Sanchez Describes Shaker Challenge During Civil War in Museum Talk

Writer Anita Sanchez wove her tale of the Shakers confronting Abraham Lincoln over the 1863 draft for more Union soldiers — including Shaker men — to fight in the Civil War when she was guest speaker in the Sid Emery Memorial Forum sponsored by Alfred Shaker Museum and the Sanford-Springvale Historical Society. The event, the second in a series of four, took place last Sunday (Aug. 23) at the Alfred museum.

As Sanchez told it, based on research for her book, Mr. Lincoln’s Chair, the challenge was initiated when Henry Blinn, a Canterbury, N.H., Shaker, and three others were drafted for military service. In the end, after a visit with President Lincoln himself, the Shakers were “furloughed” during the war and thus became the first federally recognized conscientious objectors to war in the United States.

Early on, Sanchez, a botanist by profession, told her audience, “I am not a Shaker historian.” But she made clear that she is a botanist who also loves history. Her book is a well-regarded Shaker history and she also has written a children’s book of fiction, titled The Invasion of Sandy Bay, which is set during the War of 1812 when a number of battles were fought along the coast of Maine. Neither the Shakers nor Quakers were called to military duty during the War of 1812; when the Civil War started, she said, the Shakers expected that exemption to continue.

It was a long detailed account of Blinn’s draft experience written in his diary which first captivated Sanchez during a visit to the Shaker village at Canterbury and was the impetus for writing Mr. Lincolns’s Chair. She was amazed at the length of Blinn’s story and the detail in his account, including dialogue of the Shakers’ talks in Washington. His diary was her spark.

Sanchez, who grew up in Albany, N.Y. “within walking distance of (Shaker foundress) Ann Lee’s grave,” urged attendees to write down the most important stories of their lives since history is made from documented evidence as people experience events.

After her talk, Betsey Roberts of Alfred, a member of the audience, told Sanchez that her grandmother, then 12 years old, remembered when she learned of the assassination of Lincoln in 1865 and passed that story on.

Sanchez’s talk was filmed by Sanford teacher James Harmon and his video students at Sanford High School. Approximately 35 people turned out to hear the Civil War story in this 150th anniversary of the end of that war.

Sanchez is working on two new books: an adult version of the book on poison ivy that she wrote for young people (Leaflets Three, Let it Be! The Story of Poison Ivy) and a biography of Carolus Linnaeus, the famous naturalist. She will soon depart for Sweden and the Arctic in pursuit of his story.

The speakers series, which is free to the public, is presented with support from the Maine Humanities Council, the Kennebunk Savings Bank Foundation, the Alfred Historical Society, and two private donors. The last two presentations will take place on Oct. 4 and Oct. 25, when the speakers respectively will be Richard Judd of the University of Maine, who is co-author of the recently published Historical Atlas of Maine, and George Neptune, a Native American historian and craftsman who works at the Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor.

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Closing for the season on November 15.

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