Who Are the Shakers?

Canterbury Shaker Village in New Hampshire, United States.
Canterbury Shaker Village in New Hampshire, United States.

The Shakers are a religious group who believe in the second appearance of Christ. The Shakers are a millenarianism restorationist Christianity sect which was established in England during the 18th century. The Shakers were previously called the "Shaking Quakers" due to their euphoric worshipping behaviors. The first Shakers community in colonial America was the New Lebanon, New York, and they practiced a communal and celibate lifestyle, equality of all sexes, and pacifism. Women like Jane Wardley and Lucy Wright assumed leadership roles as early as in 1747.

Origin of the Shakers

The Shakers, officially the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing, were a Christian religious groups which formed in Northwest England during the 18th century. In 1747, Jane and James Wardley, among others, broke from the Quakers during a time when the Quakers was weaning their group off the frenetic spiritual expressions. Jane and James Wardley established the Wardley society, also called the Shaking Quakers. The Shaker beliefs were based on spiritualism, including the idea that the Shakers received messages directly for the spirit of God which they expressed during their religious revivals. During silent meditations, the society experienced what they claimed was a message from God. The Shakers believed that the end of the world is near and rejection of all sinful behaviors.

Who Was the First Leader of the Shakers?

Since its inception, the Shakers have been led by females. In fact, the first leader was Jane Wardley, who was then followed by Ann Lee. Wardley was a religious preacher who held her sermons in Bolton, England, where she urged her congregation to repent, as the Kingdom of the Lord was near. Wardley focused mostly on the second coming of Christ, and explained to her group the importance of the first resurrection of Christ. Members of the society looked to women for leadership since they believed that the second coming of Christ would be through a woman. Ann Lee was revealed to the sect through a manifestation of the divine light of being the second coming of Christ; therefore she was famously called Mother Ann by her followers. Ann Lee was an influential preacher who called on her followers to confess all sins, become celibate, and forsake marriage.

Who Was the First Male Leader of the Shakers?

After the death of Ann Lee, James Whittaker, her son, became leader of the sect. Under Whittaker, the Shaker communities were established in New England, and in 1785 their meeting point was built in New Lebanon (now Mount Lebanon), in the US state of New York. After his death, Joseph Meacham took over leadership of the Shakers. Members of the Shakers believed that Meacham had the gift of revelation, and together with Lucy Wright, he developed Shaker communalism, and by the end of 1793, all Shaker communities consecrated communalism.

Other than the first community, many other Shaker communities developed between 1787 to 1792, all over England and across the United States. The 19th century was a period of manifestation for the Shakers, which was characterized by gift songs, dancing, and gift drawing. By mid 19th century, the society had over 6,000 believers, but by 1920 there were only twenty communities remaining in the United States. Celibacy, plus the internal and external societal changes, resulted in the thinning of the Shakers. Currently, there is just one active Shaker community, the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village, which is located in the state of Maine.


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