The presence of babies isn’t something you would expect to find in the records of a Shaker archive, and yet that’s precisely what we find in The Collections here.
Photographs of Shaker babies are few and far between, but we are privileged to have a handful of infant and toddler photographs in our archives. Some of the photographs, which were on display in the Shaker Selfies Exhibit last fall, show Pleasant Hill Shakers holding and posing with babies. Who were these babies, and how did they come to be in this community?
While not as much is known about the lives of babies and young children at Pleasant Hill as we would like, research is ongoing to discover more about the lives of Shaker youth. Though the Shakers didn’t believe in marrying and having children themselves, they didn’t necessarily condemn those outside the Shaker faith for doing so. After all, the offspring and orphans of others often became their wards, protégés and converts.
Shakers were known by their neighbors for their upstanding education system and elevated quality of life, which for some parents was more than they could offer their children at home. Such was the case for one desperate mother who, on a cold day in March 1865, left her newborn infant on the West Family milk bench. While the infant was “very neatly” dressed when discovered by the cow boy, the mother of the abandoned child professed she could not take care of the baby, thus leaving it to be provided for by the Shakers.
As research currently stands, more than 80 babies were present at Pleasant Hill between 1806 and 1889—a number that is still growing as names and stories of Shakers continue to be discovered every day in the archives.
Of the babies who appear in the Shaker record books within their first days or months of life, we know of four who were born here:
- Love Monfort and Malinda Tyson had the unique experience of being born, raised and buried in a Shaker community. The baby girls were born at Pleasant Hill just one month apart—Love came first on November 25, 1809, and Malinda followed a month later on Christmas Day. Love’s mother, Peggy, came to the community with her husband, Jacob, when she was seven months pregnant, while Malinda’s mother, Anna, strolled back into the village just days before giving birth.2 Both girls’ fathers ultimately left Pleasant Hill, but the girls and their mothers remained in the village until their deaths.
- More than a month after coming to Pleasant Hill in October 1810, Rachel Monfort Voris gave birth to Hortincy Voris. Although her little girl ultimately left the community in 1829, Rachel and her husband, John, stayed and contributed to the community for the rest of their lives.
- As a widowed mother of five, Jane McBride came to Pleasant Hill three months pregnant with daughter Lucy Smith McBride, who was born at the village September 30, 1831. By the time she died in 1856, all of Jane’s children had left her—all except Lucy, who remained with the Shakers another 10 years until July 8, 1866, when she ran away with Daniel Perrow, a fellow Shaker whom she went on to marry and have three children.
Beyond photographs and journal articles in the archives, evidence of babies at Pleasant Hill extends into our 3-D collection, where we find two infant and one adult-size cradles. The long cradle would have allowed for more than one infant to be rocked at once, but also would’ve been used to comfort ill and aged adults.
Stories like this are being discovered here every day.
With building restorations in The Historic Centre, new trails on The Preserve, innovative programs on The River, fresh crop rotations on The Farm and new recipes at the Trustees’ Table, it’s an exciting time to be at Shaker Village.
This year, and in the years to come, as we continue to work to inspire generations through discovery by sharing the legacies of the Kentucky Shakers, we hope you’ll explore Shaker Village for yourself, discover its stories and be inspired to do great things.
“Is this world any better for our having lived…? We can hope so; and in the peace thereof… look on the next page to hail with joy the face of the newborn year.” —S.A. Neale, The Shaker Manifesto, December 1879
1 The markings on the verso of this photograph postcard date it anywhere from 1918-1930. Pleasant Hill dissolved as an active community in 1910, which leaves us to deduce that this baby was not raised in the Shaker faith. She was, however, related to the Pennebaker family of Pleasant Hill, which is why her photograph appears in The Collections.
2 Anna Tyson and her husband, Joab, had first arrived at Pleasant Hill in September 1808, but when spring came, the journals tell us Joab “took his wife and children off by force.” When Anna returned to the village in December 1809, she was nine months pregnant with Malinda.
New stories, new programs, new projects, New Year. Check out this year’s Events Calendar for new ways you can experience Shaker Village in 2017!
Emálee Krulish, Archivist