The Shakers

"Shakers Dance During a Religious Ceremony-" 1830.

The Shakers were a Christian sect that emerged in England in the late 1700s. They originally broke off as a group from the Quakers, led by Ann Lee, an English cook who believed she was the second incarnation of Christ. In 1774, Lee and her eight followers moved to Albany, New York to establish their own church. There, they began practicing the famous ritual dancing that made them known as "Shaking Quakers," which eventually turned into Shakers.

A modern-day recreation of authentic Shaker dance.

As the faith evolved, the Shakers made the decision as a group to retreat from society and live in strict closed communities of believers. Most of the communities that formed were in New England, New York, and Ohio. By 1830, the religion had attracted over 3000 converts.

Shaker practices:

-Ritual dance (as seen above)

-Folk songs- for example, the popular hymn "Simple Gifts" was originally written by Shakers.

-Celibacy- they believed sex was the origin of all sin and did not uphold marriage as an institution. They were so adamant about abstaining that men and women lived separate from each other in the communities, coming in contact only during worship.

-Abstinence from alcohol, tobacco, politics, and war (pacifism-Quaker origins)

-Belief that God was a dual individual, both male and female

-Complete racial and gender equality

-Important agriculture and crafts- furniture making and seed sales- also folk art created as religious symbols or gifts

The Tree of Blazing Life, a gift drawing by Shaker sister Hannah Cohoon.

Many people were attracted to shaker communities because they offered an escape from chaotic, industrial American life. They also offered women the chance to take on leadership roles, and were very economically successful. Their societies after the death of original leader Ann Lee were led by a council of elders, both male and female. Their communities were successful until around the 1840s and 50s. In this period, converts came more and more infrequently, and because the Shakers could have no children of their own, they ran out of supporters.

One of the most popular hymns of the time, Joseph Brackett's Simple Gifts illustrates the Shakers' love of God and belief in the value of simplicity. An extended version of the lyrics can be found here:

Fun fact: a lot of modern music is actually inspired by Puritan hymns. This song, The Greatest Man That Ever Lived by Weezer, is subtitled "variations on a Shaker hymn--" that hymn being Simple Gifts.



Cohoon, Hannah, “Tree of Life or Blazaing Tree,” 1845, accessed                October 22nd, 2014.  ohoon,_Tree_of_Life_or_Blazaing_Tree,_1845.jpg

Brackett, Joesph. “Simple Gifts Lyrics,” Constitution, accessed October 22nd,         2014.


English, Linda. "Shakers." In Gilje, Paul A., and Gary B. Nash, eds. Encyclopedia of   American History: Revolution and New Nation, 1761 to 1812, Revised Edition (Volume   III). New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2010. American History Online. Facts On File, Inc.
 ItemID=WE52&iPin=EAHIII334&SingleRecord=True (accessed October 22, 2014).

"Shakers Dance During a Religious Ceremony." Library of Congress. Prints and       Photographs Division. Popular Graphic Arts Collection. American History Online. Facts   On File, Inc., accessed October 22, 2014. ItemID=WE52...True

“Simple Gifts - the Shakers.” Youtube video, 3:44, posted by “bolander610” on February   22nd, 2008, accessed October 21st, 2014.   QmvM5c

Maffly-Kipp, Laurie F. "Shakers." In Queen, Edward L., II, Stephen R. Prothero, and   Gardiner H. Shattuck Jr., eds. Encyclopedia of American Religious History, Third   Edition. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2009. American History Online. Facts On File,   Inc. (accessed October 22, 2014).

“Weezer - The Greatest Man That Ever Lived (Lyrics).” Youtube video, 6:00, posted   by “eliteuk97” on July 29th, 2010, accessed on October 22nd,   2014

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