“Very Precious”

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The Kentucky Revival or, A Short History of the Late Extraordinary Out-Pouring of the Spirit of God, in the Western States of America, Agreeably to Scripture-Promises, and Prophecies concerning the Latter Day: With a Brief Account of the Entrance and Progress of What the World Call Shakerism, Among the Subject of the Late Revival in Ohio and Kentucky. By Richard M’Nemar. Cincinnati, OH: From the Press of John W. Browne, 1807. Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1962.12000.1

This book and its author, Elder Richard McNemar, are significant to the history of the Shakers. Four or five editions of the book were published by the Shakers prior to the Civil War and McNemar has been the subject of two biographical works: A Sketch of the Life and Labors of Richard McNemar (1905)by John Patterson McLean, and Richard the Shaker (1972) by Hazel Spencer Phillips. 

Richard McNemar was born in 1770 in Tuscarora, Pennsylvania, and moved around considerably with his family. He was the youngest and though he worked his father’s farm as needed, was allowed to get a decent education. By age 18 he became a teacher. His quest for more education put him in association with ministers in the Presbyterian Church. Learning Latin, Hebrew, and Greek by the time he was in his early twenties he was preaching sermons in and around Cincinnati, Ohio, and by the turn of the nineteenth century he had located in Western Kentucky near what eventually became the Shaker community of South Union. McNemar and several other Presbyterian ministers ran afoul of the church by endorsing a free will doctrine in opposition to church teachings. He, with others, was dismissed from his pulpit. A new movement, a revival, was taking place in the area, largely initiated by the Reverend John Rankin. It was known by physical phenomena. Fascination with “The bodily agitations or exercises, … called by various names: —as the falling exercise—the jerks—the dancing exercise—the laughing and singing exercise, etc.,” brought together tremendous crowds. Too large for meetinghouses, these gatherings were held outside in large camp meetings. The first significant camp meeting was held under the direction of McNemar at Cabin Creek, Kentucky. It lasted four days. When these meetings were reported in the press and the Shakers read the reports, they determined to send three missionaries from New Lebanon to investigate and see if there might not be an opening for them to share the gospel of Christ’s second appearing. When the missionaries arrived in the neighborhood of the revivals, they knew that in order to have a chance of establishing Shaker communities in that area they must make converts of the most influential of the revival preachers. They set their sights on McNemar and in the early spring of 1805, they found him at Turtle Creek, Ohio (what eventually became the Shakers’ Union Village) and were successful in their effort. In fact, McNemar brought nearly his entire congregation with him into the Shaker Church. 

The Kentucky Revival or, A Short History of the Late Extraordinary Out-Pouring of the Spirit of God, in the Western States of America

The Kentucky Revival or, A Short History of the Late Extraordinary Out-Pouring of the Spirit of God, in the Western States of America, (title page) … By Richard M’Nemar. Cincinnati, OH: From the Press of John W. Browne, 1807. Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1960.12000.1. Staff photograph.

McNemar wrote his history of the Great Kentucky Revival during his first two years as a Shaker. McNemar himself comments to his readers (whom he likely expected to be Shakers), “You have been probably waiting for something to be published from this quarter, and may be a little surprised to find the Kentucky Revival our theme; as it is generally known that we profess to have advanced forward into a much greater work. Admitting this to be the case … we believe it [the Kentucky Revival] was nothing less than an introduction to that work of final redemption which God had promised, in the latter days. And to preserve the memory of it among those who have wisely improved it as such, the following particulars have been collected for the press.” It is not unreasonable to think that McNemar was working on such a history prior to his introduction to the Shakers. This seems supported by McNemar’s inclusion of some extraneous materials with the book. 

McNemar’s history of the Kentucky Revival appears in chapters one through four of the book. A second part of the book with separately numbered chapters one and two appear under the subtitle, “The Entrance &c. of Shakerism.” Following this short introduction to the Shakers, McNemar includes an essay titled, “A Few Reflections”; an appendix “Containing a short account of a work of the good spirit among some of the neighboring Indians”; and finally a separate book bound with the Kentucky Revival titled, Observations on Church Government by the Presbytery of Springfield to Which Is Added, the Last Will and Testament of that Reverend Body.” 

The Kentucky Revival or, A Short History of the Late Extraordinary Out-Pouring of the Spirit of God, in the Western States of America

The Kentucky Revival or, A Short History of the Late Extraordinary Out-Pouring of the Spirit of God, in the Western States of America, (detail of presentation inscription) … By Richard M’Nemar. Cincinnati, OH: From the Press of John W. Browne, 1807. Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1960.12000.1. Staff Photograph.

The copy of the first edition of The Kentucky Revival (1807) in the collection of Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon is identified on its library label by its Shaker owners as – “Very precious.” It is not only the first edition, it is the first bound publication of the Shakers. In addition it is a presentation copy from the author to the leader of the Shaker Church at the time of its publication, Mother Lucy Wright. The front free endpaper bears the following inscription: “This Book is a present to Mother from Richard. It is written according to the sense of the people in this country – many expressions that are well understood here among the people at large, on account of the many overturns in religion that have been here, may appear dark and mysterious to many people in the Northern States.” 

The Museum’s copy of The Kentucky Revival was retained by the Lebanon Ministry. When Mount Lebanon closed in 1947, it was sent, along with many other treasured books and manuscripts, to be kept by the Canterbury Ministry. There it was added to the community’s Shaker Library by Elder Irving Greenwood and Sister Aida Elam in the 1930s. It was acquired by the Museum in 1960 as the Shaker Museum’s founder John S. Williams, Sr., started to gather materials for a new library collection. 




Miniature books

Cabinet Card, Elder Henry C. Blinn

Cabinet Card, Elder Henry C. Blinn, Church Family, Canterbury, NH, ca. 1890, W. C. G. Kimball, Concord, NH, photographer, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1957.8531.1.

In the spring of 1849 Elder Henry Clay Blinn, the caretaker of the boys at the Church Family at Canterbury and beginning in 1843 the community’s printer, was given a manuscript to print. The book, The Divine Book of Holy and Eternal Wisdom, was dictated by an angel to Sister Paulina Bates at Watervliet, New York, and at nearly seven-hundred pages was the most ambitious printing project ever done by the Shakers. To accomplish this arduous job the community purchased a new printing press and a large quantity of new type. Elder Henry was released from his responsibilities with the boys and with ample help the work was completed the edition of 2,500 copies in six months. At the end of the work, Elder Henry returned to the care of the boys and to teaching school. This job gave him the knowledge and equipment to print about anything.

It appears that at this time, Elder Henry, fortified by this experience, took on a project that seems the polar opposite of the massive volume he had just completed. This book, a true miniature volume (2 1/8” x 1 7/8”, 128 pages) is titled, A Little Instructor. It was aimed at the youth of the community with his hope that, “these few choice pieces, … will be the means of doing some good to those who are willing to receive instruction in the days of their youth.” Elder Henry used the diminutive size of the book to make the point, surely appreciated by the youngsters, that “We should never despise any thing because it is small, without first making ourselves acquainted with its properties,” and that his readers should “feel assured that it is not the size that makes the value, and that little books, like little boys and gifts, sometimes contain much good sense.” The book begins with an “Address to Young persons” written by Hugh Blair (1718-1800) followed by a poem by David Bates (1809-1870) titled “Speak Gently.” Essays on a variety of moral topics by well-known writers such as Isaac Watts and Oliver Goldsmith are interspersed with articles of interest to youth on single celled animals, elephants, whirlpools, mocking birds, and the hippopotamus.

The Little Instructor (pages 28/29

The Little Instructor (pages 28/29), Church Family, Canterbury, NH, 1849, Elder Henry C. Blinn, printer, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1962: 13440.

Elder Henry followed the printing of The Little Instructor with an even smaller book, Dew Drops of Wisdom, a collection of aphorisms – one for each day of the year – printed in 1852. That year Elder Henry was moved into the Elders Order at Canterbury and ceased for the rest of his days to have care of the boys.

While it may seem frivolous for Elder Henry to have printed books in miniature, in fact, by this date miniature books had become popular as a way to engage children in reading. In the collection of Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon there are two other, non-Shaker miniature books. Both books have an association with Elder Henry in that they were part of the Canterbury Ministry’s library and one bears Elder Henry’s bookplate. One book, Gift of Piety; or, Divine Breathings, was published in Boston by G. W. Cottrell at an unknown date, and the other, The Golden Vase: A Miniature Gift, was published by J. M. Fletcher of Nashua, New Hampshire in 1851. Both books are similar in content and moral lessons to those delivered in The Little Instructor.


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.


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.