FOUNDER: The founder of the Shakers was a woman by the name of Ann Lee Standerin who is known as Ann Lee,  or Mother Ann.  She was born in Manchester,  England on February 29, 1736. It is said that as a  child she did not have much of a desire to play,  but that she was  a serious young girl that had a great interest in  religious things.   It is even said that during this time of her life that "she  was  favoured with heavenly visions,  and  became  strongly impressed  with  a  sense  of the  deep  depravity  of  mankind." (Holloway 55).

Ann  was known to have begged her mother "piteously"  to  be kept  from having to get married (Fergusen 321).  But on January 5,  1762, she  was finally married to a blacksmith by the name of Abraham Standerin. Over the next four years Abraham and Ann had four  children which all died in infancy.  Ann looked  at  these deaths "as a series of judgements on her 'concupiscence'  (sexual desire; lust)." (Andrews TPCS 7,8). So she began to stop sleeping with her  husband so as not to stir up his affections.  She  was even afraid to sleep at night because she thought  that she might awaken  in  hell.  She even used to pace the floor at  night  in anguish  about her struggle against the flesh.  It is said  that her  anguish was so great that "bloody sweat passed  through  the pores  of her skin,  tears flowed down her cheeks until the  skin cleaved off,  and she wrung her hands until the blood gushed from under her nails (Andrews TPCS 7,8).

Then  in  the  summer of 1758,  she joined  the  society  of Shaking Quakers, a  sect in England under the control of Jane and James  Wardley.   (The  Shaking  Quakers are an offshoot of  the Camisards  which  are  otherwise known as the  French  Prophets.) (Ferguson 322).

In  the summer of 1770,  Ann had been imprisoned for  taking part  in a noisy religious service in Manchester England.  While in jail, at the  age  of  thirty-four,   Ann  had  a  vision that radically transformed her  life.  She had a vision of "Adam  and Eve  in  carnal intercourse".  (Foster 21,22).  She at last knew without a shadow of a doubt that the very transgression which had resulted  in  the  fall of man in the Garden of Eden  was  sexual intercourse.   After this traumatic discovery,  Ann had  another vision where the Lord Jesus  appeared to her in all of His glory. Jesus  then  supposedly comforted her and told her that  her  new mission was to spread her newfound knowledge to the world (Foster 21,22).



As  seen  from  this Shaker hymn,  the Shakers held  to  the visions of Mother Ann,  and made it their purpose to spread their newfound  message to the ends of the earth.  Mother Ann  herself prophesied that "This gospel will go to the end of the world, and it  will  not be propagated so much by preaching,  as by the good works of the people."(Morse xxii).

After Ann's release from jail,  she shared her visions  with the group of Shaking  Quakers to which she belonged.  Because of these visions, John Wardley, the leader of this group, saw Ann as the fulfillment to his prophecy. His prophecy was that "Christ's spirit  would  come  again and that the second time it  would  be embodied in a woman."(Ferguson 323).  The group then "hailed her as  Mother  in Christ and Bride of the Lamb;  and she  was  known thereafter as Mother Ann or Ann the Word." (Holloway 57).

As  Ann developed her sense of overpowering conviction  that lust was the basis of all human corruption, her religious mission increased  until  she  finally  took over  leadership  from  Jane Wardley. Then Mother Ann, during this time,  added a distinctive element  to the group which was celibacy.  This distinction  was what  made the Shakers different from other revivalist groups  of this time. At this time there were approximately thirty belivers in her following (Foster 25,26).

For  a  time  the  group tried to live out  their  faith  in England, but ran into much social pressure (Gonzalez 244). Then, when Mother Ann was examined by  four scholars of the Established Church  in  England  on  the  charge  of  blasphemy,   "whom  she confounded  by  speaking  in  seventy-two distinct  and  seperate tongues,    it  was  plain  to  her  that  the   Millennium   had begun."(Ferguson  57).  Following this,  a vision came to either Ann (Ferguson 57) or her associate James Whittaker (Foster 26) of a tree that according to Ann talked to her, telling her that they were  to  come to America to set up their church (the  Church  of Christ's Second Appearing).  In Whittaker's vision,  the tree did not  talk to him,  but he saw a tree  with ever-burning leaves in America which represented  the Shakers'  church.  Because of this vision,  the Shakers felt  it their divine call to go to America. So  in the spring of  1774,  with all temporal  affairs  settled, arrangements were made to  go to the new world (Andrews TPCS 18). In May of 1774, Ann Lee and eight followers sailed from Liverpool for America (Andrews/Andrews 13). The band of nine sailed on the Mariah,   a   ship  headed for New York.  Included in the  group besides Mother Ann  herself were several of her family (Neal  2): "her husband, her brother William,  ..., James Wittaker, ... John Hocknell ...,  his son Richard,  James Shepard,  Mary Partington, and  Nancy  Lee,  a  cousin."  (Andrews/Andrews 14).  The  early Shakers  believed that the  gospel of celibacy "could never  take hold in the old  world,  where the stolid,  conservative minds of the  common  people  did not open readily to  the  new,   strange doctrine." They believed that in the new world, God was going to flourish it (Sasson 4).

The story is told that while they were not yet very long out to sea, the captain became  very outraged by the Shakers'  manner of  worship.   He disliked it so much that he told them that  if they repeated the performance again,   they  would  all be thrown overboard.   On the following Sunday they did repeat it.  As the story  goes,   when the captain attempted to put his threat  into action, almost at once, a  storm of tremendous violence arose and knocked  a plank lose whereby the ship started to take on  water. All  hands tried to pump out the water with no avail.  When  the captain  announced that nothing could save the ship and that  the ship would sink by morning, to the contrary,  Mother Ann told the captain  that  she had seen two angels on the ship that told  her that it would not sink.  It is said that scarcely had she spoken it  when a great wave arose,  the last of its size,  that knocked against  the  ship so precisely that the loose plank  was  forced back into place. After this,  the captain allowed the Shakers to worship any way they pleased (Holloway 58).

On  August 6,  1774,  Mother Ann and her followers of  eight arrived  in  New York (Andrews/Andrews 14).  The group split  up into  smaller groups in order to earn money (Sasson 6). Ann took in  work doing washing and ironing while her husband was  working as  a journeyman in  the blacksmith trade (Neal 3,4).  But  soon after arriving, Abraham became very sick. Ann had to support the two of them as she nursed him back to health. After this, Shaker history  reports  that  Abraham got involved  in  wickedness  and refused  to do anything  for Ann unless she would decide to "live in  the  flesh with him,  and bear children."  (Sasson 6).   She totally refused his proposition which is what caused  their final separation. Then in September of 1776,  the group reassembled in Niskeyuna,   New  York,  on some land purchased by John  Hocknell (Sasson 6).

Over  the next four years,  very little success was made  in spreading Ann's gospel.  But finally,  in 1780, because of a New Light  Baptist  revival in New Lebanon,  New York,   the  Shakers received a number of new converts who felt that the Shakers had a definite  way  to salvation which they themselves  were  seeking. "There they found a fellowship literally following the example of the primitive apostolic church:  men and women living together in celibate   purity,    holding  all  goods  in  common,    working industriously  with their hands,  speaking and singing in unknown tongues, worshiping joyfully,  preaching that Christ had actually come to lead believers to a perfect,  sinless, everlasting life - the  life  of  the  spirit."(Andrews  TGTBS  4).   It  was  even believed by the early Shaker converts that the Revolutionary  War was the beginning of a new age. And then on May 19, 1780 was the day  that Mother Ann knew that the time had come to proclaim  the gospel to the New World, because on that day,  New England turned black. This was due to a solar eclipse which Mother Ann knew was a  sign  from God to proclaim her gospel (Sasson 7,8).   Shortly after,   Ann  and  her elders were imprisoned on  the  charge  of pacifism and treason.  After their release,  they left on a two- year  mission through many parts of Massachusetts,   Connecticut, and  New  York trying to convert people to their  faith  (Andrews TGTBS  4).  They returned to Niskeyuna in August of 1783.   The following July, Mother Ann's closest companion died,  her brother William.   Not long after that,  Mother Ann's health started  to decline,  and on September 8,  1784,  at the age of  forty-eight, Mother  Ann  died.   At  the  time  of  her  death  there   were approximately  1000   converts to Shakerism  who  were  scattered throughout New England (Sasson 8).  It is said that "at the time of  her  death,   one of the elders who was  greatly  'gifted  in vision'   testified that when the breath left her body he saw  in vision  'a  golden  chariot  drawn by  four  white  horses  which received and wafted her soul out of sight.'"(Neal 5).

After  Ann's death,  James Wittaker "saved Ann's faith  from passing with her."(Sprigg 7).  For the next three years Wittaker propagated the  faith until his death in 1787.  Then  leadership was  assumed by the first American by the name of Joseph  Meacham from Enfield, Connecticut.  He then  picked  Lucy  Wright from a town in Massachusetts  called  Pittsfield  as the leader over the women (Sprigg 7). This step of putting Lucy Wright in leadership was  something  that  was just not done at this  time  period  in history.  Even  many Shakers did not like this move (Foster 37). At  this  time in the Shakers'  history,  Joseph Meacham  brought together  and organized  the scattered and  disorganized  members into  an  ordered union (Andrews/Andrews 23).  "He  drafted  the constitution of the United  Society,   and  elaborated  and  sys- tematized  Shaker doctrine."(Hudson 185,186).  Meacham regulated everything,    even  the  Shakers'   violence  of  the   physical manifestations was subdued to  dance  and song (Hudson  185,186). He made the move from  a primarily  charismatic organization to a more  stable and  routine fellowship.  During this year,   Joseph Meacham  and  Lucy Wright (who were known as the parents  of  the church)   decided that it was now time  for the true  Shakers  to separate  themselves  from the  world (Andrews TPCS  56).   This separation  was  due  to  two things:   the  first  was  that  of "persecution and religious conviction,"   and the  second reason was  that  only with seperation from  a  sinful world  could  one "realize the hope of salvation  and  perfection, complete freedom to  obey the laws of God."  (Andrews/Andrews  24).   So  Meacham decided  "to  make  New  Lebanon  the  first  'gathered'   Shaker community,  the model upon which all subsequent communities would be  patterned."  It was also made the first headquarters of  the English  Shakers  (Foster 36).  Under Meacham's leadership,   the Shakers  experienced a surge in membership with the onset of  the Second Great Awakening (Hudson 186). Within seven years,  eleven communities  with  over  2000  members had  been  formed.   These communities  were  in Watervliet (Niskeyuna),  New  York  (1787); Mount Lebanon,  New York (1787);  Hancock,  Massachusetts (1790); Harvord,   Massachusetts (1791);  Enfield,   Connecticut  (1790); Tyringham,    Massachusetts   (1792);   Alfred,   Maine   (1793); Canterbury, New Hampshire (1792); Enfield,  New Hampshire (1793); Shirley,  Massachusetts (1793); and Sabbathday Lake, Maine (1794) (Morse  xvii).  A  second period of growth started in 1805  when Shaker  missionaries were sent out to the West to  reap  converts from  the  Kentucky revivals.  Throughout  the  Shaker  history, twenty-four communities were be established.  Of the twenty-four communities,  twenty-one of them were established by 1826  (Morse xvii),   which was the peak of Shaker membership totaling  around 5000  people (Sasson 10). The last Shaker community to go out of existence  was  the third one to be founded  which  was  Hancock, Massachusetts,   which  went  out of existence in  1960.   Mount Lebanon, New York (1947) and Watervliet, New York (1938) were the first  two  colonies established,  and two of the last  three  to close (Morse xvii).


The Shakers can be classified as charismatic in nature. The earlier Shakers, up until the leadership was taken over by Joseph Meacham,  were a wild,  unorderly, unorganized free-for-all.  An average worship service was described as such:

"When  they  meet together for their worship,  they  fall  a groaning and trembling,  and everyone acts alone for himself; one will  fall  prostrate on the floor,  another on his knees and his head  in  his hands;  another will be muttering  over  articulate sounds,   which neither they or any body else understand.   Some will be singing, each one his own tune; some without words, in an Indian tune, some sing jig tunes, some tunes of their own making, in  an unknown mutter which they call new tongues;  some will  be dancing, and others stand laughing,  heartily and loudly;  others will be druming on the floor with their feet, as though a pair of drum sticks were beating the ruff on a drum-head;  others will be agonizing,  as though they were in great pain;  others jumping up and down;  others fluttering over somebody,  and talking to them; others will be shooing and hissing evil spirits out of the house, till the different tunes,  groaning, jumping, dancing,  drumming, laughing,  talking and fluttering,  shooing and hissing,  makes a perfect bedlam; this they call the worship of God." (Andrews TPCS 28).

In  such  worship  it is said that the participants were  not  in control  of  themselves,  but were under  spirit  control.   The Shakers  felt that as they shook sin would be shaken right out of their bodies.

After  Meacham's  takeover  of leadership,  he  changed  the worship  from what  is mentioned above to an orderly,   organized type of dance with song. The dances were symbolic; upturned palms represented the  receiving of divine blessings through the hands, where the shaking of downturned hands represented the shaking out of sin and evil through the finger tips (Ferguson 335,336).


1)   CELIBACY  -  Celibacy  was to  be  followed  since  sexual intercourse was the root of all evil. As Ann saw in her vision in prison, the forbidden fruit in the garden was carnal sexual intercourse  between  Adam  and  Eve.  This  is  what  corrupted all  of  mankind,   and until it is stopped,   there  can  be  no triumph  over  sin.   They used Luke 20:34-36  to  justify  this (Foster 16).

2)   CONFESSION - The first step toward spiritual progress  was the  confession  of  sins which was done to either  an  Elder  or Eldress.   This  was an oral confession,  the very first one  of which  was  done  before  the  leadership.   This  was  a   very serious  matter  and  confessions could take days or  even  weeks to  finish  (Sasson  11),   and in  some  cases  years  (Holloway 69).

3)   REGENERATION - Regeneration was obtained by works (Andrews TPCS 20).

4)  SEPARATION - Only through separation could one "realize the hope  of salvation and perfection,  complete freedom to obey the laws of God." (Andrews/Andrews 24).

5)   REVELATION - Believed in continuous revelation to  members (Andrews TPCS 97).

6)   DUAL DEITY - That there is a Father-Mother God,  or male and female sides of God of equal deity (Andrews TPCS 158).

7)  DUAL MESSIAHSHIP - That "Christ became the second Adam and Ann became the second Eve,  thus restoring the race,  both  male and female, to perfect purity." (Ferguson 324). She was Christ in  female  form.   "She was the one in whom  dwelt  the  Divine Mother."(Ferguson  324).   Mother Ann called  herself  "Ann  the Word"   and  said that she was married to the Lord  Jesus  Christ (Andrews TPCS 12).

8)   EQUALITY  OF THE SEXES - A logical attribute of  male  and female messiahship.

9)   MILLENNIAL KINGDOM - They believed that the millennium was imminent  and  that  their good works could further  the  kingdom (Sasson 10).

10)  MEMBERSHIP - New members had to follow the Millennial Laws. People  seeking entrance were put into one of two groups,  either the  Novitiate  Order  for those who had  been  married  and  the Junior  Order  for those who had not been married.  A  one  year waiting  period  or  trial  period  was  required  to  sever  all matrimonial ties by common consent, and to settle all debts.

Families  were then separated from each other and parents of the  children  could  only see them privately once a year  for  a brief time in the presence of an elder (Holloway 69).

(NOTE:   The  forgoing doctrines are the more important  ones  of many.   These  doctrines were called by the Shakers  "Millennial Laws"   by  which  they  were  to live since  they  were  in  the millennial  kingdom.  These Millennial Laws covered things  from how to treat animals up to their gospel of celibacy.)