"Having received your circular, requesting information concerning our society, we freely notice it, and are most willing to give you any information respecting us.
"It appears your request extends sufficiently far to embrace an exposition of our moral and religious tenets, our faith, principles, and manner of life, our secular concerns, &c.
"We have seen several historical sketches of our society by different writers; but it is very rare to find one free from misrepresentations of some kind, which must be owing either to ignorance or prejudice. Therefore, in our communications, we may be somewhat particular on some points; in any of which, if there be any thing found agreeable to your desires, you are welcome to it; and, as it is presumed your publication is intended for information, among other truths, we hope to see something relative to us, different from most of the descriptions of former writers.
"In obtaining information of one society, you get a general understanding of all; for we are of one heart and one mind. Our faith is one, our practice is one.
"We are acknowledged and distinguished as a peculiar people, singular from all others; which peculiarity arises wholly from these two principles -- our faith and manner of life, which comprise our motives in separating from the course and practice of the world, the manner in which our property is held, &c. &c.
"It is a fact acknowledged by all professed Christians, that there are two creations, an old and a new; or, which is the same thing, two kingdoms, the kingdom of this world, and the kingdom of Christ. It is also a truth as frankly granted, that these two creations, or kingdoms, are headed, the one by the first Adam, denominated the old man, and the other by the second Adam, Christ Jesus, denominated the new man -- two different personages, possessing very different spirits, and executing very different works. As positive as the preceding declarations are, that there exist two distinct creations, and which are headed by two distinct characters, so positive are the following: -- that the subjects of each kingdom bear a strong resemblance to their respective king, and plainly represent the particular kingdom they inhabit; for, 'As we have borne the image of the earthly, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.' (1 Cor.15:49.)
"Also that no person can have demands upon, and privileges in, these two men and creations at one and the same time. We must either hold to the old, and have nothing to do with the new, or we must come out and forsake the old, and come into the new. We must either put off the old man, Adam, and his works, which are well known to be multiplying and supporting of an earthly kingdom, which is the kingdom of this world, or we must put on the new man, Christ Jesus, and his works, which are well known to be a life without spot, chaste, virgin, and unstained by indulgences in any of those things which a beloved worthy said constitutes the world. (1 John 2:15, 16.) To these principles of faith we are strict, and may be called rigid, adherents; equally tenacious in the practical part of the new man, and in the same degree pointed against the old.
"The second part of this subject of singularity in us consists in the manner in which we hold our property, which, perhaps, is well known to be in common, after the order of the primitive church in the days of the apostles, in which state we have lived rising forty years, 'of one heart and one soul;' not any of us saying that 'aught of the things which he possessed was his own,' (Acts 4:32;) 'buying as though we possessed not,' (1 Cor.7:30;) and 'having nothing, and yet possessing all things.' (2 Cor.6:10.) In consequence thereof, we are retired from the world, as not of that kingdom; 'My kingdom is not of this world,' &c., (John 18:36;) by which we enjoy a closer communion with our God, and by which we follow the instruction of the Spirit, which saith, 'Come ye out from among them, and be ye separate,' &c. (2 Cor.6:17.)
"Our society contains three distinct families, comprising 233 souls; 103 males, and 130 females. The number of persons over 70 is 18; between 60 and 70, 21; between 21 and 60, 125; under 21, 63. The oldest person is 88. Deaths since the gathering of the society, in 1792, 85.
"Our village is situated in the N. W. corner of the town, on the western shore of Mascomy Pond, a pleasant sheet of water, of nearly five miles in length, and half a mile average width. Our village and home are pleasant to us, and are said to be so by travellers. It is about ten miles S. E. from Dartmouth College, forty N. W. from Concord, and one hundred from Boston.
"In all the families there are nearly thirty buildings, unadorned, except with neatness, simplicity, and convenience, besides many out-buildings. Among the buildings are one house of public worship, one convenient school-house, three dwelling-houses, one for each family, sufficiently large to accommodate us as places for cooking, eating, sleeping, and retirement from labor, and shops for the different branches of work. Our privilege for mills is very small; consequently our machinery cannot be extensive. Yet the little water that is running in small brooks, which can be conveniently collected into artificial ponds, is improved, by their emptying from one to another, and by the interspersion of mills upon their discharging streams. We have three saw-mills, two grist-mills, and some other machinery.
"As strangers, who many times wish to call, are frequently much straitened and embarrassed by not knowing where to call, or what to say, we should be pleased to have it particularly noticed, that we have one building designated from the rest by the sign, 'Trustees' Office,' over the door, where strangers are received, where our commercial business is transacted, and where civil people wishing for information may freely obtain it, or be directed where it can be obtained.
"In our occupation we are agriculturists and mechanics. The products of the garden may be said to be as important as any; which are principally seeds, herbs, &c., from which this section of the country is chiefly supplied. Our manufactures are wooden ware, such as tubs, pails, half-bushel and other measures, boxes, &c.; also, whips, corn-brooms, leather, and various other articles.
"We keep from 1200 to 1500 sheep, mostly Saxon and Merino, which afford wool for our own wear, and is likewise a source of small trade with us. We keep about eighty cows, which supply us with milk for a dairy, for our own consumption only.
"The education of our youth and children has been a subject of much conversation among many people. It has been reported, that the children which we frequently take in and bring up with us, are kept in ignorance, having no opportunity of improving their minds by a literary education. But the weight of this censure is gradually growing less, by the contrary proof to the hundreds of visitors who flock into our school, and who are not at all sparing of their high encomiums upon it. It is conducted partially on the Lancasterian system, and is said to surpass any of the common schools about us. Our school-room is furnished with books and apparatus of a superior kind, which, we presume, is not equalled by any school in the country, save the one among our people at Canterbury, which, perhaps, is not in any respect inferior.
"In this society are two physicians. Each family has its respective elders or ministers; among these and other individuals of the society, are public speakers, whom you would denominate the clergy.
"You see, from what we have here written, that we have taken up many subjects, and several of them explicitly treated upon, although short; from which, together with the pamphlet accompanying this letter, we conclude you may be able to get considerable of an understanding, and which you are at liberty to call at your pleasure. But it is sincerely to be hoped, if you publish any thing concerning us, you will be careful to preserve the true ideas of our communications."
From the pamphlet above mentioned we make the following extracts: --
"Faith And Principles Of The Society.
"1. A life of innocence and purity, according to the example of Jesus Christ and his first true followers; implying entire abstinence from all sensual and carnal gratifications.
"2. LOVE. -- 'By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. Love is the fulfilling of the law.' This is our bond of union.
"3. PEACE. -- 'Follow peace with all men,' is a divine precept; hence our abstinence from war and bloodshed, from all acts of violence towards our fellow-men, from all the party contentions and politics of the world, and from all the pursuits of pride and worldly ambition. 'My kingdom (said Christ) is not of this world.'
"4. JUSTICE. -- 'Render to every man his due. Owe no man any thing, but to love one another.' We are to be just and honest in all our dealings with mankind, to discharge all just dues, duties, and equitable claims, as seasonably and effectually as possible.
"5. HOLINESS. -- 'Without which no man shall see the Lord.' Which signifies to be consecrated, or set apart from a common to a sacred use. Hence arise all our doctrines and practical rules of dedicating our persons, services, and property, to social and sacred uses, having adopted the example of the first gospel church, in establishing and supporting one consecrated and united interest by the voluntary choice of every member, as a sacred privilege, and not by any undue constraint or persuasion.
"6. GOODNESS. -- Do good to all men, as far as opportunity and ability may serve, by administering acts of charity and kindness, and promoting light and truth among mankind. 'Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.'
"7. TRUTH. -- This principle is opposed to falsehood, lying, deceit, and hypocrisy, and implies fidelity, reality, good, earnest sincerity, and punctuality in keeping vows and promises. These principles are the genuine basis of our institution, planted by its first founders, exhibited in all our public writings, justified by Scripture and fair reason, and practically commended as a system of morality and religion, adapted to the best interest and happiness of man, both here and hereafter.
"Manner Of Admitting Members.
"1. All persons who unite with this society, in any degree, must do it freely and voluntarily, according to their own faith and unbiased judgment.
"2. In the testimony of the society, both public and private, no flattery nor any undue influence is used, but the most plain and explicit statements of its faith and principles are laid before the inquirer, so that the whole ground may be comprehended, as far as possible, by every candidate for admission.
"3. No considerations of property are ever made use of, by this society, to induce any person to join it, nor to prevent any one from leaving it; because it is our faith, that no act of devotion, or service, that does not flow from the free and voluntary emotions of the heart, can be acceptable to God, as an act of true religion.
"4. No believing husband, or wife, is allowed, by the principles of this society, to separate from an unbelieving partner, except by mutual agreement, unless the conduct of the unbeliever be such as to warrant a separation by the laws of God and man. Nor can any husband, or wife, who has otherwise abandoned his or her partner, be received into communion with the society.
"5. Any person becoming a member, must rectify all his wrongs, and, as fast and as far as it is in his power, discharge all just and legal claims, whether of creditors or filial heirs. Nor can any person, not conforming to this rule, long remain in union with the society. But the society is not responsible for the debts of any individual, except by agreement because such responsibility would involve a principle ruinous to the institution.
"6. No difference is to be made in the distribution of parental estate among the heirs, whether they belong to the society or not; but an equal partition must be made, as far as may be practicable, and consistent with reason and justice.
"7. If an unbelieving wife separate from a believing husband, by agreement, the husband must give her a just and reasonable share of the property; and if they have children who have arrived to years of understanding sufficient to judge for themselves, and who choose to go with their mother, they are not to be disinherited on that account. Though the character of this institution has been much censured on this ground, yet we boldly assert that the rule above stated has never, to our knowledge, been violated by this society.
"8. Industry, temperance, and frugality, are prominent features of this institution. No member who is able to labor, can be permitted to live idly upon the labors of others. All are required to be employed in some manual occupation, according to their several abilities, when not engaged in other necessary duties."
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"The rules of government in the society are adapted to the different orders of which it is composed. In all (as far as respects adults) it is spiritual; its powers and authorities growing out of the mutual faith, love, and confidence, of all the members, and harmoniously concurring in the general form and manner of government established by the first founders of the society.
"The leading authority of the society is vested in a ministry, generally consisting of four persons, including both sexes. These, together with the elders and trustees, constitute the general government of the society in all its branches, and, being supported by the general union and approbation of the members, are invested with power to appoint their successors and other subordinate officers, as occasion may require; to counsel, advise, and direct, in all matters, whether of a spiritual or temporal nature; to superintend the concerns of the several families, and establish all needful orders, rules, and regulations, for the direction and protection of the several branches of the society; but no rule can be made, nor any member assume a lead, contrary to the original faith and known principles of the society. And nothing which respects the government, order, and general arrangement, of the society is considered as fully established until it has received the general approbation of the society, or of that branch thereof which it more immediately concerns.
"This community is divided into several different branches, commonly called families. This division is generally made for the sake of convenience, and is often rendered necessary on account of local situation and occurrent circumstances; but the proper division and arrangement of the community, without respect to local situation, are into three classes, or progressive degrees of order.
"Those children taken into the society are treated with care and tenderness, receive a good school education, and, according to their genius, are trained to industry and virtuous habits, restrained from vice, and, at a suitable age, led into the knowledge of the sacred Scriptures, and practically taught the divine precepts contained in them, particularly those of Jesus Christ and the apostles.
"During a period of more than forty years, since the permanent establishment of this society at New Lebanon and Watervliet, there never has been a legal claim entered by any person for the recovery of property brought into the society but all claims of that nature, if any have existed, have been amicably settled, to the satisfaction of the parties concerned. Complaints and legal prosecutions have not, hitherto, come from persons who brought property into the institution, but from those who came destitute of property, and who, generally speaking, have been no benefit to the society in any way, but, on the contrary, after having enjoyed its hospitality, and brought no small share of trouble upon the people, have had the assurance to lay claim to wages which they never earned, or property to which they never had any just or legal claim.
"No person can be received into this order until he shall have settled all just and legal claims, both of creditors and filial heirs; so that whatever property he may possess, may be justly and truly his own. Minors cannot be admitted as covenant members of this order; yet they may be received under its immediate care and protection. And when they shall have arrived at lawful age, if they should choose to continue in the society, and sign the covenant of the order, and support its principles, they are then admitted to all the privileges of members. The members of this order are all equally entitled to the benefits and privileges thereof, without any difference made on account of what any one may have contributed to the interest of the society. All are equally entitled to their support and maintenance, and to every necessary comfort, whether in health, sickness, or old age, so long as they continue to maintain the principles, and conform to the orders, rules, and regulations, of the institution. They, therefore, give their property and services for the most valuable of all temporal considerations -- an ample security, during life, for every needful support, if they continue faithful to their contract and covenant, the nature of which they clearly understand before they enter into it.
"We believe it will be generally granted that the history of the world does not furnish a single instance of any religious institution which has stood fifty years without a visible declension of the principles of the institution, in the general purity and integrity of its members. This has been generally acknowledged by the devotees of such institutions and facts have fully verified it. But we would appeal to the candid judgment of those who have known this institution from the beginning, and have had a fair opportunity of observing the progress of its improvement, whether they have, in reality, found any declension, either in the external order and regulations of the society, or in the purity and integrity of its members, in the general practice of the moral and Christian duties; and whether they have not, on the contrary, discovered a visible and manifest increase in all these respects. And hence they may judge for themselves, whether the moral character of the society, and its progressive improvement, can be ascribed to any other cause than the blessing, protection, and government, of Divine Power and Wisdom."
This denomination is also styled the millennial church. Although celibacy is enjoined by the Shakers upon their members, yet their numbers rather increase, by converts from the world.
There are fifteen societies of Shakers in the United States, located in the following places: -- Alfred, New Gloucester, and Poland, Me.; Canterbury and Enfield, N. H.; Shirley, Harvard, Tyringham, and Hancock, Mass.; Enfield, Conn.; Watervliet and New Lebanon, N. Y.; Union Village and Watervliet, Ohio; Pleasant Hill and South Union, Ky. The number of Shakers in the United States is about 6000.
This sect of Christians arose at Manchester, in England; and ANN LEE has the credit of being its founder. They derive their name from their manner of worship, which is performed by singing, dancing, and clapping their hands in regular time, to a novel, but rather pleasant kind of music. This sect was persecuted in England, and came to America in 1774. They first settled in Watervliet, near Albany, N. Y. They have, or think they have, revelations from Heaven, or gifts from the Holy Spirit, which direct them in the choice of their leaders, and in other important concerns. Their dress and manners are similar to those of the society of Friends; hence they are often called Shaking Quakers. They display great skill and science in agriculture, horticulture, and the mechanic arts; and their honesty, industry, hospitality, and neatness, are proverbial. These people choose their locations with great taste and judgment. A Shaker village always presents a scene of beauty.
We close this article with an extract from a speech of the Hon. John Breathitt, late governor of Kentucky.
"Much has been urged against Shakerism, much has been said against their covenant; but, I repeat it, that individual who is prepared to sign the church covenant, stands in an enviable situation: his situation is, indeed, an enviable one, who, devoted to God, is prepared to say of his property, 'Here it is, little or much; take it, and leave me unmolested to commune with my God. Indeed, I dedicate myself to what? not to a fanatical tenet; O, no! to a subject far beyond; to the worship of Almighty God, the great Creator and Governor of the universe. Under the influence of his love, I give my all: only let me worship according to my faith, and in a manner I believe acceptable to my God!'
"I say again, the world cannot produce a parallel to the situation which such a man exhibits -- resigned to the will of Heaven, free from all the feelings of earthly desire, and pursuing, quietly, the peaceful tenor of his way."