for the redemption of our race.

9. Whenever, in a cycle, the culminating point of Spiritualism has been reached, then the religious element has moved thereupon, and finally ultimated itself in a Church, which was emphatically the Church of God of that cycle and period.

10. The flood of Noah was merely the greatest spiritual-physical manifestation of the cycle of that day.  The building of the ark was the organization of the religious constructive elements that moved upon the spiritual.  In the next great cycle the spiritual elements had, in Egypt, progressed and ripened up in the days of Moses.  The ten plagues were ten spiritual-physical manifestations; and Moses came off conqueror, in his contests with the Egyptian magicians (spiritual media), because he was vitalized by the religious or controlling element of that order.

11. Under its influence, Moses organized the whole nation of the Hebrews into a highly spiritualized religious body, or Church; the most perfect that had ever been established upon earth, for the simple yet significant reason, that he had been previously fully developed in all the preceding preparatory degrees of the cycle.  He “was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in word and deed,” having been educated under the auspices of the royal family.

12. The third great cycle culminated in Spiritualism, in the days of Jesus.  That such is the fact, is abundantly proved by the testimony of profane as well as sacred history.   Dr. Lightfoot observes: “Judea was so infested with spirits at that time, that thousands of persons were obsessed by them; many of whom Jesus and his disciples released.”  Josephus, an eye-witness, relates that sights, sounds, and voices were seen and heard by the whole city of Jerusalem.  And, according to the Scriptural records, dumb animals were sometimes taken possession of by spirits.

13. Spiritual-physical manifestations attended the whole life of John and Jesus, from their conception to their death.  The religious elements of that cycle were concentrated in Jesus, as an individual.  At the day of Pentecost, the same elements concentred, and were organized in the most spiritually endowed body of people, or Church, that any cycle had ever been capable of producing.

14. Jesus and his Apostles continually referred to the next, or fourth and last, great cycle as the time for “the restitution of all things, which God had spoken by the mouth of all his prophets [in all nations and cycles] since the world began.”  It was at the spiritual acme of this cycle, that the Christ (whom John saw as a dove appear to Jesus) would come again, to some other individual.  This second coming, the Shakers claim, must of necessity have been to a woman, because the race is female as well as male.

15. We will endeavor so show, in its right place, from proper historical data, that the rise of the Shaker Church, or order, has been agreeable to the premises above laid down; as has also the formation of all the Shaker communities.

16. Dr. Adam Clarke says: “Every dispensation of God must begin in some one individual, and at some particular time and place.”  That is correct.  A true Church could have originated only by a new revelation from God to some one person; and then by that person reducing the truths and requirements thereof to practice.

17. Shaker Societies always originate in the spiritual part of the cycle.  There is, first, a general agitation of the spiritual elements; out of that arises a movement of the religious elements in man.  This leads to the formation of one or more Shaker Societies, according to the order of the cycle that is revolving.  Therefore the Shakers now confidently expect the time has nearly arrived for a further extension of their order.

18. The natural and spiritual worlds are now coming into a state of rapport with each other; and the spiritual faculties in man, which have for a long time been in a state of dormancy, are being aroused and developed very extensively; and soon the religious nature of man will be quickened, and religious revivals will commence on a grander and more effective scale than have ever been witnessed; for they will rest upon the basis of, and spread over the ground prepared by, Spiritualism.

19. In the beginning of the eighteenth century, Spiritualism broke out on the continent of Europe, and was followed by most remarkable religious revivals; out of which arose the “French prophets.”   These were wrought upon in a very extraordinary manner; not only in their minds, but also in their physical systems.  They had visions and trances, and were subject to violent agitations of body.  Men and women, and even little children, were so exercised, as that spectators were struck with great wonder and astonishment.  Their powerful admonitions and prophetic warnings were heard and received with reverence and awe.

20. They testified that the end of all things drew nigh; and admonished the people to repent, and amend their lives.   They gave warning of the near approach of the kingdom of heaven, the “acceptable year of the Lord;” and, in many prophetic messages, declared to the world, that those numerous Scripture prophecies concerning the new heaven and the new earth, the kingdom of the Messiah, the Marriage of the Lamb, the first resurrection, and the New Jerusalem descending from above, were near at hand, and would shortly be accomplished.

21. They also testified, with great power and energy of spirit, against those false systems of religion, and that antichristian dominion, which had borne such extensive sway among mankind; and predicted their certain downfall and destruction.  They declared that, when all these false systems, of human invention, and all the deceitful and abominable works of man, should be pulled down and destroyed, there would be but one Lord, one faith, one heart, and one voice among mankind; and that these things would be wrought by a spiritual influence proceeding from living witnesses, who, by the inspiration of the Spirit, should be sent forth as laborers into the harvest field.

22. They continued their prophetic warnings (under much persecution) for several years, over the greater part of Europe.  And, in the year 1706, the revival extended to England, where it spread far and wide.

23. About the year 1747, some members of the Society of Quakers, who had become subjects of the revival, formed themselves into a society, of which Jane and James Wardley were the lead.  Of this little society Ann Lee and her parents were members.  They were all devoutly sincere in the cause of God.  James was gifted in public speaking.

24. This infant society practiced no forms, and adopted no creeds, as rules of faith or worship; but gave themselves up to be led and guided entirely by the operations of the Spirit of God.   Their meetings were powerful and animated, and were attended with remarkable signs and operations, and with the spirit of prophecy and Divine revelation.

25. They boldly testified that the second appearing of Christ was at hand; and that the Church would rise in its full and transcendent glory, and effect the final downfall of antichrist.   They affirmed that the work of the great day of God was then commencing, and would increase, until every promise of God should be fulfilled.

26. Sometimes, after sitting awhile in silent meditation, they were seized with a mighty trembling, under which they would often express the indignation of God against all sin.  At other times, they were exercised with singing, shouting, and leaping for joy, at the near prospect of salvation.  They were often exercised with great agitation of body and limbs, shaking, running, and walking the floor, with a variety of other operations and signs, swiftly passing and repassing each other, like clouds agitated with a mighty wind.   These exercises, so strange in the eyes of the beholders, brought upon them the appellation of Shakers, which has been their most common name of distinction ever since.

27. They were exposed to much opposition and persecution.  Their houses were often beset by mobs, their windows broken, and their persons were shamefully abused.  But they bore these things with great patience, and fearlessly continued their assemblies and their testimony.   Their meetings, which began in Bolton, near Manchester, were afterward held alternately in Bolton and Manchester; and occasionally at Chester, Mayortown, and some other places in the vicinity of Manchester.

28. They continued to increase in light and power, with occasional additions to their number, till about the year 1770, when, by a special manifestation of Divine light, the present testimony of salvation and eternal life was fully revealed to Ann Lee, 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.

29. Mother Ann said: “I saw in vision the Lord Jesus in his kingdom and glory.  He revealed to me the depth of man’s loss, what it was, and the way of redemption therefrom.  Then I was able to bear an open testimony against the sin that is the root of all evil; and I felt the power of God flow into my soul like a fountain of living water.  From that day I have been able to take up a full cross against all the doleful works of the flesh.”

30. About the year 1774, Mother Ann received a revelation, directing her to repair to America; also 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 hindrance or molestation.

31. This revelation was communicated to the Society, and was confirmed by numerous signs, visions, and extraordinary manifestations, to many of the members; and 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.

32. Those who became the companions of Mother Ann, in her voyage to America, were: Abraham Stanley (her husband), Wm. Lee (her brother), James Whittaker, John Hocknell, Richard Hocknell (son of John), James Shepherd, Mary Partington, and Nancy Lee (a niece of Mother Ann).  Having settled their affairs and made arrangements for the voyage, they embarked at Liverpool, and set sail on the 19th of May, 1774, and debarked on the 6th of August following, at New York.

33. Arrived in America, they settled in the woods, seven miles from Albany, where is now located the village of Watervliet.  Here, surrounded by Dutch settlers, they resided three years and a half, waiting for the fulfillment of Mother Ann’s prophecy —the gathering of persons to the Gospel of Christ’s second appearing, of which she was the Messenger.

 

CHAPTER II.

RISE, PROGRESS, AND PRESENT STATE OF THE SOCIETY.

1. Community of goods has never been so successfully accomplished as by the Shakers.  We propose, therefore, first to take a view of them from that stand-point.

2. Shakerism as a system is more varied in its elements, and complex* and expansive in its character, than is any other purely religious system within our knowledge, and of course its adherents esteem it as the most perfect and comprehensive; urging as a reason, that it takes possession and entire cognizance of the whole man; and instead of attending solely to his spiritual necessities for only one day in seven.    IT cares for and supplies all his temporal as well as spiritual wants seven days in the week.[*COMPLEX in the sense of a large “assemblage of ideas, or “collection of elements of truth, “twisted or “wove together into a unitary system.-Webster]

3. The physical (not the mere animal) and moral, and the intellectual and affectional nature and faculties, together with the spiritual as the ruling and governing element, are all to be fully developed and pre-eminently satisfied by the ultimate operation of this system, according to the faith and confident expectation of its votaries.

4. In 1779, a very singular and strange revival of religion occurred in the town of New Lebanon, N.Y., and the surrounding country.  The people were powerfully and wonderfully exercised in body and soul.  Professors of religion who had been the most exemplary and strict in the observance of every means of grace, began to doubt the foundation upon which they had built their hopes of salvation.

5. Some had visions and prophecies that the day of judgment and redemption was at hand, and that the second coming of Christ was nigh – even at the door.  In their meetings were heard loud cries for the kingdom to come, and a powerful testimony against all sin; and the various exercises and gifts of the Spirit gave convincing evidence of its being a genuine work of God.

6. Some, under a deep conviction of their sins, cried for mercy; others felt unspeakably happy in the joyful visions and revelations of the glory of the latter day, and of the commencement of the kingdom of Christ upon earth, which was to put an end to wars and fightings, and all manner of violence, restore peace on earth, make an end of sin, bring in everlasting righteousness, and gather the saints into one harmonious communion.

7. The work was powerful and swift, but of short duration.  In a few months their visions and prophecies ceased, the extraordinary power of their testimony seemed to be at an end, and none of those things of which they had testified appeared.  In this situation they were filled with deep distress and anxiety of mind, but still retained their confidence in the near approach of Christ’s kingdom, and continued their assemblies with earnest prayer and exhortations, encouraging one another to maintain their faith and hope, to wait with patience, and to “pray and not faint.”

8. This was the state of the people in the spring of 1780, when some of them visited Mother Ann and her little family, and were soon convinced that they were in the very work for which themselves had been so earnestly praying, and for which they had been looking and waiting with such ardent expectations.

9. Attracted by the reports of these, others were induced to visit them; and the fame of these strange people, who lived in this obscure corner of the wilderness, extended far and wide.  Many from New Lebanon and the country round resorted to them; and when they heard the new and living testimony, and saw the various and extraordinary operations of the Divine power among them, they were fully confirmed in the belief that Christ had in very deed appeared again on earth, and many of them (of various denominations) embraced the faith of the Society.

10. Such were some of the preliminary spiritual and religious operations that preceded the organization of the Shaker Society at New Lebanon, and are a fair specimen of the manner in which all the succeeding societies originated and have been founded.

11. About the beginning of the present century, another extraordinary revival of religion, known as the “Kentucky Revival” commenced in the Western States.  This work was also very swift and powerful, and gave such evident proofs of supernatural power, that it excited the attention of all classes of persons, and for a season bore down all opposition.  The very astonishing outward operations that attended that work are widely published, and have been subjects of close and serious investigation.

12. Besides the wonderful operations of spiritual power upon their bodies, the subjects of this work were greatly exercised in dreams, visions, revelations, and spirit of prophecy.  In these gifts of the Spirit they saw and testified that great day of God was at hand, that Christ was about to set up his kingdom on earth, and that this very work would terminate in the full manifestation of the latter day of glory.

13. This spiritual manifestation extended through several of the Western States, and continued, with increasing light and power, for about four years.  During the latter part of the year 1804, many of its subjects were powerfully impressed with a belief that another summer would not pass away without realizing a full display of that great salvation from all sin for which they had been so long and earnestly praying.

14. The Believers in the Eastern States received repeated intelligence of this work through the public papers; and, well remembering the prophecy of Mother Ann, that the next opening of the Gospel would be in the West, they began to look for its speedy fulfillment.  This prophecy had often been spoken of while that country was the theater of Indian wars, and it appeared that its fulfillment was near at hand.  Accordingly, the next year, the Church at New Lebanon sent three missionaries to them.

15. Without any previous acquaintance in that country, or any correspondence with any of its inhabitants, these messengers, on the first of January, 1805, set out on a pedestrian journey of more than a thousand miles.  They arrived in Kentucky about the first of March. They then went to a number of places where the spirit of the revival had prevailed, and conversed with many who had been the subjects thereof; and having, with some freedom, declared the object of their mission, they passed over into the State of Ohio.  After visiting and conversing with some of the subjects of the revival in Springfield, they proceeded on to Turtle Creek, near Lebanon, in the county of Warren, whither they arrived on the 22nd of March.

16. They were spiritually led to the house of Malcham Worley, a man of respectable character, handsome fortune, liberal education, and who had been a leading character in the revival.  Here they felt free to declare their mission, and to open their testimony in full, which Malcham received with great joy, and declared to them that it was the very work that, by the spirit of prophecy, he had been taught to look for.

17. This man had very frequently testified, by the Spirit, that the work of the latter day which would usher in the kingdom of Christ in that county would commence at that place, which was situated between the two Miama rivers, near Turtle Creek; and there the work did commence, and he and his family were the first to embrace it.  From thence it spread, and was cordially received by many of the subjects of the revival in that vicinity, and in a short time it had an extensive circulation through that part of the State, and soon afterward it extended into Kentucky and Indiana, and was joyfully received by many.

18. The testimony mostly prevailed in the States of Ohio and Kentucky, where societies are now established.   Many persons from other States, having received the testimony, have become members.

19. In the State of Ohio there are four societies – one at Union Village, about four miles west from Lebanon, and about 30 miles north-by-east from Cincinnati, Warren County.  This is the oldest and largest society in the Western States, and contains about 500 members.   The second Society is at Watervliet, on Beaver Creek, about 22 miles north from Union Village, and six southeast from Dayton, in Montgomery County, and contains about 100 members.

20. The third Society is at Whitewater, 22 miles northwest from Cincinnati, Hamilton County, and contains about 200 members.  The fourth Society is at North Union, about eight miles northeast from Cleveland, and contains about 200 members.

21. In the State of Kentucky there are two societies — one at Pleasant Hill, about seven miles easterly from Harrodsburg, and 21 miles southwest from Lexington, Mercer County, which contains between four and five hundred members.  The other is at South Union, Jasper Springs, about 15 miles northeast from Russellville, Logan County, and contains between three and four hundred members.

22. There are 18 Shaker Societies, all holding property in common.  Yet this does not represent the actual number of their community organizations, from the fact, not generally known, that each society is constituted of several distinct families, or communities, which are self-supporting, and possess within themselves perfect organizations in both temporal and spiritual matters, regularly officered, comprising elders, deacons, care-takers, etc., of both the male and female order, agreeably to the unique custom of this singular people, who, although regarded by the world as almost misogynists (woman-haters), have been the first to disentrall woman from the condition of vassalage to which all other religious systems (more or less) consign her, and to secure to her those just and equal rights with man that, by her similarity to him in organization and faculties, both God and nature would seem to demand, inasmuch as the sisterhood is officered and governed throughout by members of their own sex.

23. The Society of New Lebanon possesses eight of these families, or communities.

24. The Shaker Societies have not yet extended beyond the boundaries of the “Model Republic;” which is accounted for by the Shakers themselves thus: — They say their religion can not exist and flourish except under such governments as secure freedom of person, freedom of speech and of the press, liberty of conscience, and perfect separation between church and state.

25. In the public mind an unusual amount of interest attaches to these organizations, from the consideration that among the tens of thousands, in both Europe and America, who (theoretically) as fully endorse the principle of community of goods, and approve the abnegation of the private, selfish property principle, as do the “American Shakers” themselves; yet hitherto no attempts to found and perpetuate a community of interest and of goods, and to reconstruct society upon this basis, have proved really successful, except when made under the auspices of, and in accordance with, the peculiar religious requirements of all the combined elements of Shakerism.

26. “The full tide of their successful experiments” has already extended itself over seventy years, without a single failure; while the followers of Own and Fourier have established communities only to awaken hopes that were doomed to be frustrated by their early dissolution; and if any yet remain, they give marked indications of the winding up of their affairs at no distant period in the future.

27. The oldest and largest Shaker Society is at New Lebanon, two miles and a half from Lebanon Springs, and 25 miles southeast of Albany, Columbia County, N.Y.  It contains about 600 members.

28. There is also a society at each of the following places, namely: Watervliet, about seven miles northwest of Albany, N.Y. Members, over 300. Groveland, Livingston County, N.Y., about four miles south of Mount Morris. About 150 members. Hancock, three miles from New Lebanon, and five from Pittsfield, Berkshire County, Mass. Members, between two and three hundred. Tyringham, 16 miles from Hancock, same county and State. Members, about 100. Enfield, Hartford County, Conn. Members, about 200. Harvard, Worcester County, Mass. Members, about 200. Shirley, Middlesex County, Mass. Members, about 100. Canterbury, Merrimack County, N.H. (near Concord). Members, about 300. Alfred, York County, Maine. Members, about 150. New Gloucester, Cumberland County, Maine. Members, about 100.

29. These societies were all formed within a period of five years – from 1787 to 1792 – and no others were formed until 1805.

30. At the commencement of the year 1780, the whole number of Shakers was only about ten or twelve persons, all of whom came from England.  In the spring of that year the American converts began to gather to them, and a gradual accession to their numbers continued until about the year 1785.  In 1787, under the supervision of Joseph Meacham (formerly a Baptist preacher), the people collected together at New Lebanon, and were organized into a community, or church, which is the pattern and center of union to all the societies, or branches, connected therewith.

31. At that time many of the people were poor in this world’s goods, and in debt, and some of them lived in log-houses on the side of the mountain, where now the village of New Lebanon is located.

32. The different communities, or families, in each society number from 30 to 150 members, of both sexes, who generally occupy one large unitary dwelling-house, in which the brethren and sisters live together in a spiritual order and social relation, which is the most perfectly represented by a house or family where the parents have numerous sons and daughters.

33. The fact that, in all civilized countries, families are not expected to form any other than a brotherly and sisterly union, and which may never, however indirectly, tend toward an incestuous conjugal relation, does not prevent their enjoyment of social, friendly intercourse, and a daily interchange of kind offices with each other, there being other planes besides the procreative for the action of the affectional nature in males and females, even in the order of natural generation.

34. The Shakers testify that they, as a people, find more pleasure and enjoyment — real good — arising from the celibate spiritual union of the sexes, and more of an absence of the afflictions and annoyances — real evil — arising from the generative union of the sexes, than, as they believe, is ever experienced in the order of the world.

35. The apartments of the brethren and sisters are usually at the opposite sides or ends of the house, which is divided by spacious halls.  From two to six live in a room.  They all eat at the same time, in a large dining-room, at different tables.

36. Each dwelling-house contains a large meeting room, sufficiently spacious to accommodate all the members of the family, in which they assemble several times a week for worship; and twice or thrice a week they have union meetings in their private rooms, where from four to eight or ten brethren and sisters spend an hour, sitting together in social conversation, singing, etc.

37. There are also large buildings, containing numerous workshops, connected with each family; one for brethren, the other for sisters.  In these, various branches of manufacture are carried on, consisting of necessary articles for home consumption and for sale.  They have all the mechanical trades necessary to meet the wants of a family.  Hitherto, horticulture has been the leading business in many of the societies, but they are now turning their attention considerably to agriculture.

38. The Society at New Lebanon owns about 6,000 acres of land, a large proportion of which is devoted to fuel, timber, and sheep, it being very mountainous and rocky.  The largest part is in the State of Massachusetts.  The proportion of land is about ten acres to each individual. other societies do not vary much from the same ration.

39. It is now some ten years since the eighteen societies discontinued the use of swine as food.  Alcoholic preparations are not drank or used, except under medical advisement.  With the Shakers the objects of dress are modesty, health, and comfort; and unless one or other of these objects can be promoted, they never change their fashion.

40. Entire sexual purity, temperance in food and in all other things, plainness and simplicity of dress, neatness, industry, peace, charity to the poor, and a prudent, saving economy in all temporal things, are among the virtues inculcated and practiced by the various fraternities of the Shakers, wherever located; all of which greatly tend to promote the physical health and material prosperity of these united societies, and to insure the good-will of their fellow-creatures, and the blessing of Divine Providence upon all their labors.


CHAPTER III.

QUALIFICATIONS FOR MEMBERSHIP, AND RULES AND REGULATIONS.

1. A CONVERT to the faith of Shakerism, who wishes to become a Covenant member, is required to pay all his just debts, to discharge all legal obligations upon him, and, if possible, to make restitution for all the wrongs committed against any of his fellow-creatures.  A full dedication and consecration of person and property is granted only as a special privilege to such as have been the most faithful to comply with the terms of probation.  Nor is any property required as a requisite for admission.

2. No flattery, or any undue influence, is ever used to draw parties into a oneness of temporal interest, as this can be permanently satisfactory only when it is a voluntary act understandingly performed.   Hence the most plain and explicit statements are always laid before the inquirer, so that the whole ground may be fully comprehended by the candidate for admission; for no act of service is considered by this people to be acceptable to God, except it flows from the free, voluntary emotions of the heart.  And let the reader bear in mind that all Shaker communities are essentially religious institutions.

3. No believing husband or wife is allowed to separate from an unbelieving wife or husband, except legally, or by mutual agreement.  Nor can any person who has abandoned his or her partner, without just and lawful cause, be received into communion with the Society; and in the case of separation between husband and wife, the latter must have a just and righteous share of all property in their possession.  Nor are parents allowed to divide their property unequally among their children, whether they be in or out of the Society.

4. The Society is not responsible for debts contracted by persons previous to their becoming members; and it is expressly contrary to the established principles of the Society for any of its officers, agents, or Covenant members to contract debts, either on behalf of the Society or of themselves individually.  All the consecrated property of the Society is held in trust by trustees belonging to each community.

5. As industry, temperance, and frugality are cardinal virtues, all (without exception, if able) are employed in manual labor.

6. The government of the Society is adapted to the several orders of which it is composed; and, not being founded upon force and fraud, as a late Austrian minister of state, Metternich, is reported to have declared all human governments to be, it addresses itself to man’s moral and affectional nature.  All power and authority under it grow out of the mutual faith, love, and confidence of all its members.  It is these that give effective force and power to the principles, laws, rules, and regulations of the Society; and no person who becomes permanently dissatisfied is ever desired to remain in the Society.

7. The societies are divided into different orders, or classes, commonly called families.

8. The first, or novitiate class, are those who receive faith and come into a degree of relation with the Society, but choose to live in their own families and manage their own temporal concerns.  Any such who choose may live in that manner, and be owned as brethren and sisters in the Gospel, so long as they live up to its requirements.

9. Parents are required to be kind and dutiful to each other; to shun every appearance of evil; to provide for their family; to bring up their children in a godly manner; and to use, improve, and dispose of their property wisely; but may manage their own affairs according to their own discretion.   They may continue thus as long as it comports with their faith, circumstances, and spiritual improvement.

10. They are, however, required to bear in mind the necessity and importance of a spiritual increase, without which they will be ever exposed to fall back into the spirit and course of the world; for they can no longer hold their connection with the Society than they continue to conform to its faith and principles.  Such persons are admitted to all the privileges of religious worship and spiritual communion in the novitiate order, and receive instruction and counsel, according to their needs, whenever they feel it necessary to apply for it; and are not debarred from any privilege of which their choice, local situation, and circumstances will admit.

11. Members of this class are not controlled by the Society, with regard to either their property, families, or children, but can act as freely in all these respects as do the members of any other religious society, and yet enjoy all their spiritual privileges, and retain their union with the Society, provided they do not violate the faith and the moral and religious principles of the institution.

12. No children are ever taken under the immediate charge of the Society, except by the request or free consent of those who have the lawful right and control of them, together with the child’s own consent.  Children thus received are treated with great care and tenderness.   The government exercised over them is mild, gentle, and beneficent, which usually excites in them feelings of affection towards one another, and confidence and respect towards their care-takers and teachers, which generally produces a willing obedience in whatever is required of them.  The practical exercise of mildness and gentleness of manners is early and sedulously cultivated.

13. Children are early led into the knowledge of the sacred Scriptures, instructed in their history, and practically taught the divine precepts contained in them, particularly those of Jesus Christ and his Apostles.  They are brought up to some manual occupation suited to their capacities, by which to be enabled to obtain a livelihood, whether they remain with the Society or not.

14. Of Shaker schools, we simply give an extract from the “Report of the Select Committee of the Legislative Assembly of the State of New York, April 2d, 1849:”  “On examining the schools at Watervliet (a fair specimen of those in the other societies), a model worthy the imitation of the best society was presented.  A full and excellent library of the most approved books was found, and a thorough education for the business man is there imparted, by teachers who are competent for the task.  The scholars, both male and female, seemed highly pleased with their situation, and were in the apparent enjoyment of all the pleasures of youthful life.”

15 The Second, or Junior Class, is composed of persons who, not having the charge of families, and being under no embarrassments to hinder them from uniting in community order, choose to enjoy, the benefits of that situation.  These enter into a contract to devote their services freely to support the interest of the family of which they may be members, so long as they shall continue in that order, at the same time stipulating to claim no pecuniary compensation for their services.  Every member of such family is benefited by the united interest and labors of the whole family, so long as they continue to support the order thereof, and is amply provided for in health, sickness, and old age.

16. Members of this class have the privilege, at their option, of freely giving the improvements of any part, or all, of their property, to be used for the mutual benefit of the family to which they belong.  The property itself may be resumed at any time, according to the contract, but no interest can be claimed for the use thereof; nor can any member of the family be employed therein for wages of any kind.

17. Members of this class may retain the lawful ownership of all their own property as long as they think proper; and at any time, after having gained sufficient experience to be able to act deliberately and understandingly, they may, if they choose, dedicate and devote a part or the whole, and consecrate it forever to the support of the institution.  This however, is a matter of free choice.

18. The third, or Senior Class, is composed of such persons as have had sufficient time and opportunity practically to prove the faith and manner of life of the Society, and who are prepared to enter freely, fully, and voluntarily into a united and consecrated interest.  These covenant and agree to devote themselves and services, with all they possess, to the service of God, and the support of the Gospel, forever, solemnly promising never to bring debt or damage, claim or demand, against the Society, or against any member thereof, for any property or service they may thus have devoted to the uses and purposes of the institution.  This class constitutes what is denominated Church Order.

19. To enter fully into this order is considered a matter of the utmost importance to the parties concerned, and therefore required the most mature and deliberate consideration; for, after having made such a dedication, according to the laws of justice and equity, there can be no ground for retraction; nor can any one, by those laws, recover anything thus dedicated.  Of this all are fully apprised before they enter into the order.  Yet should any afterwards withdraw from the Society, the trustees have discretionary power to give them what may be thought reasonable.  No person who withdraws peaceably is ever sent away empty.

20. During a period of seventy years, since the permanent establishment of the Society at New Lebanon and Watervliet, there has never been a legal claim entered by any person for the recovery of property brought into the Society.

21. The members of this order are all entitled to equal benefits and privileges, and no difference is ever made on account of the property any individual may have contributed.

22. The following extract from a charge to a jury, delivered by the Hon. John Breathitt, of Kentucky, shows the light in which the “Covenant” of the Senior Order has been viewed in a court of justice:  “And is it matter of objection against any man that his motives are so pure and disinterested that he desires to be released from earthly thralldom, that he may fix all his thoughts and affections on his God?  After they have signed the Covenant, they are relieved from earthly care.   repeat it: That individual who is prepared to sign the Church Covenant stands in an enviable situation.  His situation, indeed, is an enviable one, who, devoted to his God, is prepared to say of his property, Here it is, little or much, take it, and leave me unmolested to commune with by God.  Indeed, I dedicate myself to — what? — not to a fanatical tenet! — O no! to a subject far beyond — to the worship of Almighty God, the great Creator and Governor of the universe.  Under the influence of his love I give my all: only let me worship according to my faith and in a manner I believe to be acceptable to my God.  I say again: The world can not produce a parallel to the situation which such a man exhibits resigned to the will of Heaven, free from all the feelings of earthly desire, and quietly pursuing the even tenor of his way.”

23. We believe the history of the world does not furnish a single instance of any other religious institution having stood 70 years without a visible declension of its principles and order, and in the general purity and integrity of its members.

24. An institution with a united interest in all things has been a desideratum of the world for many ages; and although attempts to establish such have been made in various ages and countries, apparently under favorable circumstances and well adapted plans, yet they have as often failed; while the central society of this community has stood upon the ground of a united and consecrated interest, and maintained the institution of equal rights and privileges in all things, both spiritual and temporal, for more than 70 years, without the least appearance of failure in either the parent Society, or any of its branches.

25. Well-defined fixed principles, that are perfectly understood and cordially received by all the members, constitute the foundation of the Shaker government.

26. Growth is secured and progress effected by a continual influx of light and love from the Fountain — God — by means of Divine revelation through spirits.  The rulers are but the executive of the principles above referred to, and of the laws deduced therefrom.   Their means, and the object, of government consist in bringing the principles so approved to bear upon the consciences and affections of the ruled.  To this end the male and female elements are equally balanced in the leaders.  The former has reference to, and operates more specifically upon, the rational faculty in human nature; the latter, to the affectional.

27. The Ministry, who are the central executive of the whole order, consists of two brethren and two sisters, and every regularly organized community or family in a society has two elder brethren and two elder sisters, who have the charge of the spiritual affairs; also, two deacons and two deaconesses, who have the care of the temporalities.   All other positions of care and trust are filled after the same dual order.   Yet each sex continues in its own appropriate sphere of action in all respects, there being a proper subordination, deference, and respect of the female to the male, in his order, and of the male to the female in her order; so that in any of these communities the zealous advocates of “Women’s Rights” may here find a practical realization of their ideal.

28. To the mind of the simple, unsophisticated Shaker it seems marvelously inconsistent for any human government to be administered for the sole benefit of its own officers and their particular friends and favorites; or that more than one half the citizens should be disfranchised because they happen to be females, and compelled by the sword to obey laws they never sanctioned, and ofttimes in which they have no faith, and to submit to taxation where there has been no previous representation; while still millions of other fellow-citizens are treated as property, because they chance to possess a darker-colored skin than their cruel brethren.  And again, that the members (brethren and sisters) of the same religious body or church should be divided into rich and poor in the things of this temporary world, but who are vainly expecting that, in the world to come, they shall be willing to have eternal things in common!

29. And when this same unjust and unequal administration is confirmed and carried out in the most popular religious organizations of Christendom, the Shakers think the climax of absurdity, tyranny, and oppression well-nigh attained.

Next Section

Return to Table of Contents

 

Index of Other:   Shaker Manuscripts On-Line

 

Printing the Manuscripts:  For step by step instructions, how to possibly deal with printer problems, how to customize page headers/footers, suggestions for those with no computer/printer, and more information about the on-line documents at PasstheWORD.

Please report typographical errors to the Site Stewards.