by Randall Hillebrand

(Part One)

The Shakers and the Oneida Community were contemporaries for

approximately 31 years from 1848 to 1880. This was the approximate

length of time that the Oneida Community lasted (1848-1881). The

Shakers lasted the longest between the two groups, from approximately

1774 until the present, 1830 being their peak year for membership,

declining thereafter. I have been told that there are about seven

female Shakers still living today by a woman named Jeannie Stine who

is a history buff of the Shakers from Seattle, Washington (Stine).

Both the Shakers and the Oneida Community were striving for the

same thing: the bringing in of the millennial kingdom. But, they both

had different ways in which to do it. The Shakers felt that sexual

intercourse was the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden and that by

eliminating it, God would bring in the kingdom. The Oneida Community

on the other hand thought that living as if one where in the

millennial kingdom already, would bring it in. So, as a result of

that, the Oneida Community lived a life where "complex marriage"

(where all men and all woman were jointly married to each other), or

as some would call it, free sex, was practiced. This was practiced

since they believed that in the millennium this would be the norm.

What is interesting about the Shakers and the Oneida Community is

that even though they were at opposite ends of the pole from each

other, the Shakers and the Oneida Community not only knew of each

other, but on occasion the Shakers would come and visit the Oneida

Community. They had a certain amount of respect for each other (Noyes

144). John Humphrey Noyes, the founder of the Oneida Community,

"declared that his approach and that of the Shakers were the only two

possible in the resurrected state." But he further stated that: "If I

believed in a Shaker heaven I would be a Shaker now." (Foster 89).

Both the Shakers and the Oneida Community profited from the

revivals that were taking place during their time. " The revivals left

many people distraught and torn by anxiety; and having tried without

success to gain a sense of assurance in their own churches, they were

in a receptive mood to listen to new prophets who offered definite

guarantees of spiritual security." (Hudson 183). So the revivals

played a key role in their success because of the ideas, attitudes,

and hopes which they fostered (Hudson 183).

Another fact about the two groups was that they both adopted

"communism," or in other words, communal living. Both groups lived in

a communal setting where large groups of people lived corporately in

mansion-size living quarters. They shared the responsibilities as a

group, where both men and women worked side by side with total

equality as their goal.

Also, both groups were persecuted for their faith. This is quite

interesting when we remember the fact that one group believed in no

sex and the other group believed in "free sex." The general

population did not agree with either extreme. They were both

extremist groups that did not fit in with the main stream of society

at that time, even though both groups went as far as isolating their

communities from the general population.

The Shakers and the Oneida Community were in some ways very

similar, but in other ways very diverse.



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 favored 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 (Ferguson 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).

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



"As lust conceived by the fall

Hath more or less infected all;

So we believe 'tis only this

That keepeth souls from perfect bliss."

(Hudson 185)

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


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 revivalistÿgroups of this time. At this time there were

approximately thirty believers 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 separate 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 Wittaker

(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 Wittaker'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 progress 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 came 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, 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 systematized 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

separation 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);

Harvard, 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 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, (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 inarticulate sounds, which neither

they or any body else can 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 drumming 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


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


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


(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


(9) MILLENNIAL KINGDOM - They believed that the millennium was

imminent and that their good works could further the kingdom (Sasson


(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


(NOTE: The foregoing 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.)

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