George Washington & The Shakers

Jacob Glover, PhD, Director of Public Programs and Education

President George Washington

While it was not unheard of for the Pleasant Hill Shakers to mention sitting U.S. Presidents in their journals and other writings, the April 1839 “visit” of George Washington was one of the more remarkable events to unfold in the community’s history. In order to get the full story we need to go back a bit.

The New Era
The New Era, or the Era of Manifestations, was an internal spiritual revival that occurred within Shaker communities across America in the mid-19th century. This movement involved striking spiritual visions and an assortment of other spiritual “gifts” received by Shakers of all stripes. The New Era began at Watervliet, NY, in 1837, and the first trappings of the revival at Pleasant Hill began in September 1838 with a series of visions received by Sarah Poole.

Gift drawings were some of the most artistic outpourings of the New Era. Although none were produced at Pleasant Hill, this image from Hancock Shaker Village features important Shakers, as well as non-Shakers like Christopher Columbus. Credit: Hancock Shaker Village

Only a few months after the first visions, Poole would relate her encounter with our first President. On April 1839, Poole detailed that in her vision she had been transported to the “New Jerusalem” where she met with Jesus, Mother Ann Lee and a number of other Shakers leaders. They demanded that she take a hard lesson home to Pleasant Hill. According to Mother Ann, there were “many evils” among the community that needed to be confessed and purged from their ranks. Among these “evils” were matters such as “hard speeches, affections and lusts; and pride, envy, jealousy, backbiting, complaining, murmuring and fault finding.”

Initially Poole was reluctant to take such a message back to the community. She feared she would be ostracized by the other Shakers for her insistence that they must confess such actions. Mother Ann reassured her that the village leadership would assuredly support Poole, George Washington arrived on the scene to offer his support!

In Poole’s words:
“George Washington then came into the room, and bowed to me; and then said to Mother [Ann], that if she had union in it, he had a desire to send his love to the brethren and sisters…and to tell them, he had gained his salvation, by confessing and forsaking his sins….He also added, he had a little march he wished to be sung and marched at the same time, in remembrance of him.”

Meaningful Visions
In many ways, Washington’s advice and counsel to the Shakers was very similar to other spiritual visitors during the New Era. Many of them offered encouragement to the Shakers to continue to seek to fulfill their stated utopian aims of eradicating sin from their lives and achieving union with one another. Although it may seem strange that non-Shakers would sometimes feature so prominently in these visions, the fact that these personas from American history were associating with the Shakers in the spirit world was further proof of the legitimacy and urgency of the Shaker’s mission on earth.

By the 1850s the New Era would subside at Pleasant Hill and in other Shaker communities. The memory of the time that George Washington came to town, shared the news of his own salvation and encouraged the apparently backsliding Shakers through song and dance would still remain!

Lambing Season On The Farm

Michael Moore, Farm Manager

One of the most exciting times of the year is upon us and it’s shaping up to be a big one (or little one) – lambing season. Winter is usually considered a slow time for a farm, but for a farmer it’s just a busy as any other time. A lot of planning and forward thinking occurs during the winter months. We’re thinking about what to plant and the schedules involved for a successful season, and lambing is no exception.

Every year we breed our ewes in the fall, sheep only have a gestation period of five months, so we expect lambs to arrive beginning in late February through the end of March. But, before the new lambs arrive there are some key things we must accomplish to ensure a successful lambing season.

Lambing Season Prep Checklist:

  • Ensure all of our areas are clean and ready for lambs and moms.
  • During the last six weeks we increase the mothers nutrition intake to assure she is healthy and ready to take on the new lambs (Yes, lambs! Sheep usually have twins).
  • Crutching the ewes, which is the process of shearing the tail end of the ewe, to ensure that she stays nice and clean through the birthing process.
  • We make sure all of our supplies are in order, such as milk replacers, baby bottles, vaccinations and heat lamps in case the new lamb or mom has any issues.
  • Most importantly, we are on a vigilant watch. Lambing can occur at any moment and any time of day. Long days and even nights are part of the process so that we can be there to help mom through every step if required.

This year we have 25 ewes expecting lambs and this flock can birth as much as 150% or more of their current numbers, so we are expecting upwards of 35 to 40 new lambs. We can’t wait to introduce each of them to you this spring!

The Saving of Seeds

Brandi Duff, Farm Assistant

For more than two centuries, seeds have been saved from the vegetable gardens at Pleasant Hill for use in subsequent years. For the Shakers, there were many reasons to save seeds from the bountiful gardens they grew. By saving the seeds they knew produced well, the Shakers ensured they had what they wanted for the following year. This was a sustainable and cost-effective use of resources.

A Market Industry

Though seed saving was a common practice in early agrarian America, the Shakers quickly turned it into a market industry. Credited with being the first to sell seeds in small pre-packaged envelopes, the Shakers at New Lebanon, NY perfected this process as early as the 1790s.

They kept detailed records and divided the process into four areas: the field, the barn, the shop, and the world.

Seed saving became profitable for most Shaker communities, and we see evidence of this industry at Pleasant Hill in the early 1800s. According to Pleasant Hill records, seeds were saved throughout the growing season and were sent to consignment shops in September and October, remaining there through February or March.

Okra seeds are commonly saved at Pleasant Hill to be planted in the next growing season.

Seed packets evolved throughout the years, beginning as small envelopes in tan or orange colors. Print shops at each location printed the intricately designed border adding planting instructions on the packaging later in the process. The Shaker name on seeds soon became synonymous with “quality.” This allowed them to thrive in the industry.

After the civil war, the Shakers began to see stronger competition in the seed market. The combination of superior printing technology using brighter colors, better growing locations, and the fact that many Shaker communities were in decline, led to the Shaker seed market eventually closing.

Seed Saving Today

Today at Pleasant Hill, we still proudly grow and save heirloom varieties of plants. Our seeds are open-pollinated, which means that they either self-pollinate or are pollinated by the same plants. This ensures the reliability to produce the same plants as the parent plant.

We proudly offer many of the same varieties in our shops that the Shakers grew. Learn more about seed saving by attending one of our educational tours or a farm workshop.

To purchase heirloom seeds from the Shops at Shaker Village, come on out for a visit, or visit our online store!

Today in Pleasant Hill History

Jacob Glover, PhD, Director of Public Programs and Education

On January 24, 1871, Pleasant Hill took the step of expelling a family of seven from their ranks. Interestingly enough, this newsworthy note is intermingled amongst more practical concerns in a Shaker journal:

Trip – El. H. L. Eades started for South Union via Lebanon. See 13th inst

Expelled – The Morrison family from the Society. Minerva the mother & Henry from the West Lot, & Hiram, Jacob, Leah, Belle & Ginny from the Center Family. See March 7, l870.

Trip – H. Daily went to Lexington with two wagons, & returned the following day.

LTR: James Shelton, John Pilkington, Henry Daily, Francis P., Napoleaon Brown. Girls unknown.

As the entry reveals, this expulsion had evidently been in the works for a rather long time! Going back to review that entry from March 1870:

“Mon. 7 Sent Away – The Widow Morrison family – who came some time since from the Mouth of Salt River viz. the Mother Manerva Ann & children William J. Morrison, Jacob T. Leah Ann, Sarah Isabel, Mary Jane & Henry William Morrison.  the Mother & youngest from the West Lot.  The rest from Centre all went on board the Boat for Louisville thence to their home.”

That’s all the Shakers wrote. It makes one wonder exactly what they had done to be “sent away” and “expelled” during a time of general population decline at Pleasant Hill.

Local Economies, Global Impacts

Billy Rankin, VP of Public Programming and Marketing

Have you visited Shaker Village in the last few years? If so, the fact that we’ve made BIG changes in how we interpret the history of the Pleasant Hill Shakers is no surprise. For those who need a recap, this article is a good primer!

Shaker Village staff and consultants planning new exhibitions.

The history of the Pleasant Hill Shakers is layered, diverse, and oftentimes surprising. We want our interpretation to share those qualities!

To achieve that goal we use exhibits, workshops, multimedia content, demonstrations, tours…well, LOTS of methods. Every visitor comes with their own perspectives and learning styles. We build experiences to connect to each of them.

Something New is in the Works

This summer a new experience is coming to Shaker Village. We thought it would be neat to give you a monthly glimpse behind the scenes as we develop this exhibition on…economics!

Okay. I know. Economics isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, right?

But that’s where our incredible interpretive team comes in. You see, it is actually really interesting to consider how a communal society that didn’t believe in personal possessions got so darn good at making and selling things to the public.

And there are many more layers to this story that need peeling back.

For example: How did gender equality in Shaker society play into their business operations? Did the Pleasant Hill Shakers have any connection to enslaved labor? What happened when their population dwindled and more non-Shakers were making some “Shaker” products than Shakers themselves?

The 1845 East Family Brethren’s Shop as the village office.
c. early 1900s

And perhaps the most important question of all: What can we, who live in an ultra-modern order everything online “I don’t care where it comes from as long as it’s convenient” global marketplace, possibly learn from the economy of a small, agrarian village?

These questions and more will be addressed when Local Economies, Global Impacts opens this summer!

Developing a New Exhibit

Local Economies, Global Impacts is funded in part through a Museums for America matching grant, administered by the Institute for Museum and Library Services.

The 1845 East Family Brethren’s Shop and the 1855 East Family Sisters’ Shop will host the new exhibition. Each were important workshops, and offered other unique contributions to the economy of the village.

Pleasant Hill’s textile industry will be highlighted
in the new exhibit.

With the support of this grant Shaker Village has been able to conduct valuable new research about the economics of the Pleasant Hill Shakers that will come alive as part of the exhibit.

Guests will learn about the village trustees, trading deacons and office sisters. The exhibit will open a new window into the operation of mills, the management of natural resources, the work that happened in Shaker workshops, the routes travelled by trading deacons along roads and waterways, and the stories of the men and women who put their hands to work to sustain their community’s economy.

Local Economies, Global Impacts is currently in an early design phase, where we draft narrative flow within each building, and plan methods for sharing each portion of the content. Artifact displays, tactile interactives, murals, multimedia content and other methods are being fit together in the plan like an integrated puzzle.

Floor plans like this, from an early phase of design, are used to discuss the flow of content in each exhibit space.

Over the next two months we will finalize our designs, write the final content and produce graphics. Then we begin fabrication, followed by installation.

We hope you’ll come along for the ride with us each month as we update our progress. This summer, when you visit the exhibit, you’ll feel like you were there to help create it!