Religious sect founded by Ann Lee in 1766. At its height of popularity in the mid-1800s, the Shaker community included more than 6,000 members in the US.

Lee was born and raised in Manchester, England, as an English Quaker. The radical offshoot group would eventually become known as the "Shaking Quakers" because of a ritual practice of physically "shaking off" sin.

Lee believed that she was the second incarnation of God and had a revelation that sex prevented people from achieving divine understanding and salvation. She was twice imprisoned for declaring these beliefs.

In 1774, Lee had another vision: she needed to establish a Shaker church in the colonies. Her small group (mostly family members) left England and settled near Albany, New York. In a short five years, she amassed thousands of converts of celibate men and women working together as "brother" and "sister."

Because of the Shaker stance on sex, the group all but died out in a few generations. One small community still exisits in Maine.

Some other interesting facts about the Shakers:

After the initial formation of the colony, they didn't actually convert many adults to their group. Instead, they mainly grew because they were the only people around who would care for orphans, who were then, of course, raised in the faith.

At last count, the small community in Maine consisted of two people, both very old women. The Shaker church, having owned a lot of land for a very long time, has a LOT of money, and they had to stop accepting converts because so many people tried to join in order to control their assets.

The Shakers are probably best known for Shaker furniture, which they made and sold to support their communities. Shaker furniture is simple, functional, well-made, and beautiful. They were way ahead of their time in the ergonomics department. A famous Shaker proverb is (I'm sure I'm remembering this wrong) "Only make something if it is both useful and needful. But if it is both useful and needful, do not hesitate to make it beautiful."

"Whoever would live long and happy, let him observe the following rules:

Let your thoughts be rational, solid, godly.
Let your conversation be little, useful, true.
Let your conduct be profitable, virtuous, charitable.
Let your manners be sober, courteous, cheerful.
Let your diet be temperate, wholesome, sober.
Let your apparel be frugal, neat, comely.
Let your sleep be moderate, quiet, seasonable.
Let your recreations be lawful, brief, seldom.
Let your prayers be short, devout, sincere."

From Needful Counsel, Gentle Manners
Published by the Shaker Community at New Lebanon, New York: 1823

Robert Newton Peck has written some great young-adult books about growing up Shaker, especially A Day No Pigs Would Die.

There is also an Indian Shaker Church, not related to the Eastern Shakers. This church incorporates both native and Christian beliefs and originated over a century ago in the Pacific Northwest. It still survives today, with active churches found in The Dalles, Oregon and Smith River, California and several other places.

The Shaker Church is based on the teaching of John Slocum, an Indian from Puget Sound who died, had a vision, and came back to life. The Church has few rules or precise beliefs. The ceremonies include hand bell ringing and curing, which is often done by shaking of hands over the afflicted person. There is a book about the Indian Shakers entitled Indian Shakers, a Messianic Cult of the Pacific Northwest by H.D. Barnett, but the book is out of print and rather hard to find.

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