History of Utopian Founder Mother Ann Lee Part 2

About one of the founders of the Shaker Colonies Mother Ann Lee, history and biography of the utopia creator.





The first U.S. Shaker settlement was established in 1776 in the woods 7 mi. west of Albany, N.Y. Economic problems caused the group to become communal; later, the Shakers clothed their communism in religion. They claimed they wanted to live like the early Christians, who were also communists and believed in celibacy and nonresistance.

In 1792, nearly a decade after Mother Ann's death, Mt. Lebanon, the parent society of the Shakers, was founded, and for the next 80 years, membership grew until there were 18 societies, each with several distinct "families" of 30 to 90 people. Men and women had equal power in the running of things; each family was headed by two elders, one of whom was a woman.

The rules concerning celibacy were strict. Men and women met only once a week to talk during the "union hour," and even then no flirting was allowed. Once an older woman caught two young girls watching flies mating; she made them disrobe and beat each other as punishment.

The Shakers had adopted the ritual practices of the Camisards, a group of Protestant militants which flourished in France in the early 18th century. Among the ritual practices were shaking, shouting, and dancing. The Shaker dancers--separated by sex--shook, quivered, gestured, and stamped out the devil. They whirled, a contemporary said, "until they would fall as though lifeless and talk with a lingo which they called the unknown tongue."

Their lives were simple. All had to work with their hands, get up early, and pray. They believed in revelation, oral confession, peace, psychic healing, and separation from the world. No books except the Bible were allowed, and there were no clocks or ornaments. Their furniture, now in great demand by antique collectors, had a beautiful simplicity.

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