Shakers in America

1). Gopnik explains that Ann Lee was born on Leap Day 1736 and he fills in several gaps in the story left out by the University of Virginias research materials.

For example, Gopnik explains that Ann Lee was raised with seven siblings in a “hovel” (a crude, open shed) and that she was disgusted with the sound of her father having intercourse with her mother. “Hearing her father impregnate her mother again and again left her with the revulsion toward sex that distinguished her faith from competing millennial visions” (Gopnik, p. 2). Her prison term resulted from “disrupting the Anglican Sabbath” and while in prison she actually came to believe sex “was the root of all evil,” Gopnik goes on.

Lee had lost her four children to various illnesses, which explains some of her bitterness; also, she was raised in a working class world in Manchester, England, and the “constant pregnancy” of women in that environment “was a prime source of suffering” (Gopnik, p. 2). Her objection to sex was based perhaps more on being “anti-pregnancy” than being “anti-pleasure,” Gopnik continues (p. 2).

Once they were well settled in on the shores of North America, the Shakers followers truly believed that Ann Lee was a “reborn Christher presence made the Messiah now sexually complete, both man and woman,” Gopnik writes. Her pretensions about being a reborn Christ helped her gain followers, but it also caused her to be “wildly controversial,” so much so that she was attacked often, and once, Gopnik writes, she was “sexually assaultedby gangs of local men” (p. 2). Perhaps one of those beatings was the cause of her “sudden death, in 1784,” the writer speculates.

Once she was passed on, as was mentioned earlier in this paper, Joseph Meacham became a leader of the Shakers, and along with Lucy Wright, they “spread quickly” and became “American icons” by establishing colonies in the Massachusetts communities of Harvard and Pittsfield, all over New England and in Kentucky. Gopnik explains that at the highest point in their population there may have been 5,000 Shakers (fewer than the University of Virginia research reported).

Their “shaking” was part of the attraction that lured new followers, Gopnik points out on page 2. In the evenings their style was to put on an exhibition of “violent dancing and rhapsodic writhing.” Once they had established numerous communities of true believers their dancing became “more formalized” which amounted to a “regimented after-dinner trembling” that resembled “line dancing at a sock hop” (Gopnik, p. 2).

As descriptive and thorough as Gopniks story is about the Shakers beliefs and their challenges — along with their “genuinely radical feminism” — he keeps coming back to their handcrafted items. He praises their “long oval boxes with their lovely triple folks, the clean brooms and chairs” and Gopnik makes clear the Shakers “worked particularly hard to manufacture things for money” (p. 3).

Conclusion: An article in the American Journal of Economics and Sociology (Cosgel, et al., 1997) shows readers that there are many aspects to be explored about this unique religious group. The article delves into the Shakers communal style of living. Each commune was divided into “semi-autonomous subdivisions called Families,” Cosgel explains, and each commune had two to six families ranging in size from maybe 10 people to more than one hundred. And how each of those families was independent from the others — and shared wealth from the sale of their boxes and clocks only within the family, not within the commune. This addition information shows a reader there is much more to learn (and perhaps apply to lifestyles in American today) about the Shakers economic success story. Meantime, the Shakers were a very interesting and unique religious group that, according to the University of Virginias research, “retreated from the world completely in 1965” (p. 5).

Works Cited

Cosgel, Metin M., Miceli, Thomas J., and Murray, John E. “Organization and distributional equality in a network of communes: the Shakers.” The American Journal of Economics and Sociology Vol. 56, No. 2 (1997): 1-16.

Gopnik, Adam. “Shining Tree of Life.” The New Yorker (2006), 1-6.


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