Shaker Studies

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The Shakers, a Protestant religious denomination officially called The United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, originated in Manchester, England in 1747 in the home of Jane and James Wardley.

 

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The Shakers developed from the religious group called the Quakers which developed in the 17th century. Both groups believed that everybody could find God within him or herself, rather than through clergy or rituals, but the Shakers tended to be more emotional and demonstrative in their worship. Shakers also believed that their lives should be dedicated to pursuing perfection and continuously confessing their sins and attempting to stop sinning.

 

The 17th century was fraught with religious turmoil due to constant fighting between Protestants and Catholics. Religious wars led many to believe that the Millennium was at hand, and spirit possession began manifesting itself in many new forms. The 18th century saw the largest number and most diverse of these possessions, including visions, prophecy, and trances. These movements became a part of the more general religious awakening that spread through most of continental Europe north of the Alps between the late 17th century and 1740s, affecting the British Isles and the American colonies as well. Half a century later, the United States and England saw an emergence of many radical religious groups who formed Utopian societies including the Oneida community, Millerites, Rappites and of course, the Shakers.

 

 The Shakers focus on two moments as being the most influential in the origin of their movement. The first is 1706 with the coming of five “French prophets” to London, well recorded in historical sources as camisards from the Cévennes Mountains in the south of France. The name “Camisards” was the term that French Protestant militants bestowed upon themselves when they waged a five-year insurrection against Louis XIV, who was trying to stamp out Protestantism in favor of Catholicism. The Camisards were defeated and forced to join the thousands of Huguenot exiles living in Protestant territories in France, England, South Africa, North America, and elsewhere. The five French Prophets must have been amidst these exiles. The second date that Shakers focus on is 1747, when Mother Ann Lee first made contact with James Wardley, a preacher who maintained a small group with the “possession by the spirit” reminiscent of the French prophets.The Shakers built 19 communal settlements that attracted some 200,000 converts over the next century. Strict believers in celibacy, Shakers maintained their numbers through conversion and adoption of orphans. Turnover was very high; the group reached maximum size of about 6,000 full members in 1840, but as of 2006 had only four members left. Only a few of the original Shaker buildings are still in use today. 

The Shakers of New England should not be confused with the religion of the Indian Shakers of the Pacific Northwest of North America.

 

Information found at Wikipedia