A 1772 Bible passes through many hands


The Holy Bible, Containing the Old and New Testaments … Edinburgh : Printed by Alexander Kincaid, 1772, North Family, Mount Lebanon, New York, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, NY, 1960.12747.1

There are a number of things that can rightly be associated with Elder Frederick William Evans in the Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon collection. We have presented two – a garden fork and a cane that were used by Elder Frederick. In the library there are numerous newspaper articles and pamphlets he wrote, manuscript journals and essays, a dozen or so photographs of the Elder, and of course, each and every building (with the exception of the 1829 Brethren’s Workshop) now standing at Mount Lebanon’s North Family was built after his Shaker life began there in 1830. If he was not the “architect” for the 1859 Great Stone Barn, it was, for certain, a manifestation of his concept of a modern large-scale dairy barn. Now, we present what we have always called “Elder Frederick’s Bible.”

The Bible, an unpaginated duodecimo volume, was printed by Alexander Kincaid – “His Majesty’s (i.e., King George III) Printer” – in Edinburgh in 1772. Clearly printed long before Elder Frederick’s birth on June 8, 1808, the Bible likely belonged to the Elder’s mother, Sarah Wight Evans. The book, although it appears to be in its original leather binding, has had its front paste-down and free end paper replaced. On the front past-down leaf is glued a scrap of paper bearing the inscription, “Sarah Wight, her book,  January 15th. 1782.” On the free end paper there is another scrap with the inscription – with a bit of guessing at deteriorated script – “1804 June 22d were Married George Evans to Sarah Wight – She Died alf past six O-clock mor [i.e., morning] June 13th, 1811. Her[?] Father Died July 29, 1814.” Another inscription on that same scrap of paper, in a different hand, reads, “Proctor Sampson From F. W. Evans 1831.” On the back paste-down cover is a listing of some of the children of George and Sarah Evans. The two most relevant inscriptions include, “Bromyard [Herefordshire ]1805 March 25 was born George Henry Evans Son of George and Sarah Evans at Eleven O’Clock at night. Godfather, Rob’t Cox and Samuel Fincher – God Mother Sarah Evans,” and Bromyard [Herefordshire ] 1808 June 9th was born Frederick William Evans quarter before one o’clock in the day. Godfathers Thos. Jones and James Barburton, God Mothers Mrs. Burnell and Miss Deacker.” The other two inscriptions are for Cecelia Coningsby Evans, Elder Frederick’s sister who died only months after Frederick was born and his younger brother Charles Evans who died in 1810. Both of these scraps appear to have been salvaged from the original end papers and remounted on the new ones. 

Although we call it “Elder Frederick’s Bible,” it appears that he possessed it for a shorter period than any of the other people with whom it is associated. When Elder Frederick’s mother died he was eventually taken to live with relatives at Chadwick Hall southeast of Birmingham, England. Just prior to his twelfth birthday he was retrieved by his father and his brother George Henry and brought to the United States. It seems doubtful that his father would have given him his mother’s Bible when he was eleven. In our last article we mentioned that Elder Frederick traveled back to England in 1887. He had also made a missionary trip there in 1871. He was an old hand at ocean crossings: in the spring of 1829, just prior to his coming to unite with the North Family, he had sailed to England and visited his family at Chadwick Hall. He returned to New York in January 1830. It is reasonable to think that either Frederick’s father gave him the Bible when he became an adult or that it had been left in England and his relatives gave it to him when he visited.

However he came to have his mother’s Bible, shortly after he became a Shaker he gave the Bible to Brother Proctor Sampson, a substantial force and eventually a family elder at the North Family. Brother Proctor was about sixty when he received the Bible and Frederick was a mere three years younger than Brother Proctor’s son Joseph, who had died at the age of twenty. Brother Proctor had come to the North Family in 1814, bringing his son Adam (renamed Joseph) and daughter Rachael with him. Joseph went to live at the Church Family, where he died in 1825. A year after receiving the Bible, Brother Proctor was appointed to stand with Elder Richard Bushnell in the Elders’ Order of the North Family. In 1847, seventy-five year old Proctor went to reside at the Church Family where he died in 1855. The Bible must have remained in that family. When the remnants of Mount Lebanon publications and written records were gathered together and transferred to the Canterbury Shakers, the Bible appears to have been among those materials. It was included (No. 255 in the Reference Section) by Elder Irving Greenwood and Sister Aida Elam in a Catalogue of Shaker Literature compiled in 1936. The Bible returned to New York when it was purchased in 1960 by John S. Williams, Sr., for the museum.


Hand me down my walking cane


Walking Cane, North Family, Mount Lebanon, New York, ca. 1885, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 209.22.1, photograph by Matthew Kroening.

Elder Frederick William Evans (1808-1893) is always described as a physically strong and active man. Although best known as the voice of progressive Shakerism, he was well known in and out of his home at the North Family at Mount Lebanon, New York, as a farmer, gardener, and orchardist. When freed from his duties as Family Elder he was often found working in gardens and orchards. There is no evidence that his strength or stamina for physical work faltered as he grew older and, in fact, in 1886, in his late 70s, Evans undertook a missionary journey to England on behalf of his community. While there, he lectured in St. George’s Hall in London. A reporter from a newspaper covering the lecture described the Elder as “a tall man, dressed like a clergyman, [who] spoke with a slight American accent.” Evans’s height, thought to be six foot five inches, and noticeable in illustrations and photographs, plays a role in the description of his walking cane.


Walking Cane (detail of inscription), North Family, Mount Lebanon, New York, ca. 1885, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 209.22.1, photograph by Matthew Kroening.

The cane, fashioned from a red oak sapling with a natural crook, bearing the carved inscription “F. W. Evans. Mt. Lebanon, N. Y.,” was acquired by Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon in 2009 from a Willis Henry Auction, Inc. auction. The cane is thirty-three inches long and has a replaced rubber tip fit over its end. The general rule-of-thumb is that a cane should be about one-half of the height of the person who uses it. With that in mind, Elder Frederick should be using a thirty-eight inch cane – and he probably did. The cane has been cut down in length, perhaps by someone who used it after Evans’s death.


Portrait of Elder Frederick W. Evans, North Family, Mount Lebanon, New York, ca. 1885, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 1960.12212.1, photographer, Edwin S. Sterry, Albany, NY. (The cane Evans is holding is not the cane described here.)


Ouch! Careful with that fork.


Garden Fork, North Family, Mount Lebanon, New York, ca. 1870, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 1950.3201.1. Photograph by Matthew Kroening.

In 1948, several months after the Shakers left their Mount Lebanon home and moved in with the Hancock Shakers but before they sold off their property, Phelps Clawson, the first curator of Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon founder John S. Williams’s Shaker collection, found this garden fork in the foundation of a ruined building at the North Family. The building in which he found the fork was most likely, and appropriately, the Farmers’ Tool House that stood from 1860 to 1948 between the west end of the 1859 Great Stone Barn and the 1853 Wagon Shed (called the Garden House by the Shakers). The fork, with a small break in the handle just above the tines, may have been left behind as no longer useful. Break or no break, the fork does have the name “F.W. Evans” branded into its handle, making it a treasure to this institution.


Elder Frederick William Evans, North Family, Mount Lebanon, New York, ca. 1878, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 2013.23524.1. W. G. C. Kimball, photographer.

Frederick William Evans (1808-1893) was the North Family elder from 1858 until his death. He very well may have been the most widely know Shaker ever – mostly through his writings, public sermons and lectures, and as the head of the North Family. This family was the “gathering or novitiate” order at Mount Lebanon, the Shakers’ largest community. As the novitiate family, it was the primary conduit between the Shaker and non-Shaker world. Members of the press, photographers, foreign dignitaries, and the masses of curious travelers on the road would be directed to the North Family for information about Shaker life and belief. Evans would often be the person with whom they spoke. Elder Frederick was well known in his Shaker world as a farmer – journals often place him in gardens and orchards, experimenting with improvements to maximize yield and defend against natural threats to the family food supply. He was particularly interested in composting and natural fertilizers and the introduction of the use of ensilage to feed the family’s stock. It was probably Elder Frederick who designed the Great Stone Barn, and who controversially tried to turn the North Family into the kind of English gentleman’s farm on which he had spent his youth.

Elder Frederick’s garden fork was probably commercially made. Although its tines are evidently hand forged, the cast iron collar into which the tines are wedged suggests a mass produced tool. Clearly it is from the era when mass production and the evident hand of the craftsman were still enjoying a healthy relationship. The fork demanded careful use: the tines are sharp and made to pierce the soil. On April 23, 1884, the North Family journal records that “Frederick Evans run fork through his leg, on the Asparagrass [sic] bed.” The injury was probably not severe. There is no account of his being laid up in the sick room, or having to be doctored, or being kept from his work – but pierced he was. Without DNA evidence, we, of course can only reasonably assume that it was this same fork that turned on its user.

Another garden tool, a spade, bears the same brand, “F. W. Evans,” as the garden fork and shares some similarity in its manufacture. This spade was sold in 1982 by Willis Henry Auction, Inc. At that time it was offered by a seller who wished to remain anonymous, but now we know it to have been sold by James H. Bissland. Bissland had become particularly close to the Shakers at the North Family at Mount Lebanon and as recounted by his son, “About every time we visited the residents at Mount Lebanon … they did have something for us – oval boxes, baskets, chairs, garment hangers, kitchen utensils, farm tools, and hundred of the objects that Shakers had crafted and used.” Bissland had hoped to create a Shaker museum of his own but his untimely death in 1966 ended that dream. The spade was purchased by Howard and Flo Fertig for their Shaker collection.

As well known as Elder Frederick Evans was, this simple garden tool emphasizes that all Shakers, without consideration of their station in the Society, had a duty to work with their hands.


A cabinetmaker’s workbench makes a journey full circle


Cabinetmakers’ Workbench, North Family, Mount Lebanon, New York, ca. 1840s, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 2013.13.1. Matthew Kroening, photographer.

This workbench is one of those objects that is everything one expects of something the Shakers made and used:  beautiful, simple, substantial, and useful. The workbench was probably made in the 1830s or 1840s. It is nine feet four inches long, nearly three feet deep (small for a Shaker workbench), and is well fitted out with eight drawers and a cupboard for tools. It has all the appropriate vises to hold materials in place while the cabinetmaker is working. In the late 1920s or early 1930s, William F. Winter, Jr., photographed the workbench as it had been installed by the Shaker workshop. In 1937 this photograph was used by Edward and Faith Andrews in their book Shaker Furniture: The Craftsmanship of an American Communal Sect (Plate 48). In the Andrews’ notes on this photograph they described the workbench as being, “In the brethren’s shop at the North family, New Lebanon. Used by the last elder and minister at the central Shaker society.”


Photograph of Cabinetmakers’ Workbench in Place at the North Family, North Family, Mount Lebanon, New York, 1937, William F. Winter, photographer, Photograph in private collection.

The large brick building at the North Family that is currently called the Brethren’s Workshop (1829) – although historically it was just called the Brick Shop by the Shakers – was the logical place to look for a location that fit Winter’s photograph. A careful examination of the photograph – looking at the distance between the top of the windows and the ceiling and the direction of the floorboards – determined the photograph could not have been taken in that building. But, by roughly measuring the distance between windows as compared to the length of the workbench it appeared that the only other building standing in 1937 in which a male member of the family might have had a shop was the Deacons’ Workshop (rebuilt 1856). The “last elder and minister at the central Shaker society,” or Mount Lebanon, was Elder Walter Shepherd (1852-1933). Elder Walter joined the North Family in 1888. Born in England, Shepherd had contact with Elder Frederick W. Evans during Evans’s 1886 missionary tour to England and decided to come to the United States. Brother Walter fit well in the family but, possessing much needed skills and the proper temperament, in 1895 was sent to lead the Shaker Society at Enfield, Connecticut. He returned to the North Family in 1917 and in 1919 became the lead in the Shaker Ministry. At his death in 1933, the male members of the Ministry relocated to the Shaker community at Canterbury, New Hampshire.

Although Elder Walter is not known to have worked as a cabinetmaker, it was traditional for most male Shaker leaders to have a workshop in which to perform whatever kind of hand labor they could contribute to the Church.


Photograph of Cabinetmakers’ Workbench in the Upton Home, Brunswick, New York, 1966, William Tague, photographer. From, “Living with Antiques: Shaker Adventure,” The Magazine Antiques 90 (July 1966), p. 87.

The bench was acquired in 1956 by Charles and Helen Upton. Both of the Uptons were teachers at Russell Sage College and were collectors of Shaker objects and students of Shaker history. The Uptons’ son Jim remembers the circumstances of the purchase. The Uptons had asked Hancock Sister Frances Hall if she had any tailoring counters available for sale. Sister Frances took them into the basement of the Trustees’ Office at Hancock to show them a counter. While there, they saw the workbench. It, like so many other things, had been brought over to Hancock in 1947 when the North Family at Mount Lebanon closed. Liking the workbench more than the counter, the Uptons asked to purchase the workbench. Sister Frances agreed. After the expected struggle to move the large workbench into their home in Brunswick, New York, it became the centerpiece of their study.

The Uptons and their children Russ and Jim were deeply interested in Shaker history. Charles and Helen regularly included the Shakers in the courses they taught, Jim wrote his honors thesis at Union College on “The Shakers as Pacifists in the Period between 1812 and the Civil War,” and Charles, Helen, and Jim all served on the museum’s Board of Trustees. Charles passed away in 1980 and in 1988 Helen began transferring some of the objects from their collection to the Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon. In all, several hundred objects were given to the Museum, including furniture, books, photographs, manuscripts, and ephemera. The bench had already been promised to Jim but in 2013 Jim Upton continued the family’s support of the Museum by giving the Museum the cabinetmakers’ workbench.

This workbench is on view in the Brethren’s Workshop, accessible by guided tour during the museum’s open season.