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.



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.