Mother Ann Lee (1774)

The Shakers are one of the few success stories resulting from the proliferation of communitarian and millenarian groups in eighteenth and nineteeenth century Europe and America. They splintered from a Quaker community in Manchester, England (Gidley and Bowles 1990). James Wardley, its preacher, had absorbed the teachings of the millenial French Prophets and his community began to evolve around 1746 (Melton 1992). The members were known as the Shaking Quakers and were viewed as radical for their communion with the spirits of the dead and impassioned shaking that would occur at their services (Horgan, 1982; Robinson 1975). As radicals, all the members were harrassed, including a young married woman named Ann Lee. Fervent from a young age, Ann had a revelation during a long imprisonment that she was the Second Coming of Christ, the vital female component of God the Father-Mother (Bainbridge 1997; Gidley and Bowles 1990; Horgan 1982; Robinson 1975).

The vision had a great impact on the congregation and “Mother” Ann became the official leader of the group in 1772. With a distinctly new version of the Second Coming and other beliefs contradictory to mainstream Christian ideology, it was at this juncture that the Shaking Quakers became known as the Shakers (Gidley and Bowles 1990). These radical views increased the Shakers’ persecution and a small group composed of her brother, niece, husband and five others followed Mother Ann’s vision of a holy sanctuary in the New World to New York in May,1774 (Bainbridge 1997; Horgan 1982; Robinson 1975). They struggled for five years to survive, gaining few converts, on a communal farm in Watervliet, NY (Bainbridge 1997; Robinson 1975). During this period they faced great persecution for being both English and pacifistic in the middle of the Revolutionary War (Horgan 1982).

The turning point was a wave of religious revivalism called the New Light Stir that swept across New England between 1776 and 1783 (Gidley and Bowles 1990), bringing in new converts from other millenial groups and allowing the Shakers to safely proselytize. . . .

Source: “Group Profile.” The Shakers. Created by Dominica Harlan For Soc 257: New Religious Movements, Spring Term, 1998, University of Virginia. Last modified: 07/24/01