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  • Free and Freed Shakers and Affiliates of African Descent at Pleasant Hill, Kentucky

Many Kentuckians of African descent sojourned at the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill in Mercer County for prayer in song and dance, for work and common life. From the origin of the village in 1806 through the 1880s, at least nineteen of these were Shakers. They were not many among the more than five hundred inhabitants during this period. However, the lives of these Believers, in addition to those of hired workers, neighbors, and other affiliates, are documented, often in significant detail, in records in the collections of the museum of the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, the Harrodsburg Historical Society, and the Bohon Shaker Collection of the Filson Historical Society in Louisville, Kentucky. Because of these persons, Pleasant Hill was one of the earliest and most enduring interracial residential communities in the United States. These free and freed Shakers and hired workers contributed towards the worship and the work, while their self-determination added to the corporate witness of Pleasant Hill to human rights in Kentucky. [End Page 489]

Background

How did it happen that such a diverse group became Shakers? In 1747, a small religious group in Manchester, England, gathered at the home of the Wardley family who were Quakers. Ann Lee Stanley emerged as the leader. Her husband, Abraham Stanley, or Standerlin, stayed with the society for a short time after its arrival in New York in 1774. Celibacy was a key practice from its beginning. She resumed the name “Ann Lee” following her separation from her husband. Her unauthorized preaching on personal conversion as well as the charismatic forms of prayer developed at a time when England was at a threshold of religious and social upheaval. Crosscurrents from France affected religion and politics, leading to revivalist religious expression and reexamination of human rights on both sides of the Atlantic. French Protestant exiles known as Camisards were in Manchester, England, during that time. Mother Ann’s early followers, like the Camisards, experienced “visions, miracles, ‘agitations’ in a style akin to dance.”1 Quakers, Camisards, and Shakers believed in the possibility of unmediated manifestations of the spirit. These perennial modes of religious experience and expression characterized the worship of the original eight Shakers who migrated from Manchester to New York in 1774. This kind of prayer, song, and body movement may or may not have been among the features of Shaker life that attracted early converts of African descent. These included Prime, Hannah, Betsy, and Phebe Lane at the early Shaker village in Watervliet near Albany, New York.2 George and David Gennings, Mary [End Page 490] Taylor, and Melinda Welch were at Mount Lebanon, New York, and Sarah Mason was at Shirley, Massachusetts.3 Lively prayer, singing, and dance in worship were among the reasons why many converts came. Just as attractive would have been the successful agricultural, domestic-production-based economy that developed within Shaker villages in the early nineteenth century which accommodated people with a variety of skills and gifts.

Growing antislavery feelings in England may have been part of the social context that prepared the first Shakers to sympathize with or even identify with enslaved and ill-treated persons of African descent when Lee’s small group settled near Albany, New York. However, egalitarianism as early Shakers practiced it was based on their reading of Scripture, not on the secular or deist ideals of the French and American Revolutions.4

The “opening of the gospel” of Mother Ann in the West occurred on March 22, 1805. Villages were established in Ohio, Kentucky, and the Indiana territory. Issachar Bates, John Meacham, and Benjamin Seth Youngs, Shaker evangelists from New York, were welcomed by Malcolm Worley at Beedle Station in Warren County, Ohio. Anna Middleton (May 15, 1786–April 10, 1861), an African American, was the second Shaker convert in this region. According to early Shaker historian and commentator J. P. McLean, Middleton was received “just as cordially as though she had been white and free” on March 29, 1805. Middleton had been enslaved in Virginia, and became free in Ohio. At age nineteen she converted at Turtle Creek in Warren County, four miles west of Lebanon, Ohio, joining those who formed the Shaker Village of Union. She remained a Believer for the rest of her life.5 [End Page 491]

Ohio Believers experienced visits from spirits of enslaved persons during meetings at Union Village. A December 2, 1843, entry from the journal of Sister Susan Cole Liddell tells that a spirit of an African named Dinah visited the meeting and recounted her capture by two men. Starved, confined on shipboard, almost dead, she was thrown overboard and eaten by a large fish. Dinah confessed her sins and was saved, according to the regular Shaker practice of opening one’s conscience to an elder.6 The narrative detail of the fear of being devoured by fish during the middle passage is paralleled in an account quite popular in British and American antislavery circles, that of Olaudah Equiano in his “Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano Or Gustavus Vasa, the African.”7 Union Village Shakers were aware of, if not personally acquainted with, abolitionist activity in the Ohio Valley and to the north. Kentucky Shakers also expressed antislavery convictions but in a different context than northern abolitionists.

Bates, Meacham, and Youngs entered Kentucky, first preaching and drawing converts among the congregation of Presbyterian minister Matthew Houston at Paint Lick, Kentucky, in Garrard County on May 7, 1805. Youngs reported that in May of 1806, between six hundred and eight hundred attended a meeting in the woods at Paint Lick.8 Free and enslaved Kentuckians of African descent would likely have been among them. In June, converts from this meeting worshiped with song and dance in Elisha Thomas’s barn on Shawnee Run in Mercer County. Thomas’s 140-acre farm became the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill. Some Believers of African descent would come to Pleasant Hill of their own initiative, some with owners’ households. However, [End Page 492] from the beginning of the village, all Believers’ idealized, sketchy, or stereotyped notions about persons of different races would give way—sometimes slowly and to varying degrees—to personal acquaintance, mutual esteem, and common life.

Thomas D. Clark and Julia Neal were early Kentucky historians to identify particular Shakers of African and Native American descent in Kentucky. Neal mentioned a “bright mulatto, part Indian woman” as an early convert at Pleasant Hill.9 Clark commented on the personal relationships among Shakers and Mercer County neighbors as slavery affected them: “Jonah Crutcher … spent nineteen years at Pleasant Hill and was a convert. On January 4, 1859, the Society purchased him to prevent his sale south.” Clark also commented: “Occasionally they hired a slave … to perform work, or for an extended number of years. Sometimes converts brought slaves into the Society with the rest of their property.”10 References in church records and journals indicate that the contributions of this workforce were frequent.

The most readily available information to date about these features of life at Pleasant Hill comes from a database of all Pleasant Hill residents identified from church record and roll books, journals, and other primary sources.11 This compilation has been largely carried out by museum director Larrie Curry. From this, and from the work of music transcribers, emerge vibrant images of Believers and affiliates of African descent. Their “simple gifts” are at once common among Shakers, yet particular to these persons.

Freed Shakers of African Descent, Pleasant Hill

Shakers who were enslaved before or at the time of their coming to Pleasant Hill include Anthony Chosen (August 2, 1783–May 15, [End Page 493] 1849), Jonah Crutcher (April 2, 1817–September 6, 1861), Daphne (no surname recorded, 1771–November 1, 1813), Robert Foster (born c. 1797), Sarah Foster (born 1769), Robert Lamb (1781-1841), Richard Rolon [Roland] (born 1784), his wife Eda [Edith] (born 1785), and Patsy Roberts Williamson (January 7, 1791–August 28, 1860). The absence of a death date for some of these residents indicates that the person left the village for the world, a common enough event regularly deplored in Shaker journals. Thus no further records were maintained.12

Anthony Chosen was highly esteemed throughout his life. He was born, like many enslaved Kentuckians, in Virginia and listed as signing the Pleasant Hill covenant on November 13, 1847.13 A journal entry by Zachariah Burnett in mid-May of 1849 includes this description of him:

A bondsman belonging to a man of the world and consequently could not be gathered into the Chh.[Church]; though as he lived but about 3 miles distant … [H]e was permitted by his owners to attend our meetings and spend his Sabbaths and holy days with us. And in that situation he continued about 41 years, and … supported a just union and relation to the Church. … July 19th, 1847 he was conveyed to J. R. Bryant, one of the Trustees, moved into the Church at the Second Order, and shortly after set free. Signed the Covenant Nov. 13th, 1847.

Burnett’s accounts of Chosen’s life and funeral read:

Tuesday 15th Cloudy with a little rain early, Anthony Chosen died at 5 oclock A. M. at the W. Fam. Born near Port Royal, Virginia on the 2nd day of August 1782 [1783]. Came to Ky. (Mercer Cty) about 1793 or 4. Some few years of his life was spent near Frankfort in the family of Sneeds where he was universally esteemed for Christian deportment, his ocupation [End Page 494] for most part of his time was Boat building which he had followed in several countys Bordering on the Ky. River, but mostly Mercer cty, part of his time spent in most Labourious drudgery thru wet and cold the most excessive, he was a Member of the Baptist Church at Shawnee Run, and took an active part in the Ky. Revival. When the gospel came he embraced it cheerfully which was in 1806 about 1 year before his decease, he was set free and moved permanently to the WF [West Family House].

Wed. 16 Mer [Mercury] 55° 60° 56° Anthony was buried at half past 8 o’clock a.m. five of the neighbors were present.14

In addition to journals of daily events and record books, Shakers for a time kept journals specifically to record spirit manifestations during worship meetings. An entry details and comments on Chosen’s funeral:

May 16, 1849 Funeral of Brother Anthony Chosen, a colored man. His funeral ceremony commenced half after 7 o’clock A.M. and was attended in addition to the Church order that is as many as could conveniently assemble the morning being very wet and disagreeable, by some of his former young Masters & Mistresses being their own request. After preaching was done one of the messengers being inspired by the deceased brother spoke of what he had seen heard and felt since his departure, thousands in this happified situation while on the other hand he had seen members bound in chains and cast in prison, there weeping, wailing and gnashing their teeth, among whom had been his old master for many years.15

This account of Chosen’s funeral is significant for several reasons. His life had clearly affected those who had lived with him before and [End Page 495] during his time at Pleasant Hill. The death scenario drawn in the spiritual journal resembles that which Harriet Beecher Stowe used for the slaves’ deaths in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or Life Among the Lowly (1852) and also that used in Luke 17:19-22, Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus. The reference to weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth is also scriptural.

One sees in Burnett’s journal the evolution of relationships within Pleasant Hill and indeed between Pleasant Hill and its neighbors that go beyond patronization and dependencies towards experiences of interdependency and personal connection. Shakers from Mother Ann to Zachariah Burnett found enslavement a metaphor for the bondage of humanity to sin. Before emancipation, which did not happen in Kentucky until 1865, all would have been acutely aware that for some deliverance might take place only after death, but Pleasant Hill records document no pious complacency about slavery.

Jonah Crutcher was born in Hardin County, Kentucky.16 The 1850 U.S. census listed him as a farmer; at that time he was enslaved. In 1860, after he became free at Pleasant Hill, he is listed as a teamster. The East Family Journal of 1856-71 gives more details of those nineteen years in which he was a Believer, although prevented from living at the village while enslaved:

Jonah Crutcher (colored) deceased at the West Family, of dispepsia, being 44 years old the 2nd day of last April. He was a Slave, and being hired by Believers, received faith in their testimony and confessed his sins on the 15th of October, 1839. And as he continued to be a faithful Believer, we continued to hire him, that he might have the opportunity of spiritual instruction and obey his faith, until the 4th of Jan. 1859, when it was apparent that he would be sold south, and we purchased him that he might enjoy a privilege in the gospel on equal terms with the rest of us, which he did & continued faithful until the day of his decease. He was much respected & beloved in the family where he resided, [End Page 496] which was not misplaced, for he was worthy.17

Village account ledgers provide more information about Jonah and the household in which he had been enslaved. On January 1, 1844, it was recorded that, “Jonah’s hire commenced this day at the same time as last year.” His owner was Sally Crutcher, to whom his hire of fifty-five dollars a year was paid on January 8, 1844. A notation of December 22, 1846, records that she was paid $135.52 cash “for the hire of Jonah and Charles.” As of February 28, 1846, she was again hiring Charles and Jonah to the village. At the end of 1847, Sally Crutcher was hiring George to the village at eight dollars a month. Jonah was probably the only member of this household who became a Shaker.18 The persistence of his union with the Shakers through twenty years of enslavement until he could live at the village attests to the strength of his convictions. Also, the absence in village records of mention of any agenda or effort on the part of village leadership to intervene sooner in Crutcher’s—or Chosen’s—legal enslavement indicates that egalitarian convictions in the village coexisted with accommodation to Kentucky law and mores.

A Believer only known as Daphne from Bullitt County, Kentucky, is noted as brought by Tobias Wilhite, likely her owner, in November of 1808. She is recorded as having believed in 1806, two years previous to Wilhite’s bringing her to the village. Wilhite is listed in the Church Roll Book as a defaulting member: one who left the Shakers and “returned to world.” Daphne’s residence, as with at least a few formerly enslaved Believers, continued after former owners’ defections. She could have remained as free, or still enslaved, or hired out, by Wilhite. In the absence of any record that she was purchased and freed at Pleasant Hill, such as the East Family Journal entry regarding Jonah Crutcher, it would seem that her continued residence would [End Page 497] have been determined by Wilhite. “The Origin and Progress of the Society at Pleasant Hill” records “Daphay [sic] deceased she was a colored woman that Tobias Wilhite brought among Believers.” She would have been about forty-two.19

Robert Foster had been formerly enslaved by James Congleton. He believed in 1810, when he would have been about thirteen, and lived at Lebanon farm, one of the out-farms of the village in 1813. The arrangement of his having a home outside the village proper was not uncommon among Shakers in various villages. Believers at out-farms oversaw and tended outlying farm or pasture land, while those considering membership could gradually adjust to the Shaker arrangement of men, women, and children living separately. Robert signed the covenant on August 13, 1811, and left Pleasant Hill on January 22, 1816, at about age nineteen.20

Sarah Foster arrived at Pleasant Hill from Bourbon County in the fall of 1810 when she would have been about forty-one. She signed the covenant in 1814-15. She is noted as living at Lebanon farm, among the first to settle there, and as “colored.”21 Any relationship with Robert Foster, who was thirteen at his arrival, is not specified in the Pleasant Hill Resident Database.22 Sarah had come to Pleasant Hill in 1810 when Robert Foster did. The Foster surname might derive from that of a common owner previous to Congleton, without indicating any particular family relationship. She defaulted or left the village May 23, 1823, when she would have been about forty-three. One notes that she stayed seven years longer than Robert. Whether or not he was her son or other relative, one can imagine him at an age for striking out on his own. Presuming a relationship, her additional years of residence may have been in some way of advantage to each. Her choice during those years may have reflected any of a variety [End Page 498] of personal circumstances. She may have liked the life. Another scenario is that Robert sent for Sarah when he could after securing a home and work.

Robert Lamb came in 1825 from Fayette County, Kentucky, to Pleasant Hill after Believers bought and freed him. He was considered a Believer in or about 1815 although not noted as a Pleasant Hill resident until ten years later. Like Anthony Chosen and Jonah Crutcher, he worshiped as a Shaker for some time before he could move to the village. He first lived on his own at an outlying house known as the Bricky Place. Lamb moved to West Family in 1837 and lived there until his death.23

An August 7, 1844, deed of emancipation from John Rowland at the Jessamine County Courthouse describes a man about fifty-five years old “of spare make” with a scar on the right side of his upper lip. The deed is filed among Shaker papers at the Mercer County Courthouse, so this man may well have been the Richard Roland who appears in the Church Roll Book. He and his wife Eda (Edith) appear to have been free at the time they came to Pleasant Hill. Richard and she believed on March 28, 1853. He left on April 28, 1855.24

Edith Roland was born in Dinwiddie County, Virginia. The husband and wife lived for a time at West Family. Her departure date is noted as December 13, 1855, almost eight months after Richard’s.25 Had he been more eager than she to leave or did he leave to look for a place for them to relocate? Do the four months indicate a longer discernment on Edith’s part regarding her life as a Believer?

Patsy Roberts or Patsy Roberts Williamson was among the first Shaker converts at Pleasant Hill. Born January 7, 1791, in Rockingham County, North Carolina, she belonged to a household [End Page 499] originally from Rockingham County which had come to Madison County, Kentucky.26 Six other members of this Roberts household in addition to Patsy were converts for varying lengths of time; Patsy is the only Roberts recorded to have been of African descent. Many early Pleasant Hill Shakers had come to believe at the 1805 Paint Lick revival meeting in Garrard County. Paint Lick is located between Richmond, county seat of Madison County where the Roberts household had lived, and Pleasant Hill in Mercer County. Some of this household may have been among the four hundred people at the initial gathering at Elisha Thomas’s farmhouse on Shawnee Run in 1806. Church records note that Patsy “came … as a slave hired out and embraced the faith.” She believed in 1809, three years before moving to the village with her owners, when she was about eighteen years of age. An August 28, 1860, entry in the East Family Journal notes that “Patsy (Williamson) Roberts deceased at the East House after an illness of four or five years. She was colored, and had been a slave. She believed in the year 1809 when she was about eighteen years old. Her owners having believed, and again turned away, they offered her for sale and Believers purchased her that she might remain with them, which she did and continued zealous in the cause according to her understanding, till death.”27 The fact that she remained after her owners defaulted indicates that they needed money from her sale, or more generously, honored her desire to stay.

The resident database and the 1810 federal census for Rockingham County, North Carolina, provide background details of the likely household of her owner. The database contains entries for six contemporary Pleasant Hill residents with the Roberts surname, all born in North Carolina, with one additional female household member.28 [End Page 500] Race is unspecified for these additional Robertses. This material, in addition to the genealogy of the Tann family treated below and the entries in the SCWRHS membership card file, may be the most extensive sources for background information regarding individual Shakers of African descent.

Patsy Roberts Williamson’s fifty-one years as a Shaker, as with all long-term Believers, must surely include her experience of interpersonal, familial, and group bonding through belief and work. The strength of these charisms will be seen in a subsequent treatment of songs she composed.

Free Believers of African Descent

Pleasant Hill Shakers of African descent who were free lifelong or not known to have been previously enslaved include Adam Baty (born July 14, 1797, Fayette County), Clary Bryant (November 1803–February 20, 1825, Fayette County), Mercer Countians Alley Hyson (c. 1760–September 6, 1832) and Jane Hyson (May 6, 1801–September 19, 1849), Daniel Montgomery (c. 1745-1807), Presley Proctor (born August 19, 1821), Evan Shelby (born 1828), William Tann (born September 1794), Polly Tann (March 13, 1797–January 30, 1883), and Charlotte Tann (August 1, 1799–March 15, 1875).

Adam Baty was from Fayette County, believed in 1810, and left the village June 7, 1827.29 Clary from Fayette County arrived at Pleasant Hill in March 1810, when she was about seven.30 Was Clary [End Page 501] in Adam’s care or had she been part of the same household? Both arrived in spring of 1810.

Alley Hyson was born in Virginia and believed in 1806 when she would have been about forty-six. She may have signed the Covenant as Alle Banta and is described as “a Black sister.” She was a Mercer Countian before moving to the village in 1807. Her death is noted in Samuel Turner’s journal: “Departed this life … Ally, a Black Sister sep’r 6th 1832.”31

Mercer Countian Jane Hyson is recorded as having believed as a young child at about age six. In adulthood, she held the position of kitchen deaconess at East Family, a position of responsibility, from November 21, 1844, to September 19, 1849. However, the final margin of her life may have been affected by an outsider. Zachariah Burnett’s journal entry for September 13, 1849, reports that “John Shain went to Harrodsburg after Dr. Tomlinson to see Jane Hyson of the East F who has been very sick for several days past, the Dr. was gambling at the springs and would not come til Tomorrow morning.”32 His journal reports that on Wednesday, September 19, “Jane Hyson (colored) Kitchen Deaconess at the E. F. died this morning at 2 oclock after an Ilness of 5 or 6 days, in her 49th year.” 33 Jane Hyson had grown up in Mercer County. Had Tomlinson been a local who knew who she was and slighted her care because of her race? At any rate, Burnett makes clear that Tomlinson was wanting in common decency.

Daniel Montgomery of Bullitt County, Kentucky, was something of a celebrity among Pleasant Hill Believers, even though he died in 1807 before he could move to the village. He said he was a son of General Richard Montgomery who fell in the battle at Quebec during the Revolutionary War.34 Church records indicate he was [End Page 502]

A subject of the Kentucky revivals. … He was greatly gifted in visions, in one of which he had a view of Believers while dancing in sacred worship—and their manners, & dress, and the sisters caps etc, before they came to this country. And when he first saw the Believers he testified that they were the celestial beings that he had seen in his vision. … He immediately embraced the gospel, which was in the early part of 1807. He deceased a few months afterward firm in the faith and much lamented by all his acquaintances.35

Presley Proctor was a blacksmith. He arrived at Pleasant Hill at about age twenty. He is the only Believer of African descent noted in the database as having left the society twice, in about 1846 and after 1852. He had been living at West Family in July 1852. Zachariah Burnett’s June 17, 1849, journal entry notes that “Young Believers attended Meeting with us. Presley Proctor a coloured Man who left here some 2 or 3 years ago also attended [meeting] & exersized in the picket yard.”36 “Exercising” meant worship in formal or ecstatic dance. Burnett’s comment and the fact that Proctor was accepted back after his first departure, would indicate that the community believed that he was, at least for a time, “in union.”

Evan Shelby is noted to have believed in 1839 when he would have been about eleven. He left on May 6, 1843, having spent four years of his youth as a Shaker.37

Three siblings of the Tann family, William, Polly, and Charlotte, came to Pleasant Hill at the dissolution of the Indiana Shaker village of West Union in 1827. Polly and Charlotte were listed as black in the [End Page 503] 1850 census, as mulatto in 1860, and as white in 1870. Their parents, Anthony and Margaret Tann, met Shaker missionaries at their home on the east bank of the Wabash River in July 1808. By 1810, the Tanns were members of the Shaker Village of West Union, also called Busro.38 What is known about the Tann family from 1636 to 1883 may offer insights into family-of-origin histories of Shakers farther back in time than that of Ann Lee herself. For this reason, Regina Viers’s research for this genealogy, that of an African American family free and enterprising within a decade of the American Revolution, is significant to Shaker studies.39 There are no such family histories of any Shaker at Pleasant Hill and, perhaps of any Shaker anywhere, available in such detail.

William was born in 1794. He stayed just one year at Pleasant Hill after moving from the Indiana Shaker village. When he left on October 10, 1828, he would have been about thirty-four years old.40 He had previously lived at a frontier settlement in Indiana. In Kentucky, he came into contact with a much broader community and opportunities in the Bluegrass labor market. A possible characterization of William emerges as not merely an apostate but a person striking out on his own for new horizons, as members of his family of origin had long done.

Polly Tann was born in 1797, at Santee River, South Carolina. She was about thirty when she arrived at Pleasant Hill and lived at West Family for a good many years. She outlived her sister by several [End Page 504] years.41 Charlotte and Polly were also noted as black in 1850, then as mulatto in 1860, and as white in 1870.42 In a compilation of Shaker records from various sources, Hazel Spencer Phillips referred to Polly, Charlotte, and William’s mother Peggy as white.43

Charlotte Tann, a little more than two years younger than her sister Polly, was born while her family lived in St. James Goose Creek Parish, Charleston District, in South Carolina. She would have been twenty-seven when she and her siblings moved to Pleasant Hill.44 Charlotte is significant, like Patsy Roberts Williamson, in that her music remains to tell a facet of her story. In her 1841 Covenant Testimony at Pleasant Hill, she expressed gratitude for being “called into the gospel when I was a child” at about age eleven. She mentioned “very trying scenes of trouble and distress,” which likely references the disasters and disruptions at the West Union village where she had lived and the members’ subsequent relocations to other Shaker villages.45 Charlotte’s testimony, while including conventional expressions of faith and devotion, also imparts unique personal features of her own religious experience:

Pleasant Hill Ky. September 9th 1841. I confessed my sins in the last of April 1810, being then in my 11th year; and I have remained amongst God’s peculiar people ever since. And I am thankful I was called into the gospel as a child, and I am also thankful I can say, that I never turned my back on [End Page 505] the way of God: although I have had some very trying scenes of trouble and distress to pass through; yet I have been able, by the mercy and charity of God, and the help of my good Ministry and Elders, to hold and keep my relation to the people of God thus far. And now I feel rewarded for all the tribulation and sufferings of soul that I have endured; yea I feel thankful to the Almighty God, that I have lived to see this great day of Mother’s work and power among her children on earth; although it was crossing and mortifying to my high proud sense, yet it corresponded with my faith; and it struck through my soul like lightening, because it showed me that I must come down low into this humiliating work, or never see God in peace. And it has been my real labor of soul, to cleanse and purify my own heart from every thing that was evil or wrong, that I might meet Mother in peace and receive her love and blessing. And I feel thankful to God and to my ever blessed Mother, for the help and strength I have received from them, for I know if they had not helped me, I never should have been able to endure this purifying work. And now I can say of a truth, I am thankful for the privilege of being numbered with Mother’s chosen messengers, for I feel and sense this to be the greatest notice and privilege that I could enjoy in this world, and I know it has done me more good than any thing else that I ever met with yea it has caused me to feel broken hearted, and to feel my dependance, and that nearness of union and relation to my Ministry and Elders, that I never was able to feel or sense before. And now I will give myself up to Mother and her good work, and labor to gather in a substance and treasure up the gospel into my own soul, for it is my unshaken faith and resolution to abide and endure to the end, let what will come. Yea it is my firm resolution and determination to give myself up both soul and body, and go in simple and true obedience to my leads [inner spiritual promptings] on earth; and if I [End Page 506] do this, I know I will be owned and blessed of my heavenly Parents. I am thankful for the privilege I have of returning my kind and sincere thanks to my heavenly Parents; and to my good Ministry and Elders, for their mercy, charity, and long forbearance with me as an individual; and for the notice and blessing that has been bestowed on me from time to time; and it shall be my labor to gather a substance of Mother’s counsel and teaching into a good and honest heart, and make a wise use of it. O! I do humbly and sincerely return my kind thanks with all my heart, to Elder Issachar, Eldress Martha, and Eldress Ruth, for their notice, help, strength and protection, for it has been a great blessing to me; yea I kindly thank them for their reproof and admonition, for I know it was done in mercy and charity to my soul.

I was born August 1, 1797.46

The “Mother’s work” to which Charlotte refers was a revival of the charismatic, ecstatic worship and individual prophesying that characterized the Shakers’ founding era. Inaugurated among a few very young sisters at Watervliet, New York, in 1837, it spread among other villages.47 Charlotte’s words about Mother’s work being “crossing and mortifying of my high proud sense” may well convey an experience like that of a high church or more quiet worshiper finding herself in the midst of a Pentecostal service. At any rate, her reference to herself as “one of Mother’s chosen Messengers” indicates her participation within these religious enactments. In this sense, her Testimony suggests a nuanced, dynamic, and pliant spirituality. Following upon this period of her life, the songs she composed in 1845–47 carried her gifts throughout this village and to others as well. Thus it is clear that her desire was to conform and confirm herself within the worship of her church and that during the fourteen years between her arrival at Pleasant Hill and her composing this Covenant, she experienced [End Page 507] an evolution in her spirituality. Her testimony challenges any stereotype that all Shakers of African descent were drawn to the life for the reasons that eighteenth-century West Africans are said to have been drawn to evangelical Christianity, that is solely for dramatic, emotional, and ecstatic preaching and worship.48

Songs by Pleasant Hill Shakers of African Descent

After Charlotte Tann’s testimony and the writings of Mother Rebecca Jackson of Philadelphia, songs by Pleasant Hill Shakers are the most significant material by Shakers of African descent.49 All songs align with evolving composition patterns within the canon of Shaker music: unaccompanied song which ranges in style from eighteenth- and nineteenth-century English hymnody through popular dance and folk tunes, marches, and pantomimes. Although the songs of Patsy Roberts Williamson and Charlotte Tann offer no explicit biographical information, they attest to the composers’ contributions and identities at Pleasant Hill, and offer glimmers as to their personal stories. The following songs by Williamson and Tann have been transcribed from hymnbooks in the Shaker Collection of the Western Reserve Historical Society, the Library of Congress Shaker Collection, and the Warren County Historical Society in Lebanon, Ohio. They have been performed by the Pleasant Hill Singers and Western Shaker Singers, and performances of three of Williamson’s songs have been recorded.50

Songs attributed to Patsy Roberts Williamson appear in two [End Page 508] collections. “Pretty Mother” is a name used for Ann Lee in much Shaker parlance.

Pretty MotherO my pretty mother’s home,sweeter than the honey in the comb.O my pretty mother’s home,sweeter than the honey in the comb.Come love, pretty love, come come come.Come love, pretty love, I want some.Come love, pretty love, come come come.Come love, pretty love, I want some.51

The tune for this early Pleasant Hill song has a quick beat, like a reel. It lends itself to learning and performing in the North American church music style of “lining out”: a song leader gives out a short phrase with immediate repetition by the congregation. Many Shaker songs employ patterns or even specific tunes of contemporary popular music, secular and devotional, as well as repetition of short phrases conducive to quick teaching. Williamson’s early years had been spent in North Carolina, where she seems to have been enslaved with the Roberts family. She came to Kentucky as part of this household. She could have acquired a grounding in popular tunes and dance rhythms in North Carolina, during her days in Madison County, or at Pleasant Hill.

The motif of relishing food and drink to express enjoyment of religious experience is common to many Shaker songs.52 Another song by Williamson follows in this tradition and suggests a nursery rhyme in lyrics and cadence.

Mothers good Drik [sic]I’ve had some of Mother’s good drink [End Page 509] And her good love mix’d with itThe sugar in the bottom and sweet on the topAnd I put it in a little cup and drank it all up.Some got so full they jump’d strait up and down

They sung a little song and run all around.53 References to gospel teachings on children and childlike simplicity are frequent in Shaker songs amid the panoply of hymn, parody, anthem, and ballad to be found in collections. “Devotion” references children’s games and lends itself to pantomime, a frequent accompaniment to nineteenth-century Shaker worship songs.

DevotionI love to skip and playin the little narrow way,I love to skip and playin the little narrow way.I’ll work with my hands,I’ll sing with my tongue,I’ll stomp with my feetand the devil will retreat.54

Of a different period and ethos from these Williamson songs are three by Charlotte Tann. By the mid-nineteenth century, Pleasant Hill knew increasing membership, settled population, and sustaining economy. Tann’s life experience as a daughter of pioneering landowners must have been some worlds removed from Williamson’s enslaved youth. Sister Charlotte’s songs follow a more mainline tradition of Protestant hymnody and diction. They include her reflections on freedom as personal, spiritual, and civil. These song lyrics provide a joyous corollary to the sober confessions in her testament. The coupling of simplicity and freedom echoes the most commonly known Shaker song which appears in many Shaker collections: ‘Tis the gift to be simple, ‘tis the gift to be free./’Tis the gift to come down where [End Page 510] we ought to be.”

Give Ear O My ChildrenGive ear O my children come listen to me.For all Mother’s children are simple and free.All bondage I’ll hate, in true freedom I’ll growTo gain a rich treasure in heaven above.[repeat]Lo lo-dle-lo lo-dle-lo lo-dle-lo lolo lo-dle-lo lo-dle-lo lo-dle-lo lo.[repeat]55

Of interest with “Give Ear O My Children” is its waltz rhythm. This is also true of Tann’s “I See the Bright Angels,” which appears in a collection of Benjamin Dunlavy’s.

I See the Bright AngelsI see the bright angels are hovering roundThey drink they bathe in the fountain of love.They’ve come to feed you and comfort your soulsThat ye may be able all things to enjoy.Come gather come gather ye children of ZionLo lo lo lo lo lo lo lo lo loAnd lay up a treasure in heaven secure,Lo lo lo lo lo lo lo lo lo lo.56

Dunlavy included at least one more song of Tann’s:

On my harp I will playAnd rejoice on my wayLo lo lo lo lo-dle lo-dle lo.To that holy CityThere to join the bright Seraphs and Angels of love,I will praise the Lord for ever and ever Amen.57 [End Page 511]

One can guess that the writers of these songs, as free and freed persons, came to their spiritualities of “simple and free” from quite a variety of life experiences.

The Witness of Presence

Although church membership, family houses, and worship services at Pleasant Hill were racially integrated from founding days, Pleasant Hill Shakers did not generally proselytize against slavery or racism outside the village. The primary concern was the conversion, common life, and worship of members, not any public social agenda. Nevertheless, their conduct spoke for them. Clark and Gerald Ham note a particular impression of a visitor in 1825: “Inside the church he found about 130 worshipers, black and white, drawn up in ranks of eight abreast and seven or eight deep.” The same writer of the “Letters on Kentucky” in 1825 reported: “The blacks of each sex were arranged indiscriminately in the same ranks, and attired in the same manner as the whites.”58 Elmer Pearson and Julia Neal quote an eastern visitor to a meeting in 1832 who noted “several coloured persons, male and female, who are dressed in the same costume as the other members and joined them in the dance.”59 It was the lived witness of the Pleasant Hill Shakers rather than any political agenda that set them apart from proslavery churches or from other Kentucky churches that took a public stance on slavery.

Journalist Charles Nordhoff enumerated fourteen Shaker sites and included comments on ethnicities. He wrote that at Pleasant Hill persons of African descent worked for white Shakers and that “two colored women and a young boy were hired as kitchen help for two sisters.”60 This summary comment did not include any awareness that Jane Hyson and others were in supervisory positions or [End Page 512] on equal footing in work situations. Furthermore, many outsiders were hired; the village ministry established the bases on which free and enslaved persons were compensated. Free and freed persons received their wages; wages of enslaved persons were paid to those who enslaved them.

Priscilla Brewer writes that “few blacks joined the sect” and that census records in 1840 demonstrate that “less than 1 percent of the total Shaker population was African-American.”61 This is a society-wide assessment—New York, Massachusetts, Ohio, and Kentucky—and may not include children and orphans as well as noncovenanted village residents. The impact of many people of African descent within and beyond Pleasant Hill is evidenced in interactions described in village records. The degree of egalitarianism practiced at Pleasant Hill distinguishes it favorably among nineteenth-century utopian communities and integrated academic institutes.

New York Shaker Frederick Evans (1808-93), the only prominent Shaker abolitionist, spoke and wrote on Shaker egalitarian ideals as well as on the legal arrangements in place in Shaker villages regarding slaveholding converts. These were spelled out in 1859:

Members of this class [the Second or Junior] have the privilege, at their option, of freely giving the improvements of any part, or all, of their property, to be used for the mutual benefit of the [Shaker household] family to which they belong. The property itself may be resumed at any time, according to the contract, but no interest can be claimed for the use thereof; nor can any member of the family be employed therein for wages of any kind.

Enslaved persons at the time would have been relegated to the status of “property” and would have become free at Pleasant Hill following their manumission to the Trustees. Following this summary of Shaker practice, Evans strongly condemned racism and sexism. [End Page 513]

To the mind of the simple, unsophisticated Shaker it seems marvelously inconsistent … that more than one half the citizens should be disfranchised because they happen to be females, and compelled by the sword to obey laws they never sanctioned, and ofttimes in which they have no faith, and to submit to taxation where there has been no previous representation; while still millions of other fellow-citizens are treated as property, because they chance to possess a darker-colored skin than their cruel brethren.62

Actual achievements regarding inclusivity within villages and among individuals varied regionally in Kentucky. For example, at South Union in Logan County, Kentucky—the more southern Shaker village in antebellum Kentucky—Believers of African descent lived for a time in separate cabins near the village.63 A South Union journal entry for May 28, 1846, notes that “an addition south End of Office for Darkies dining Room” was built.64 At Pleasant Hill, all Believers lived in integrated Family houses; separate residences were maintained for hired workers and their families. Nor do Evans’s words demonstrate unanimous sentiment at Pleasant Hill about race. An East Family journalist noted on February 19, 1866, that “a sad disaster occurred to-day, a span of horses belonging to the Center Family, in the care of a colored hireling, was drowned in the Kentucky River at our ferry, by the unwarrantable recklessness or disobedience of the negro.”65 The journalist’s words seem contemptuous. Do they indicate his feelings about the behavior and not the hired man’s race? Brother Henry Daily’s comment about an incident in 1884 reveals more about him at this point in his life—anxious, in ill-health, mistrustful of visitors from outside the village, worried about money—than about [End Page 514] interracial relationships in general at Pleasant Hill:

The Small Pox have broke out at our Office in a Negro Cabin. We very foolishly hired 2 Negro women to cook at the office. One of them has a son some 12 or 14 years of age—perhaps has been unwell a few days. Today it was discovered he had the above disease. Negros gather of nights at this cabin from all over the country. We suppose this is the way it got here. Now this is an awful curse of the Society. Now we fear it will spread all over. It is for want of sense we hire Negros. We have enough Tramps & winter Shakers to do without hireing any white or Black. Tho those winter Shakers are much worse than nothing. They keep us poor & in debt all the time unless we quit taking in such worthless trash. We will have to be sold out to pay our debts those tramps lay around & do very little & eat us out of house & home. This is awful. We had smallpox in the Society in 1851 and now shall have it again.66

These are the isolated comments of two persons in the context of many long-term personal relationships within village Families.

Free and freed persons of African descent who were not covenanted Shakers were noted as residents, hired workers, neighbors, and visitors. A few hired workers, such as Patsy Roberts Williamson, Anthony Chosen, and Jonah Crutcher, became Shakers. Increasingly in nineteenth-century Kentucky, the hiring-out or selling of enslaved persons was the common means of profit for owners. This accounts for the labor pool from which Pleasant Hill trustees and deacons drew. Indeed, the building projects, farming, and much domestic work could not have been carried out without the help of these persons. Zachariah Burnett noted that on Monday, August 16, 1847, “James Fry a Neighbor Black Man came here and made and put on a wagon [End Page 515] Tyre to instruct our Smiths.”67 In Burnett’s judgment, Fry was more skilled in this part of his trade than the Pleasant Hill blacksmiths. The journal entry leaves open the question of whether Fry’s work was hired or performed as a neighborly service.

On May 10, 1857, thirty-four persons in a kind of limbo between enslavement and freedom spent the night in a village barn. Their owner was Colonel William Thompson, a participant in the deportation of enslaved persons to Liberia through the colonization movement. The colonization movement had wide support among prominent Kentucky whites. A Pleasant Hill journalist’s comment shows at once the good relation of Pleasant Hill with its neighbor William Thompson and the journalist’s own disapproval of Thompson’s action: “A company of negroes, thirty four in number, which Wm. Thompson, one of our near and best neighbors had manumitted for the purpose of sending them to Liberia, passed thro’ this place enrout for that happy land of freedom, which they could not find in the renowned state of Kentucky which boasts so highly liberty and human rights!”68 The relationship between Thompson and the Shakers is characterized as a cordial one while at the same time the journalist deplores slavery. The Pleasant Hill Shakers acknowledged the legal and political realities of antebellum Kentucky and at the same time offered hospitality to enslaved and owner alike.

In 1858, Brother James L. Ballance, who was responsible for hiring outside labor and was thus familiar with many in the outside community, engaged in a highly significant act of concern for enslaved persons by testifying against an owner accused of abusing his slaves. He noted on October 18 that he had: “For the last 5 days been attending court as a witness for the commonwealth against Samuel Bayley for the abuse of his slaves. This evening it was decided they gave him the Negro man Charles, the Commonwealth took the woman Melinda and her child … Last July Court he was indicted [End Page 516] before the grand jury and the slaves taken away from him and hired out until court.”69

Civil War and Reconstruction at Pleasant Hill

Most Kentucky soldiers of African descent had their first chance to enlist in 1864. The Bluegrass Region had the highest level of recruitment. Over half of the military-age African Americans enlisted.70 It is easy to appreciate this urgency and fervor. Jonah Crutcher died in 1861, but he would not have enlisted in any event as he was a Shaker. A journal entry of November 2, 1863, notes that the Union army was impressing workers of African descent for military railroad labor. Some village residents were concerned that the hired workers of Pleasant Hill would be enticed or drafted into the army by zealous recruiters.71

In the years immediately after the war, extending to nearly a decade later, Pleasant Hill journals cited violent racial incidents at the village. Hired workers were targeted; the Shakers who employed them were threatened. In 1866, Brother James L. Ballance noted on Friday, March 2: “Last night there was some drunken outlawd villains went to the W.L.F [West Lot Family] and shot a black man that was hired to work for the family. I suppose they would have kill’d both of them but the one that [was] shot through the brest pick’d up a gun that set near by and broke the stock over them and made them leave. The other one was slightly wounded.”72 On July 26, 1868, Brother James described another incident of violence against a hired resident’s household: [End Page 517]

This has been a warm cloudy day the thermometer up to 90 in the evening it began to rain in a few minutes give us 1 inch of rain and rains on evening, say good bye to our grain and that’s out on the field. Last night there was 18 or 20 scamps went to Theopheleses house and took him and his wife out of their beds and whipped them, they say they wished to make him tell who burnt Wm Crouchers house, and whipped her because she saved them. Theopheles is a black man we have hired here to carry on blacksmithing, and a very honest man. I have known him for many years and never knew him to do any immoral act.73

Violent incidents stemmed not only from racism; they also demonstrated anger about competition for employment. In September 1869, the village received “A Warning—couched in vulgar language” at its post office door “to dismiss our hired negroes, or they would be driven, or burnt out. This was unheeded.”74 Another anonymous threat regarding hired persons was dropped off the morning of December 24.75 More serious was the raid of two companies of the Ku Klux Klan on the West Family and West Lot Family on April 22, 1872, looking to whip or hang a man named Willis, but they did not find him. Brother James wrote that “they thought we had him hired to work for us.”76 But far worse events occurred during the August 1870 election in Harrodsburg when a mob wounded or killed several persons while threatening newly enfranchised voters. The Republican candidate for county court clerk was beaten with a bat. Whites trying to assist threatened voters were pummeled and threatened.77 Doubtless, the Shaker village was an enclave of sanity within postbellum Kentucky. [End Page 518]

Friendly relationships between the Shakers and neighbors and hired workers of African descent continued into the twentieth century. The Harrodsburg Herald included the obituary of an honored neighbor: “Dennis McAfee colored, the oldest person in the county, died yesterday near Shaker Mill. Since freedom he has always worked for the Shakers and is said to have been fully 110 years old.”78

The year 1923 saw significant events for Pleasant Hill as well as for interracial relations in Kentucky. The last Shaker of the village, Sister Mary Settles, died, and the NAACP was working to prevent lynchings in Richmond. By happy chance, the Fifth Pan African Conference in 1945 took place in Manchester, England, birthplace of Mother Ann Lee.

In Connection

What impact did the Shakers’ interracial experiences at Pleasant Hill have on the advancement of human rights in Kentucky and beyond? Among all states in which Shakers settled, the two Kentucky villages, Pleasant Hill and South Union, had the highest populations of persons of African descent. The integrated Family houses of Pleasant Hill, interpersonal relationships, and the known contributions of these members and affiliates, demonstrate that Shakers, although not as numerous as the abolitionist Quakers, practiced egalitarianism to an unusual extent among all religious denominations. Of Quakers and other antislavery churches, John McKivigan writes that “most members of religious bodies that preserved antislavery traditions, such as the Quakers and the Baptist Friends of Humanity, had migrated from the South in striking numbers in the early nineteenth century.”79 This is exactly the time in which the Shakers moved in the opposite direction, from the Northeast to the South, to the slave state of Kentucky. Because of demographics—a higher number of African-descended people in the South—Kentucky Shakers had a higher [End Page 519] number of African American Shakers than elsewhere throughout the nineteenth century. Yet the broad range of employment opportunities for free and freed persons in the Kentucky Bluegrass, albeit at low wage, may suggest that the higher number of Kentucky Shakers of African descent may well result from personal religious choice rather than material expediency.80

In assessing the experience of these Shakers of African descent at Pleasant Hill, one sees that they came as landowners and enslaved persons, as tenant farmers and tradespersons. Some arrived enslaved like Anthony Chosen, Jonah Crutcher, and Patsy Roberts Williamson and became free at Pleasant Hill. Some like Jonah Crutcher and Robert Lamb were prevented from living among their sister and brother Shakers by their owners, although they worshiped at the village for many years. Former enslavement or race does not seem to have prevented Covenanted or gathering order members from leaving the Society at any time.81 Benevolence and sympathy appear in some of the white Shakers’ journals, but acknowledgment of contributions in personal spirituality and work seems more common. Would Shakers of African descent or formerly enslaved persons have sought each other out, within the bounds of Family dwellings, for fellowship or support? Journals kept in the Family houses focus principally on day-to-day events, and records of farm and household production. The East Family deaconess does comment at length on details of Patsy Roberts Williamson’s life, as does Burnett on Anthony Chosen’s life. In each case, the remarks are in keeping with memorial remarks at the time of any brother’s or sister’s death. We know of Daniel Montgomery’s vision and Jane Hyson’s position of authority as kitchen deaconess through this kind of commentary.

A few may question why Shakers of African descent would choose a life apart from their birth and racial communities, becoming part [End Page 520] of a minority within the villages. A religious conversion can move a person to separate from family or previous associates. Shaker life offered opportunities for worship, work, and friendships. Pleasant Hill offered an interracial religious, economic, and residential environment during the years that new denominations such as the African Methodist Episcopal Church were established for worshipers of African descent.

The interracial experience at Pleasant Hill was unique for a number of reasons. Village records identify and characterize nineteen people in addition to hired persons and other affiliates of African descent. Several played significant roles in village life, like Jane Hyson who served as kitchen deaconess, as well as Patsy Roberts Williamson and Charlotte Tann whose spirited and moving songs contributed to worship. Residences and facilities for Shaker Believers were racially integrated, unlike at the South Union Shaker Village where a separate dining room and, at least for a time, separate cabins were maintained. Louis J. Sirico Jr. has reflected on Shakerism as a model for nonsexist, nonauthoritarian conflict resolution in the contemporary justice system; however, he tempers judgment regarding the fidelity of the Society to egalitarianism:

One source for learning about inclusionary religion is the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing in America, better known as the Shakers. … [T]his American religion has a woman founder, espouses gender equality, and worships a deity that is both male and female. This does not suggest that Shakerism is an exemplary inclusive religion. … [O]ne might also challenge the way that the Shakers traditionally adhered to the conventional division of labor between women and men. One might even question the extent to which their theology truly embraced the equality of women and men.82 [End Page 521]

The Pleasant Hill Shaker experience indeed offered an alternative perspective on race and slave law in Kentucky.

Was Pleasant Hill a “Camelot” moment in the history of interracial worship and common life in the United States? Or was it a manifestation of a more enduring religious and social impetus? David Yount states that “it is difficult to adequately portray the almost manic-depressive fervor that swept across the young nation, offering high hopes to tens of thousands of seekers after salvation, only to dash them as the revivals receded. … By contrast, the Shakers, carried along by the spirit of inspiration, chose to institutionalize the godly life, providing stable and safe communities in which to work out one’s salvation.”83

The folklore, legends, and understandably few documented accounts of the Underground Railroad have come to dominate popular-culture thinking about how people became free. The disintegration of slavery, however, also came from within. Kentucky Shakers of African descent quietly sought out and chose life paths by their own faith, wits, and opportunities. This happened both within and apart from the vortex of nineteenth-century conflicts, benevolence, politics, and war. Thomas Clark affirms that “just as important as the authentic restoration of the physical artifacts of the Shakers is the preservation of the serenity of their village and their way of life.”84 To this testimony about Shaker life may be added its anticipation of a diversity of persons being valued within common homes, work, and prayer. This kind of experience, with others throughout the United States, would engender a drive for integration and civil rights in the twentieth century.

An even greater inclusion is advanced by Thomas Clark and Gerald Ham as they write about the unique relationship of soil, timber, and agricultural conditions at Pleasant Hill as generative of its community. Their development of this theme extends to more than just the [End Page 522] people who lived at Pleasant Hill. They make an explicit connection of people and land. So their full circle includes the spirituality associated with the Native American spirits whom early Shakers welcomed to their meetings. The moral and social imperative inclusive of soil, vegetation, and landscape anticipates some of Clark’s The Greening of the South: The Recovery of Land and Forest.85 In 2007, the restored Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill began the installation of geothermal heat and cooling for its buildings, for economic and global climate advantage. This is consistent with Shakers’ use of appropriate technology. The year 2012 saw the partnering of Pleasant Hill with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources to develop a land-conservation plan that manages two thousand acres for wildlife habitat restoration. The twentieth-century Kentucky monk Thomas Merton saw the Shakers’ ecological and spiritual insights as aligned with those of contemporary environmentalists and contemplatives. He quoted E. D. Andrews who observed that “an atmosphere of settledness and repose pervaded the [Shaker] villages, as though they were part of the land itself.”86 In these ways, the Shakers’ witness is not ended but prophetic. This inclusive understanding stretches the minds of Kentuckians today as much as, say, the idea of equal inclusion of all persons within human society stretched minds before emancipation. [End Page 523]

Vickie Cimprich

Vickie Cimprich is a northern Kentucky writer. Her full-length collection of narrative poems, Pretty Mother’s Home—A Shakeress Daybook (2007), was researched in period journals at the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill with the support of grants from The Kentucky Foundation for Women. Cimprich’s work also appears in periodicals such as The African American Review, The Journal of Kentucky Studies, The Merton Journal, and The AFCU Journal: A Franciscan Perspective on Higher Education. Cimprich holds an MA from the University of Cincinnati with concentrations in medieval literature and creative writing. She has taught writing at the University of Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky University, and Lees College.

Footnotes

1. Stephen Stein, The Shaker Experience in America (New Haven, 1994), 6. Stein finds no evidence that the Camisards directly influenced the founding Shakers, but Catherine Randall argues that the influence was direct; see From a Far Country: Camisards and Huguenots in the Atlantic World (Athens, Ga., 2009), 7. Shaker Sisters Anna White and Leila Sarah Taylor note that the Camisards’ ecstatic modes of worship and those of the Shakers were similar but that Shakerism developed independently; see Shakerism: Its Meaning and Message (Columbus, Ohio, 1905), 13-14.

2. The Shaker Collection of the Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland, Ohio (hereafter SCWRHS) membership card file abstracted by Wallace Cathcart, reel 123, index of proper names, 11-17. This card file provides sketchy but useful information about Shakers of African descent at the founding villages in New York and Massachusetts. An 1860s photo of Sister Phebe (or Phoebe) Lane appears in SCWRHS, reel 89. See also “African American Shakers: In the Berkshires and Beyond,” http://www.hancockshakervillage.org (accessed April 2, 2012).

3. Daniel Patterson, The Shaker Spiritual (Mineola, N.Y., 2000), 357.

4. Clarke Garrett, From the Old World to the New World: Origins of the Shakers (Baltimore, 1987), 91, identifies similar and varying evolutions of both religious and secular antislavery convictions as these crossed from England to America.

5. J. P. MacLean, The Shakers of Ohio (Columbus, Ohio, 1907), 63. MacLean reported that by 1830, the Union village population “consisted of 238 males (two of which were colored), and 264 females (six being colored),” 73.

6. Cheryl Bauer and Rob Portman, Wisdom’s Paradise—The Forgotten Shakers of Union Village (Wilmington, Ohio, 2004), 24.

7. Olaudah Equiano, “The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano Or Gustavus Vasa, the African” in The Classic Slave Narratives, ed. Henry Louis Gates Jr. (New York, 1987), 42. Equiano recounted that, “We saw some very large fishes. … They looked to me extremely terrible … and [I] hid myself in the forepart of the ship, through fear of being offered up to appease them.”

8. South Union Record Book A, 42, manuscripts and folklife archives, special collections, library, Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green, Kentucky. See also Martha Boice, Dale Covington, and Richard Spence, Maps of the Shaker West (Dayton, Ohio, 1997), 15.

9. Julia Neal, The Kentucky Shakers (Lexington, Ky., 1977), 6.

10. Thomas D. Clark, Pleasant Hill and the Civil War (Pleasant Hill, Ky., 1972), 18.

11. In this article, Believers are grouped in alphabetical order: members formerly enslaved, and members never known to have been enslaved. Birth/death dates for Believers appear at the first identification. The Pleasant Hill Resident Database was created by staff archivists as a compilation of references for all persons mentioned in Church Roll Books and other primary sources. I am especially grateful to Larrie Curry for guidance in use of this material and to Dixie Huffman for research assistance in the museum archives of Pleasant Hill.

12. Discussion and documentation of each person is given below.

13. Church Record Book C, 88, Harrodsburg Historical Society, Harrodsburg, Kentucky (hereafter Church Record Book); Church Roll Book, 20, Pleasant Hill archives (hereafter Church Roll Book).

14. Zachariah Burnett, journal of July 1, 1846–March 14, 1853, May 15-16, 1849, Harrodsburg Historical Society, Harrodsburg, Kentucky (hereafter, Burnett journal, HHS).

15. Journal of November 3, 1846–May 4, 1867, vol. 6, Bohon Shaker Collection, Filson Historical Society, Louisville, Kentucky (hereafter Bohon Shaker Collection, FHS).

16. Church Record Book C, 99; Church Roll Book, 25.

17. 1850 U.S. census, Mercer County, Ky., 281; 1860 U.S. census, Mercer County, Ky., 796; Church Record Book C, 99; Church Roll Book, 25; East Family Journal of January 1, 1856–February 13, 1871, 75, Pleasant Hill.

18. Account Book of February 11, 1842–January 29, 1849, vol. 26, Bohon Shaker Collection, FHS. Other names of persons of African descent hired at Pleasant Hill and their owners from this record include: Casper and Ransom (owned by Richard Curd), Harrison (owned by Robert Curd), and Cooper (owned by Robert Mars).

19. Church Record Book C, 65; Church Roll Book, 58, and “Origin and Progress of the Society at Pleasant Hill,” 93, Harrodsburg Historical Society, Harrodsburg, Kentucky (hereafter “Origin and Progress,” HHS).

20. Church Roll Book, 209.

21. Church Record Book C, 474; Church Roll Book, 215.

22. See note 11.

23. Church Record Book C, 54; Church Roll Book, 20.

24. Church Roll Book, 102; Journal of January 6, 1851–October 24, 1868, vol. 8, Bohon Shaker Collection, FHS; Jessamine County Court Deed of Emancipation, July 15, 1844, Kentucky Department of Library and Archives, folder 71, on permanent loan to Pleasant Hill archives.

25. Church Roll Book, 121; Journal of January 6, 1851–October 24, 1868. vol. 8, Bohon Shaker Collection, FHS.

26. Church Record Book C, 71; Church Roll Book, 60.

27. Family Journal, Book A, kept by order of the Deaconess of the East House, January 1, 1843–October 19, 1871, August 28, 1860, in the Bohon Shaker Collection, vol. 4, FHS; 1850 U.S. census, Mercer County, 280, listed her as Patsy Robards; 1860 U.S. census, Mercer County, 798, listed her as Patsy Roberts.

28. The Roberts household appears in the 1790 U.S. census, Rockingham County, North Carolina, 537A, with Namon Roberts as head of household, one male sixteen and up, one male under sixteen, two females, and five slaves. Namon and several members of his family appear in Church Record and Roll Books. Members of the Roberts household who, like Patsy, were born in Rockingham County and persevered lifelong as Shakers at Pleasant Hill included Eunice–Betsy Roberts (Church Record Book C, 69 and Church Roll Book, 59) as well as Susannah Roberts (Church Record Book C, 71; Church Roll Book, 60; and Hortensy Hooser’s Journal.) The Hortensy Hooser Journal kept in part by Hortensy Hooser and by Emma Montgomery is in the collection of Mrs. W. J. Kemler of Dearborn, Michigan, with a photocopy in the Pleasant Hill archives. No identification as to race or enslavement is specified for any of the Pleasant Hill Robertses except for Patsy who was sold and freed at Pleasant Hill.

29. Church Record Book C, 472; Church Roll Book, 206.

30. Church Record Book C, 81; Church Roll Book, 63.

31. Church Record C, 63; Church Roll Book, 57; Samuel Turner Journal, 22, Pleasant Hill archives.

32. Burnett journal, September 13, 1849, HHS.

33. Ibid. See also “Origin and Progress,” 65, HHS.

34. Daniel Montgomery claimed that his father was General Richard Montgomery (December 2, 1738–December 31, 1775), a major general in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War who led the unsuccessful invasion of Canada in 1775. See Michael P. Gabriel, Major General Richard Montgomery: The Making of an American Hero (Hackensack, N.J., 2002).

35. Church Record Book C, 87; Church Roll Book, 25.

36. Burnett journal, June 17, 1849, HHS; see also Church Roll Book, 101; SCWRHS III: B-48, and 1850 U.S. census, Mercer County, 281 (listed as Perry Proctor).

37. Church Roll Book, 209.

38. See Samuel S. McClelland, “A Memorandum of Remarkable Events Concerning the Shaker Community at Busro or West Union, Indiana, 1805-1827,” Shaker Collection of Records Concerning the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, box 21, reel 18, item 250, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (hereafter Shaker Collection, LC), regarding the demise of the Shaker Village of West Union. Causes include the New Madrid earthquake, malaria, and the Shakers’ refusal to participate in Governor William Henry Harrison’s militia after white settlers infringed on the land of the Miami Indians.

39. Regina Viers, Tann Family, in Free African Americans of Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina, http://www.freeafricanamericans.com/Tann_Viers.htm (accessed April 23, 2013).

40. Church Roll Book, 208.

41. Church Roll Book, 65; SCRWHS III: B-48, July 7, 1842. She is noted as black in the 1850 U.S. census, Mercer County, 281.

42. 1850 U.S. census, Mercer County, Kentucky, 280; 1860 U.S. census, Mercer County, Kentucky, 798; 1870 U.S. census, Mercer County, Kentucky, 528.

43. Hazel Spencer Phillips, “Shaker Records of Deaths Gathered from Various Sources,” Bulletin of the Historical and Philosophical Society of Ohio, January 1960, 62-63. It is possible that Phillips mistook the record of J. P. MacLean, the Tanns’ contemporary, who referred to their father Anthony as a “coloured man” and their mother as a “real white woman,” referencing her appearance, not her race; see The Shakers of Ohio—Fugitive Papers Concerning the Shakers of Ohio, with Unpublished Manuscripts (Columbus, Ohio, 1907), 279-80, 286, 312.

44. Church Record Book C, 77; Church Roll Book, 62; Phillips, “Shaker Records,” 62-63.

45. See McClelland, “A memorandum of remarkable events,” box 21, reel 18, item 250, Shaker Collection, LC.

46. “Testimonies of Pleasant Hill Shakers,” SCWRHS IV: B-49, 38-40.

47. Stein, Shaker Experience, 165-74.

48. Charlotte’s death on March 15, 1875, is noted in a journal kept by the Ministry of Pleasant Hill and South Union; see Ministerial Journal of October 24, 1869–September 30, 1880, March 15, 1875, vol. 16, Record H. L. Eades, Bohon Shaker Collection, FHS.

49. Mother Rebecca Jackson, formerly an itinerant African Methodist Episcopal Church preacher, established in Philadelphia the only urban, all-women Shaker community. Her autobiography, Gifts of Power—The Writings of Rebecca Jackson, Black Visionary, Shaker Eldress, ed. Jean McMahon Humez (Boston, 1981), describes with acute sensitivity how she interpreted the Shaker gospel for her sister Believers of African descent, as well as how she mediated mid-century cultural challenges of race, spirituality, and gender.

50. “Music of Angels—Songs of the Shaker West,” compact disc, The Pleasant Hill Singers (Verdant Groves Foundation, Inc. DDD CDVGMFO1, 1999), tracks 8, 10, 12.

51. Patsy Roberts Williamson, “Pretty Mother’s Home,” SCWRS, IX: B-131, 63.

52. For example, a song by Patsy’s contemporary Lucinda Shain appears in the same hymn collection: “Holy mother give to me a pretty little cup for thee/Fill’d with wine purest wine/Take the cup and drink it up./O ho O ho I love Mothers wine/O ho O ho I’ll drink every time,” ibid., IX: B-381, 70.

53. Patsy [Roberts] Williamson in Paulina Bryant’s “Historical Metrical Poems of the first Messengers of the Gospel in the West Country—Composed at an early date, 1806,” items 361, 296, Shaker Collection, LC.

54. Ibid., item, 297.

55. Charlotte Tann, “Give Ear O My Children,” June 22, 1845, Pleasant Hill archives, transcribed by Pleasant Hill Music Director Donna Phillips, November 9, 2000, and graciously shared with the author in 2005.

56. Tann, “I See the Bright Angels,” January 1846, in Benjamin Dunlavy’s Hymnal, 136, in the collection of the Warren County Historical Society, Lebanon, Ohio, transcribed by Carol Medlicott in 2009 and graciously shared with the author in 2009.

57. Tann, “On My Harp I Will Play,” February 16, 1847, Dunlavy’s Hymnal, 211, graciously shared with the author in 2008.

58. Thomas D. Clark and F. Gerald Ham, Pleasant Hill and Its Shakers (Harrodsburg, Ky., 1987), 97.

59. Elmer B. Pearson and Julia Neal, The Shaker Image (New York, 1974), 45.

60. Charles Nordhoff, Communistic Societies in the U.S. (1875), cited by Priscilla J. Brewer, Shaker Communities, Shaker Lives (Lebanon, N.H., 1986), 105.

61. Priscilla Brewer, “‘Tho’ of the Weaker Sex’: A Reassessment of Gender Equality among the Shakers,” Signs 17 (1992): 627.

62. Frederick Evans, The Shaker Compendium, of the Origin, History, Principles, Rules and Regulations, Government, and Doctrines of the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing (New York, 1859), 49.

63. Julia Neal, Kentucky Shakers, 47.

64. Harvey Eades, Record Book Commencing October 1st, 1836, with the cover title 1836-1864, Book B, May 28, 1846, collection of South Union Shaker Village, Auburn, Kentucky.

65. East Family Journal of January 1, 1856–February 13, 1871, Pleasant Hill archives.

66. Henry Daily, Journal of March 1, 1881–April 30, 1885, March 8, 1884, vol. 20, Bohon Shaker Collection, FHS, transcription by Larrie Curry.

67. Burnett journal, August 16, 1847, HHS.

68. Pleasant Hill Journal of 1843-1868, May 10, 1857, HHS.

69. James L. Ballance, Journal of April 1, 1854–March 31, 1860, October 18, 1858, vol. 11, Bohon Shaker Collection, FHS.

70. Richard D. Sears, Camp Nelson, Kentucky: A Civil War History (Lexington, Ky., 2002), xxxv-xxxvi, xxxviii-xxxix, 1. The U.S. Army reported 23,703 black Kentucky troops, which composed 53.9 percent of the 43,935 eligible slaves and freemen between the ages of sixteen and forty-five; see Marion B. Lucas, A History of Blacks in Kentucky, 2 vols. (Frankfort, Ky., 1992), vol. 1, From Slavery to Segregation, 1760-1891, 166.

71. Journal of January 6, 1851–October 24, 1868, November 2, 1863, vol. 8, Bohon Shaker Collection, FHS.

72. Ballance, Journal of April 1, 1860–December 31, 1866, March 2, 1866, vol. 12, Bohon Shaker Collection, FHS.

73. Ballance, Journal of January 1, 1867–October 31, 1871, July 26, 1868, vol. 13, ibid. William Croucher was a Pleasant Hill neighbor.

74. East Family Journal of January 1, 1856–February 13, 1871, 242, Pleasant Hill archives.

75. Ibid., 246.

76. Ballance, Journal of November 23, 1871–July 31, 1880, April 22, 1872, vol. 14, Bohon Shaker Collection, FHS.

77. Lucas, From Slavery to Segregation, 307.

78. Harrodsburg Herald, March 29, 1906.

79. John R. McKivigan, The War Against Proslavery Religion: Abolitionism and the Northern Churches, 1830-1865 (Ithaca, N.Y., 1984), 53.

80. Lucas, From Slavery to Segregation, 108.

81. Gathering orders existed at all Shaker villages for persons who were considering or beginning life as Believer; they served as a gradual accommodation to life within village Families.

82. Louis J. Sirico Jr., “Inclusive Law, Inclusive Religion, and the Shakers,” Journal of Church & State, 34 (1992): 563.

83. David Yount, America’s Spiritual Utopias: America’s Quest for Heaven on Earth (Westport, Conn., 2008), 67.

84. Clark and Ham, Pleasant Hill and Its Shakers, 97.

85. Thomas D. Clark, The Greening of the South: The Recovery of Land and Forest (Lexington, Ky., 1984).

86. See Thomas Merton, “Pleasant Hill: A Shaker Village in Kentucky,” in Thomas Merton, Mystics and Zen Masters (New York, 1967), 199. Merton also observed that “it is never a question of a ‘barn’ in the abstract and in no definite place: the Shaker farm building always fits right into its location, manifests the logos of the place where it is built, grasps and expresses the hidden logos of the valley, or hillside, etc. which forms its site.” See Thomas Merton, Seeking Paradise, ed. Paul M. Pearson (New York, 2003), 40-41.

Additional Information

ISSN
2161-0355
Print ISSN
0023-0243
Pages
489-523
Launched on MUSE
2014-01-23
Open Access
No
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