“When they meet together for their worship, they fall a-groaning and trembling, and every one acts alone for him; one will fall prostate on the floor, another on his knees and his head in his hands.” So a visitor described a group of worshipers who danced and sang, shouted, whirled, and went into trances. Outsiders called them “Shakers,” a name they eventually came to use themselves.
The Shakers were established by “Mother Ann” Lee, who came to New York from England with seven followers in 1774. The small group made many converts, and by the 1840s, there were about 6,000 Shakers in 18 villages from Maine to Kentucky. The Shakers were Christians who believed in the equality of men and women and all races. All property was held in common. And they did not believe in marriage. Because they had no children, they had to attract converts to survive.
Shaker communities grew or made almost everything they needed. Their buildings furniture and household implements were simple but elegant. They also made improvements in farming, inventing many new tools. Beginning in the 1860s, the number of Shakers began to decline. Today, there are no Shaker communities. But some of the villages are museums, where the shaker’s spirit lives on in their unique architecture and handicrafts.
Shakers were the first to put garden seeds in envelopes and sell them across the country.