How the Shakers Earned a Living in Alfred

By: Benjamin Levesque
Massabesic Middle School Grade 7

The Shakers were a very prestigious religious group who believed in hard work and separation from “the World,” or the outer groups not their own. The Shakers, or the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, believed that to live to the Lord’s expectations, they would work hard and strive to be what they believed She, Ann Lee, their founder and believed counter part of Christ, had perceived as perfection. With spiritual uplift, organized living styles, and all around efficient tactics that they developed by themselves, they were able to earn a high income.

At the beginning of their group, in 1776, they laid down in Watervliet, New York. There were also sites in England and due west into Ohio and Kentucky. People who decided to participate in the practices of the Shakers and were farmers beautiful farm houses, sometimes donated their dwellings to the Shakers. This was fortunate for the Shakers, due to the fact they wanted to produce bountiful amounts of delicious fruits, herbs, and other food like cakes and pies.

Before explaining exactly how the Shakers achieved great success in bartering, and producing very fine goods. It would be better to tell of how being very organized, having the ingenuity to create new things, and being able to keep themselves spiritually uplifted, allowed them to be self sufficient and be a haven-like community.

To start talking about their very organized living style, you have to start at the beginning of their average day. In Shaker villages, days began early as they were signaled to wake up at 4:30 A.M. After the brief morning prayer, the men, after getting dressed in their work clothes, headed outside and did morning work with the animals. The women, after neatly making their beds and putting on their plain clothing, hung up their night clothes on pegs that lined the walls, and went to the kitchen to start cooking. The children, sleeping in special chambers that were overseen by elder Shakers, went along their morning chores. At about 6:30, a bell rang to signal breakfast as each Shaker silently filed inside to the dining hall, and silent signals were given for them to start serving food, when to eat, and when to clean up.

They were each kept busy all day with many jobs that men and women separately attended to, baking, weaving, and sewing. Men were given jobs like harvesting crops, going on selling trips, and others were sent to the workshops to build fine tools and furniture. The children, however, had a fairly different schedule, depending on the season of course. The children went to school. In the summer, the girls were the only sex permitted to go, and in the winter, the boys. Their schools were model for all others, teaching the students reading, writing, arithmetic, music, art, science, history, and geography. These schools were so well regarded, neighboring residents usually sent their children there to learn.

The children even had time to play in school! Of course there were purposes behind it like physical fitness or learning adult skills, but they always got a good education. A visitor of one of the villages, Mrs.Hester Pool, had something very nice to say about the kind of aura the Shakers gave off, an “indescribable air of purity.”

The evening activities included a daily thirty minute silent meditation period, and then the events following varied, from non-carnal meetings with both sexes together, or other nights the Shakers held a worship service. The daily schedule of these people was very simple, yet complex in its own unique way.

Another topic of great interest is how the Shakers were able to keep themselves so spiritually uplifted to be able to live the lifestyle they did every day. At the end of the Shakers services three days a week, the Shakers would be able to openly express themselves in dance, song, and movement. This is why Mother Anne’s group had become what we know now as the Shakers. These times were beautiful, full of laughing, talking, and joy. What’s interesting about the Shakers unorganized celebrations, is that their music developed over time into formal dances, songs, and rituals.

The Shakers were also known for their great inventions that were simple, but gave them a lot of leverage over other producers. For instance, the Shakers produced numerous varieties of herbs, which were ground up and made into powdered medicine. This medicine needed to be put into containers, so they formed pills by measuring long rolls of dried material, weighing it carefully, and cutting it up into sections. After this process they put the material in a sugar water solution and dried it on nail beds, making very high quality pill capsules.

They also developed the first ever flat brooms. Around the late 1700s, Brother Theodore Bates of Watervliet, realized that the round broom at that time was slow and didn’t sweep up much dust. Using straw and flattened bristles, he made a new broom that would end up as the Shakers most dependable industry.

After explaining how they were able to make their products, explaining who they were sold to, and why they were sold, is now much easier.

First of all, the Shakers furniture was the best crafted of its time. It is one of the most famous series of chairs, dining tables, work tables, candle stands, and chests made with the Shakers perfection in mind. Characteristics of the furniture were the lovely bird’s-eye maple, tiger maple, and cherry woods they were made with. Polished to a gleam, clean and simplistic lines, these pieces were works of art in their own elementary nature.

The women also contributed to the Shakers famousness, with finely sewn fabrics for handkerchiefs, scarves, and ties. Other communities also made straw hats and bonnets, loose-knit Shaker sweaters, and woolen cloaks.

The men who went on selling trips eventually went on to use catalogs to sell their wares. To show off their products, the Shakers made show rooms in their villages as well. Although the Shakers were very prestigious and well regarded, today there are no modern Shakers alive. The hand crafted, elegant furniture they made will most likely never be replicated in exactly the same way.

As the Shakers would say, “Do your work as though you had a thousand years to live and as if you were to die tomorrow.”

Museum Hours:

Museum Hours: 1 PM – 4 PM on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and by appointment.

Closing for the season on November 11.

Admission: Free. Donations are gratefully accepted.

We are dog-friendly. Well-behaved dogs on leash are welcome in our building.

Become a Friend of the Alfred Shaker Museum!


FASM meets on the second Wednesday of each month at 7 PM at the Alfred Shaker Museum. The public is invited to our meetings (unless announced otherwise).

We welcome new members! To join FASM, see our Become a Friend page.

FASM News:

Find Us on Facebook

Keep in Touch!

Sign up here for the FASM email list.