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Shakers

Shakers, popular name for members of the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing, also called the Millennial Church. Members of the movement, who received their name from the trembling produced by religious emotion, were also known as Alethians. The movement originated in a Quaker revival in England in 1747, and was led by James and Jane Wardley. However, the sect, then known as the Shaking Quakers, grew strong only after the appearance of Ann Lee. Imprisoned for her zeal, she believed herself the recipient of the mother element of the spirit of Christ. Following a vision, she and eight followers emigrated (1774) to New York state and in 1776 founded a colony at Watervliet, near Albany. Mother Ann, as she was known, gained a number of converts, who after her death (1784) began the formation of Shaker communities. By 1826 there were 18 Shaker communities in eight states, as far west as Indiana. After 1860, Shakerism began to decline; by 2000 it was almost nonexistent, with a tiny community in New Gloucester, Maine, constituting the only active Shaker village in the country. One of the fundamental doctrines of the society was belief in the dual nature of the Deity. The male principle was incarnated in Jesus; the female principle, in Mother Ann. Other tenets were celibacy, open confession of sins, communal ownership of possessions in the advanced groups, separation from the world, pacifism, equality of the sexes, and consecrated work. Singing, dancing, and marching characterized phases of Shaker worship. The community was organized into groups, called families, of between 30 and 90 individuals. The believers donated their services and possessions but were always free to leave. Shaker furniture and handcrafts are noted for their fine design and crafting.

See E. D. Andrews and F. Andrews, Shaker Furniture (1937, repr. 1964) and The People Called Shakers (2d ed. 1963); J. G. Shea, American Shakers and Their Furniture (1970); H. C. Desroche, The American Shakers (tr. 1971); P. J. Brewer, Shaker Communities, Shaker Lives (1986); S. J. Stein, The Shaker Experience in America (1992); S. Skees, God among the Shakers (1998).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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