In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God. (John 1:1)
John in his gospel sets out immediately to establish the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth by using the Greek term "Logos" or "Word." Ann Lee (1736-1784), the founder of the religious sect that became known as Shakers, was known to refer to herself as "Ann, the Word," a clear reference to her belief that she was The Christ in female form. If that were true, then her presence was the Second Coming that Jesus had promised. Thus her followers went by the formal name of The United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing.
She was born in Manchester, England, to a blacksmith father who forced her into a marriage she did not want. This union produced four still births and four living children, none of whom survived beyond age six. Immersing herself in religion, she rose to leadership in a small group of Quakers who had become charismatics. Ann advocated the dissolution of marriage and a life of celibacy, teaching that sexual relations were sinful and that one must strive for perfection in all areas.
The culture that developed in Shaker communities produced results that have made the Shakers well-known and respected today, although the Society itself is nearly extinct. Communal life and celibacy eased many of the burdens that face most humans. Shakers had time to consider better ways of doing jobs. That free time and their stress on perfection led to many labor-saving and more efficient inventions, such as the flat broom and the circular saw blade. Mother Ann's admonition to "build as if it has to last a thousand years" has left us with many outstanding examples of Shaker architecture. Their insistence on simplicity and functionality produced starkly beautiful furniture and artifacts that are highly prized by collectors today.
Over the next couple of weeks I'll point out examples of some of these developments while visiting the New England Shaker sites that are accessible to the public. And I will introduce you to some other Shakers of historical importance. Please join me.