Friday, October 7, 2011

Canterbury Shaker Village

The United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, commonly known as Shaking Quakers, or Shakers, because of their ecstatic worship, originated in England in 1747. Their worship included “singing and dancing, shaking and shouting, speaking with new tongues and prophesying.” Ann Lee joined them in 1758 and soon became the leader. In 1774, Ann Lee and eight followers emigrated to the U.S. and settled in New York, north of Albany, at a place they called Niskayuna, later known as Watervliet. Over the next century, the Shakers built more than 20 settlements and had more than 20,000 converts. Among those settlements were two we visited on our recent trip: Canterbury, New Hampshire, begun in 1792, and Sabbathday Lake (originally New Gloucester), Maine, begun in 1794. The maximum membership of the Shakers, at any one time, was about 6,000 in 1840. The Shakers have virtually died out, so I will refer to them in the past tense. There are now only two or three Shakers still living and they reside at Sabbathday Lake in Maine. 

The Shakers believed God was both a man and a woman. That the fall of Adam and Eve was due to sexual intercourse and that men and women should be celibate. They believed that Jesus was the male manifestation of Christ and that Ann Lee was the female manifestation of Christ and that Ann Lee was the fulfillment of Christ’s Second Coming. They believed in revelation, through visions and inspiration, including inspiration that led to teachings against the use of pork, tea, coffee, alcohol and tobacco. Joseph Meacham, who became the Shaker leader in 1787, developed the Shaker form of communalism. After 1790, those who joined the Shakers signed a written covenant to consecrate their property to the society, to labor for the society and to live celibate. Those who were married when they joined essentially ended their marriages.

A Shaker Village was divided into families. The leading group was the Church Family and there were satellite families named for points on the compass rose. Each family shared a large house and a group of families was a Shaker village. Each family had its own farm and businesses. The village was governed by two Elders (men) and two Eldresses (women). Each family was also led by two Elders and two Eldresses, the Elders overseeing the men and the Eldresses overseeing the women. Houses were divided between men and women so that they did most things separately. They used different staircases and doors, sat on opposite sides of the room in church and at meals, but they did treat each other as brothers and sisters and cooperated together in tasks around the village such as food production.

When the early Mormons were living in Kirtland, Ohio, there was a Shaker community known as Union Village, consisting of about 600 people, nearby. Leman Copley, a former Shaker, had joined the Mormons and had consecrated his farm, between 700 and 1,000 acres, for settlement by church members arriving from Colesville, New York. Copley insisted on retaining some of his Shaker beliefs and Joseph Smith, “In order to have [a] more perfect understanding on the subject, …inquired of the Lord, and received” a revelation that is now codified in Doctrine & Covenants Section 49. This was in May 1831. Counter to the Shaker belief that Christ’s second coming had occurred in the form of a woman, Ann Lee, the revelation stated that “the Son of Man…reigneth in the heavens, and will reign till he descends on the earth…which time is nigh at hand - …but the hour and the day no man knoweth…nor shall they know until he comes….[T]he Son of Man cometh not in the form of a woman, neither of a man traveling on the earth.” (verses 6-7, 22) Counter to the Shaker prohibition against eating pork, and many that did not eat any meat, the revelation stated, “whoso forbiddeth to abstain from meats…is not ordained of God; For, behold, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which cometh of the earth, is ordained for the use of man for food and for raiment, and that he might have in abundance.” (verses 18-19)  Counter to the Shaker belief in a celibate life, the revelation stated, “whoso forbiddeth to marry is not ordained of God, for marriage is ordained of God unto man. Wherefore, it is lawful that he should have one wife, and they twain shall be one flesh, and all this that the earth might answer the end of its creation” (verses 15-16). Sidney Rigdon, Parley P. Pratt and Leman Copley took a copy of the revelation to Union Village and read it to the Shakers there, but they got nowhere with it. The Mormons had their own experiences with communal living in Kirtland, as well as later in Utah, which were similar in many respects to the Shakers, but ultimately abandoned those efforts as unworkable. Joseph Smith later introduced the Word of Wisdom which counseled against the use of tea, coffee, alcohol and tobacco, but not pork. However, he went the opposite direction of the Shakers so far as celibacy is concerned, introducing plural marriage.

Shaker meetinghouse were white and simple. There were no pulpits or decorations because those things were worldly. “In meeting, they marched, sang, danced, and sometimes turned, twitched, jerked, or shouted. The earliest Shaker worship services were unstructured, loud, chaotic and emotional.” Later they “developed precisely choreographed dances and orderly marches accompanied by symbolic gestures.” The Shaker meeting house at Canterbury Village is below, down a tree-lined lane. 
There are two entrances. The entrance on the left is for men and the one on the right is for women. 
A side view of the meeting house.
The back of the meeting house. 
Charles Nordhoff published a book in 1875 titled The Communistic Societies of the United States, in which he described the various Shaker Villages. Language in quotes from his book is below as I share some more pictures from Canterbury.

“The society at Canterbury lies on high ground, about twelve miles north by east from Concord [New Hampshire]. It consists of three families, of which, however, two only are independent; the third, which has but fifteen members, receiving its supplies from the Church Family, which contains one hundred members. The three families have in all one hundred and forty-five members. In 1823 they had over two hundred, and forty years ago they had about three hundred...This society is prosperous. It owns three thousand acres of rather poor farming land, some of which is in wood and timber. It has also a farm in Western New York, where it maintains eight hundred sheep. Its industries are varied: they make large washing-machines and mangles for hotels and public institutions, weave woolen cloths and flannels, make sarsaparilla syrup, checkerberry oil, and knit woolen socks. They also make brooms, and sell hay; have a saw-mill; make much of what they use; and they keep excellent stock, having one enormous and admirably arranged barn. The sisters also make fancy articles, for which they have a good market from the summer visitors to the mountains, with whom the Canterbury Shakers are justly favorites." 

The picture below was taken from near the botanical garden of the village. The white house at the left, with the largest chimney, is the Dry House, built in 1879, where laundry was dried by steam on indoor, moveable racks.  To its right, with a red roof, is the Laundry, built in 1816. The brown building to the right of the Laundry is the Syrup Shop, built in 1785. Medicinal syrups were distilled there, food was canned and herbs were dried. The smaller white building, to its right, with the red roof is the Garage, built in 1923, for village automobiles. Just visible to its right, with red walls, is the Power House, built in 1910, with a DC generator. The brown building to its right, and more in the foreground, is the Woodshed, built in 1861. The yellow building to its right is the Bee House, not moved to that spot until 1940. It originally was an area for drying apples and lumber, but later used as a bee house. Finally, to the farthest right, the long structure with a light brown roof is the Cart Shed, where horse-drawn vehicles were stored and wagonloads were weighed.
The Fire House, below, was built in 1908. Its tall red tower is just visible in the picture above the Woodshed. The white building to its right and behind is the Creamery, where they processed milk and made butter, built in 1905. 
The School House below, was built in 1823 and expanded to its current size in 1863. 
The building in the foreground to the left is the Carpenter's Shop, built in 1806. It was originally used to house guests, then later to manufacture brooms. The building in the right foreground is the Brethren's Shop, built in 1824. It was used by farmers, wheelmakers, shoemakers and physicians. The Creamery is just behind it and the North Shop is at the far back, built in 1841, to provide workspace. 
"Their buildings are very complete and in excellent order. They have a steam laundry, with mangle, and an admirably arranged ironing-room; a fine and thoroughly fitted school-house, with a melodeon, and a special music-room; an infirmary for the feeble and sick, in which there is a fearful quantity of drugs; and they take twelve or fifteen newspapers, and have a library of four hundred volumes, including history, voyages, travels, scientific works, and stories for children, but no novels."

"The Canterbury Society was 'gathered' in 1792; the leading men owned the farm on which the buildings now stand, and gave the land to the community. The old gambrel-roofed meeting-house was built in 1792, and still stands in good order. The founders and early members were Free-will Baptists, who became Shakers after a great "revival." They had some property originally; and soon began to manufacture spinning-wheels, whips, sieves, mortars, brooms, scythe-snaths, and dry measures; they established also a tannery. As times changed, they dropped some of these industries and took up others. One of their members invented the washing-machine which they now make, and they hold the patent-right for it."

"They employ six mechanics, non-members, and occasionally others. The members mostly eat meat, drink tea but not coffee, and a few of the aged members are indulged in the use of chewing-tobacco. They take fewer children than formerly, and prefer to take young men and women from eighteen to twenty-four. They take great pains to amuse as well as instruct the children; for the girls, gymnastic exercises are provided as well as a flower garden; the boys play at ball and marbles, go fishing, and have a small farm of their own, where each has his own garden plot. Once a week there is a general "exercise" meeting of the children, and they are, of course, included in the usual meetings for worship, reading, and conversation."

"The "shops" or work-rooms are all excellently fitted; in the girls' sewing-room I found a piano, and a young sister taking her music-lesson. The children are trained to confess their sins to the elders, in the Shaker fashion, and this is thought to be a most important part of their discipline."

"In the dwelling-house and near the kitchen I noticed a great number of buckets, hung up to the beams, one for each member, and these are used to carry hot water to the rooms for bathing. The dwellings are not heated with steam. The dining-room was ornamented with evergreens and flowers in pots." Picture of the dwelling house is below. It is the largest building at Canterbury, built in 1793, but expanded several times until 1837, and has cooking and dining areas, sleeping areas, common rooms and a chapel. 
It housed 80 to 100 people who ate in two to three different seatings. The first floor had a butcher shop, bakery, kitchen and dining room.  
The large domed cupola on top, built in 1832, has a Paul Revere bell that was used to call the family to meals and meetings.
The second and third floor were bedrooms and the attic was a storage area. 
"They have no physician, but in the infirmary the sisters in charge have sufficient skill for ordinary cases of disease. The people are not great readers. The Bible, however, is much read. They are fond of music. In summer they entertain visitors at a set price, and have rooms fitted for this purpose. In the visitors' dining-room I saw this printed notice:
At the table we wish all to be as free as at home, but we dislike the wasteful habit of leaving food on the plate. No vice is with us the less ridiculous for being fashionable.
Married persons tarrying with us overnight are respectfully notified that each sex occupy separate sleeping apartments while they remain."

"They had at Canterbury formerly a printing-press, and printed a now scarce edition of hymns, and several books. This press has been sold."

"The trustees here give once a year an inventory and statement of accounts to the elders of the Church Family. In the years 1848-9 they suffered severe losses from the defalcation of an agent or trustee, but they have long ago recovered this loss, and now owe no debts." The Trustees' Office is below, built in 1831. It was the residence and offices of the Trustees. They interacted with visitors from the outside there. 
"Agriculture they believe to be the true base of community life, and if their land were fertile they would be glad to leave off manufacturing entirely. But on such land as they have they cannot make a living."

"The leading elder of the society remarked to me that, though in numbers they were less than formerly, the influence of the Canterbury Society upon the outside world was never so great as now: their Sunday meetings in summer are crowded by visitors, and they believe that often their doctrines sink deep into the hearts of these chance hearers." The Garden Barn, built in 1828 (this is a reconstruction) is in the distance to the left, below. The Garden Shed, also a reconstruction of an 1877 building, is to its right. The Vegetable Garden in front of it is much more limited now, it used to be three acres.  
A closer look at the Vegetable Garden. 
From the Garden Barn looking back at the East House on the left, built in 1810, used as the first Trustees' Office, then later as a dwelling place for girls. The brown building to its right is the Sisters' Shop, built in 1816, used as work and office space and a music room for the sisters. The cupola on top of the Dwelling House is visible just to the right of the center tree, and the red-roofed Laundry, built in 1816, is the long building to the right. 
Below is a picture of the front of the East House (to the right) taken from the side of the Meeting House. The Sisters' Shop is the brown building to the left and mostly hidden by the tree. 
The Ministry Shop, below, was built in 1848, and used by the Elders and Eldresses, the men and women responsible for the spiritual leadership of the families. 
My favorite part of the village was the beautiful pond to the back. I understand that they had a series of ponds at differing levels and used the water running between the levels to generate power. 
Another view of the same pond, looking from a different area. 
It is really impressive that the Shakers were able to build and sustain these beautiful, functioning, villages for so long, much longer than the Mormons were able to maintain their communal villages. It would be interesting to study the differences. I wonder if celibacy was part of the difference? 


  1. This was a truly idyllic setting, and I felt at peace just being there. It was fun to learn about this community, and I really developed respect for their positive approach to life and search for simplicity. We could all use a bit more of that! It is also fun to see the conversion of Leman Copely in a new light. Thanks for including that!

  2. Nice place, but I wouldn't want to live there. I always wondered why I never saw any Shakers today and now I know why.