BOOK REVIEW

If you would like to see an example of a communist society that dates back to the founding of this nation, “Shakerism: Its Meaning and Message” by Anna White and Leila S. Taylor is a must-read. Here is a place where capitalism and monopoly are abolished and all work for the common good of the community — here is a place called utopia.

“Shakerism presents a system of faith and a mode of life, which, during the past century, has solved social and religious problems and successfully established practical brotherhoods of industry, besides freeing woman from inequality and injustice,” the book’s preface states.

“To this there must be added that it has banished from its precincts monopoly, immorality, intemperance and crime, by creating a life of purity, social freedom and altruistic industry. A system that has rendered such a service to mankind merits attention from all thoughtful people, whatever may be their position in life.”

Anna Taylor and Leila White take us back in time to the very founding of this faith. Although this book was first published in 1905, it still speaks to us today. The story begins in Cevennes, France, in 1689, when the exiled Camisards went through Europe seeking freedom from religious persecution and settled in England in 1706.

“Out of rhapsody and ecstatic emotion grew lives of purity and uprightness.” The Quaker faith was remarkable for stillness before God until moved by the power of “the Spirit.” Some, who were especially subject to spiritual influence upon their external being, were called ‘Shaking Quakers’ or ‘Shakers.’ A society, led by James and Jane Wardley, was formed in Manchester, England, in 1747. This society became the founders of the Shakers.

Although today, it is not unusual to have a woman leading a congregation, it was rare 200 years ago. Yet at that time a woman, Ann Lee, began to preach and teach openly in Manchester. One of the things that she taught was that God was both our father and our mother. At that time, her message was not well received by the male-dominated patriarchal society and she was beaten and imprisoned many times in her life. Her message finally took root and we have the constant witness of the Shakers to thank for this fact.

On May 19, 1774, the Shakers set sail from Liverpool to New York on the ship Moriah. From Maine to Kentucky to Florida they established communities based on communist and socialist principles. Through industry, thrift, hard work and determination they created a society based and thriving on honesty and integrity in business and strive daily to live these principles in their everyday life.

Today there is only one Shaker community left, in New Gloucester, Maine. Shakerism is not dead but lives on — not only in this active and vital community, but also in the tapestry of this nation and in the small things that touch each of us daily.

Although they have no formal creed, believing that God reveals Him/Herself to individuals in diverse ways, they have made many great contributions to all people of faith. Shakers are one of the great historic peace churches. “White-haired veterans of the wars of the Revolution and 1812, who afterward became good Shakers, abhorred as the ‘price of blood’ the bounties and pensions legally their due.” Shakers were also abolitionists. They did all in their power to help slaves who had escaped. Bearing in mind that two of their communities existed in Kentucky, which was under hostile occupation during the Civil War, they managed to survive in hostile territory and fed and assisted anyone who came to their doors in need.

Shakers are also anti-conscriptionists and, as such, made an appeal to President Lincoln and won the status of conscientious objectors. Prior to that, during the days of the Revolution and the War of 1812, Shakers were imprisoned as suspected Tories. In 1863, all male citizens were required to take the “Oath of Allegiance to the United States.” Shakers abstained. Shakers have, from the first, been associated with the movements for peace in this country, attending the Peace Conventions during the Civil War era and actively engaged in the drive to abolish slavery. Shakers have been very active in the class struggle, not only through the example of living, but also through direct participation.

At one time, Shakers ran orphanages, yet the children were considered part of the family. They ran schools that were attended by Shaker and non-Shaker children alike.

Shaker inventions are all around us. One of the many invented by Shakers was the first washing machine, the “shaker broom,” not to mention their clean designs in both architecture and furniture.

This book gives us a good look at their message, their accomplishments and the lives of the brethren and sisters and into the hearts of many of the people who helped to shape the United Society of Shakers.

mreale@cpusa.org

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