The fleshing beam: Not for weak stomachs

Agricultural pursuits were by far the most important economic engines supporting Shaker families and communities. Shaker farms produced food for the Shakers as well as excess products that were sold. In addition to farming, most Shaker families ran businesses that were designed to provide cash income for the families – cash to purchase the things that the Shakers did not or could not produce for themselves. Many of the products of these businesses – baskets, oval boxes, chairs, coopered-ware, cloaks, yarn swifts, palm-leaf bonnets, etc. – have become popular with antique collectors and essential elements in museum collections. While amazing numbers of these products survive today, there were important industries – sometimes gritty industries – that provided substantial income for some Shaker families but left little physical evidence of their importance. One of the grittiest of these industries was the tanning of hides. The Shakers in several communities operated large and profitable tanneries. The Church Family at Mount Lebanon may have had one of the most important and most successful of all of these operations. The Tan House still stands within earshot of the Meetinghouse but has been repurposed as a meeting hall and performance space for the Darrow School, the current occupants of the property.  The 32 tanning vats in the cellar have been filled in and cemented over and little other evidence of the building’s original purpose is evident. 

Fleshing Beam

Fleshing Beam, Church Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1840s, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1961.13021.1. John Mulligan, photographer.

In 1961 the Darrow School held an auction of Shaker materials to raise funds for the planned conversation of the 1824 Meetinghouse into the school’s library the following year. The object discussed here, a fleshing beam from the Tan House at the Church Family, was purchased by the Shaker Museum at that auction. 

The Beam House.

The Beam House. Hausbuch der Mendelschen Zwölfbrüderstiftung, Band 2. Nürnberg 1550–1791. Stadtbibliothek Nürnberg, Amb. 317b.2°, from http://www.nuernberger-hausbuecher.de/75-Amb-2-317b-77-r/data, accessed October 10, 2017

In brief the tanning process alters the structure of an animal skin to slow its decomposition and make it more durable – sometimes adding color at the same time. The process always begins with an animal – animal skins (hides) were generally obtained from a slaughterhouse. At the slaughterhouse hides were quickly removed from the slaughtered animal and cured in salt or in the winter frozen to keep them from decomposing. Once they arrived at the tannery they were first taken to the beam house. Here the hides were soaked in lime water to soften hair and any remaining tissue. Following a soaking, the wet hides were placed on the fleshing beam where they were scraped with special knives on both sides to remove all hair and tissue. Once cleaned, the process of tanning – converting the skin to leather – could begin.  There are about as many ways to tan a hide as there are different kinds of animal skins.  There are both chemical and vegetable methods of tanning. The Shakers generally used tannins, organic compounds from which the trade of tanning takes its name, obtained from tree barks. The explanation of this chemical process is better left to chemists. 

The fleshing beam, however, is a relatively simple tool that has changed little since its inception. It is a plank held up with two legs. Tanners prefer that their beams be held at about a forty-five degree angle and that they be sturdy. This beam is made of curly maple with a black locust inlay – the locust being very moisture resistant. It is supported on chestnut legs and has layers of cloth, paper, and straw to pad the upper end. The person using the beam stood at its high end, draped the wet hide over the beam, held it in place by pressing against the padded end of the beam, and scraped the skin with a knife in a downward motion. 

Edward Deming Andrews wrote in The Community Industries of the Shakers (1932) that, “One of the most prosperous industries at the community of New Lebanon was the tanning of leather and such affiliated occupations as saddle, harness and shoe-making.” A small tan yard and tan house were set up there around 1787. The business was greatly improved when the current Tan House was built in 1834 and outfitted with efficient water-powered equipment. The related trades of saddle-making, harness-making, shoe making, braided horse and ox whips, and pads for a thriving business in hand cards for carding wool, provided these items for the family for sale at market.

While the Museum holds a number of tools related to the trades that made things from  leather, there are relatively few tools in the collection that bear directly on the tanning industry. The fleshing beam is an unlikely survivor. 

 

 

 

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Splitting wood in the 19th century

Hildreth Patent Double Wood Splitter

Hildreth Patent Double Wood Splitter, North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1883, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1950-1118.1. John Mulligan, photographer.

Maintaining a sufficient supply of seasoned wood for heating and cooking occupied a considerable amount of time and space for the Shakers at the North Family at Mount Lebanon. The brothers and hired men would begin getting in logs from the mountain wood lots in February and March. By 1830 the Shakers used a circular saw located outside their Brick Shop, powered by its waterwheel, for cutting the logs and what they called “small wood” (branches) to proper firewood length. The logs were then split by hand and carted to one of several wood houses to season under cover. The work of splitting more than one hundred cords of firewood every year was made much easier in the early 1880s when the North Family purchased a Hildreth Patent Double Wood Splitter. An advertising brochure published sometime after 1886 carried two testimonials from the Shakers, one from the Canterbury Shakers dated around 1878 and the other from Elder Frederick W. Evans during the winter of 1883. Both highly praised the machines. Elder Frederick visited Canterbury in June, 1878, and likely saw their Hildreth splitter in operation at that time. In the winter of 1883, he wrote  in his testimonial, “I bought it for a Canaan Family. They had a lot of some fifty cords of wood sawed up. It was an exceptionally hard lot to split, – mostly Elm. It was their opinion that the machine would fail to do the job. They set it up and put it to work. The foreman stood and watched the operation for a little while, then turned on his heel and said, ‘That will do! It splits any thing put under it.’”

On March 21, 1883 the brothers from the North Family went down to the Upper Canaan Family to watch the machine in operation. As the original intention was that the machine would be shared between the Upper Canaan Family and the North Family, on March 29, 1883 the machine was brought from the Upper Family and put near the firewood saw at the Brick Shop and powered by the waterwheel. It “worked splendidly.” Two days later, however, the splitter broke and had to be taken to Pittsfield, MA, for repairs. The next year the splitter was set up inside the north end of the North Family Wood House and powered by the ten-horsepower Backus water motor the North Family used to operate the machinery in the laundry in the other end of the building. In the floor of the Wood House, where the machine once stood, the Shaker cut two square recesses either to keep the machine from moving across the floor or to level it – or both. The precise location of the machine is preserved by these recesses. 

Advertising Brochure, Hildreth’s Patent Wood Splitter

Advertising Brochure, Hildreth’s Patent Wood Splitter Manufactured by Hildreth Bros. Harvard, Mass, ca. 1886, Hancock Shaker Village: 4244.

The Hildreth Brothers of Harvard, Massachusetts, manufactured these machines. They were made in several different sizes ranging from the smallest – the one the Shakers purchased, capable of splitting wood up to 17 inches long — to one that would split wood 50 inches long. The Shakers paid $240 for their machine. The patent for the splitter (U. S. Patent No. 205550 issued July 2, 1878) was held by its inventor Edwin A. Hildreth, and witnessed by Stanley B. Hildreth and M. G. Hildreth – likely the “Brothers.”  The promotional brochure for the machine suggests that “Parties testing these splitters on rock maple wood from one to two feet in diameter, and so hard that it was with great difficulty that a hand axe could be made to enter it at all … work[ed] so easily and rapidly that, as they expressed it, ‘the boys had hung up their hand axes and would swing them no longer.’” Operating between 125 to 175 strokes per minute the double splitter could split ten to 18 cords of firewood per day or up to eight to ten cords of kindling. 

[An aside: In 2010 the elementary school in Harvard, MA, was renamed the Hildreth Elementary School to honor the gift of six acres of land and half the construction cost of a school built in 1904. The Hildreth family – Edwin A., Stanley B., and Sister Emily E. – were the donors.] 

Although the Museum’s Hildreth wood splitter has not been used to make firewood since the 1930s, there are still some of these machines in operation – mostly being demonstrated by old-time machinery enthusiasts. To watch one of these splitters in operation follow this link and remember that while the machine in operation here is working at a speed of about 60 strokes per minute, the machine was intended to operate two to three times that fast. 

 

Reconstructing the history of a cupboard

As frequent readers of this blog already know, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon is photographing and electronically cataloging its collection in order to create an online catalog that will be shared with the public beginning in 2018. The project, funded by a $750,000 grant from the Henry Luce Foundation, provides the opportunity for staff to re-examine many pieces from the collection.

Cupboard with Three Doors, Church Family, Hancock, MA

Cupboard with Three Doors, Church Family, Hancock, MA, ca. 1820s, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1958.10448.1, John Mulligan, photographer.

Such is the case with this three-door cupboard. The cupboard was obtained in 1958 from the ironing room located in the Shakers’ Machine Shop and Laundry building at the Hancock Shaker Village in Massachusetts. As the cupboard was being photographed recently, it was possible to examine its construction closely and verify that the piece was originally built into the fabric of the room from which it was removed. It appears that the tongue-and-groove boards used to close in the back of the cupboard were not original to the piece because these boards were likely destroyed during removal. The boards on its back and proper right end were replaced by the Shaker Museum with recycled Shaker boards and it is hard to discern whether the piece ever had a proper back and right end.

fig 2

Ironing Room, Laundry and Machine Shop, Church Family, Hancock, MA, 1931, Historic American Buildings Survey,  HABS MASS,2-HANC,14—12, William F. Winter, Jr., photographer.

Photographs of the ironing room taken in 1931 by William F. Winter, Jr., now in the collection of the Historic American Buildings Survey, show the cupboard in its original location. A quick trip to Hancock Shaker Village and an examination of that location provided further information on the history of the piece. The wall against which the cupboard was built in retains a rail with iron hooks. There are two cuts in this rail – one that allowed the left end of the cupboard to fit tight against the wall and one where the board dividing the two compartments was likewise fit against the wall. A short piece of rail mounted on the wall against which the right end of the cupboard butted also has a cut out that allowed the front of the cupboard to fit against that wall. This evidence – the cuts in the rail and the Shaker-replaced back boards — strongly suggest that the piece was not originally built for this location and that it very well may have been moved there from another building and installed against the wall. In its original location the back of the cupboard may have merely been the wall against which it was built – explaining why the Shakers had added tongue-and-groove boards to create a back. 

fig 3

Interior View of Ironing Room, East Wall, Church Family, Hancock, MA, 2017, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, staff photograph.

It is relatively rare to be able to connect a piece of built-in furniture with the building and the specific location from which it was removed. Often the demolition of the building was the reason the piece was available in the first place. This cupboard, with the Historic American Buildings Survey photographic documentation of its last Shaker location and the existing evidence from the building, now has a much clearer history. 

 

 

Soul of Flowers to Sweeten the Soul of Man: Beekeeping at Mount Lebanon

Advertising Flyer, “Honey, Soul of Flowers to Sweeten the Soul of Man”

Advertising Flyer, “Honey, Soul of Flowers to Sweeten the Soul of Man,” North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 2003.20848.1.

The Shakers were at the forefront of beekeeping both in their New England communities and in the West. Early on they understood the importance of the role bees played in pollinating their crops and, of course, enjoyed the honey and made use of beeswax. Most of the documentation of beekeeping at Mount Lebanon involves Elder Giles B. Avery at the Church Family. Avery kept a number of hives at both Mount Lebanon and at Watervliet, NY. His “Journal Concerning Bees in the Second Order,” as well as his notations about bees in the Church Family daily journals and his personal diaries, provide a clear picture of him as a progressive beekeeper. He quickly adopted improvements in hive designs and was aggressive in his procurement and use of Italian queens as they became preferred for strong hives.

Elder Giles mentions placing his hives at several of the Mount Lebanon families, but does not mention doing so at the North Family. This suggests that the North Family had its own beekeeper. By the turn of the twentieth century that beekeeper was Sister Mazella Gallup. Whether the North Family beekeeping was done by the sisters earlier is not known at present, but evidence of the sisters’ involvement in the task is documented in photographs of the “Bee Garden” from the early 1900s.

Swarm Box

Swarm Box, North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1860, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1950.2727.1a,b, John Mulligan, photographer.

The swarm box was used by beekeepers to transport wild swarms of bees to their manufactured hives. When a swarm was located – usually hanging on a branch of a tree or bush – the back of the box was opened to receive the swarm. To get the swarm in the box either the swarm was shaken until the queen fell into the box or the beekeeper would reach into the swarm, retrieve the queen, and put her in the box. Once the queen was in the box the rest of the swarm would follow. The swarm box, made of pine and basswood with an oak handle, is covered with a finely woven linen to provide ventilation during transport. Once back at the hives the bees were transferred into a prepared hive. The two holes in the box apparently let the bees come and go until they decide to move into the new hive.

This swarm box was purchased by Shaker Museum founder John S. Williams, Sr., from Sister Frances Hall, the trustee at Hancock, MA, around 1948, from the “surplus” North Family items that had come to Hancock the year before when the last Shaker left Mount Lebanon.

 

A tool for everything

Sash Marking Gauge

Sash Marking Gauge, Church Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, Ca. 1830, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 1950.1170.1.

Though a tool’s primary attribute is its function, sometimes the maker or user of a tool will take the time, usually in an expression of pride, to decorate it with paint or carving. The object presented here was left undecorated by its maker but has a memorable sculptural quality that is closely related to how it was used. The tool is a gauge made to mark out the position of mortises used in joining pieces of wooden window sash. Window sash – the movable part of a window – is composed of a frame with a top and bottom rail and two side pieces called stiles. Thinner horizontal and vertical pieces called muntins or mullions crisscross the frame to support the glazing when it is composed of more than a single piece of glass. The muntins are attached to the frame with mortise and tenon joints – the joint where a square or rectangular peg (tenon) is inserted into a square or rectangular hole (mortise). The rails and stiles of the frame are connected in the same manner but with larger mortises and tenons. When faced with making hundreds if not thousands of these joints (Shaker buildings have a lot of window) it must have been thought prudent to make a special tool for the job.

This sash gauge can make two different sets of marks on a piece of wood. One end of the gauge, fitted with two thin sharp blades set three-eighths of an inch apart, marked the mortises and tenons that joined the rails and stiles; the other end of the gauge, with two blades set one-eighth of an inch apart, marked the mortises and tenons that join the muntins to the frame. Marking joinery with a sharp knife blade is generally more accurate than using a pencil. This gauge is ergonomic, having specific places carefully carved to accommodate the thumb and forefinger when using either end.

Sash Marking Gauge

Sash Marking Gauge (detail of D. R. stamp), Church Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, Ca. 1830, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 1950.1170.1.

Brother David Rowley, who was a cabinetmaker at the North Family for twenty years, made the gauge. He moved to the Church Family the summer of 1830 where he continued making furniture and window sashes until his death in 1855. His initials, “D. R.,” are stamped on the tool as they are on several woodworking planes, a saw, another adjustable marking gauge, and a set of saw horses in the Museum’s collection. Brother David was born in Sharon, Connecticut in 1779, and chose a career as a cabinetmaker in part due to his small stature (David stood 4’ 10 3/8” inches high) and his feeling that farming, his preferred occupation, would be “too heavy for [his] physical endurance.” He moved from Connecticut to New Lebanon, New York, where his uncle lived, married, and established his cabinetmaking business. He soon learned about the Shakers and being a person with an unsettled spiritual life, became more and more interested in them, until he “saw that they were both by precept & example, the true followers of Christ.” Within a few years he joined the Shakers.

Shakers, their mode of Worship

“Shakers, their mode of Worship.” (Hand-Colored Lithograph), D. W. Kellogg, Hartford, Connecticut,Ca. 1835, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1958.10574.1

The artist of a well known illustration of the Shakers worshiping in the Meetinghouse at Mount Lebanon, NY, may have captured an image of Brother David. His stature apparently caught the attention of the artist who included a diminutive Shaker brother in his illustration. As a member of the North Family at Mount Lebanon, Brother David would have participated in the public meeting, the only meeting that the artist would have been allowed to attend.

While there are no known pieces of Shaker furniture that can be attributed absolutely to Brother David, he most assuredly was responsible for much of the early furniture that can be traced to the North Family. His tools help preserve his legacy.

 

Photo provides new documentation of a museum object

Photograph, Sister Sadie Maynard Standing behind a Bench, North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY

Photograph, Eldress Annie Rosetta Stephens, North Family, Mount
Lebanon, NY, Ca. 1915, Shaker
Museum | Mount Lebanon

We recently wrote about a lawn bench in the Museum’s collection. Carved on its back rail is, “August  | North Family Shakers | 1914.” It was located in the yard between the North Family’s First Dwelling and the Sisters’ Workshop facing uphill to the public road. In the post we included a photograph of Sister Sadie Maynard standing behind the bench. Since then we received a gift of a collection of materials that had come from the North Family through the donor’s mother-in-law’s great grandmother, Margaret Fyfe (Fife in Shaker journals), including a photograph of Eldress Annie Rosetta Stephens seated on the same bench. It is rare to have Shaker-era photographic documentation of pieces from the Museum’s collection. To have two such images is quite remarkable.

Eldress Annie Rosetta Stephens was one of the first converts resulting from Elder Frederick W. Evans’s 1871 lecture tour in England. Sister Rosetta’s father, a designer of paisley shawls and a weaver who was one of the founders of the Humanitarian Brotherhood, was apparently very receptive to the American communist who had come to lecture in London – enough so to send his 11-year old daughter to America with the elder. When the “Atlantic” docked in New York and Elder Frederick disembarked, by his side was little Annie who became and remained a Shaker her whole life.

Margaret Fyfe, who either took or was given the photograph, first came to the Shakers at the North Family with Amanda Deyo, a Universalist minister, vice-president of the Universal Peace Union, and a prime mover in the annual peace convention held in Wiley’s Grove near Salt Point, Dutchess County, NY – a meeting the Shakers attended. Margaret boarded with the North Family from early spring through late fall each year from 1910 until about 1920. She was enough of a consistent presence during those years to be noted as “Sister Margaret” on occasion in one family diary.

 

The Shakers produce a very early version of the wheelchair

Wheelchair, Mount Lebanon, NY, Ca. 1830

Wheelchair, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1830, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1957.8417.1, John Mulligan, photographer.

The Shakers made a sincere effort to accommodate the needs of all members of their community, including young, old, and disabled people. This wheelchair is a fine example of endeavors to ensure members with special needs could participate in community life. The chair, while not a suitable vehicle for a Shaker to transport himself or herself outdoors on flagstone walks, was certainly useful in moving around within the dwelling house. Several items in the Museum’s collection speak to the care of those with specific physical needs: an orthopedic shoe, canes, and a walker.  

This modified rocking chair was made at Watervliet or possibly Mount Lebanon. While it seems odd at first glance that the chair would have both rockers and wheels, most all arm chairs used in Shaker communities would have had rockers; side chairs with arms were unusual during the first half of the nineteenth century, well before the first patent was taken out on a self-propelled wheelchair in 1869. The date for the conversion of the rocker into a wheelchair is not known, but it was probably done in the first half of the nineteenth century. All of the metal parts for the chair are hand-forged and no commercial fittings were used. The Shakers at Mount Lebanon had among them both spinning wheel makers and wagon makers so fabricating the wheels for the chair would not have been particularly difficult. The wheels on the chair had “tires” made of leather that fit into half-round grooves in the outside of their rims.  The chair, evidenced from two notches in the middle front stretcher (rung), was once fitted with some type of foot rest attached to that stretcher. 

The wheelchair was acquired in 1957 at Hancock Shaker Village from Eldress Emma B. King, but was, according to the Museum’s accession records, one of the thousands of items brought to Hancock from Mount Lebanon when the latter community closed. 

Though we don’t know who this wheelchair was made for, another mystery is why the middle front stretcher, the one from which the wheelchair’s footrest was hung, is so close to the front seat stretcher. This is a unique stretcher placement for a Shaker chair. There is no evidence that this stretcher was added later and no evidence that there had been middle stretcher where one would usually be found. If the stretcher placement indicates that the chair was built originally as a wheelchair, then why the vestigial rockers? Share your guesses in the comments!

 

 

 

It’s not what you think it is

Bull Blinder

Bull Blinder, Church Family, Canterbury, NH, 1850-1890, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 1952.4625.1, John Mulligan, photographer.

Sometimes objects in the Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon collection are just plain fun, as with the object at hand – a leather contraption that seems as if it would be more at home in an Icelandic legend or on a Viking battlefield than in a Shaker community. (It’s especially fun to solicit guesses from visitors as to the purpose of this object) The device, however, is a perfect fit for a Shaker farm. It was called a bull blinder and was placed over the head of a bull to prevent him from seeing anything. Bulls are well-known for their unpredictable and sometime aggressive temperament. Moving these one-ton, often dangerously-horned animals from place to place always has to be done with caution, and when potential mates or competing bulls are in view, the challenge increases. When Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon acquired the bull blinder from the Shakers at Canterbury, New Hampshire, Eldress Emma B. King told the Museum staff that  it was used, “to prevent the bull from trundling the cow.” Trundling or not, Carl Friesch, a Midwestern collector of antique farm equipment, explained, “When a bull’s head is down, that’s when he does damage.” A commonly used commercially-made bull blinder, patented in the 1920s by Henry Masbruch for the Russell Manufacturing Company, Platteville, Wisconsin, had small slits at the bottom of the eye cups allowing the bull to see to graze but kept his head upright when moving around – a position generally minimizing any mischief. The Shakers’ blinder does not have slits and relied solely on not allowing the bull to see anything as he was moved from barn to pasture or pasture to pasture. At the North Family, Mount Lebanon, bulls were kept in the east end of the Great Stone Barn. Bulls had a separate doorway leading past as few cows as possible and directly into what was called the “bull pasture” – a pasture enclosed with a substantial stone wall. 

 

Bull in Commercial Blinder

Bull in Commercial Blinder, Rural Ohio, 2016, photograph by Gloria Jarrett, from her blog, Amish Faith, Family, and Furrow,  http://www.amishfaithfamilyfurrow.com/2016/04/beware-bull.html

 

Not All That Appears to Be Shaker, Is Shaker: “Shaker Sisters” at the Relief Bazaar. 

fig 1Carte-de-Visite, “The Quaker (i.e., Shaker) Booth at Our Fair,” 1864

Carte-de-Visite, “The Quaker (i.e., Shaker) Booth at Our Fair,” 1864, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, Churchill & Denison, photographers. 2017.24233.1

This intriguing carte-de-visite shows five women standing in a semi-circle in Shaker costume. On the back is written, “The Quaker [i.e., Shaker] Booth at Our Fair,” suggesting that the women pictured were the costumed volunteers that staffed the Shaker booth at a fair. The fair was no ordinary event however, but rather a fair held in 1864 to raise money to support soldiers wounded or taken sick in battle and their impacted families. There are two questions raised by the photograph: First, were these Shaker sisters? And second, how were the Shakers involved in the fair? 

On June 18, 1861, the Federal Government created the United States Sanitary Commission as a private agency charged with serving wounded soldiers and supporting their families. The agency, based on a British model developed during the Crimean War (1853-1856), raised an estimated 25 million dollars. Much of that money was generated by a number of “Relief Bazaars” held around the country. These events, often lasting months or even years, were similar to large agricultural fairs – groups representing various ethnic, business, trade, and religious groups constructed and manned booths that showed a variety of objects and foodstuffs associated with each group. They were often manned by people dressed in costume appropriate to the theme of the booth. 

“Diagram of the Fair,” The Canteen, February 22, 1864, p. 1.

“Diagram of the Fair,” The Canteen, February 22, 1864, p. 1. This diagram of the floor plan for the Relief Fair shows the location (highlighted in red) of the Shaker Booth.

Albany, one of the three major centers for mustering soldiers in and out of the Union Army in New York, was filled with sick and wounded troops that needed to be fed and doctored. Families who lost fathers and sons were destitute and needed care. The mayor of Albany, George Thatcher, formed the Citizens Military Relief Fund and the Ladies’ Army Relief Fund. These groups, in turn, organized the Great Sanitary Fair held in Academy Park on Washington Avenue. A special temporary building was constructed in the park in the shape of a great double Greek cross. There were booths representing the towns of Albany, Saratoga Springs, Schenectady, and Troy; booths representing Spain, Japan, Holland, Switzerland, France, Italy, and Russia; an Indian wigwam representing Native Americans; a “Gypsy” tent; and wedged between the American booth and the curiosity booth was a Shaker booth. They were all competing with each other to see which could raise the most money to support the troops. All manner of fund-raising took place. The most single exciting feature at the fair was an original draft of the Emancipation Proclamation donated by President Lincoln as the prize in a one-dollar-a-chance lottery. The winner donated it back to the Relief Fair and it was subsequently sold to the New York Department of Education with the understanding that it would not ever leave Albany. When the final draft of the Proclamation burned in the Chicago fire of 1871, the Albany copy became the only copy in Lincoln’s hand to survive.

Photograph, “Shaker Booth,” 1864

Photograph, “Shaker Booth,” 1864, Albany Institute of History & Art, Churchill & Denison, photographers. Ser 30/106.

This carte-de-visite bears the name of the photographers on its back, Churchill & Denison. Rensselaer Emmett Churchill (1820 – 1892) and Daniel Denison (1814 – 1899) were active photographers in Albany between 1863 and 1869. They appear to have been the official photographers for the Relief Fair and a number of their photographs of the fair exist. A larger copy of the “sisters” from the Shaker Booth is in the collection of the Albany Institute of History and Art. That copy confirms that the women posed in the photograph are not Shakers. They are named as follows, left to right: Miss Mary Carpenter, Miss Emerson, Mrs. Frank Townsend, Miss Barns of New York, and Miss Abby W. Redfield. Had they been Shaker sisters posed in a photograph taken in 1864, it would have been one of the earliest surviving photographic images of Shakers. The Shakers’ support and involvement in the Relief Fair is more elusive. While there is no mention in the Watervliet Church and South Family journals of the event, a poem published in The Canteen, the official paper of the fair, suggests that the Shaker did support the effort. The poem reads, in part: 

“Perish the thought I Let no man scold—
‘Tis for the lame and sick all—
Not silver seek we—nor yet gold—
Nor even the precious nickel—;
Premium forbid, But never mind—
Have you not goods or deeds?
New Lebanon forever kind,
Has sent in Garden Seeds —;

And Niskayuna not outdone
And moved by generous throes,
When asked for bread, would not give stone,
And sent a load potatoes—;
‘Twas mighty well—the sick must eat,
The garden must be planted—
And so the Shaker charity,
Was just the thing we wanted.” 

These lines indicate that the Shakers at both Mount Lebanon and Watervliet made contributions to support the fair. 

In this year in which Women’s Suffrage is being celebrated in New York State, it should be mentioned that these fairs were largely organized and manned by women. Dorothea Dix, well known for her work in prison reform and providing for the mentally ill, served as the superintendent for the fairs. She convinced the army medical corps that women could be of great value in its work. More than 1,500 women worked in hospitals – generally in nursing care, but also with surgeons, administering medicine, supervising feeding, cleaning beds, writing letters dictated by wounded men to their families, and general giving good cheer and comfort. 

In all, the fair is supposed to have generated over 110,000 dollars, which against costs, provided over 80,000 dollars (well over $2 million in today’s dollars) to be used for direct service to soldiers and their families. 

 

To a green bench in a green shade

fig 1Bench, North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY

Bench, North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1914, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1971.17371.1.

This bench was made to be used outdoors; was painted dark green, a traditional color for outdoor furniture; and was once placed between the North Family Dwelling House and the family’s Wood House/Wash House. On the upper back rail is carved “August | North Family Shakers | 1914.” If there was an event to memorialize on that date, it hasn’t come to light yet.

 

Brother William Perkins, Second Family, Mount Lebanon, NY

Postcard, Brother William Perkins, Second Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1910, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1957.9505.1, photographer unidentified.

The bench was likely made by Brother William H. Perkins, an immigrant from England, who, although usually associated with the Second Family at Mount Lebanon, was a member of the North Family from June 4, 1914, until he moved to the Second Family on March 31, 1915. The bench certainly fits nicely into his tenure as a North Family brother. Prior to becoming a Shaker, Perkins was a trained wood carver by trade. The bench is made of oak rather than the white pine that would have been the natural choice of New Englanders. An Englishman, on the other hand, would consider oak the traditional wood for this kind of project. The bench was painted over at some point in its post-Shaker life with dark green high-gloss paint. Underneath is a single coat of dark green, applied much more sparingly. 

Sister Sadie Maynard Standing behind a Bench, North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY

Photograph, Sister Sadie Maynard Standing behind a Bench, North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1940, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1996.5.1, photographer unidentified.

A photograph in the Museum’s collection shows the bench in the dooryard just west of the family Dwelling House. Standing behind the bench is Sister Sadie Maynard. Sister Sadie arrived at the North Family on July 24, 1918, from the Harvard, MA, Shaker community where she had lived since joining the Shakers in 1899. She was one of the last six sisters to live at that community before it closed and she moved to the North Family at Mount Lebanon. She remained at Mount Lebanon until that community also closed and she was one of seven remaining Shakers moved to Hancock, MA. She died there in 1953.