The Shakers invite Abraham Lincoln to visit

The best known letter between President Abraham Lincoln and the Shakers is Lincoln’s August, 1864 note thanking the Shakers for a rocking chair they’d sent him. That letter is in the Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon collection and a draft of it is in the Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Most other correspondence between the Shakers and Lincoln concerned the Shakers’ desire for exemption from military service. There are, however, drafts of two letters in the museum’s collection that add insight into the Shakers’ opinion of and concern for the President as the Civil War came to an end.

Letter. Elder F. W. Evans and Brother Benjamin Gates to Edwin M. Stanton and William H. Steward, March 19, 1865.

Letter. Elder F. W. Evans and Brother Benjamin Gates to Edwin M. Stanton and William H. Steward, March 19, 1865, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 1957.10195.1

These letters, written by Elder Frederick W. Evans and Brother Benjamin Gates, are both dated March 19, 1865, barely a month before President Lincoln’s assassination. The first is addressed to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton and Secretary of State William H. Steward, urging them to “send and entrust him [Lincoln] to us,” so the Shakers could “nurse him up with the ‘milk of human kindness’ administered by Common Sense.” It was meant to accompany the second letter, a direct invitation to the President to come to Mount Lebanon to recover his health after the stresses of the war. It reads:

Letter. Elder Frederick W. Evans and Brother Benjamin Gates to President Abraham Lincoln, March 19, 1865.

Letter. Elder Frederick W. Evans and Brother Benjamin Gates to President Abraham Lincoln, March 19, 1865, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 1957.10196.1

We are impressed to invite you to our quiet home in Mount Lebanon, as a place of rest for body and mind. 

If you prefer, come incog. leaving the President in Washington, to be worshiped and worried by the ‘Sovereign People.’ 

We will meet and receive you as sympathizing friends; brothers and sisters in Christ, who regard you as a servant of God to humanity, on the outer wheel. 

We will ask for no favors, and you shall hear no complaints; nor any petitions, except to God for the restoration of your health and that you may be strengthened to accomplish your allotted task in the order of Divine Providence. 

It is not known if letters prepared from these drafts were ever sent and, if sent, were received; if received, answered. Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon contributed copies of these letters to the Abraham Lincoln Papers with the hope they will be connected eventually with pieces of related correspondence as the project’s editors continue to work through Lincoln’s papers.

 

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The Testimonies of the Life, Character Revelations and Doctrines of Our Ever Blessed Mother Ann Lee and the Elders with Her

Testimonies of Our Ever Blessed Mother Ann Lee

Title Page, Testimonies of Our Ever Blessed Mother Ann Lee…Hancock, MA, 1816, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 1964.15172.1

“5. Hannah Shapley, from New-Lebanon, visited the Church in June 1780, and through the operation of the might power of God, which she saw there, she was convicted of sin, and received full faith in their testimony. She confessed to Mother that she had not lived up to the light which she had received.

6. Upon hearing this, one of her companion said to her, “I believe you are a child of God.” Mother replied, “Do not daub her with untempered mortar. She has the right work upon her.” Then turning to Hannah, she said, “You must begin at the top twigs, and crop them off, and continue cropping until you come at the root, and then you must dig that up, that it may never grow again.”

The Testimonies of the Life, Character Revelations and Doctrines of Our Ever Blessed Mother Ann Lee and the Elders with Her; through Whom the Word of Eternal Life was Opened on this Day of Christ’s Second Appearing: Collected from Living Witnesses, by Order of the Ministry, in Union with the Church was printed in 1816 by the Shakers at their community in Hancock, Massachusetts. The purpose of the book, according to its preface, was to provide, “at the request of our beloved brethren and sisters, who have never seen those blessed Ministers of Christ in the body [i.e., Mother Ann and the first leaders of the Church], … a faithful record of those precepts and examples and other contemporary events which most evidently manifest their real characters.”  The Testimonies gathered and recorded the recollections of Believers, those “eye and ear Witnesses” who had known Mother Ann and the first elders.

The Testimonies is sometimes called “the secret book of the elders” because it was not intended for general publication and distribution to the outside world. It was held closely by the Shaker leadership and read aloud from time to time to the general membership. So concerned was Mother Lucy Wright that the book not fall into the hands of the outside world that, although it was available in the spring of 1816, she did not allow it to be sent to the Shaker communities in Ohio and Kentucky until mid-1818, until there could be “safe conveyance lest it should get to the world.”

Laid out by chapter and verse, The Testimonies looks like a familiar sacred text and the general structure, to some extent, reflects the structure of the New Testament. It begins, like the four Gospels do with Jesus, with the birth and spiritual blossoming of Mother Ann Lee. It continues with her missionary travels through New England gathering small communities of followers. It provides examples of the manifestations of God in Mother, instructions in spiritual and temporal affairs, and provides precepts under which these groups were eventually drawn into communities of Believers. The book ends with revelations on the final judgments levied on reprobates and persecutors.

Like the New Testament, The Testimonies is filled with stories that made it possible to draw those who never had a chance to know Mother into a personal connection with her and the first leaders of the Church, as well as strengthen the memories of those who did.

On April 29, 2017, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon will host an endurance reading of the Testimonies at Basilica Hudson as part of 24-Hour Drone. The reading will begin at 2:00 and go for an estimated ten hours. If you would like to participate in the reading, please contact programs@shakerml.org.

 

Doris Ulmann’s portrait of Brother William Anderson

A number of photographers are well known to Shaker scholars for their portraits of Shaker brothers and sisters and views of Shaker villages. Very few of these photographers, however, are well known among those who study the history of photography.

One exception is Doris Ulmann. In the late 1920s Ulmann, an amateur photographer from New York City, sought out the Shakers of New Lebanon in her quest to record American “types” – people in their everyday costume doing their everyday jobs. Ulmann had been well educated at the Ethical Culture School and Columbia University; was well married to physician and amateur photographer Charles Jaeger; was well off, with a house on Park Avenue, two cooks, a dressmaker, nurses, and a chauffeur; and was well trained as a photographer, studying with Clarence H. White at Columbia and and then as one of his first students when he opened his own school of photography. Ulmann raged against the modern tools of photography – light meters, roll film, and miniature cameras. Instead she worked exclusively with large glass plate view cameras with lens caps rather than shutters – occasionally using pin-hole plates, declaring she was her own light meter. This would have be all well and good had it not been for the fact that these are the tools of the studio photographer and Ulmann increasingly sought her subjects outside the studio.

Ulmann was small of frame and suffered from a digestive disorder that eventually took her life at the age of 52. Although her first sitters were doctors, writers, and members of the intellectual and creative aristocracy, in 1925 Clarence White died, Ulmann divorced, and she took to the road with her camera to make portraits of people in their natural surroundings. She is best known for her work photographing the Appalachians of western North Carolina, the Gullah Islanders, Dunkards, Mennonites, and in 1926 and 1927, some Shakers at the Second and South Families at Mount Lebanon. How she came to seek out the Shakers is unclear; while in Columbia County in the late 1920s, however, she also did several portraits of Edna St. Vincent Millay at her home in Austerlitz, New York. It is a chicken-or-egg kind of question as to whether the Shakers brought her to Millay or vice versa.

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Photograph, Doris Ulmann [Elder William Anderson], South Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1926. Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 1953.6446.1.

In the collection of the Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, a photograph of Brother William Anderson, done in his 86th year, was made by Doris Ulmann. She photographed Anderson several times, apparently in two separate years: 1926 and 1927.

The Museum’s copy of her 1926 photograph of Anderson was apparently a gift from her to him. It is signed on the backing mat by Ulmann and on the window mat, in Anderson’s hand, is written, “William Anderson, 86 Years Young.”  Ulmann routinely gave her sitters copies of their portraits. The photograph of Anderson in the Museum’s collection was given to the Museum by Thomas E. Kelly of Lenox, Massachusetts. Kelly received the photograph directly from William Anderson. In the photograph Anderson is wearing a straw hat and holding a large book. In another version of the photograph Anderson appears in profile with his hat off and his hands on the open book. Still a third version of the photograph in the collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum, shows Anderson facing the camera with his hands apart on the open book with his hat hanging in the background.

William Anderson was born in New York City on February 20, 1841. William’s father, Samuel, left his wife and children to go Canada. William and his younger sister, Martha Jane Anderson, came to the North Family at Mount Lebanon in 1855. Martha remained with the North Family her entire life while William moved to the East Family in 1866 and when that family closed in 1872, he moved to the Church Family, where he had charge of the seed business for twelve years. In 1884 he became a member of the South Family, where he remained until his death in 1930. Brother William managed the Shakers’ chair manufacturing and made a specialty on the Shaker farm of growing potatoes to sell in the local markets. Williams served as the Family Elder. He was known for his strong bass voice at Shaker meetings even though as a child he has suffered an accident that left his hearing imperfect and, in fact, in his later years nearly was totally deaf. As described in a newspaper obituary, “With his long white hair reaching in curls almost to his shoulders, his whiskers, his Shaker hat and long coat, in style in the ‘70s, he was a veritable patriarch of old.” That is certainly the image of Elder William that Ulmann was able to capture for us.