First off before we delve deeper, people sometimes confuse Shakers with Quakers. They are two completely different animals, though one of the main founders of the Shaker religion, Mother Ann Lee, was formerly a Quaker, and brought to her new faith some key principles of her former sect, including: simplicity, financial responsibility, work ethic, and the belief in the perfectibility of humankind. That is where their similarities end.The Shakers started up in the mid-1700s in England and quickly made their way to the colonies. They were originally called the Shaking Quakers because of their ecstatic behavior during their worship services. The Shakers were one of the first egalitarian faiths, stressing an emphasis on equality for all, which included women leading in church positions, something unheard of at the time. In fact, three of their primary founders are women. Mother Ann Lee, who I mentioned briefly above, Jane Wardley and Lucy Wright. Officially, the church was called The United Society of Believers of Christ’s Second Appearing. But they took on the name Shakers wholeheartedly and sailed from Liverpool in 1774 and traveled to New York with a small retinue of fellow believers and by the beginning of the American Revolution were settled in Watervilet, NY.
The Shaker religion really had its height from the 1820s to the 1860s, which puts it right into the beginning of American Spiritualism. It was known to the Shakers as the Era of Manifestations, alluding to the revelations of one of the founders, Mother Ann Lee. This was a time of what they called “spirit gifts” or messages. These would usually be in the form of dervish style dances and the young women bringing back messages from the now passed Mother Ann Lee or others from the spirit world. Or other times the “gifts” would manifest into beautiful pieces of art such as paintings known as “gift drawings”. Sometimes these messages from the Otherside didn’t go so well. The messages might lead to a new order to their faith that would cause dissention. Some of the young women delivering these messages had minor celebrity status and were sought out by others in hopes of receiving a message from someone who has departed or from Mother Ann herself. In 1842, due to the huge amounts of messages allegedly being received, the Shakers barred the public from attending Shaker services. Other revelations resulted in the publishing of an esoteric tome by Philemon Stewart, A Holy, Sacred and Divine Roll and Book. It was also during this time that the Shakers become known for their wonderful furniture making skill
The Shaker faith brought many things to the New World. An artistic esthetic that is sought after even today and often imitated. But it also brought the beginnings of Spiritualism to the colonies in the form of communications from beyond the veil. Years before the Fox sisters came upon the scene, there were these women who saw themselves equal to their male counterparts, and they had a message to share with the world.