Pleasant Hill Personalities

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The legacy of the Pleasant Hill Shaker community has often been assessed exclusively through their material culture.  However, each physical item is inseparable from the people who used these items while alive.  During its century of existence as a Shaker community, more than 2,000 people called Pleasant Hill home – each with a unique background, experience, personality, set of quirks, hopes, dreams, desires and reasons for being a part of this endeavor.  It’s this uniqueness that makes their accomplishments so striking.  They were a completely un-relatable group of people who were all drawn for some reason to the community.  And they all, in some way, helped to make history.

Meet some of the Pleasant Hill Shakers:

  • Mary Settles, a single woman who arrived with two small children.  Later in life, she was described as one whose “personality permeated the entire house,” as she engaged visitors on subjects ranging from Shaker theology to American politics.
  • William Pennebaker arrived as an orphan who survived the death of his parents and was brought by extended family members to live with the Shakers, with whom he spent the remaining 73 years of his life!  He was described as “an upright, truthful man, quiet and peaceable in his demeanor.” Yet he must have also had a big personality that clashed with others, as he was at one time engaged in a long feud that culminated in his assault by other members of the community – and resulted in the accidental wounding of one of his attackers!
  • William S. Byrd was noted as a person of “honourable standing,” – he was “a descendant of the prestigious Byrd family of Virginia, distinguished for more than four generations by its wealth, prominence, and leadership in American society” (quoted in Stephen J. Stein, Letters from a Young Shaker, p.1).
  • Napoleon Brown served in the Union army during the Civil War, and following the war somehow found his way to Pleasant Hill.  Shortly thereafter, he was placed in the local lunatic asylum.  Whatever his ailment was, he got it together, and by the end of the same year was back and contributing to the community in a meaningful manner.
  • Jonah Crutcher was one of multiple African American members with a fascinating story:  “Today we purchased Jonas Crutcher, a colored man, who has been a Believer about 19 years, we keeping him hired here to accommodate him for that purpose, while his owners retained him as a slave; and now to prevent them from dragging him away we have purchased him that he may enjoy the privilege of being one of the brethren on equal terms with the rest of us” (January 4, 1859).  Upon his death, it was noted of this former slave that “He was much respected & beloved in the family where he resided, which was not misplaced, for he was worthy.” (September 6, 1861)
  • J. R. Bryant, the picture of courage, showed great intestinal fortitude when he stared down the barrel of a Confederate soldier’s gun, and had bullets whizzing by his head during a guerilla raid on the community…(which he did to secure the safety of his brethren).
  • John B. Shain, a strict vegetarian, advocated exercise and “free use of water both drinking and bathing.”  He lived until the ripe old age of 92.
  • Micajah Burnett was a man of superior intellect and was described as “the principal architect of this village.” He was not only an intelligent person, but also a hard worker, who at the age of 78 was going on trading trips as far away as New Orleans.
  • Kitty Jane Ryan, among others, enjoyed the occasional break from a hard day of work.  She reported one evening that “the Sisters went to the West Pond to see the brethren skate.  We had a very amusing time, we sit in chairs and sailed over the pond like lightning, assisted by the brethren who skate…” (January 6, 1860).
  • Benjamin Dunlavy, a man who wielded a pen as well as anyone, appears to have had quite the dramatic tendency – even when reporting something as straightforward as the weather: “With a mild, pleasant evening, such as we have enjoyed the past week, the thermometer at 50° at dark, the old year was gliding out almost as gentle as the balmy zephyrs of May – When Lo, & Behold! Old Boreas with his northern hordes, made a sudden dash upon the sunny South, completely surprising her principal Chief, (Mercury,) who was so shocked at the humiliating disaster, that his spirits made a sudden plunge into despondency, and continued the descent for about twelve hours, making 60 degrees at one leap, & was found 8 degrees below zero at sunrise this morning…” (January 1, 1864).
  • Henry Daily, a man who might very well have been village curmudgeon: “The Centre Family…have Andrew Bloomberg a Swede for second Elder & he has a dog following him wherever he goes…This is not according to Shakerism but belong without…If we all had a dog we would all starve before spring since we have very little to live on & cannot afford a dog for each member in the Society.  The dog is a perfect nuisance anyhow and them that keep them are no better certain.” (September 20, 1887)

What brought a single mother, an orphan, an aristocrat, a former soldier with mental instability, a health nut, a drama queen and a guy who didn’t like dogs together in one place?  If there was a reason beyond religious conviction, we will never know for sure.  But one thing is for sure about this motley crew: it isn’t exactly the kind of group you would assemble if you needed to save the world.  And yet, they created and maintained their own amazing world at Pleasant Hill.

Who do you relate to most? See personalities like these and more in our Shaker Selfies exhibit on view now in Centre Family!


Aaron Genton is the collections manager. A love of history led him to study and work in the field….

Hair-raising History

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Tales of lunacy, danger, persecution, brawls and even death were recorded in harrowing detail by the Pleasant Hill Shakers throughout their time here. Some of the most spellbinding accounts were communicated to living Shakers by the deceased. That’s right—messages from the dead. These other-world connections were shared by “inspired instruments” who relayed messages from the departed in the form of letters.

This spectral activity is just one of many expressions of spiritualism which swept through Shaker communities from the late 1830s until the mid-1850s. Amongst the Shakers, this period was known as the Era of Manifestations; however this spiritual swell preluded, and briefly corresponded with, an even larger movement of spiritualism which captivated the nation with claims of spirit communication until the 1920s.

So while you won’t find ghastly ghost tours at Shaker Village, we think you’ll find something far more gripping and mystical—the spirit of the Shakers. Take a lantern-led Spirit Stroll every Friday and Saturday night through October and discover the spirit of the Shakers for yourself!

Save the Monarchs

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Each fall, hundreds of millions of monarch butterflies migrate from the United States to warmer southern regions. The monarch migration is one of the world’s greatest natural wonders, yet it is threatened by habitat loss. The Preserve serves as a giant Monarch Waystation, providing wildflowers and other resources necessary for monarchs to breed in the spring and summer and feed during their fall migration.

Monarch butterfly ULJ157, tagged at the Village in September 2015 traveled approximately 2,000 miles to El Rosario, Mexico where it was recaptured in March 2016. Monarch butterflies migrate from Mexico to as far north as Canada in the spring and then back south again in the fall. By tagging these amazing creatures, guests at Shaker Village contribute to international research efforts aimed at preserving this declining species. The milkweed and other plants found throughout the restored native prairie act as a giant butterfly waystation for monarchs and hundreds of other pollinators. We are thrilled that one of our tagged butterflies made it back south where the journey started all over again this spring.


This month at Shaker Village, join us for Spirit Strolls, HarvestFest, a new photography exhibit and much more! Wanna help save the butterflies? Check out our Monarch Butterfly Tagging Workshop on Sept. 17 and 18.

Great things happen here.

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Our staff works hard every day to inspire you! You’ve likely met many of them—Dylan in the garden, Brad in the dining room, Aaron in the Centre Family Dwelling. But, there are countless others bustling behind the scenes to bring you experiences that spark discovery.

For instance, Robert is bringing the West Family Wash House back to life. Claudia is picking fresh herbs for a new recipe tonight. Richard is getting the Dixie Belle ready for tomorrow’s cruises. Merin is harvesting honey for you to taste. Sharon is tidying your room before you check in. Wally is keeping the turnpike neat and orderly. Rosemary is stocking the shelves with new merchandise. Laura is marking the trails so you can find your way. Randall is tuning the HVAC so you can take a break from the heat. Jenny is researching a new Shaker-modern program to share.

All across our 3,000 acres, farmers, chefs, naturalists, painters, archivists, craftsmen and storytellers are working hard to make great things happen. Shaker Village is not a window into the past only to be peered at from behind the ropes. It is a Village at work. Come see for yourself. Get your hands dirty, try something new, expand your imagination and explore Kentucky.

This is Shaker Village. We hope it inspires you to do great things.


Maynard Crossland is the president. You’ll hear his laughter before you see him. Maynard’s energy and enthusiasm is contagious, along with his contemporary approach to leading Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill [….]