Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Meet some Mt. Lebanon Shakers

This poster from Mt. Lebanon has some of the most important members who lived there, but lacks two who were perhaps the most important of all. Joseph Meacham moved to Mt. Lebanon soon after assuming leadership of the Society. Meacham was a former Baptist minister whose ideas transformed the Shakers. Naming Sister Lucy Wright as eldress and female head of the Society, he set the Shakers on a course that would lead to full equality between the sexes. There are no images of either since they both died before photography was invented in 1826. Together they called the converts together into communities, established the governing structure for those communities, established communal ownership of all property, dissolved marriages of converts and placed children together under the supervision of unrelated adults. These changes were referred to as being in "church order."

Lucy Wright initially had resisted joining the Shakers. Her husband, Elizur Goodrich first joined the Shakers after attending a revival in 1780. Lucy clung to her marriage vows for several months before giving in. When Joseph Meacham left Watervliet for New Lebanon, he called Lucy to join him, naming her an eldress and co-leader of the Society. He also gave her the title of Mother, which previously had been bestowed only on Ann Lee. Meacham and Wright served as the leaders and administrators of all Shaker families in every Shaker community, naming an elder and eldress to administer each community, with subordinate elders and eldresses over each family within a community. Thus the duality of joint male/female leadership was implemented at every level with the Society.

Lucy Wright continued to be the female leader of the Society following Meacham's death in 1796. It was she who sent the three missionaries (Issachar Bates, John Meacham, and Benjamin Seth Youngs) from New Lebanon to the western frontier following the Cane Ridge Revival. She began a publishing enterprise that facilitated standardization of Shaker faith and practice across the communities. Wright returned to Watervliet, where she died in 1821. She is buried next to Ann Lee.

Robert Wagan didn't create the Shaker chair, but he introduced mass-production techniques that standardized parts and increased production. The chair industry at Mt. Lebanon became a major source of income for the community with chairs being shipped all over the world. The number of models and styles was staggering; rockers in seven sizes with multiple styles and materials, ladder-back straight chairs, woven-back straight chairs, chairs with and without arms. For a while, chairs carried the label "Robert Wagan & Co., Mt. Lebanon, New York." Straight chairs that sold new for $ 0.50 each now sell for thousands of dollars.

Anna White was eldress in the Mt. Lebanon North Family. It is usually her photograph that will appear if you seek an on-line image of Ann Lee.

Frederick W. Evans became well known through granting interviews, correspondence, and his autobiography. He corresponded with a wide range of important figures, including President Lincoln, whom he contacted to try to obtain pensions for Shakers who had served in wars before joining the Society. His Autobiography of a Shaker and Revelation of the Apocalypse was a major contribution to Shaker apologetics.


  1. A fascinating post. Like all good blog-posts it made me want to find out more.

    1. And more there is, Alan. My wife and I have been studying the Shakers for 40 years and we continue to learn.