by Leonard Brooks, Director, Shaker Museum and Shaker Library
September 2, 2012
The story of the Shakers begins in the Manchester area of England in the 1740s. One of the early leaders of the Shaker church was Ann Lees or Mother Ann as she became called. Mother Ann was the Shaker leader who brought the Shaker church to America in 1774. The full and formal name of the church is the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing. The Shakers are part of the Christian church. The second coming of Christ for the Shakers is the Shaker church. The Shakers follow a life that they call the Christ life-celibacy, communalism, confession of sin and pacifism. The name Shaker is actually a nickname derived from the early ecstatic worship of the group-the people who shake or the “Shakers.”
Shaker missionaries arrived in the District of Maine in the early 1780s. They preached publicly and in private homes following the path of a religious revival called the “New Light Stir.” Eventually three Shaker villages were established in Maine: Alfred in York County (1782-1931), Sabbathday Lake or West Gloucester in Cumberland County, now New Gloucester, (1783-present) and Gorham in Cumberland County (1808-1819).
In the case of Sabbathday Lake, the village was formally organized in 1794 and was marked by the construction of a meetinghouse that remains to this day as a place of worship for the Sabbathday Lake Shakers, an active community of Shakers. When the missionaries arrived on the site they succeeded in converting four out of five families that resided there. That property became the nucleus of the Shaker Village that in 2012 consists of 1700 acres of land and 17 structures, some open to the public by guided tour.
Sister Frances Carr’s memoir, Growing Up Shaker, provides a glimpse into life in the Sabbathday Lake community in New Gloucester.
Sabbathday Lake became a typical Shaker Village in that the Shakers lived, worked and worshiped communally within the village precincts. The Shaker labors centered on the Shaker farm including crops and livestock, the Shaker orchard, the mills and the workshops. The Shakers became famous for their inventions and improvements — Sabbathday Lake is cited as the village where permanent press cloth was first made.
Active industries in 2012 include herbs, fancy goods, yarns and oval box making. The Shakers are raising Scottish Highland cattle for the first time in their history. Shaker Sunday meeting at Sabbathday Lake is open to the public. The Village also offers seasonal tours, special exhibits and events, crafts workshops and demonstrations.
There is a museum at Alfred. Some Gorham Shaker buildings survive but are privately owned.
Alley, Harold R. History of Shakerism in Maine. 1950. ( Thesis (M.A.) in History–University of Maine, 1950)
Barker, R. Mildred. Holy Land: A History of the Alfred Shakers. Sabbathday Lake, Me. The Shaker Press. 1986, c1983.
Dole, Phoebe C. Narragansett Townships. 1897 Jan. 2-Feb. 3. (Cataloger Note: Mounted newspaper clippings from Deering News and Narragansett Sun. Gorham Shakers.)
Eastman, Harland H. Alfred, Maine: The Shakers and the Village. Springvale, Me. H. H. Eastman. 1986. (Sanford, Me. Wilson’s Printers)
Hadd, Arnold S. Holy Land: A Brief History of the Alfred Shakers. Saco, Me. Saco Museum. 2005. (Cataloger Note: Lecture from an exhibition held at the Saco Museum, Aug. 11-Oct. 30, 2005. Exhibition titled: Simple gifts : the Alfred Shaker 1783-1931.)
Johnson, Theodore E. Hands to Work and Hearts to God: The Shaker Tradition in Maine. Brunswick, Me. Bowdoin College Museum of Art. 1969.
Johnson, Theodore E. In the Eye of Eternity: Shaker Life and the Work of Shaker Hands. Sabbathday Lake, Me. The United Society of Shakers; Gorham, Me. The University of Southern Maine. 1983.
Shaker Museum and Shaker Library. www.shaker.lib.me.us
The Shaker Colony at Alfred, York County, Maine. Maine. 1930-1936. (Cataloger Note: Mounted newspaper clippings, June 28, 1930-June 13, 1936. [Photocopy. Augusta, Me. Maine State Library, 1992.]
Merrill, Althea. Shaker Girl. South Portland, Me. Pilot Press. c1987. [Maine State Library]