Brandon Wilson, Program Specialist

In 1808, Shaker missionaries hiked their way through Shawnee territory in the Indiana planes, on the banks of the Wabash, to encounter a man like no other. Anthony Tann, who was born in Colonial South Carolina, likely left a deep impression on his visitors, and within a few years became a founding member of the short-lived, and perhaps misplaced, Shaker Village at West Union.

The Wabash River, as drawn by Henry Hamilton, 1778.

Born in the 1730’s, his light brown skin seemed to predestine his fate. With African descended peoples’ freedom becoming increasingly constrained as the slave trade ballooned, Tann’s best hope was to carve a space for himself at the margins of society. The chaos of the American Revolution offered unexpected chances – small windows of opportunity for a rare and lucky few to escape the system that bound them. Tann enlisted in the Revolution, fighting in 1776 for both America’s liberty and his own.

After the war he fled the black-codes and racial violence of the coast and crossed the Appalachians. Many black Revolutionary War veterans like Tann settled along the Ohio River – in Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana. Tann and his wife Margaret, a white woman from South Carolina, settled beside the Wabash in the first years of the nineteenth century. It was there that the couple, and their children, would help found the Shaker Village of West Union.

Meanwhile, a man living not far from the Wabash felt disturbed by the Shakers arrival. Before the Revolution, the British had promised his community their peace and sovereignty over the area; but with each wave of new homesite developments it was becoming clear that the United States was poised against them. This man’s name was Tecumseh, and he and his brother would organize a massive resistance to maintain their homes and their lives, attempting to force the Shakers and many others to release their hold on Shawnee and Miami lands.

Tecumseh, Shawnee political and military leader, circa 1808.

Despite the United States’ destruction of the Shawnee’s resistance, the Shaker Village that Anthony and Margaret Tann helped establish would be closed by 1827, and their children would ultimately join our very own Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill.

To learn more visit Shaker Village and attend one of our daily educational tours featuring our seasonal program African American Experiences at Pleasant Hill Fridays and Saturdays through February 29th.

Donor Impact: Improvements to the Visitor Experience

Melissa Donahoo, Development Coordinator

The Shakers practiced their faith at Pleasant Hill for more than a century, but their impact at the site has endured well past the 2oo-year mark. The Shakers were really remarkable for their beliefs that fostered a strong community, embraced both ingenuity and sustainability, and nurtured equality among men, women and all races.

The 34 historic structures here at Pleasant Hill exemplify how the Shakers organized their community with these ideals in mind and how they led their daily lives. For our visitors, we present daily programs and tours to make this fascinating Shaker story come alive.

Over the past two years, the Shaker Village staff has worked to develop a site-wide interpretative plan. Collectively this initiative will further enhance the visitor experience by providing you with access to more information about the Shakers through exhibits and multi-media experiences.

We first told you about this plan last year as the staff entered the final stages of its development and had begun to undertake activities to raise funds to support the implementation. Over the course of 2020, you’ll start to see this plan implemented.

• This spring, we are installing 20 outdoor waystations across the property. These waystations will lead our guests through a self-guided tour of the property and provide a much more accessible experience for all visitors.

• A new Shaker Village app will launch by early summer, and will provide an augmented reality experience across the property. Expanded content, such Shaker journals, historic newspaper clippings and additional exhibit content will be available through the app. Visitors will be prompted to access this content from the waystations as well as from exhibit panels.

• Exhibit panels will be installed in the Centre Family Dwelling, the Meeting House and the East Family Brethren Shop. These panels will be the initial implementation of a site-wide exhibition staged with sub-themes such as communal living; faith and spirituality; industry and economies; gender and race; and, immigration and migration. You’ll see more artifacts and interactive displays added to round out the exhibits in the future as additional funding becomes available.

The East Family Brethren Shop will be one of the buildings with new exhibit panels.

These first steps in the interpretative plan are going to have a significant and positive impact on Shaker Village’s mission, and the visitor experience. We can’t wait to share them with you, and hope you’ll visit often throughout the year!

Please consider making a donation to support theses exhibits and interpretative activities at Shaker Village. For more information on our programs, services and other philanthropic opportunities, please call the Development Office at 859.734.1545.

Shaker Village is on a mission to inspire generations through discovery, by sharing the legacies of the Kentucky Shakers.

The Proud Custodian of Shakertown’s Past

Brandon Wilson, Program Specialist

Among Pleasant Hill’s most iconic residents was Philip West, a man whose habitation in the East Family Wash House helped to preserve its rich architecture for generations to come. He was known by many as “the proud custodian of Shakertown’s past,” a guardian of Pleasant Hill history decades before the site’s national notoriety began.

Philip West at Pleasant Hill, Kentucky.

Philip West and his mother, Nancy West, spent years enslaved by Dr. Gabriel Minter of Jessamine County, Kentucky until the year 1865, when Philip first arrived at Pleasant Hill. While with the Shakers, he worked with his father, a carpenter from Wilmore, Kentucky. Imagine the pride he must have felt in his work (and perhaps, for the first time, his leisure too), finally laboring for his own gain and his own volition, instead of someone else’s. Besides woodworking with his father, Philip assisted the Shaker community in packaging food preserves for sale. He was also a proficient chairmaker, using the skilled application of dried corn shucks to weave seats.

Beyond his talented craftsmanship, Philip West was a man committed to family. And, this fact is crucial, because slavery not only meant forced labor, it meant powerlessness over marriage, family ties, loved ones and community. For much of West’s life, he and anyone he loved could be plucked and sold miles from home, never to be seen again. To see the picture of Philip, close by his wife, Ann, is more than a quaint moment. In the context of Mr. West’s Odyssean life, it is a powerful testament to the importance of family in the face of so many threats to its destruction. Perhaps that is why Mr. West felt he had so much in common with his Shaker neighbors – family, however defined, was something sacred.

Philip and Ann West, together in front of the East Family Wash House.

Today, Philip West’s legacy lives on at Shaker Village. His commitment to the history and preservation of the site can be seen in current restoration projects in the East Family Dwelling and Wash House. His powerful commitment to family can also be seen, in his very own descendant, Sarah, who now works at Pleasant Hill just as he did a century ago.

To learn more, visit Shaker Village and attend one of our daily educational tours featuring the seasonal program African American Experiences at Pleasant Hill Fridays and Saturdays through February 29th.


Brandon Wilson, Program Specialist

Over the course of its history, the Shaker community at Pleasant Hill was the spiritual home to 28 people who identified as African American. But the story proves more complex, exciting and sometimes tragic than what that simple number, 28, can represent. Pleasant Hill’s location on a major thoroughfare, within the boundaries of a slave state, meant that hundreds more African American people were enmeshed into the Shakers’ rich history in Mercer County, Kentucky. Take a close look at some of Shaker Village’s archival images, and see just how complex the Village’s racial history really was.

An African American woman stands in the shadows. Circa 1910.

A great place to start is the photograph below, of a group of Pleasant Hill Shakers in the doorway of the Broom Shop circa 1886-1891. The African American man stands in the rear of the group, in the shadow of the doorway, with his head tilted downward. Then there is the image of the Children’s Order, with an African American Shaker woman standing off to the far-right side, markedly distanced from the others. 

An image of Shakers beside the Broom Shop in the late nineteenth century. An African American man stands in the rear.
This image, taken in the late nineteenth century, depicts Shakers beside the East Family Brethren’s Shop. Notice the African American woman standing at the far right.

In many of our nineteenth century images, African Americans can be found at the margins and outer edges. This trend changes over time, until the twentieth century when African Americans begin to occupy center stage in many archival documents. If visual evidence can offer any clues about life as a black Shaker, it is that the Shaker approach to race was full of both hope and hypocrisy; while the Village was a rare example of inclusivity, a certain level of prejudice percolated the community, leaving African Americans sometimes standing in the shadows and edges of social life.

A Sketch of Shaker’s worshiping from New Lebanon, NY, with African American Shakers depicted on the far right.

We may use this history as an opportunity to look closer at our own lives. Whether it is in our office spaces, shopping spaces, or at community gatherings, who do you see standing in the margins? Who might you notice is present, but not fully included? What does this say about our own communities, and what can we do to change for the better?

To learn more visit Shaker Village and attend one of our daily educational tours featuring our seasonal program African American Experiences at Pleasant Hill Fridays and Saturdays through February 29th.

Built on Belief

Jacob Glover, PhD., Program Manager

“A village of Shakers lies a few miles beyond Kentucky river, and it is curious to see the effect of celibacy on barns and fences….I never saw such excessive neatness….The rich apple trees looked sorry they were such sinners as to be beautiful.” – N.P. Willis, “The Shakers,” published in The Flag of our Union in 1852

Although not always expressed with such singular focus, since the 1800s individuals from far and wide have been struck by the distinctive architectural features of the buildings at Pleasant Hill. In fact, from daily conversations with visitors to Shaker Village it is apparent that the beauty and grace of the 34 surviving historic structures remains a principle draw for guests from around the world.

Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill maintains the largest, privately-held collection of 19th century buildings in the United States – 34 original Shaker structures across 3,000 acres.

Indeed, a short walk through the Historic Centre can be awe-inspiring. From the sheer size of the Centre Family Dwelling to the unadorned majesty of the first-floor meeting room in the Meeting House, to the spiral staircases in the Trustees’ Office, the variety of architectural and engineering feats is incredible. Beyond these three iconic structures, guests will also often express an affinity for their favorite buildings—likely one in which they have spent the night or had the opportunity to explore in-depth, on a guided tour.

More than just aesthetics, the architecture at Pleasant Hill also reveals the influence of the Shaker’s theology and faith on the built environment. This sense of purpose and intentionality through building is something that speaks to many visitors, and it often leaves them with even more appreciation for the Shakers’ efforts to construct their version of utopia in rural Mercer County.

The 1st floor meeting room of the 1820 Meeting House at Pleasant Hill.

The Meeting House, with its aforementioned first-floor meeting room, is probably the best example of how the community’s faith inspired their construction efforts. With the need for an open room to practice their distinctive style of worship, Shaker brother Micajah Burnett, inspired by the Shaker Meeting House at Union Village, Ohio, built an ingenious system of trusses in the attic that support the weight of the building without the need for columns or standing beams in the worship space.

The symmetry within Shaker dwelling houses was functional, but also served as a physical representation of the Shaker belief in the duality of God.

Beyond the Meeting House, the communal dwellings with their large bedrooms and ample kitchens and cellars were purpose-built to provide for the community’s social and economic structures, rooted in the teachings of their faith. In regard to celibacy and the physical separation of men and women, the brethren’s and the sisters’ work spaces were positioned accordingly to prevent unnecessary interaction during the workday.

The buildings that surround the East Family Dwelling are positioned intentionally, with workshops for men and women located on each side of the dwelling to correspond with the side each gender inhabited.

All of this barely scratches the surface, of course, for we haven’t even started to mention the small touches and unique trappings that slowly reveal themselves as one explores the buildings and grounds at Shaker Village. Even all of these years later, I guess some things still do pique one’s curiosity!

Come out for a visit, and learn more about how faith and architecture intersect at Pleasant Hill on our Buildings and Beliefs program that runs daily throughout the year! Check our website for seasonal tour times!