Go back in time, forward in thought. Living history museum in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts.
The Shakers trace their beginnings to Manchester, England, in 1747. They called themselves The United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing and soon became known as Shakers because of the trembling, whirling, and shaking they engaged in during ecstatic worship services. As Millennialists, they believed that Christ’s second coming was realized in their leader, Ann Lee, whom they called Mother Ann. Misunderstood and often persecuted in their native England, the Shakers nonetheless gathered a small group of enthusiastic followers.
In 1774, Mother Ann Lee made the monumental decision to lead eight Shaker converts on a journey to America, seeking the freedom to live, work, and worship according to their main religious tenets: celibacy, communal life, and confession of sin. The Shakers also believed in racial and gender equality, simplicity, and pacifism. They dedicated their lives to creating a working “Heaven on Earth” amid the boundless opportunities presented by the New World.
The Shakers left England on the ship Mariah, arriving in New York harbor in 1774. Mother Ann and her small group of converts soon purchased land near Watervliet, New York, a frontier wilderness northwest of Albany, where they made their first settlement. While establishing a place to live in communal brotherhood and sisterhood (and also at nearby New Lebanon, New York), Mother Ann embarked on a series of missionary journeys throughout New York and New England, gathering many converts to the new Christian movement. Learn more about Ann Lee and her leadership below.