Writings on the Walls: The Brethren’s Workshop

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The Brethren’s Workshop, or Brick Shop, circa 1920’s. North Family, Mount Lebanon, New York. Photographer: William F. Winter. Source: Historic American Buildings Survey.

The buildings of the North Family are full of clues pointing to past uses by the Shakers, from slots in floors and ceilings for belts that once powered machinery, to the peg boards that still line the walls of many rooms. One of the most widespread and mysterious of clues at the site involves the wealth of writing, recording, and material remnants on the walls of the site’s oldest extant structure, the Brethren’s Workshop, built in 1829.

In 1985-6 Dr. Michael Coe of Yale University and Dr. Ernest Wiegand of Norwalk Community College led the Mount Lebanon Shaker Village Archaeological Project to document, inventory, and assess structures and items found at the North Family historic site. A segment of that project focused on “superficial and subsurface archaeological field investigations at several sites,” which included graffiti found in the Brethren’s Workshop. The report included a catalog of graffiti, with measured drawings, research, and condition reports.

In the summer of 2016, the “Brethren’s Workshop: Writing On the Walls” project was launched to fill in the narrative gaps surrounding the wall remnants through research and new photography. The result was a new graffiti catalog building upon the original, with narrative analysis detailing what these historic remnants tell us about the Brethren’s Workshop and the people who worked and / or lived there. Support for the project came from a Vision Grant from Humanities New York.

The Brethren’s Workshop, or “Brick Shop” as it was called by Shakers, was constructed in 1829, when the corner stone was laid on April 27. From that point through the North Family’s closure in 1947, the workshop was home to Shaker Brothers and Sisters, hired workers and their families, and has been host to carpenters, teenage trespassers, archaeologists, guided tour groups, and exhibitions.

In its earliest days, the Workshop was used as space to do laundry by Sisters, and by Brothers as the center of their broom-making, fruit-selling, and seed businesses, the latter of which eventually grew into a major operation with trade routes in every direction from New York City to the western frontier. Over time, the range of trades plied inside the Workshop expanded to include shoemaking, constructing coffins, cabinetry and other woodwork, printing, carpet beaters (also known as rug whips), poultry, and likely more beyond the recorded history.

Hand print in black ink

Hand print in black ink, found on the third floor’s printing shop room.

In the basement floors, coffins, eggs, fruits, and vegetables were stored, in particular a “nice apple cellar” recorded as built on November 5, 1891. This supported the apple-selling business, whose remnants appear in the basement’s northwest and east spaces. On the first floor, woodworking went on in the carpentry shop. The second floor was used for a variety of purposes, including making carpet beaters and brooms, but the primary work there was the seed business, and seeds were stored, counted, and packaged for sale there. Based on graffiti and interviews with a former hired man who resided in the workshop, chickens may have been kept on the second floor. Finally, the third floor contained the printing and shoemaking shops. Most of the graffiti and markings found in the workshop reflects this layout.

Brother Curtis White with a hired man in the kitchen garden

Brother Curtis White (left) with a hired man in the kitchen garden, circa 1930s. The workshop can be seen in the background.

Shakers were not alone in undertaking all of these different types of work. Especially following the Civil War, the Shakers experienced labor shortages due to loss of (primarily male) members and therefore employed large numbers of hired men, or “hirelings,” in various supplemental roles; in 1893, the North Family journal records 11 male and 31 female resident Shakers.

Hired men were housed both in the upper floors of the nearby Farm Deacon’s Shop, but also in the Brethren’s Workshop itself, including in some cases with their families; Ashly Pratt, a former hired man who was interviewed in 1986, described arriving around 1922, moving into the workshop and joining three other hired hands and families. He described cold, bare conditions, having only cold running water for washing, and a portable chemical toilet. Other hired men’s families included the Face family (one of whom, Elroy, would go on to become a Major League Baseball player and pioneer modern relief pitching), the Gallaghers, and the Griswolds. Also living in the workshop were visitors to the North Family.

Wallpaper remnants

Wallpaper remnants, found on the second floor.

One notable example of a visitor living temporarily with the Shakers is that of Peter Neagoe, a Romanian writer and artist who’d spent a portion of his younger years at the North Family, where he apparently designed marketing material for Shaker products. Later, he and his wife stayed in the workshop several summers intermittently from 1912 through the 1920s, and eventually purchased a home in New Lebanon. It is likely that it was the Neagoes who were responsible for the wallpaper found on the workshop’s second floor, as the Family journal records Neagoe making renovations preparatory for his wife’s arrival.

The story of the Brethren’s Workshop is of the many different people who called it home, Shaker and non-Shaker alike: their lives, their work, and their marks left at the North Family. The building housed generations of Shakers, and later non-Shakers, who worked together to make the North Family operate as an efficient and prosperous economic enterprise. The marks, sketches, designs, and recordings all tell a very clear story about its utilitarian use.

This month, members of the public are seeing the results of the project and exploring these remnants of the past up close and personal. A tour will occur on Saturday, April 22, 2017 at 3PM. You can register for the tour online here. Following both programs, the full report will be made available for download online.

 

“Verses composed in the North Family of Believers at New Lebanon,… March 12th 1848.”

 

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Partial View to North Family – Looking North-West, ca. 1880. Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 1950.4014.1

This anonymously written poem notes and described the 36 members of the North Family at the beginning of 1848. Where some members are noted only by their first names their surnames have been supplied in brackets. The document is useful in its description of the employments of many of the family’s members. That information coupled with other manuscripts from the family for that year gives us a rich view of life in the family.

Verses composed in the North Family of Believers at New Lebanon, in which all the members of said family are briefly noticed who were residing therein March 12th 1848.

In describing the members of this family,

We’ll labor to exercise some charity.

And if by and by we should chance to espy,

Some very small mote in a brother’s eye,

We’ll seek to remove it as we have been shown,

By taking out firstly the beam from our own.

Impress’d with this maxim we’ll now pass along,

And notice each member in our little song.

 

Here kind Elder Richard [Bushnell] stands first on the list,

And kind Brother Frederick [Evans] stands next to assist,

Now both our kind Elders we love and revere,

And give them our blessing their spirits to cheer.

Our Elders so kind we are bound to obey,

They watch for our souls that we go not astray;

So we will be faithful and labor to bless,

Our kind loving Elders for their faithfulness.

Eldress Sarah [Smith], now stands at the feminine head,

By whose wise example good Sisters are led;

The same bright-example now daily is set,

By our loving sister we call Antoinette [Doolittle].

By both have a burden of labor and care

Their love for lost-souls makes them willing to bear

Our kind Elder Sisters deserve our best love.

They are striving to lead us to heaven above.

Charles Bushnell and Clawson [Middleton] good Deacons have been,

In supporting the gospel which saves us from sin;

In love and good works they do always abound,

And faithful and true they have ever been found.

Armeda [Sherman] and Anna [Crosman] are two faithful souls,

As ever existed between the two poles;

Their labors of love are extended to all,

The sick and the healthy the great and the small.

And now, Thomas Estes we’ll next call to mind

He’s faithful in labor, obliging and kind

John Shaw we’ll remember who makes all our shoes;

And by his example much strength does diffuse,

Now Amy [Bennet] kind Sister must not be forgot,

She’s patient in bearing what falls to her lot;

She’ll long be remember’d beloved and blest

For labors bestow’d on the sick and distress’d

We’ll also remember our good Phebe Ann [Jones],

Who daily is striving to do all she can,

She works at the Palm leaf and makes summer hats,

Likewise pretty fans and some table mats;

In all her employment, she’s cheerful and bright,

And her smiling countenance gives us delight.

Now, Anthony Roberts and George [Wickersham] we will name

They both are mechanicks of much skill and fame.

They are gifted in skill like the workmen of old

Who wrought for the temple wood, silver and gold

And as they in faith and good works do abound,

With pure love and union they both shall be crown’d

Let kind sister Sally [Bushnell] come next if you please,

And Patty [Bushnell] who make our good butter and cheese,

We know they are faithful in all their employ,

They cultivate good but the evil destroy.

Henry Cantrell and Chauncey [Sears] are worthy of praise,

Their labors are useful in various ways;

In the shop, at the mill on the farm with the team,

Their good deeds are flowing in one constant stream;

These brethren so faithful in all their employ.

We give them our blessing and wish them much joy;

And when all their labors are finishe’d and done,

We trust they will reign with the Daughter and Son.

Now Nancy [Lockwood] and Charlotte [Bowns] kind Sisters are they,

Both careful to walk in the strait narrow way;

In deep tribulation they always endure,

And march on their way with the humble and pure.

Of Levi [Shaw] and Daniel [Fraser] we’ll next-take a view,

We know they are faithful, kind, honest and true;

Their faith by their works they’ve both fully shown,

We love them sincerely we freely must own.

Now Phebe [Van Houten] we’ll notice like Dorcas of old,

She’s made many garments which we can behold.

And Catharine [Van Houten] also is true in her place,

While smiles of contentment enliven her face.

These two worthy sisters so loving and kind

Are belov’d by all for their pureness of mind.

Resembling each other as near as two pins,

They bring to the mind two young roes that are twins.

Here’s Andrew [Firkey] and Luther [Dunnels] quite faithful we find,

They’re both honest farmers to labor inclin’d;

The cause of the gospel they wish to promote,

Their time and their talents they freely devote;

These brethren obliging and kind are to all,

And while they are faithful they never will fall.

Jane Knight, loves employment she’s neat as a pin,

She gives wholesome counsel to those who come in;

In her conversation she’s meek and she’s mild,

And in her behavior a true gospel child.

And Harriet Bullard kind sister we love,

The spirit is pure as the innocent dove,

She is faithful in duty in every place,

And virtues bright image is stamp’d on her face.

John Brown is a brother quite clever and kind,

He’s taken some pains in improving his mind.

He’s faithful in duty takes care of the hens

He cultivates good bur the evil condemns

John Robe is a brother quite cheerful and free

In search of Mount Zion he sailed o’er the sea

And since he was faithful and did persevere

We give him our blessing and welcome him here

Now, Sarah Jane Epwell the gospel obeys

And kind Hannah Wilson is worthy of praise

They both do stand faithful and firm for the truth

They’ve given their strength to the Lord in their youth

For such there’s a blessing for greater we know

Than all the vain pleasures this world can bestow.

 

Our young brother Henry [Cantrell] does all that he can

To build up the gospel of good Mother Ann

And Timothy Rayson is striving to be

Attentive to labor obliging and free

We know if they’re giving their strength to the Lord

Now while in their youth they will have their reward

And if they are faithful to keep in the fold

They’ll gain greater riches than mountains of gold

Of Elizaette Sutton and Rhoda [Hollister] we’ll speak

They’re pure in their manners obliging and meek

The world they’ve forsaken with all its vain toys

To find more substantial and heavenly joys

Now, Moses [Clement] we’ll mention who’s set out to break

The ties of old nature for the gospel’s sake

And Solomon Goddard has also begun

The snares of the tempter henceforth for to shun

We love these young brethren we’re free to confess

We give them our blessing that they may progress

________________

This poem was transcribed many years ago from a manuscript in the collection in one of the repositories holding Shaker materials, but the transcriber does not remember which repository. It is shared here both for your reading pleasure and for your help in locating its source. If you can identify the poem, please comment below.

 

Why didn’t the Shakers talk about having their pictures taken?

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Photograph of Eldress Anna White, North Family Mount Lebanon, NY, Notman Photographic Company, Albany, NY, Ca. 1880, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 2017.24190.1.

Recently Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon acquired a carte-de-visite of North Family Eldress Anna White that was created by the Notman Photographic  Company in Albany, New York. In addition to this image the Museum holds two other Notman photos, one of North Family Eldress Antoinette Doolittle and one of that family’s businessman, Brother Levi Shaw. Despite the hundreds if not thousands of photographs taken of Shakers in commercial photographers’ studios, information about these experiences are woefully under-recorded in Shaker records.

William Notman, a Canadian photographer based in Montreal, was both a successful photographer and a successful businessman. Notman was born in Paisley, Scotland, in 1826 and moved to Montreal in 1856. Already established as a photographer, he set up a studio in the town’s business center shortly after his arrival. He experienced considerable success, including receiving a good medal at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876. (As an aside, his work with the Centennial Exposition included producing photographic identification cards for those working at the Exposition, and in doing so became the father of the modern “photo-ID.”) Following on his success in Philadelphia, he decided to open a studio in Albany, New York, in 1877. It was this studio that was visited by the three Shakers from the North Family.

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Photograph of Eldress Antoinette Doolittle, North Family Mount Lebanon, NY, Notman Photographic Company, Albany, NY, Ca. 1880, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 1960.11977.2

The two eldresses seem to have made the trip at the same time. Their cartes-de-visite are nearly identical with the exception of the portrait itself. In both cases the oval image is embossed – rising above the background card. Both images have a number written in pencil at the upper right-hand corner of the back of the card – on Doolittle’s card the number is “5003” and on White’s, “5004,” suggesting they are the sequential negative numbers from which the prints were made.

Notman’s Albany studio was in operation between 1877 and the mid-1890s. Although primarily owned by William Notman, the studio employed local Albany photographers to do the artistic work. When Notman died in 1891 his son took over the business and the studio began to falter. While it is possible to date these photographs with a decade – the studio began operating in 1877 and Doolittle died in 1886 – there is no indication in North Family records that the two eldresses set off to Albany together to have their portraits made. On the back of Eldress Ann White’s card someone has written the date “Ca. 1880” which seems to be a reasonable guess.

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Photograph of Brother Levi Shaw, North Family Mount Lebanon, NY, Notman Photographic Company, Albany, NY, Ca. 1880, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 1960.12238.1

The carte-de-visite of Brother Levi Shaw is not an embossed image but resembles the other photographs in every other aspect. The penciled inscription of the negative number reads “3082” on his photograph, suggesting that it was done earlier than those of the two eldresses.

We are interested in knowing about other photographs of Shakers created at Notman’s Albany studio and, of course, any mention of Shakers traveling somewhere with the intention of having their pictures taken. If you have any information to share, please do so in the comments below.

 

The Brethren’s Workshop

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North Family Brethren’s Workshop, Mount Lebanon Shaker Village. September 23, 2016. Rrom the series “Shadows of the Shakers” by Benjamin Swett.

This past summer and fall, photographer Benjamin Swett spent time at Mount Lebanon photographing the landscape and interiors. On his initial visits, he found himself drawn by the way light moved and changed in the corridors, stairwells, and rooms of the building known as the Brethren’s Workshop, and he began to explore the different effects of light on interior spaces. “Studying these effects on the interiors brings one closer to the states of mind of these now-remote people, and spending time with the architecture puts the deliberate, practical, yet simultaneously spiritual and otherworldly mind-set of the Shakers into an accessible perspective,” Swett said.

The 1820s were an amazing time for the Shakers. Their missionary work, both in New York and New England, and as far afield as Kentucky and Ohio, had brought large numbers into the Church. In response to this rapid growth, over the next decade the Shakers embarked on a construction spree, designing buildings to be larger and more substantial than prior ones, building out of stone and brick instead of wood. Between 1824 and 1837, the Shakers built a new meetinghouse, a stone grist mill, a brick workshop, and a brick trustees’ office at Mount Lebanon; the round barn and a new brick dwelling house at Hancock; a brick trustees’ office at Watervliet; and one of their most ambitious and substantial projects – the Great Stone Dwelling at Enfield, NH. When one places all of these buildings and more not mentioned on a timeline, a clear story emerges about the Shakers’ momentum during this time and their feeling of being a church for eternity.

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Brethren’s Workshop, North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1939, Historic American Buildings Survey, N. E. Baldwin, photographer.

In the midst of this boom, in 1829, the Shakers at Mount Lebanon’s North Family built a men’s workshop and family wash house, later known at the Brethren’s Workshop. The new workshop had a large over-shot waterwheel in its cellar that powered a variety of machinery. Despite the masculine name, probably thirty percent of the building was used originally by North Family sisters to wash, dry, and iron clothes. (Workshops for men and women in the same building were not uncommon, even though the Shakers were generally separated by gender.)

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Brick Shop (interior of seed shop), North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1931, Historic American Buildings Survey, Charles C. Adams, photographer.

The Brethren’s Workshop has three stories, with a basement and a sub-basement and a substantial attic. The building functioned on all six floors, with nearly 17,000 square feet of usable space. The lower cellar housed the bottom of the wheel pit for the two-story water wheel, a cistern for water collected for laundry, and probably some equipment for washing, dying, bleaching, and soap making. The upper cellar housed the main power shaft for the waterwheel and connected through line-shafts and pulleys to heavier woodworking machinery, as well as the wash room for the laundry. The first floor was apparently used for smaller water-powered machinery for men’s work and the ironing room for the sisters. Much of the second floor was occupied by the North Family’s seed shop (pictured above) where they dried, cleaned, sorted, stored, and put up garden seeds into envelopes and wooden boxes for distribution by the family’s peddlers. The third floor held a shoe shop and probably workshops for the family elders and a variety of other industries: hat making, printing, tailoring, and whip making. The attic provided space for drying clothes in rainy and winter weather and probably for drying garden seeds. The Brethren’s Workshop was fitted with an elevator, or more accurately a dumb waiter since it did not transport people. The counterbalanced lift could bring wet clothes from the wash room to the attic for drying and back down to the ironing room when needed. There was no access to the lift from the floors associated with men’s work so apparently was primarily for the use of the sisters.

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Brethren’s Workshop, North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1940, Historic American Buildings Survey, A. K. Mosley, delineator.

Over time the activities in the Brethren’s Workshop changed. In the late 1870s the Shakers relocated their family laundry to the south end of the 1854 Wood House leaving unused space in the workshop. Some of that space was immediately put to use storing potatoes and cabbages. In the late 1880s an apple storage cellar was constructed in the sub-basement of the building. Little by little shops were abandoned. The North Family brothers stopped making their own shoes and hats. The seed business was discontinued and that shop was used for making rug whips. When the rug whip business ceased, that shop, like several others, was left untouched and used for storage. Over the years people lived in the Brick Shop as well. Hired men were also housed in the building in the twentieth century.

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Slate roof and soffit repair, 2011.

The Shakers left Mount Lebanon in 1947 and by the 1980s the building had fallen into disrepair. In 2002 part of the building became home to a team of historic preservation architects who spent a year doing research and writing an historic structures report on all of the North Family Buildings as part of a Save America’s Treasures grant. In 2004 Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon acquired the North Family site. For two weeks during the summer of that year the museum, with the help of fifteen teenagers enrolled in the Landmark Volunteer Program, cleared the building of non-Shaker items that had collected there over the years. In 2011 and 2012 the museum, funded by the 1876 Foundation and in collaboration with Boston’s North Bennet Street School’s preservation carpentry program, completed extensive repairs to the Brick Shop’s slate roof, chimneys, gutters, leaders, and leader-heads, and unusual plaster covered soffits.

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North Family Brethren’s Workshop, Mount Lebanon Shaker Village. October 3, 2016. From the series “Shadows of the Shakers” by Benjamin Swett.

Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon is working on ways to open this building up to the public in 2017, beginning with Writings on the Walls, tours that look at graffiti left there by the Shakers and those who came after them. In the meantime, Swett’s photographs of the Brethren’s Workshop are on view at the Shaker Bar in Hudson, NY. Join us this Saturday, November 19, 2016 for a reception for the artist. All are welcome. Members show their membership cards for a free drink. Prints are provided courtesy of BCB Art and these limited editions are for sale at the gallery and at the Shaker Museum | Museum’s online store.  A portion of the proceeds from each sale benefit the museum.

 

Mail bag

Mail Bag (exterior), North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1848, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 1953.6621.1.

Mail Bag (exterior), North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1848, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 1953.6621.1.

On October 1, 1861, a post office was established at the North Family at Mount Lebanon. Elder Richard Bushnell was appointed the first postmaster. The creation of this post office caused the Shakers to change their village name from New Lebanon to Mount Lebanon so as not to confuse their post office with the one in the town in which they lived. This office operated at the North Family until the fall of 1863, when the Elders there requested it be removed, saying, “they cannot abide it there any longer on account of advantages that young believers take of it, in their mail matters also, on account of the great gathering of company there on that account.” [1] Apparently the post office was too great a social draw and the Elders disapproved. As a result, the post office was moved to the less central Church Family Office where it was managed by one sister or another until it finally closed in 1930.

Mail Bag (interior), North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1848, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 1953.6621.1.

Mail Bag (interior), North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1848, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 1953.6621.1.

Prior to the establishment of their own post office, the Shakers at Mount Lebanon made use of the local post offices in New Lebanon and Lebanon Springs, collecting their mail and bringing it back to the village for distribution. The object at hand, a heavy leather cylindrical carrying case lined with brown linen, and just over twenty inches long and eight and a half inches in diameter, was used to retrieve the Shakers’ mail. Sisters at Canterbury, NH recollected that it had once belonged to Elder Frederick Evans at the North Family and was used by him for that purpose. This style of bag, sometimes called a portmanteau, was used by the Post Office Department in the mid-1800s to transport mail because it is nearly weatherproof. The large outside leather flap straps down over a small oval door that also can be tightly buckled. On the top front of the outer flap the words, “NEW. LEBANON. NY. FEBy. 1848.” are blind stamped in the leather.

The mail bag was purchased from the Canterbury Shakers by H. Phelps Clawson and donated to the Museum in 1953. Clawson was the Museum’s first curator and was responsible for the initial cataloguing of the Shaker collection assembled by museum founder John S. Williams, Sr.

[1] “A Register of Incidents and Events [Kept by the Ministry], Church Family, Mount Lebanon, New York, 1849-1890, New York Public Library, Shaker Collection, mss. no. 4, p. 168.

A 1772 Bible passes through many hands

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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.

Ouch! Careful with that fork.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A cabinetmaker’s workbench makes a journey full circle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apostasy and carpentry: The tale of a shoemaker’s bench

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Shoemaker’s Bench, Center Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1845, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 1961.12839.1.

As shoemakers’ benches go, this Shaker example is a luxury version of a basic workbench. It has ample drawers for tools and a back rest and padded leather seat. Many of these benches only have trays fastened to the bench top to hold tacks, nails, and shoe pegs, with maybe a single drawer slung underneath for tools. The seat is usually carved into the top of the bench without much or any padding. Shoemakers sat low on their benches as they used their laps for much of their work – the knees being a suitable vise for holding something as irregularly shaped as a shoe or boot.

The quality of this bench speaks to why its proper name is a shoemaker’s bench rather than a “cobbler’s bench.” Although the terms shoemaker and cobbler are now used interchangeably, historically a shoemaker refered to the trained tradesperson who made shoes and boots, whereas a cobbler, as Webster informed people in his dictionary (1900 edition), was “A mender of shoes … a clumsy workman.”  This is much like what has happened to the differentiation between a tinsmith and a tinker – the tinsmith being the maker of tin ware and the tinker “the itinerant mender of domestic tin utensils … a clumsy workman; a botcher.” That being cleared up, this shoemaker’s bench has more to tell us about the Shakers than that they were well-shod by trained artisans.

On the bottom of one of the small drawers is a faint and partly obliterated inscription that appears once to have clearly read, “Dec. 1st 18__ Made by Richard B. Woodrow.” Richard Bushnell Woodrow was a member of the Second Order of Mount Lebanon’s Church Family (now referred to as the Center Family). He was born March 5, 1828 in Philadelphia. His mother Sarah Woodrow was a member of an experimental community in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. That community was founded in 1826 as the “Friendly Association of Mutual Interest” by as many as 300 followers of the English social reformer, Robert Owen. The community’s first members settled in the house that had been George Washington’s headquarters at Valley Forge. They wrote a constitution that committed members to industrious work and to share equally in the profits of that work. They had a commitment to equality between men and women. The experiment did not make it through the first year as a result of conflict between the Association members and the surrounding communities. As members looked for another opportunity to live in, some found their way to the Shakers at Mount Lebanon. Eventually as many as 30 of them came to live at Mount Lebanon’s North Family. Shakers such as John and Levi Shaw; John, Deborah, and Anna Dodgson; Abel, Israel, Sarah, and Jane Knight; Tabitha and Maria Lapsley; George Wickersham; Clawson Middleton; and Sarah Woodrow, satisfied with their new home, lived out their lives as Shakers, most of them as stalwarts of the North Family.

Three-year-old Richard came with his then twenty-four-old mother and was eventually placed in the children’s order at the Center Family as soon as he could be separated from his mother. At age 11, in an accounting of membership in the Church and Center families, he is listed among the boys at the Center Family. At age 21 he is listed among the brothers as a 5 foot 10 inch tall carpenter and mill-wright.  Brother Richard’s work was varied but generally of a mechanical nature.  In 1848 and 1849, he set up a foot-powered lathe, repaired the family’s waterwheel, built a wash-mill, put up eave troughs, made a “great cask,” framed the dairy house, laid floors; made portable bedsteads, a yarn stretcher, and a seeder for beet seeds; tore down the family’s old mill and framed a new one “pretty much alone.” In October, 1849 the Lebanon Shakers were confronted with a lack of space in their main graveyard. They decided to use an earlier graveyard to compensate. In doing so they dug up the bones of Father Joseph Meacham to reposition his grave. Brother Richard made the coffin to receive his bones for the re-interment.  This kind of work continued steadily until February 2, 1853 when “Warren Chase, Richard Woodrow, Louisa S[ears] and Fanny Crocker conclude[d] to forsake their Father’s house & seek asylum in some other region.” This was not Richard’s first decision to leave Shaker life. At age eighteen he had been one of eight young brothers and sisters who departed the Center Family in one of the most devastating rebellions the Shakers ever experienced. Unlike the other seven who left, Richard returned less than a month later, begging a new privilege, “after having humbly acknowledged his mistake in having left.”

Richard’s loss was devastating to the family. It was noted in a journalist’s commentary: “Richard was their principal carpenter & Joiner there, and left a heavy & important job, a large barn, partly framed, & has left no regular draft of it; and someone will have a hard task to get a clear idea of it, and doubtless the Chh will be obliged to hire it done.” Just prior to leaving Richard had completed making the 300 diagonal braces that were to be used in the new dairy barn. Louisa Sears and Fanny Crocker were caretakers of the young girls – another difficult job to fill. Warren, Richard, and Fanny had all lived together since childhood.

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Photograph (cropped), Center Family Barn (1853), Center Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1910, James Irving, Photographer, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 2000.21522.1. This is the barn that Richard Woodrow was in charge of framing when he left the Shakers.

Richard’s life in the world is sketchily documented. It appears that he and Louisa (or Loiza) Sears married in Burlington Township, New Jersey two days after leaving the Shakers. [Burlington County, NJ, Marriage Records]  Although  the particular circumstances and not, at present, known, Louisa Woodrow died on July 2, 1857 in Gloucester, New Jersey – according to recorded “New Jersey, Deaths, 1670-1988.” Two years after Louisa’s death, Richard married Elizabeth M. Paul in Clarksboro, New Jersey. They had two children, Mary L. Woodrow, born in 1863, and Howard H. Woodrow, born in 1868. Around this time Richard moved to Philadelphia where he worked as a carpenter and eventually managed a hardware store – jobs fitting of his Shaker training. Richard Woodrow died in the city of his birth on March 6, 1909 having lost Elizabeth five years earlier. They are both buried in the Mickleton Friend’s Burial Bround, Upper Greenwich, New Jersey, suggesting that he and Elizabeth were Quakers.

Although Richard’s post-Shaker life is certainly not completely documented, it is rare that it is possible to trace the lives of those leaving the Shakers to see how their Shaker life may have informed the remainder of their lives.

The shoemaker’s  bench was purchased August 5, 1961 at an auction of Shaker items collected from the Church and Center families at Mount Lebanon and owned by Darrow School. The auction provided funds to aid in the conversion of the Shakers’ 1824 Meetinghouse into the school’s library.

There is more to this story. The shoemaker’s bench is only one a half-dozen objects in the collection of the Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon that appears to be connected to the life and work of Richard Bushnell Woodrow. The rest of these objects will be discussed is subsequent articles in this blog.