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.
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.
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.