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William Monroe Brown

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The Shakers

Introduction:

They called themselves the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, but because of their ecstatic dancing the world called them the Shakers.

The Shakers were celibate, they did not marry or bear children, yet theirs is the most enduring religious experiment in American history. Seventy-five years before the emancipation of the slaves and one hundred fifty years before women began voting in America, the Shakers were practicing social, sexual, economic, and spiritual equality for all members.

The Shakers were ordinary people who chose to give up their families, property, and worldly ties in order “to know, by daily experience, the peaceable nature of Christ’s kingdom.” In return, they were welcomed into “holy families” where men and women lived as brother and sister, where all property was held in common, and where each participated in the rigorous daily task of transforming the earth into heaven.

Shakerism was founded by an illiterate English factory worker named Ann Lee. Guided by divine visions and signs, she and eight pilgrims came to America in 1774 to spread her gospel in the New World.

At their height in 1840 more than six thousand believers lived in nineteen communal villages from New England to Ohio and Kentucky. Tales of their peaceful and prosperous lives impressed the world’s utopians. But Shaker aspirations were divine, not social or material. As millennialists, they were unified in the belief that Christ had come again, first in the person of Mother Ann and subsequently “in all in whom the Christ consciousness awakens.” It was therefore the duty of each believer to live purely in “the kingdom come” and to strive for perfection in everything he or she did.

Work was the currency of their service. If the world was to be redeemed and restored to God, the Shakers would accomplish it by the dedicated labor of their hands. They believed that God dwelt in the details of their work and in the quality of their craftsmanship. All their devotion, which no longer went to family or home, was put into what they made. Their villages were meticulously constructed and maintained, their workshops were world renowned for reliable goods, and their gardens provided amply for their own needs, with plenty to spare for the poor.

To read more from the Ken Burns PBS description go here.

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South Union, Kentucky Shaker Communiity

The longest-lived Shaker community in the West, South Union Shakertown in Kentucky, was active from 1807 to 1922. Comprised of 225 buildings and 6,000 acres of land, the architecture of this Shaker village reflects a regional Southern influence, quite distinct from the villages of the eastern United States. South Union's Centre House has been recognized as one of the finest Shaker buildings in existence with its simple refined details--the curves of its limestone gutters and its many elegant arches. This three and one-half-story, T-shaped dwelling for the Church family was built with handmade brick and a hand-hewn limestone foundation between 1822 and 1833 and became the central building of the South Union village. Although it incorporated separate spaces within the dwelling, the Centre House did not include the typical gender-separated main entrance, but had a double stone stairway leading to a single main doorway instead.

Today visitors to Kentucky can visit the South Union Shakertown Historic District which is located along US Hwy. 68 in South Union, Kentucky. The Shaker Museum at South Union is open for tours March 1-November 30, 9:00am to 4:00pm Monday-Saturday, and 1:00pm to 4:00pm Sundays (closed Thanksgiving). For more information call 1-800-811-8379.

Shaker Cemetery, South Union, Logan, Kentucky To view who is buried in this cemetery click here!

South Union Cemetery                      South Union Cemetery history



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