Go back in time, forward in thought. Living history museum in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts.
When Mother Ann passed away in 1784, one of her early English disciples, Father James Whittaker, assumed the leadership of the fledgling society. After Father James’ death in 1787, Elder Joseph Meacham succeeded as the first American-born leader of the Shaker movement. Elder Joseph soon appointed another American-born convert, Mother Lucy Wright, as his co-leader, and together they worked to gather the scattered groups of Brethren and Sisters into an expanding network of communal villages of Believers. Hancock was the third community among the eventual nineteen major Shaker communities established between 1783 and 1836 in New York, New England, Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana.
The Shaker population reached its peak in the mid-19th century, with an estimated 4,000 to 5,000 Shakers. More than 300 Shakers lived at Hancock during the height of the community here. Today, the Shaker community remains active at Sabbathday Lake in Maine, with three Believers.
The Shakers are one of the most intriguing social and religious movements in American history. They are also one of the longest lived, and are considered by many to be the most successful of the hundreds of communal groups and utopian societies in this country since before the Revolutionary War.
As the Shakers grew in influence and numbers in the 19th century, they challenged the existing social and religious structure and economic order of the new nation and eventually developing an alternative lifestyle based on their religious beliefs. The Shakers have made important contributions to American culture in the areas of art and design, science, architecture, craftsmanship, business, music, education, government, medicine, agriculture, and commerce.