The Shakers formed in the middle of the 1700’s and moved to the United States in 1774. So, at the time of “The Simple Murder” in 1795 they were already established and rapidly growing. During the mid- nineteenth century the Shakers numbered between 4,000 and 5,000 members living in 19 communities that stretched from Maine to Kentucky. Several of these remain as museums. The converted community in Hancock, Mass has interpretive guides after the Williamsburg model: www.hancockshakervillage.org. Today, there are still three living Shakers residing in the Sabbathday Lake community near Auburn, Maine.
The more formal name for the Shakers, which they gave themselves, was United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, or the Believers for short, but they were called The Shaking Quakers for the dancing, singing and twirling in their services. They also called their Church the Millennium Church since they expected their Church to last a thousand years.
From the very beginning women played a significant role in the formation and shape of the sect. Ann Lee, who joined in 1758, claimed revelations regarding the fall of Adam and Eve, and preached celibacy. She became a highly influential and revered leader, called Mother Ann by her followers. Many of her admonitions became part of the Shaker canon.
“Good spirits will not live where there is dirt.”
“Do your work as though you had a thousand years to live and as if you were to die tomorrow.”