Rewards of merit for young Shaker pupils

Copies of Eldress Polly Jane (Ann) Reed’s “Heart Cutouts” Showing

Copies of Eldress Polly Jane (Ann) Reed’s “Heart Cutouts” Showing Decorative Borders, Church Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1844.

Eldress Polly Jane (Ann) Reed produced in little more than a decade beginning in 1843, more gift drawings in the forms of sheets, heart cutouts, leaf cutouts, and circular cutouts than any other scribe who recorded the spiritual gifts received during the Shakers’ Era of Manifestation. More than fifty of her works from this period are still extant. Eldress Polly was an extraordinary Shaker. In 1825, when Mount Lebanon Elder Calvin Green, on a missionary journey, visited her parents’ home in Fairfield, New York, eight-year-old Polly decided that she wanted to go home with him. Her parents sent her off with the elder when he promised to be as a father to her and to make sure she would be well cared for. Polly was also known for her skill in stitchery and penmanship. In her obituary, she was remembered as “a woman of most excellent and ingenious faculties; a finished scholar; a beautiful speaker, and a most lovable associate.” In 1855, Polly was called to serve as the First Order Elder Sister in the Church Family and in 1868 until her death in 1881 she was a member of the Lebanon Ministry.

Prior to her call to serve in the Shaker leadership, Polly was one of the teachers for the girls’ school. During these years she produced these three rewards of merit for the young scholars in the school. While two of the rewards in the collection of Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon were created for young girls, the third one was for Henry Cantrell. Since Shaker boys and girls went to school at different times of year – the boys, with male teachers in the winter, and girls, with female teachers in the spring and summer – it appears that Polly prepared these rewards for the boys’ school as well as for the girls she taught.

Eldress Polly’s last known gift drawing is dated April 8, 1854. These rewards of merit date from 1854 and seem a natural continuation of the artful skill she expressed in those earlier drawings. Eldress Polly is not known to have signed her gift drawings and the attribution of the body of her work is based on one documented drawing and the distinct similarity of handwriting and decorative elements to all the other drawings. Two elements – an eight-pointed star and a border decoration that looks something like a four-legged lizard from above – appear on a number of her drawings as well as on these rewards of merit.

The rewards of merit, unlike many that were presented to students in the outside world at the completion of some education or behavioral goal, were living documents. They seem to start out as relatively undecorated documents – with borders of either spaced dots or hatched lines — and as the scholars satisfied certain requirements the dots and the hatches were completed by Polly by making the dots into her distinctive eight-pointed stars, or in the case of Sylvina Clyne’s reward the space between the dotted border was filled in with the four-legged lizards figures. Edress Polly explains how the rewards work in verse:

“Dear scholar this ticket is written you see
To show how discreet and industrious you be;
If well you behave, well your lessons rehearse,
You’ll get a nice border round every verse;
But should you prove forward neglectful or dull,
Your borders will show it by not being full.
Then strive day by day to observe every rule,
That you may have joy at the close of the school.”


“When going to and from the School
If I do keep each wholesome Rule
My teacher’s Love I doubly Share
As every Star doth Witness bear.”

Eldress Polly Jane (Ann) Reed, Reward of Merit for Henry Cantrell

Eldress Polly Jane (Ann) Reed, Reward of Merit for Henry Cantrell, Church Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1854, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1963.14352.1.

While the three rewards in the Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon collection share similar sentiments, they vary in design and complexity. Henry Cantrell, at 14 years of age, in his final year of school, was given the most developed reward. Each of his subjects and points of deportment are presented in four-line verses. The rectangular star-bordered box for spelling contains the verse: “These little stars do plainly show, How many spelling words I know. For every ten I spell complete, A little star I freely get.” His reward has his name recorded as well as having been witnessed by Elder Calvin G. Reed, his instructor.

Martha Jane Flandro’s reward includes rectangular hatch-line-bordered boxes with simply the words, “Spelling, Reading, Writing, Geography, Arithmetic, and Studying Silently.”  Additional rectangles on the back side are labeled, “For standing Erect in my rank” and “For keeping my eyes on my book.” Martha Jane’s  life with the Shakers is a bit of a mystery. She may have been an orphan brought to the North Family Shakers in 1852 when she was between ten and 12 years old and left the Shakers the month after her reward of merit was prepared. This may explain the relatively undecorated borders on her reward. Sylvina Clyne, like Martha Jane, has a rather short life with the Shakers. She came to live with the Shakers in 1852 at age seven or eight and was gone by 1857 having been moved around from family to family in that relatively short time. This unsettled Shaker life may also explain the sparse borders on her reward. Her reward is the only one of the three on which Eldress Polly employed the “lizard-shaped” decoration between the border dots.

All in all, these rewards, in addition to providing an interesting finale to Eldress Polly Reed’s work as a scribe during the Era of Manifestations, show the tremendous care taken and effort made by Shaker teachers in courting the love and respect of their students and in rewarding their students successful learning and appropriate deportment.

Of course, as always, the Museum would like to know if more of Eldress Polly’s rewards exist in other collections.



Putting names to faces: The difficult task of identifying early Shakers

Around this time last year, we looked at this illustration of the Shakers’ worship and suggested that as research on the Shakers continues there is an opportunity to bring forth the personal stories of more and more of those who lived that unique committed life. At that time we explored the possibility of identifying several of the Shakers portrayed in the illustration – specifically the short Shaker brother and the two brothers presented by the artist as persons of color. (In previous research on this topic and generally in research about racial inclusion among the Shakers, these brothers are identified as African-American; however, the Shakers were often not specific in describing the race of individual members, so they are referred to here as persons of color.)

Hand-Colored Lithograph, “Shakers. Their Mode of Worship”

Hand-Colored Lithograph, “Shakers. Their Mode of Worship,” D. W.  Kellogg & Co., Hartford, CT, Ca. 1833/34-1840, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1958.10574.1

Sometime around 1830 an unidentified artist sat with other world’s people who had gathered for the public meeting in the Mount Lebanon Shakers’ new meetinghouse and produced a sketch of the Shakers’ “mode of worship.” Once the sketch was engraved and printed for public sale it became the first published image of the Shakers. It was apparently “wildly popular” and “was copied with only slight alterations for years thereafter, appearing variously as lithographs, woodcuts, and engravings. It was such a popular subject that at least eighteen versions of the same scene are known to have been published in the nineteenth century,” according to Robert P. Emlen, author of a study of these prints published in Imprint: Journal of the American Historical Print Collectors Society in 1992. This print and those eventually derived from it have been used by scholars in studies of Shaker dance, costume, and architecture. Because the artist, possibly overwhelmed by the novelty of the scene, included persons of color among the brothers, the print has been used to document and emphasize the Shakers’ acceptance of all races into their church – as equals. However, the experience of life as a Shaker of color has yet to be well documented or analyzed. 

Hand-Colored Lithograph, “Shakers. Their Mode of Worship”

Hand-Colored Lithograph, “Shakers. Their Mode of Worship (detail),” D. W.  Kellogg & Co., Hartford, CT, Ca. 1833/34-1840, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1958.10574.1

Whatever the artist’s motivation for including these two brothers, it offers an interesting opportunity to explore and hypothesize about who these two men may have been. Some years ago the short brother in the ranks of the brethren was posited to be Brother David Rowley, a 50 year-old 4’10 3/8″ brother who was a resident of the Mount Lebanon North Family. As Brother David’s stature was useful in putting a name to an otherwise anonymous member of the sect, the consistent representation in nearly all of the known versions of this scene of these two brothers as men of color challenges us to know who they were. Probably fewer than a dozen of the more than 3000 Shakers who have been identified as residents of the Mount Lebanon community over the years have been identified as persons of color. The date of the sketch helps narrow down the possibilities. At this time members of the Church Family would probably not attend the public meeting so those present were likely from one of the novitiate families – the North Family or the Upper and Lower Canaan Families. Occasionally members of the Second Family or the East Family might attend. Surveying the list of known Mount Lebanon Shakers who were identified by the Shakers as persons of color and who were members of one of the novitiate families, or the Second or East Families, around 1830 produces only five possible candidates. 

Brother Tower Smith was a member of the North Family. In August, 1821, North Family Elder Calvin Green recorded in his journal that, “The Brethren reap & stack the rye on Amos’s mountain … a Black man from Hudson here, by name of Tower Smith, wants to live with us — he had some faith years ago. We finish pulling flax.” Little additional information about Brother Tower’s life at the North Family has come to light. In October 1833, in a shifting of members’ rooms to provide accommodation for the sick and aged in the dwelling, Brothers Frederick [Crosman], John [Wood], and Tower [Smith] were moved into a room, previously used for the spinning jenny at the North Shop. Six months later it was noted in “A Brief Journal Kept by R[ichard] Bushnell,” in the collection of Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, that  “Abel [Knight] goes to Hudson, taking with him Tower Smith, who like most others, wants to be with those who were most congenial to his sense & state.” Elder Richard added, “poor old man I hope he may not spend the remainder of his day in suffering.” 

Brother Ransom Smith was apparently the son of James and Sarah Smith. According to Elder Calvin Green at the North Family, James Smith arrived in New Lebanon, on February 5, 1816, and left two loads of goods before returning to his home in Norwich, New York, on the 9th. He returned at the end of February with “2 of his Daughters, viz. Jerusha & Sally,” leaving them with the Shakers when he returned home at the beginning of March. On June 7, that year, “James Smith with his family arrives here [at the North Family] having moved at length & go to the old Patterson house,” a farm house just west of the North Family where the Shakers housed new arrivals. A week or so later, James and Sarah’s son, Ransom, arrived at the North Family with what was probably the last load of the family’s belongings. Ransom lived at the North Family until being moved to the Second Family after Christmas, 1835. He lived out his life as a Shaker, dying at the Second Family at the age of 81 in 1876. As a Shaker he worked as a teamster and a gardener. 

Brother Abraham Wood attended school at the Church Family in 1823 at the age of fifteen. In April, 1824 he came from Frederick Crosman’s family and went to live at the Upper Canaan Family where he remained until January 6, 1828 when it was noted in “A Journal or Memorandum for the Family of Believers [at Canaan]” in the collection of the Library of Congress, that “Abram Wood goes to the world.” Apparently he reconsidered this decision and on January 1, 1830 the same journalist noted that, “[Albert Whittemore] age 34 from Mansfield Connecticut, came in on the 26th of last month, & unites at, or about this time.” But five days later it was noted that “the above named Albert Whittemore is found to be Abraham Wood, who lived in the family of Frederick Crosman & Aaron Bill about nine years ago, on the discovery of which he peaceably goes away.” Brother Abraham’s (or Albert’s) candidacy as one of the African-American brothers included in the print is weakened by his absence from the community from June, 1828, until November, 1830, but since the exact date of the visit by the artist has not been verified, his inclusion is not impossible. 

Brother James Taylor came to the North Family in the summer of 1816 and professed his faith. In June of that year he was sent to live at the Upper Canaan Family. He is noted by a journalist on January 1, 1832 in “A List of the [Upper Canaan] family, with their respective ages,” as being 41 years old, having been born in 1791. On November 16, 1835, in the same journal, detailing events at the Upper Canaan Family between 1813 and 1843 in the Shaker Collection at the Library of Congress, it is noted that, “James Taylor (man of color) goes to the world, he was rec’d as a candidate (according to recollection) Feb. 1829 – lived with C[illegible] Bryant in the Hill house & received into this family some time in 1831.” 

Brother Nelson Banks was born in Stafford, Connecticut, January 5, 1800. Although it is not clear when he made the decision to unite with the Shakers, he apparently had a somewhat successful life prior to making that commitment. He signed the North Family covenant on April 13, 1829 and on December 19, 1831 “deposited in the hands of the Trustees eight hundred and twenty nine dollars and took a certificate of inventory.” This money, as noted in the North Family Book of Records in the collection of the Library of Congress, “he freely gives for the benefit of the North Family in the United Society (Called Shakers) in New Lebanon without any change or demand to be made by him for the use of the same so long as it is in the employ of said family.” This standard agreement made with new members allowed them to deposit funds for the use of the family without fully consecrating the money to the Church. Members who had signed this kind of document could request the return of the money or property if they decided to leave, but Brother Nelson stayed, and on June 13, 1837, “dedicated & devoted to the united interest of the North Family eight hundred & twenty dollars said money being the same deposited in the hands of the Trustees in the year 1831 December 19th for which he then took a certificate of inventory: which is now canceled by his choice & dedication.” Two years later Brother Nelson moved from the North Family to the Second Family where he lived out his life a Shaker primarily as a gardner, dying August 19, 1878 at the age of 78.

Although these are the only identified men of color (so far) at Mount Lebanon who appear to be possible attendees at a public meeting in the Mount Lebanon Meetinghouse during the time when the visiting artist was able to make the sketch, the Shakers were not particularly concerned about identifying a member’s race as part of their official records. Usually this information is discovered as Shaker records are studied with a specific interest in the topic. 

As useful as this print is in visualizing Shakers and Shaker worship, the addition of some personal stories of those captured by the artist at that moment only enlivens its importance in telling the Shaker story. Next up – the brother wearing the stocking cap during meeting – there must be a story behind that. 


Ellsworth Kelly’s lozenge-shaped oval box

Bentwood Box, Alfred, ME, ca. 1840

Bentwood Box, Alfred, ME, ca. 1840, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 2016.5.3a,b. John Mulligan, photographer.

When the hammer fell on lot number 130 on Sunday, August 5, 1990, at the Willis Henry Auction held on the grounds of the Darrow School in New Lebanon, New York, the successful bidder set a world record for the highest price paid at auction for anything made by the Shakers. What made the audience come alive as much as the price on that hot humid afternoon was that the winner of the lot was talk show host and actress, Oprah Winfrey. The piece, a small pine three-drawer counter in red paint was the cover lot on the auction catalog. Oprah Winfrey was not the only well-known personality who made significant purchases that day. Several dozen lots earlier, a reddish-orange bentwood box was purchased by the artist Ellsworth Kelly and his future husband Jack Shear. While Oprah’s three-drawer counter was unique for a few years for its price, the bentwood box was thought to be a unique example of Shaker workmanship for its unusual shape. Most of the lidded boxes the Shakers made by bending thin strips of steamed wood were oval in shape. Although the ovals vary from box to box from nearly round to extremely elongated, this box is not oval at all. Rather, it is more of a rectangle with rounded ends – what Ellsworth Kelly later called “lozenge-shaped” – but in every other respect it was made like thousands of other Shaker oval boxes. 

Six years ago, Ellsworth Kelly and Jack Shear decided to give their collection of two-dozen Shaker pieces to Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon. That gift was received by the Museum in 2016 and this spring, from March 24th through May 13th, pieces from the collection, accompanied by a selection of prints by Kelly, will be exhibited at the Jeff Bailey Gallery in Hudson, New York. In preparation for the exhibition the Museum staff is conducting additional research on the Shaker pieces that will be exhibited. The unique box is included in the exhibition and has been the target of the staff’s research for the past few days. 

The auction catalog identifies the box as having been made at the Shaker community at Sabbathday Lake, Maine. It is not clear if this attribution came from the consigner of the box, or if it was, at the time, the auction house’s best guess at its origin. In either case, more investigation was in order. The bottom of the box bears what appears to be a three-line inscription, which, were any of it still legible, might answer all questions about who made the box and where and when. Until that technology can be accessed, the information remains elusive. 

Bentwood Box (interior), Alfred, ME, ca. 1840

Bentwood Box (interior), Alfred, ME, ca. 1840, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 2016.5.3a,b. John Mulligan, photographer.

As is the case with the construction of most Shaker boxes, the bent sides of the box and its lid are made of maple and its top and bottom, the heading as the Shakers called it, are made of pine. The three over-lapping fingers on the box and the single finger on the lid are fastened together with copper tacks. The heading is secured to the bent rims with iron headless tacks. The box is painted inside and out with a reddish-orange paint – no wood is left exposed. There are a few design features, other than its unusual shape, that are notable. The ends of the overlapping fingers point to the left. This characteristic is most often found on boxes that were made at the Shaker community at Alfred, Maine. Shaker oval box makers often smoothed off the heads of the tacks used on the fingers to keep anything from catching under the head and pulling the tack out. On this box, the heads of some of the tacks show marks – small parallel grooves – left by a file. These marks on tack heads are most often found on boxes made by the Shakers at Canterbury, New Hampshire. In a similar manner, the use of iron rather than copper headless tacks to secure the heading in the box rims is often associated with early boxes made at Canterbury. 

Oval Box (detail of edge of overlapping rim)

Oval Box (detail of edge of overlapping rim), Canterbury, NH, ca. 1850, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1954.6743.1a,b. Staff photograph.

Given these construction and design characteristics, a good case can be made for this box originating in the shops of the box-makers at Canterbury, New Hampshire. However, an oval box in the collection of Hancock Shaker Village led to a reconsideration of this conclusion. That oval box has a label glued to its bottom that reads, “This box was made by Ebenezar Freeman of Alfred in his 82d year of age, and by him presented to me Aug 26th 1861. Mary P. Vance.” Ebenezer Freeman turned sixty-one on July 12, 1861, beginning his 82d year. The box is the work of an accomplished box-maker and it is likely that he made a number of boxes in his lifetime. This box has a distinctive feature that is usually found on Canterbury boxes – the rims of the box and the lid had their edges rounded before they were bent and tacked. This creates a double hump on the edge of the rims where the two ends overlap, shown in the picture to the left. Boxes made at Mount Lebanon, for example, had the rims sanded to a single round edge after the rims were bent and the overlap tacked. This observation raises the question as to whether the Alfred oval box-makers were either taught by the box-makers at Canterbury or if someone who knew how to make boxes was transferred from Canterbury to Alfred. Either of these options would explain why the tacks securing the fingers appear to have been smoothed with a file – they learned that from Canterbury. It may also suggest that the fingers on Alfred boxes point left instead of right to intentionally set them apart from those made at Canterbury. 

As the decision was being made to attribute the  Kelly / Shear lozenge-shaped box to the Alfred community rather than either Sabbathday Lake or Canterbury, the existence of a second box of this unusual shape came to light. This box, nearly identical in size and very similar in its color and the shape of its fingers, is in the collection of the Shaker Museum at Sabbathday Lake, Maine. This box is attributed to the Alfred Shakers and as far as anyone knows has been in the community at Sabbathday Lake ever since or even before the Alfred community closed and its members relocated to Sabbathday Lake in 1931. The box in the collection at Sabbathday Lake is pictured on page 17 of The Human & Eternal: Shaker Art in Its Many Forms published in 2009 by and available from the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Museum. 

For now, and for the for exhibition at the Jeff Bailey Gallery, the attribution of this box will remain with the workshops of the Alfred, Maine Shakers. All are welcome to come and see it face to face this spring. 




The Mount Lebanon Shakers and their support for African American education in South Carolina

On April 3, 1885 the mercury reached 46 degrees Fahrenheit at Mount Lebanon’s North Family according to Brother Daniel Offord’s entry in the family’s garden journal. It was a mild cloudy Friday and the hired men were working at getting the year’s firewood cut, split, and under cover while a few of the brothers were working at the family’s saw mill.  To what seemed to be an uneventful day, Brother Daniel added a curious note: “Sent a bbl of lamps tin ware literature &c &c to Martha Schofield.”

Schofield staff

Schofield School staff, date unknown, retrieved from

Martha Schofield was born in 1839 into a Quaker family in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Her parents were strong abolitionists who frequently had Reverend Edward Hicks and James and Lucretia Mott as guests in their home and on occasion were known to harbor fugitive slaves. As a young girl, Martha, strongly affected by these experiences, began teaching runaway slaves to read and write and when she turned 18 began her professional teaching career in Bayside, Long Island. In October of 1865, with the end of the Civil War, and in response to President Lincoln’s call to help emancipated slaves, she moved to Edisto Island, near Charleston, South Carolina. Three years later, and after recovering from malaria or tuberculosis back at her family home, she returned south with her life savings and promises of support from people like her friend Susan B. Anthony and founded the Schofield Normal and Industrial School in Aiken, South Carolina, to serve the area’s freed slaves. A school building was completed in 1870 and with three teachers, including Schofield, the school taught and boarded 68 students. The school grew rapidly and focused on training young African Americans in the trades and to become teachers. In 1882 Schofield was able to build a large brick two-story schoolhouse but was in need of additional dormitory space to house an ever-growing population of students.

The First and Second Schoolhouses for the Schofield Normal and Industrial School, Aiken, SC, ca. 1885

Schofield Normal and Industrial School, First (1870) and Second (1882) Schoolhouses from, South Carolina Bureau, The Augusta Chronicle, “Schoolhouse Inspires Students,” retrieved from

An article appeared in the New-York Daily Tribune on February 19, 1885 concerning two young African-American men, Alfred W. Nicholson and Hampton Matthias, who were teachers at the Bettis School in Edgefield County, South Carolina. In an effort to keep ahead of their students they decided they both needed additional education so, while Matthias taught, Nicholson attended university and then when his course works was done for the year – they switched. Both had been students at the Schofield School and Martha Schofield took the opportunity of having two of her students featured in the Tribune to make an appeal for support for her school. In a February 26 article she expressed her concern about the challenge of accommodating an increasing demand for African American teachers. She wrote: “Here there is such a pressure behind us we dare not stand still; we are pushed on to new burdens, the completion of which is only seen by the eye of faith shining under the light of Divine guidance. We are being forced to erect a girls’ boarding hall….The cost, with careful management, will be about $1500. Over $500 has been subscribed and the lumber is on the ground and paid for. No debt will be incurred. Carpenters stop when the money gives out.”

Carte-de--Visite, Eldress Antoinette Doolittle

Eldress Antoinette Doolittle, North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1880, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1962.13962.1,

It was apparently this appeal to which the North Family Shakers responded both in money and with a barrel of goods. In a letter to the Tribune published March 1, 1885, Eldress Antoinette Doolittle expressed her family’s respect and support for Martha Schofield’s work. She notes that they, the North Family, had been aware of her efforts in educating African American students for several years. With the letter, the North Family included a check for five-dollars to be sent on to Schofield to aid in the building of the school. Eldress Antoinette’s letter, transcribed below, addresses her experiences with freed slaves who worked in the hotels in Lebanon Springs, New York, where she grew up until she joined the Shakers in her teens.



To the editor of The Tribune.

FRIEND: We read with interest the letter of February 26 from Martha Schofield addressed to the TRIBUNE, asking aid for building a schoolhouse in which to educate some of the colored people, to whom at present she seems to be giving her life labors unselfishly. We have watched her course of action several years, and have admired her as a heroine in striving, against persecution and many adverse storms, to be a friend to the friendless, and to uplift the lowly and oppressed who through circumstances over which they had had no control, have been subjected to the grossest wrongs, and suffered and sorrowed beyond language to portray.

I well remember when a small child of hearing a colored man say that if he could be a white man he would be willing to be skinned alive. He might justly have been considered a gentleman in manners and address, to some degree a man of letters, whose greatest fault seemed to be that his skin was very dark, and on that account he suffered many indignities from those of a lighter complexion. I also have a vivid recollection of an old slave called Venus who was employed as a washerwoman in some of our public hotels. Many hours I say by her side hearing her relate her sufferings at the South when under the lash of her cruel master. Her hands and fingers were ill-shapen and deformed. When she told me the wrongs inflicted upon her my young heart was deeply touched, and almost bled with sympathy as I saw the scalding, bitter tears course their way down her furrowed cheeks.

I remember those things in the dark days of our late Civil War and, while we deeply regretted the cruel effects of that war upon many households and the mourners who were bereft of loved one[s] who fallen in battle, yet the cries and groans of downtrodden, oppressed slaves were greater, piercing the heavens, and He who heareth the orphan’s cry and feedeth the ravens struck a blow that broke the strong chains that bound them, and the manacles fell! We watched with intense prayerful interest the events of those never-to-be-forgotten days, and now rejoice that there is a way open for the slaves, who were once thought to be almost soulless and devoid of intellect, gradually rising in the ascending scale of knowledge, moral worth and spiritual unfoldment.

We sent THE TRIBUNE five dollars ($5) [roughly $120 in today’s dollars] to aid in the erection of a schoolhouse above referred to in hopes that this small contribution, given in sympathy for the cause of freedom, may induce others to add thereto, and thus create a little fund that may be forwarded in safety to Martha Schofield, who we honor for her work’s sake.        Sincerely, ANTOINETTE DOOLITTLE.

Mt. Lebanon, N. Y., Feb 27, 1885.

The Schofield School – incorporated into the public schools of Aiken, South Carolina and integrated in the 1960s – continues its educational mission. If Ms. Schofield responded to Eldress Antoinette’s letter and if the North Family continued to support the school is still to be discovered.


Altered states: piecing together an object’s history

The Shakers’ communal furniture pieces were often larger than those used in single family homes, so when those pieces found new uses outside Shaker villages they were sometimes altered and reduced in size: benches made to seat eight to ten Shakers might be shortened to serve in a family entryway as a place to sit and put on shoes; communal trestle-style dining tables that once fed 12 to 16 Shaker brothers or sisters have been shortened to seat the storied nuclear family; and tall 10-drawer cases have been cut in half to become four- or five-drawer bureaus. Often these alterations were done by outsiders who bought surplus furniture from the Shakers. Sometimes, however, these alterations were done by the Shakers themselves. For example, on January 18, 1884, a South Family scribe (Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, mss. no. 21485) recorded in the family journal that Samuel Shumway, a non-Shaker resident of the town of New Lebanon who was often hired to do carpentry and cabinetmaking for the Shakers, “cut a door thro the porch into the Deaconesses room [and] cut a large case of drawers into [i.e., in two] – half goes in the North garret, the other half remains in the porch.” 

While it is not known if the object that is the subject of this article resulted from the intentional alteration of a piece of furniture or something more tragic, it was clearly once part of something larger. When cataloged into the collection it was identified as a “drawer.”  Upon recent examination the remnant has been identified not as drawer, but as a four-sided gallery that likely sat atop a small case of drawers to make a piece called a washstand. Before the advent of indoor plumbing and sinks for personal wash-ups, washstands were common in Shaker and non-Shaker dwellings. The pieces took many different forms, but often had a back-splash or a gallery to contain any leaks, spills, or splashes from an ever-present water bowl and pitcher. 

The gallery has several distinctive features. The sides are made of a tight-grained curly maple. The right and left sides and the front side all flare out slightly. The four sides are dovetailed together. The underside of the gallery bottom has long grooves along its right and left side that were made to receive the plank side boards of the case piece upon which it sat and in the center of the front of the underside, between these grooves, is a small rectangular mortise that likely once secured the tenon of a divider that separated two drawers in the washstand. There are also small rectangular holes just inside the gallery walls that were made by nails that secured the gallery to its base. These details, taken as a whole, suggest a strong connection between this gallery and the galleries of several washstands that have been attributed to Brother Abner Allen (1776-1855), a known Shaker cabinetmaker from Enfield, Connecticut. One washstand with a similar gallery (see below) is in the collection of Hancock Shaker Village. While the dimensions of the gallery on this washstand – 3 ½” high by 27 7/8” wide by 19 ¼” deep — do not match those of the gallery in the Shaker Museum’s collection – 3 1/4” high by 23 ¾” wide by 17 5/8” deep – all of the other characteristics of the complete washstand gallery compare favorably with the displaced gallery.  

Washstand, Enfield, CT, ca. 1850

Washstand, Enfield, CT, ca. 1850, Hancock Shaker Village: 1989.2. Timothy Rieman, photographer.

Brother Abner was known to favor figured wood – especially curly maple. He seemed to have an affinity for dovetailed joints that are not joined at right angles. The protruding edges of the bottoms of the galleries on both examples terminate in the same thumb-nail shape. The most noticeable difference between the two examples is that the gallery in the Shaker Museum’s collection is painted red while the complete washstand is not. It is, of course, conceivable that the complete washstand, at some point, had its paint removed to expose the beauty of the curly maple. If this is the case, it is an interesting piece of information to think that Shakers made furniture from wood known for its decorative appearance and then obfuscated most of that feature with paint.  

Since this piece was acquired in 1961 at Mount Lebanon and was most likely made at Enfield, Connecticut, it is likely that the washstand from which this gallery was separated was brought to Mount Lebanon, maybe with Elder Walter Shepherd and Brother Daniel Orcutt when Enfield closed and they moved to the North Family at Mount Lebanon. 

Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon is currently migrating its collection records to a web-based public database thanks to a grant from The Henry Luce Foundation. In the process, much of the collection is being re-examined, allowing us to make sense of and flesh out the stories of pieces in the collection.




“…he was not the inventor of it; he first saw it among the Shaking Quakers….”

In a participatory class about making soap the leader started her presentation explaining the steps that would be involved in the day’s activities. Following her welcome, she started, “First, we’ll need to slaughter, butcher, and render the fat from an old hog.” Before the students could flee the room, she announced that we would be skipping that step in light of time constraints. Her point, however, was not lost on the class. Many of the classes involving early crafts and trades have been cleansed of the unpleasant preparations our forefathers and mothers undertook without question. Such is the case with most trades associated with wood. Most woodworking projects now begin with boards of a standard thickness, width, and length and we ignore the process that historically would have been used to get them to that state — felling and limbing a tree, hauling the tree trunk, cutting it to length, splitting or sawing it into boards, drying the boards, regulating them to a particular thickness, making their faces and edges parallel, and smoothing their surfaces. All of this, done by hand, is brutal work. Until the advent of practical machines, the preparation of usable boards from rough-sawn lumber could take as much time as making the boards into something.

The Shakers were interested in reducing the amount of unnecessary labor needed to build up the physical part of their “heaven on earth,” and the thickness planer made smoothing boards easier.

fig 1 1952.6054.1_ 1

Thickness Planer (right side), Church Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1860, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1952:6054.1, John Mulligan, photographer.

There had been a number of attempts to ease the chore of planing. Most of the early attempts were designed to move a traditional hand plane, driven by a reciprocating shaft, back and forth over a piece of wood . The great improvement came with the use of a rotary motion to plane boards. The history of these planing machines in America features two dominate men, each with a specific approach to flattening, regulating the thickness of, and smoothing boards. William Woodworth from Hudson, New York patented a successful planing machine in 1828. His machine had two long sharp blades mounted in a rotating horizontal bar set at an adjustable height above a flat table. Mounted in the table were slowly rotating cylinders that pushed and pulled the board under the rotating planer blades. This design was the precursor of the modern planing machine. The biggest draw-back of the Woodworth machine was that, while it smoothed and regulated the thickness of a board, it did not always make it truly flat. If the board was twisted and warped before planing, it would probably still be twisted and warped after planing.

The second player in this story was Thomas E. Daniels of Worcester, Massachusetts. His was the first successful machine patented in America to truly flatten a board. His planer, patented in 1834, had a movable carriage to which a rough-sawn board could be secured so it could not move or flex. The carriage advanced under a rotating vertical shaft to which was fastened a bar parallel to the carriage. This bar had a cutting blade mounted at each end. When rotating – the power was often supplied by a waterwheel – the cutters sliced across the board removing any unevenness and leaving a truly flat surface. To make a board that was of a consistent desired thickness, the height of the cutters above the board would be set at that height; the board would be turned over, secured to the carriage, and again passed under the cutters.

Each machine had its advantages – the Daniels planer produced a board that was not twisted or warped and the Woodworth produced a smoother surface. Often a workshop would have one of each of the machines – flattening their boards on the Daniels planer and finishing them on the Woodworth machine.

Woodworth held a patent on his machine, but it was frequently contested and he was in constant litigation. He sold the rights to most of the individually patented improvements to the machine to a syndicate of three investors who manufactured them. They sold the planers, and also charged the owners on a per-linear-foot-planed basis for using them. Woodworth died in 1839 but passed on his part of the patent to his children. As the Woodworth children and the syndicate had a monopoly on this type of machine, it was a very lucrative business and as such they protected their patent until 1856, when it could no longer be extended. Litigation concerning the patent occasionally involved the Shakers. In 1851, Mount Lebanon brothers Jonathan Wood and Henry Bennet were called to court in Albany “concerning the lawsuit, pending between Gibson & Allen about the Planing Machine …There is much contention in the law about Woodworth’s patent – Gibson [one of the men who bought the patent] has lately had the right renewed 6 years – He holds the right & forbids others (us with the rest) using it without paying for it. We consider it unjust & so do others: & some, rather than submit to pay, stand against in the law.” [Quoted in Planers, Matchers and Molders in Americaby Chandler W. Jones, 1985.] The Shakers were called to testify because they were known to use machines similar to Woodworth’s at the time he “invented” the planer. In fact, in 1833 when William Woodworth’s lawyers returned from court to tell him that the judge demanded that he write up new specifications for his patent that would claim rights to only those parts of the machine he had invented, “he smiled and said the whole of them were fools, for they occupied the time of the court for three days on what he could have told them in five minutes; that he was not the inventor of it; he first saw it among the Shaking Quakers in the western part of the State of New York.” Joseph Turner who had been a machinist who helped build Woodworth’s first planers reported this comment adding that he “was astonished to hear him say that, after selling the patent.” [“A Domestic Journal of Daily Occurrences Kept by…Isaac N. Youngs, [1847-1855], Church Family, Mount Lebanon, NY,  Western Reserve Historical Society Library, Shaker Collection, mss. no., V:B-70.] The Woodworth patent cases had a long-term effect on patent law and were, in part, responsible for adjustments in 1861 to change the life of patents from 14 to 17 years – 17 years without extensions.

fig 3 1952.6054.1_ 4

Thickness Planer (detail of cutting head and feed rollers), Church Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1860, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1952:6054.1, John Mulligan, photographer.

The planing machine in the Museum’s collection is clearly a Woodworth-style planer. It has not yet been determined if the planer was made by the Shakers or if they purchased it. All of the metal parts on the planer were cast. If the Shakers had gone to the expense of making several dozen casting patterns, having them cast, and machining them to fit together properly, they would have made several of these machine. No other examples survive. There is no manufacturer’s name on the planer, however if it was commercially made the name may have been left off to guard against the maker being sued by the syndicate. The blades on the planer are marked “A. Wheeler, Brattleboro, Vt.” Wheeler is a known manufacturer of edge tools – axes, adzes, drawknives, and, apparently, planer blades.  At the same time Wheeler was in business there was a manufacturer of planing machines in Brattleboro, Calvin J. Weld, from whom the Shakers purchased a planer in the 1850s for their Tyringham, Massachusetts community. It is possible that this machine was obtained from the same source. Whatever its source, the Museum’s planer is a remarkable machine still in operating condition – sharp blades and all.




Why did the Shakers switch from palm leaf to poplar?

Heart-Shaped Woven Poplar Cloth Box

Heart-Shaped Woven Poplar Cloth Box, Church Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1875-1900, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1993.2.20a,b.

The Shakers made poplar boxes of different shapes and styles in great numbers beginning in the 1860s and continuing in various communities for nearly a century. The first mention of “hearts” being made was in the Mount Lebanon Church Family deaconesses’ journals in 1873. Apparently they were not the most popular of the poplar products – often only three of four dozen were made in a given year. For many years Sister Emma J. Neale is noted as the maker of these particular poplar boxes. There are two types of forms on which these boxes were shaped. One was a solid piece of pine and the second, probably an improvement, was made in two parts joined at an angle so that when the larger part of the form was lifted the slightest amount, the form immediately became smaller keeping it from putting any stress on the recently glued sides of the box. The finishing – fitting a lid, adding any decoration, and sewing accouterments – completed the box for sale in the Office Store.

Heart-Shaped Form

Heart-Shaped Form, Church Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1875-1900, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1950.2477.1a,b.

Why did the Shakers at the Church Family at Mount Lebanon develop the heart-shaped product in the first place? It’s been suggested that the invention of poplar cloth and the poplarware products that followed was necessitated by a need to find a material to replace woven palm leaf when shipments of palm from Cuba and the Caribbean were halted by the beginning of the Civil War in April of 1861. The Shakers were prodigious consumers of palm leaf for manufacture of their bonnets – both for home use and for sale. While it may be the case that the Shakers were purchasing palm leaf from Cuba and the Caribbean, it continued to be available from Italy and Africa at the Port of Boston. In Barre, Worcester County, Massachusetts in 1865, there were more than 100 men and women employed in five businesses that made 328,000 palm leaf “Shaker hoods and hats or jockies.” These manufacturers were supplied by two businesses employing 19 men and women who processed over 250,000 pounds of green palm leaf into material for weaving and plaiting even during the Civil War. (Warner, Oliver. Statistical Information Relating to Certain Branches of Industry in Massachusetts for the Year Ending May 1, 1865. [Boston: The Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 1866]) To add to this apparent contradiction, Deaconess Betsy Crosman, recorded in her journal having “made 30 small popple [poplar] silk covered baskets for sale” at the beginning of November 1860. The next year she made 60 more and Deaconess Matilda Reed made 15 dozen napkin rings of  popple cloth.” (“Deaconesses Journal, Church Family, Mount Lebanon, NY,” 1848-1872. Western Reserve Historical Society Library, Shaker Collection, mss. no., V:B-143.) Apparently by the time the insurrection had blossomed into a full-out war, the Shakers had already worked out the procedures and built the specialized machinery for manufacturing “popple cloth.”

Perhaps the switch from palm leaf to poplar was because the process of preparing palm leaf for weaving involved considerable work. The leaves were sorted, setting aside the longest leaves from which the warp “threads” were stripped out and gauged to the proper width. The shorter weft “threads” also had to be cut out and gauged. At some point these were dried and “bleached” in the fumes of burning sulfur to remove their green color. The warp was then tied on the loom (of course there were limitations on the length of the warp – and therefore the finished palm cloth – based on the length of the leaves). Finally, the weaving of the cloth could begin. With poplar, some of this tedious preparation was done by the brothers – at the very least, they planed the poplar into thin, consistently-sized strips. The gauging was done by machine and the poplar required no bleaching as its sap wood is naturally white. The greatest advantage of poplar over palm comes in the weaving. The thin strips of poplar are woven into a cotton warp and the length of the warp was not limited by the length of the poplar strips. In one case it was noted that the sisters put one hundred yards of warp on a loom for poplar cloth. In consideration of the advantages of poplar over palm leaf – yes, palm leaf may have been stronger and lasted longer, but unlike palm leaf bonnets, the products made from poplar were not expected to last for generations – it may have been that the idea to develop poplar cloth came as much from a desire to simplify and, by the way, use materials readily available on their own property at no cost but manpower.

A number of Shaker industries that seem simple and straightforward on first look, turn out to be quite complicated once investigated. Additional information and comments on the beginning of this important Shaker business are most welcome.



When humility and recognition collide

Silver Award Medal (front in gutta percha case), New York State Agricultural Society to the Shaker Sisters

Silver Award Medal (front in gutta percha case), New York State Agricultural Society to the Shaker Sisters, Church Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1873, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 2006.1.1a,b.

The New York State Fair was first held in Syracuse, New York, in 1841. It was the first such fair ever held in the United States and is today one of the largest, attracting over one million visitors. The fair was started by The New-York State Agricultural Society, with financial backing from the New York State Legislature. The second fair was held in Albany, New York, and from that time until 1890, when the fair was permanently located in Syracuse, the perceived “agricenter” of the state, it was rotated among the cities of Albany, Auburn, Buffalo, Elmira, New York, Poughkeepsie, Rochester, Saratoga Springs, Syracuse, Utica, and Watertown.

Every kind of conceivable exhibition, both animate and inanimate, was included in the fair and competition for awards was stiff. An award of one of the coveted gold, silver, or bronze medals not only spoke to the excellence of the animal or object being exhibited but could easily translate into money as people sought to purchase award winners.

In 1873 the Shaker sisters of the Church Family at Mount Lebanon created an exhibition of their “sale work,” what today would be called their “fancy goods.” These were the objects they offered for sale at the office store – the majority of which at this time would have been useful and decorative little boxes made of poplar cloth. The silver medal in the Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon collection was awarded for their fancy straw work – which was probably how the judges classified what may have been, to them, mystifying woven poplar wood.

On September 23, 1873, Brothers Henry Cantrell and Joseph Holden left Mount Lebanon for Albany to attend the State Fair. That same day Sisters Sarah Ann Lewis and Tabitha Lapsley “went to Albany to exhibit … sale articles at the State Fair.” [Sister Polly Jane Reed, Pocket Diary, Church Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1873, [OClWHi, mss. no., V:B-166]] The 33d annual New York State Fair opened on September 24. Several other members of the Church Family apparently went to see the fair as well. On the 28th of September, Sisters Tabitha Lapsley, Polly Lewis, and Caty (or Katie) Boyle returned home leaving Sarah Ann Lewis to return the next day. “She staid to take care of her things – it was not necessary for Tabitha to stay longer so she slipped sway & come home thankful to get out of the bustle.” [ibid]

It is most interesting that although the “comings and goings” to the fair are frequently mentioned, no mention has been found in the journals of the sisters being awarded a medal. That absence may signal an interesting tension between the commercial marketing potential of receiving an award for their products and the Shakers’ constant struggle to remain humble. It would be interesting to know what the Shakers did with the medal when they returned, who kept it and where.

Silver Award Medal (back in gutta percha case), New York State Agricultural Society to the Shaker Sisters

Silver Award Medal (back in gutta percha case), New York State Agricultural Society to the Shaker Sisters, Church Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1873, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 2006.1.1a,b.



Genealogical, Chronological and Geographical Chart: Embracing Biblical and Profane History of Ancient Times from Adam to Christ.  


An earlier blog examined one of the smallest publications done by the Shakers – The Little Instructor, printed by Elder Henry C. Blinn in 1849 at Canterbury, New Hampshire. On the other end of the spectrum, the Shakers were involved in publishing a piece measuring three by four feet. It is an 1887 lithographed chart created by Jacob Skeen titled Genealogical, Chronological and Geographical Chart: Embracing Biblical and Profane History of Ancient Times from Adam to Christ.

Genealogical, Chronological and Geographical Chart: Embracing Biblical and Profane History of Ancient Times from Adam to Christ by Jacob Skeen

Genealogical, Chronological and Geographical Chart: Embracing Biblical and Profane History of Ancient Times from Adam to Christ by Jacob Skeen, The Skeen Chart Co., Louisville, KY, Lithographed by the Lithograph and Printing Company, Louisville, KY, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 2017.25.1a,b

The great fire of 1875 at Mount Lebanon’s Church Family had repercussions that continued for years as the Shakers increased industries that would produce cash to help them recover from the loss. The best known and probably most lucrative of these efforts was the addition of a contract to manufacture medicine for Andrew Judson White. This work, like much that followed, depended on the well-organized, dedicated sisterhood of the family. Other industries that were taken on over the next decade included the manufacture of knitted gloves and mittens made from raccoon fur and silk and the manufacture of men’s neckties. As part of this effort, in February 1887 the Shakers began producing giant charts intended to educate children about the Bible.

The chart was the result of ten years work by Jacob Skeen, an industrialist – he created and operated the Louisville Crucible Steel Casting Company – turned Bible and ancient history scholar. Skeen researched, designed, and created the artwork for the chart. In partnership with his brother David Skeen, he was eventually able to enlist the Shakers at Mount Lebanon, New York (Brother Benjamin Gates), Union Village, Ohio (Elder Matthew B. Carter), and Pleasant Hill, Kentucky (Elder Francis M. and Brother William F. Pennybaker) in the project. The chart provided timelines showing major figures of the Bible and their family trees along with their geographical locations and major Biblical events including the creation of Adam and Eve, the birth of Christ, and a summary of Christ’s miracles and parables. It was the Shakers at the Church Family at Mount Lebanon who did the actual work to produce the charts – a perfect job for the sisters. With some assistance from Brother Andrew Fortier, Sister Cornelia French and several others set up the chart business in the south garret of the new Dwelling House. There they trimmed the massive color lithographs and pasted them to a cloth backing. In early April David Skeen came to Mount Lebanon and made a presentation about the charts to the Shakers in their meeting room. That month the Shakers shipped about 25 charts to New York City to be sold. Brother Alonzo Hollister made peddling trips with the charts. Sales must not have met expectations and in mid-October, Brother Benjamin traveled to Cincinnati to meet and consult with Elder Matthew Carter and William Pennybaker about them. Their desire was to convince Skeen to produce a smaller, cheaper chart. It is not clear how many charts were originally printed but the year-end summary of the Church Family sisters’ work noted that in 1887 they had pasted and trimmed 204 charts and the business was concluded that year. The fact that there are untrimmed, unpasted charts, such as the one in the Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon collection, suggests more than 204 charts were printed.

While the charts are rare (the survival rate for something that large is usually small) even more scarce is a book the Skeens produced to accompany the chart. The book provides instructions on how to maximize the educational value of the chart and includes similar artwork. The book also supplies a little more information on the publication of Skeen’s charts. Although the charts are dated 1887, Skeen’s Key of Explanation contains nine testimonials – all but one from various Louisville, KY, churches – dated November 1886. It appears Skeen may have circulated the original drawing for the chart to garner testimonials prior to turning it over to the lithographers for publication in 1887. At this time only two copies of the book have been located in libraries – one at the Library of Congress and the other here at Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon.

Much remains unknown about the relationship between the Skeen brothers and the Shakers, including how the Shakers came to be involved in this venture, how much their investment was in the business, and even whether the Shakers used the Bible charts in their own schools.



When the future baseball legend met the Shaker Eldress

In early November this year an article appeared in the Eastwick Press about the dedication of a new athletic field in Berlin, New York, honoring Elroy Leon Face, a Stephentown native best known for his remarkable career as a professional baseball player. His career as a relief pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates is legendary.

Elroy Face, better known as Roy, was born February 20, 1928 in Stephentown, New York. Sometime in the early 1930s, he crossed paths with Eldress Sarah Collins, a Shaker known for her skilled and tenacious work in webbing Shaker chairs and braiding rugs at the South Family.

Chair Salesroom, South Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1932

Chair Salesroom, South Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1932, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1968.16808.1. Photographer unidentified.

Roy’s father, Joseph Face, Sr., and his mother, Bessie Rose Face, operated a boarding house owned by the Faith Knitting Mills in Averill Park, NY. Roy played baseball at Averill Park High School. Prior to this, however, Joseph worked for the Shakers at the South Family at Mount Lebanon taking care of their cows and horses. It was this work that led to the photograph shown here. The image, taken in the South Family chair showroom, shows Roy and his older brother Joseph Jr. In recent correspondence with Roy, he confirmed that he is the young boy in the photograph by answering, “It’s true!”

Baseball Card, “Roy Face, Pittsburgh Pirates, “ 1958

Baseball Card, “Roy Face, Pittsburgh Pirates, “ 1958, The Topps Company

After he finished high school, Roy served in the Army from 1946 to 1947. When he returned from service he was signed by the Philadelphia Phillies. After two successful seasons with their farm team, he was not, however, given a spot in the majors. He was drafted in 1951 by the Brooklyn Dodgers and in 1952 by the Pittsburg Pirates. His first trip to the mound in a major league game was in April 1953 and by 1956 he had become a force to be reckoned with when he set a record for pitching 68 games in a single season. He became best known as a relief pitcher and the master of the “forkball.” He was so effective with that pitch that home run master Hank Aaron said that “he hated to try to hit Face and that forkball.” In 1959 Roy Face posted a season of eighteen wins with only one loss for a record .947 season winning percentage – a record for relief pitchers that still holds. In 1959, 196-, and 1961, he played in the annual All-Star game and was a World Series champion in 1960. In all he played seventeen seasons – fifteen for the Pirates and one each for the Detroit Tigers and the Montreal Expos. For aficionados – his career stats are: career wins: 104; career losses: 95; era: 3.48; strikeouts: 877; saves: 193.

Roy now lives near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where from 1994-2012 he supported the Elroy Face Forkball Golf Tournament and raised over a half-million dollars for the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf.