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Issachar Bates

A Shaker's Journey

Carol Medlicott

Publication Year: 2013

Issachar Bates (1758-1837) was a Revolutionary War veteran in rural upstate New York who, at the age of forty-three, abruptly turned from his family life to become a celibate Shaker. He immediately became instrumental in Shakerism's westward expansion, and his personal charisma, persuasive preaching, and musical talent helped stimulate the movement's growth. Bates drew "western" converts in abundance, profoundly changing the character of Shakerism by increasing its geographic reach. He also helped shape the Shakers' unique theology and hymnody through his many influential texts and songs.

Published by: University Press of New England

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-x

The preparation of this work has taken me on a long and circuitous journey, similar in some ways to Issachar Bates’s own. I entered the world of Shaker scholarship at middle age, after an abrupt career change took me into academia. During graduate school in the Department of Geography, University...

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pp. xi-13

I am grateful to several institutions for their support of my research and writing, in the form of research fellowships and other financial assistance: Special Collections Library at Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green, Kentucky (2007); Winterthur Museum and Library, Edward Deming Andrews...

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Introduction: “Now here's my faith I’ll speak it plain”

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pp. xiii-xxii

The life of Issachar Bates is an extraordinary American story. It opens a window onto the dynamic richness of a young and growing America, from its late colonial “signs and wonders” and the upheaval of Revolution to the religious turmoil of the Second Great Awakening and the expansion of the western...

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1. “Signs and Wonders”: Early Life, Spiritual Preparation, and the Coming of the Shakers

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pp. 1-16

As Issachar Bates looked back on a childhood filled with memorable events and experiences, he interpreted many of his youthful circumstances as preparation for his later life as a Shaker. His family life was unsettled, forcing him to develop personal qualities of adaptability. He lived entirely in unsettled regions, barely removed...

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2. “Take the bloody track of war”: A Fifer in the American Revolution

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pp. 17-35

Issachar Bates was a young teenager in Templeton, Massachusetts, some sixty miles west of Boston, when preparations began for war with England. After the Boston Tea Party and the arrival of British troops in Boston, communities throughout Massachusetts began organizing militia units. Men and boys of all ages turned out...

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3. “I’m journeying with those who I love in the flesh”: Issachar Bates as Husband and Provider

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pp. 36-60

Issachar Bates was certainly not the only young man in New England for whom the Revolutionary War marked a turning point. Events in Issachar’s family life during the war years and its aftermath set him on an eventful path that would lead to new frontiers in a literal sense, as he sought to relocate himself and his growing family to...

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4. “A testimony as hot as flames”: Shaker Conversion and Early Travels

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pp. 61-81

Issachar Bates’s solution to the restlessness, personal uncertainty, and spiritual despondency that had plagued him his entire adult life was to do the unthinkable—to turn to a marginal sect that was so deeply repudiated by mainstream Christians throughout the region that its very name conjured horrifying images of practices that no...

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5. “Like God’s Hunters”: Seeking Kindred in the West

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pp. 82-103

The three Shaker missionaries had come safely through the Wilderness Road and across Kentucky, and their quest for receptive audiences for their message was leading them toward southwestern Ohio. They faced impossible odds. They were alien to the region, marked as such by their accents and clothing. They carried money...

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6. “Thorns and thistles did abound”: The Growth of the Shaker West

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pp. 104-129

As 1806 began, Issachar Bates and the other eastern Shakers were optimistic about the prospects of Shakerism’s expansion into the western frontier of the new country. During worship with the “young believers”— the term given to the new western converts—on Christmas Day, they had all experienced prophetic signs of the...

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7. “What trials yet before us lay”: Tribulation on the Wabash

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pp. 130-153

The summer of 1808 found Issachar Bates and his “fellow travelers” venturing even further west to the very edge of white settlement in Indiana Territory, over two hundred miles from Turtle Creek. A lively cluster of local families along Busseron Creek, a small but navigable tributary of the Wabash River just north of the territorial capital of...

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8. “And with much animation we lived at Busro”: An Elder in Indiana

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pp. 154-176

By 1812 Issachar Bates had risen to the occasion at Busro. His acquaintances with both William Henry Harrison and the Shawnee leaders, along with his familiarity with military settings, had uniquely equipped him to help the Busro community navigate “the dangers and troubles of the war.”1 Probably on that basis, Issachar...

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9. “Remnant of the tribe of Issachar”: The Bates Kinship Network in the Shaker East

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pp. 177-201

Like many other Shaker converts, Issachar Bates entered the movement in the midst of a large assortment of family members—spouse, children, siblings, nieces, nephews, and in-laws. Unlike most other converts, though, he spent the vast proportion of his life as a Shaker far removed from those biological family members he loved. Among...

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10. “The Cockatrice still wants a place in Zion’s lovely regions”: Transformations in the Shaker West

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pp. 202-227

Issachar Bates’s final decade in the West would be intense and demanding. The events that the Shaker pioneers had set into motion beginning in 1805 were increasingly evolving beyond Issachar’s ability to influence, let alone control. Throughout the western communities, dynamics were developing that Issachar found deeply disturbing...

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11. “Tribulation Worketh Patience”: A Bitter Close in the West

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pp. 228-256

As 1832 opened, Issachar Bates found his position at Watervliet under scrutiny. He was to be removed from office and the eldership transferred to Richard McNemar, who had come to Watervliet ostensibly to sort out details of a much-needed new covenant. On the surface, Issachar was happy to be relieved of...

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12. “So I’ll relinquish all demands”: Journey’s End at New Lebanon

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pp. 257-283

Issachar Bates took up residence at the New Lebanon, New York, Shaker community in June 1835. It was relatively unfamiliar, but not entirely unknown, territory for him. For more than a generation, New Lebanon had been the center of the Shaker world, the largest concentration of Shakers anywhere. Issachar had confessed...

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Epilogue: “Elder Issachar seems to be continually at hand”

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pp. 284-305

The process of summing up the meaning of Issachar Bates’s complex contributions began soon after his funeral. Isaac Newton Youngs, the younger brother of Issachar’s friend Benjamin Seth Youngs, composed one of many epitaphs:...


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pp. 307-347

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Note on Sources

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pp. 349-351

Scholars of the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, or “Shakers,” are fortunate that fine collections of Shaker primary sources are held by numerous institutions. Many of these collections include material spanning multiple categories of correspondence, journals, ledgers, hymnals, poetry, spiritual writings, and more. Some focus...


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pp. 353-404


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pp. 405-413


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pp. 415-424

E-ISBN-13: 9781611684087
E-ISBN-10: 1611684080
Print-ISBN-13: 9781611684193

Page Count: 424
Publication Year: 2013

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Bates, Issachar, 1758-1837.
  • Composers -- United States -- Biography.
  • Shakers -- Biography.
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