A Joke on the Shakers

Many objects in the Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon collection beg to have their stories told. The photograph of a drawing titled “A Quiet Shaker Game” may very well be one of the most mysterious such objects. The illustration shows three Shaker brothers and two Shaker sisters engaged in a card game in a Shaker retiring room.  One brother – probably Brother Walter – has knocked over his chair and spilled his cards as he apparently wins the game exclaims, “Down with the Joker!” A third sister looks in to see what is going on from an adjacent room or hallway while the family elder appears from another room excoriating the group with a forceful, “It’s after 9 o’clock! They can hear you at the South Family!” 

Photograph, “A Quiet Shaker Game—,” Mount Lebanon, New York, ca. 1880

Photograph, “A Quiet Shaker Game—,” Mount Lebanon, New York, ca. 1880s, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1966.15951.1.

The scene is, of course, ridiculous in contrast to what we know of Shaker life. Brothers and sisters did not gather in bedrooms to play cards. That said, there is much in the illustration that indicates that the artist was quite familiar with Shaker life, including details of the architecture and furnishings inside the Shakers’ private spaces. The ever-present pin board surrounding the room has appropriate items hanging there– hats, bonnets, and brushes. The clothing and brothers’ haircuts are appropriate to the assumed period of the illustration and the inclusion of the chamber pot under the bed and a broom leaning against the wall show a familiarity with Shaker spaces. The location of the game at Mount Lebanon is also not divulged in the illustration except to be clear that it was some distance from the South Family.  

fig 2

Photograph, Henry Terry Clough, ca. 1890s, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1966.16069.48. Francis P. Sherman, Bedford, MA, photographer. Sherman was active at 174 Union Street, the address on the mount during the 1890s.

There is so much more that is not known. The original illustration has not surfaced and the photograph may have been made long after the illustration was created. What is known, in addition to the mere “reading” of the illustration, is that the photograph was a gift to Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon in 1966 by Albert H. Clough (1902-1988) of Lebanon Center, New York. Albert, who is best remembered locally as having served as a New York State Trooper from 1927 until 1952, was the son of Henry Terry Clough (1862-1923) and Julia Mintie (Minta) Dalton Clough (1872-1959). Henry and Julia were Shakers who, although raised as Shakers from their early days, determined in 1890 to leave their Shaker home at Mount Lebanon, marry, and make their way in the outside world. They moved to New York City where Henry successfully established himself in the jewelry business. They eventually had five children and in 1909 returned to live, as a married couple, in a residence provided by the Shakers at Mount Lebanon.  Henry’s business skills were put to use as the manager of the Shakers’ medicine business. Henry was an amateur photographer and a number of his photographs of Mount Lebanon as well as his collection of images of Mount Lebanon by other photographers, were donated to Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon by his wife. It seems highly likely that Henry was the one who took the photograph of the illustration of the quiet Shaker game, and although it will probably never be known, could have been the artist as well. As Brother Henry, Clough would have had intimate knowledge of the interior of Shaker spaces and as a dissatisfied brother, may have had a desire to poke some fun at those whom he was about to desert. 




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.

A Shaker Thanksgiving

No Shaker to date has taken up blogging; however, if blogs have a precedent in the publishing world, then the column “Notes about Home” in the Shakers’ monthly publication The Manifesto was a prototype. Launched in 1889, the column contained informal communications from individuals updating their fellow Believers on what was transpiring in other families and villages. Eventually renamed “Home Notes,” the column continued in a monthly blog-like fashion until The Manifesto ceased publication in December of 1899.

In recognition of this Thanksgiving season we share a “Notes about Home” communication from then Brother Walter S. Shepherd at the North Family, Mount Lebanon describing that family’s Thanksgiving Day in 1893. He wrote:

Photograph. Elder Walter S. Shepherd, North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY

Photograph. Elder Walter S. Shepherd, North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1922, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1959.11387.1.

“You all, we presume and trust, had a good, earnest, Thanksgiving meeting, and partook of a good Thanksgiving dinner. We enjoyed the day very much, as we were very kindly invited by our Canaan friends [referring to the Upper Canaan Family, the Lower Family having closed in 1884] to spend the day with them, which we did, arriving there about 9 a. m. Held a good, free meeting, and partook of a beautiful vegetarian dinner. You will say it must have been a vegetarian dinner if it was beautiful, for who would think of describing a table set out with pieces of dead animals and birds, as beautiful? Our table truly was beautiful and replete with good vegetables, breads, sauces, jellies, fruits, nuts, etc., and yet some will say they cannot give up the use of flesh as food as they have nothing to take its place. This excuse indicates, we think, a lack of faith and resolution. However, the treat of the day was the afternoon meeting. We were entertained by the members of the ‘Ethical Floral Circle’ who meet once a week under the guidance and training of Sister Emily Offord. Their motto is ‘Cultivate the intellect. Improve the mind. Refine the manners.’ And we can truly say they give evidence of progress towards their motto. The young Brethren and Sisters, boys and girls, did themselves great credit. It was a surprise and a treat. We reached home about dusk, having spent a memorable Thanksgiving Day.” (1)

Of special note in Elder Walter’s account of their Thanksgiving Day are his descriptions of the North Family Shakers’ vegetarian dinner – sans Tofurky – and his mention of the Ethical Floral Circle. The North Family began eliminating meat from their diets in the 1830s. Elder Frederick Evans was the most outspoken advocate of the meatless diet – although the sisters around this time were forceful in their desire to not have to deal with the mess of greasy carcasses. Eventually the entire family gave up meat and by the time of the 1893 Thanksgiving dinner had been meat free for decades. The most accessible account of the North Family’s history with the vegetable diet appeared in Sister Martha J. Anderson’s Social Life and Vegetarianism published in 1893. The Educational, Ethical, Floral Circle, is described by Sister Emily as being:

Cabinet Card. Sister Emily Offord, Upper Canaan Family, Mount Lebanon, NY

Cabinet Card. Sister Emily Offord, Upper Canaan Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1880s, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1957.8986.1.

“Educational, because it affords opportunities for education. Ethical, because good manners and morals, culture and refinement are included. Floral, because each member is designated by a flower name symbolic of brightness, cheerfulness and innocence. The circle denotes equality as all have equal opportunities, equal advantages and are equally compensated by making equal exertions. They hold meetings bi-weekly in which very interesting original articles are read, poems and dialogues recited, and one subject discussed verbally at each meeting. Music vocal and instrumental is added. One of the members is chosen to preside over the meeting whose duty it is to make out a written programme which she gives out at each meeting assigning a task suited to the age and ability of each one.” (2)

The Circle included all of the young children in the family and was a part of a larger movement among the Shakers to introduce self-improvement groups – taking care of the spiritual and intellectual as well as the physical bodies of its members. Sister Emily, a teacher of the young girls was particularly well suited to supervise this group.

Elder Walter and Sister Emily shared an English heritage. Sister Emily was a member of the extensive Offord family that included her father William Sr., her brothers William, Jr., Daniel, and Nathaniel, and sisters, Ann, Rhoda, and Miriam. The family began coming to the Shakers in 1850 with the last two, Daniel and Emily, arriving in 1856. Elder Walter came to the Shakers in 1888 as a direct result of Elder Frederick Evans’s second missionary trip to England a year earlier. Elder Walter signed a probationary covenant at the North Family in 1888 and was appointed to serve as second elder in 1892 but was soon sent to Enfield, Connecticut to serve as second elder of the South Family there. In 1917 as the Enfield community was closing Elder Walter moved back to the North Family at Mount Lebanon, eventually being appointed to the Lebanon Ministry where he served until his death in 1933.

We wish you all a happy Thanksgiving – with or without meat on the table.

  1. Shepherd, Elder Walter S., “Notes about Home, Mt. Lebanon, N. Y., North Family,” The Manifesto 24 (January, 1894), p. 18.
  2. Offord, Sister Emily, “Notes about Home, Canaan, N. Y.,” The Manifesto, 23 (May, 1893), p. 120.



Soul of Flowers to Sweeten the Soul of Man: Beekeeping at Mount Lebanon

Advertising Flyer, “Honey, Soul of Flowers to Sweeten the Soul of Man”

Advertising Flyer, “Honey, Soul of Flowers to Sweeten the Soul of Man,” North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 2003.20848.1.

The Shakers were at the forefront of beekeeping both in their New England communities and in the West. Early on they understood the importance of the role bees played in pollinating their crops and, of course, enjoyed the honey and made use of beeswax. Most of the documentation of beekeeping at Mount Lebanon involves Elder Giles B. Avery at the Church Family. Avery kept a number of hives at both Mount Lebanon and at Watervliet, NY. His “Journal Concerning Bees in the Second Order,” as well as his notations about bees in the Church Family daily journals and his personal diaries, provide a clear picture of him as a progressive beekeeper. He quickly adopted improvements in hive designs and was aggressive in his procurement and use of Italian queens as they became preferred for strong hives.

Elder Giles mentions placing his hives at several of the Mount Lebanon families, but does not mention doing so at the North Family. This suggests that the North Family had its own beekeeper. By the turn of the twentieth century that beekeeper was Sister Mazella Gallup. Whether the North Family beekeeping was done by the sisters earlier is not known at present, but evidence of the sisters’ involvement in the task is documented in photographs of the “Bee Garden” from the early 1900s.

Swarm Box

Swarm Box, North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1860, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1950.2727.1a,b, John Mulligan, photographer.

The swarm box was used by beekeepers to transport wild swarms of bees to their manufactured hives. When a swarm was located – usually hanging on a branch of a tree or bush – the back of the box was opened to receive the swarm. To get the swarm in the box either the swarm was shaken until the queen fell into the box or the beekeeper would reach into the swarm, retrieve the queen, and put her in the box. Once the queen was in the box the rest of the swarm would follow. The swarm box, made of pine and basswood with an oak handle, is covered with a finely woven linen to provide ventilation during transport. Once back at the hives the bees were transferred into a prepared hive. The two holes in the box apparently let the bees come and go until they decide to move into the new hive.

This swarm box was purchased by Shaker Museum founder John S. Williams, Sr., from Sister Frances Hall, the trustee at Hancock, MA, around 1948, from the “surplus” North Family items that had come to Hancock the year before when the last Shaker left Mount Lebanon.


Photo provides new documentation of a museum object

Photograph, Sister Sadie Maynard Standing behind a Bench, North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY

Photograph, Eldress Annie Rosetta Stephens, North Family, Mount
Lebanon, NY, Ca. 1915, Shaker
Museum | Mount Lebanon

We recently wrote about a lawn bench in the Museum’s collection. Carved on its back rail is, “August  | North Family Shakers | 1914.” It was located in the yard between the North Family’s First Dwelling and the Sisters’ Workshop facing uphill to the public road. In the post we included a photograph of Sister Sadie Maynard standing behind the bench. Since then we received a gift of a collection of materials that had come from the North Family through the donor’s mother-in-law’s great grandmother, Margaret Fyfe (Fife in Shaker journals), including a photograph of Eldress Annie Rosetta Stephens seated on the same bench. It is rare to have Shaker-era photographic documentation of pieces from the Museum’s collection. To have two such images is quite remarkable.

Eldress Annie Rosetta Stephens was one of the first converts resulting from Elder Frederick W. Evans’s 1871 lecture tour in England. Sister Rosetta’s father, a designer of paisley shawls and a weaver who was one of the founders of the Humanitarian Brotherhood, was apparently very receptive to the American communist who had come to lecture in London – enough so to send his 11-year old daughter to America with the elder. When the “Atlantic” docked in New York and Elder Frederick disembarked, by his side was little Annie who became and remained a Shaker her whole life.

Margaret Fyfe, who either took or was given the photograph, first came to the Shakers at the North Family with Amanda Deyo, a Universalist minister, vice-president of the Universal Peace Union, and a prime mover in the annual peace convention held in Wiley’s Grove near Salt Point, Dutchess County, NY – a meeting the Shakers attended. Margaret boarded with the North Family from early spring through late fall each year from 1910 until about 1920. She was enough of a consistent presence during those years to be noted as “Sister Margaret” on occasion in one family diary.


Not All That Appears to Be Shaker, Is Shaker: “Shaker Sisters” at the Relief Bazaar. 

fig 1Carte-de-Visite, “The Quaker (i.e., Shaker) Booth at Our Fair,” 1864

Carte-de-Visite, “The Quaker (i.e., Shaker) Booth at Our Fair,” 1864, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, Churchill & Denison, photographers. 2017.24233.1

This intriguing carte-de-visite shows five women standing in a semi-circle in Shaker costume. On the back is written, “The Quaker [i.e., Shaker] Booth at Our Fair,” suggesting that the women pictured were the costumed volunteers that staffed the Shaker booth at a fair. The fair was no ordinary event however, but rather a fair held in 1864 to raise money to support soldiers wounded or taken sick in battle and their impacted families. There are two questions raised by the photograph: First, were these Shaker sisters? And second, how were the Shakers involved in the fair? 

On June 18, 1861, the Federal Government created the United States Sanitary Commission as a private agency charged with serving wounded soldiers and supporting their families. The agency, based on a British model developed during the Crimean War (1853-1856), raised an estimated 25 million dollars. Much of that money was generated by a number of “Relief Bazaars” held around the country. These events, often lasting months or even years, were similar to large agricultural fairs – groups representing various ethnic, business, trade, and religious groups constructed and manned booths that showed a variety of objects and foodstuffs associated with each group. They were often manned by people dressed in costume appropriate to the theme of the booth. 

“Diagram of the Fair,” The Canteen, February 22, 1864, p. 1.

“Diagram of the Fair,” The Canteen, February 22, 1864, p. 1. This diagram of the floor plan for the Relief Fair shows the location (highlighted in red) of the Shaker Booth.

Albany, one of the three major centers for mustering soldiers in and out of the Union Army in New York, was filled with sick and wounded troops that needed to be fed and doctored. Families who lost fathers and sons were destitute and needed care. The mayor of Albany, George Thatcher, formed the Citizens Military Relief Fund and the Ladies’ Army Relief Fund. These groups, in turn, organized the Great Sanitary Fair held in Academy Park on Washington Avenue. A special temporary building was constructed in the park in the shape of a great double Greek cross. There were booths representing the towns of Albany, Saratoga Springs, Schenectady, and Troy; booths representing Spain, Japan, Holland, Switzerland, France, Italy, and Russia; an Indian wigwam representing Native Americans; a “Gypsy” tent; and wedged between the American booth and the curiosity booth was a Shaker booth. They were all competing with each other to see which could raise the most money to support the troops. All manner of fund-raising took place. The most single exciting feature at the fair was an original draft of the Emancipation Proclamation donated by President Lincoln as the prize in a one-dollar-a-chance lottery. The winner donated it back to the Relief Fair and it was subsequently sold to the New York Department of Education with the understanding that it would not ever leave Albany. When the final draft of the Proclamation burned in the Chicago fire of 1871, the Albany copy became the only copy in Lincoln’s hand to survive.

Photograph, “Shaker Booth,” 1864

Photograph, “Shaker Booth,” 1864, Albany Institute of History & Art, Churchill & Denison, photographers. Ser 30/106.

This carte-de-visite bears the name of the photographers on its back, Churchill & Denison. Rensselaer Emmett Churchill (1820 – 1892) and Daniel Denison (1814 – 1899) were active photographers in Albany between 1863 and 1869. They appear to have been the official photographers for the Relief Fair and a number of their photographs of the fair exist. A larger copy of the “sisters” from the Shaker Booth is in the collection of the Albany Institute of History and Art. That copy confirms that the women posed in the photograph are not Shakers. They are named as follows, left to right: Miss Mary Carpenter, Miss Emerson, Mrs. Frank Townsend, Miss Barns of New York, and Miss Abby W. Redfield. Had they been Shaker sisters posed in a photograph taken in 1864, it would have been one of the earliest surviving photographic images of Shakers. The Shakers’ support and involvement in the Relief Fair is more elusive. While there is no mention in the Watervliet Church and South Family journals of the event, a poem published in The Canteen, the official paper of the fair, suggests that the Shaker did support the effort. The poem reads, in part: 

“Perish the thought I Let no man scold—
‘Tis for the lame and sick all—
Not silver seek we—nor yet gold—
Nor even the precious nickel—;
Premium forbid, But never mind—
Have you not goods or deeds?
New Lebanon forever kind,
Has sent in Garden Seeds —;

And Niskayuna not outdone
And moved by generous throes,
When asked for bread, would not give stone,
And sent a load potatoes—;
‘Twas mighty well—the sick must eat,
The garden must be planted—
And so the Shaker charity,
Was just the thing we wanted.” 

These lines indicate that the Shakers at both Mount Lebanon and Watervliet made contributions to support the fair. 

In this year in which Women’s Suffrage is being celebrated in New York State, it should be mentioned that these fairs were largely organized and manned by women. Dorothea Dix, well known for her work in prison reform and providing for the mentally ill, served as the superintendent for the fairs. She convinced the army medical corps that women could be of great value in its work. More than 1,500 women worked in hospitals – generally in nursing care, but also with surgeons, administering medicine, supervising feeding, cleaning beds, writing letters dictated by wounded men to their families, and general giving good cheer and comfort. 

In all, the fair is supposed to have generated over 110,000 dollars, which against costs, provided over 80,000 dollars (well over $2 million in today’s dollars) to be used for direct service to soldiers and their families. 


“Several of the best Mediums”: Shakers, Spiritualism, and camp meetings


The Shakers were no strangers to the concept of camp meetings. In the early days of the Shaker Church they saw such meetings – then usually very much of a religious nature – as an opportunity to testify about the Shaker faith and Shaker life with the hope of finding potential converts. As religious revivals burned through the Taconic Hills on the Massachusetts / New York border and later in the western part of New York State, the Shakers often sent missionaries to witness the work that was going on and to see if there was an opening for them to step forward and present themselves and their message of salvation. When the Great Kentucky Revival camp meetings at Cane Ridge, Kentucky, took hold in the early 1800s, Mother Lucy Wright sent three missionaries to what was then considered the West to preach the Shaker gospel to those gathered there. This effort resulted in a half-dozen Shaker communities being founded in Ohio and Kentucky.

In later years, camp meetings still retained a religious tone but began to stray beyond the strictly holy. Seventh-day Adventist camp meetings promoted vegetarianism and served only vegetarian meals. The camp meetings on Lake Chautauqua, New York, which started as Methodist meetings in the 1870s, soon evolved into a formal slate of lectures and performances that continue today. Pacifists gathered by the thousands outdoors in the pine groves of Salt Point, New York, to report on and discuss progress in the peace movement. The Shakers, proponents of many progressive movements, were particularly interested in the Spiritualists. The Shakers received messages from Mother Ann Lee and other departed leaders during the Era of Manifestations from the 1830s through the 1850s, and they believed this gave them a unique advantage in finding converts within the Spiritualist movement of the later 19th century.


In 1870 a camp meeting ground with 75 tent lots was established on the shore of Lake Pleasant, in the town of Montague, Massachusetts, and by 1872 it had become a favorite meetings place for Spiritualists. In 1874 Henry Buddington and Joseph Beals organized the New England Spiritualist Campmeeting Association. New cabins were built and more tenting lots created, and by August 1900 the population of the meeting ground could reach as high as 2,000 people.

Spiritualist’ and Liberalists’ Camp-Meeting. Lake Pleasant. Montague, Mass. August 4th. To August 30th. 1875

“Spiritualist’ and Liberalists’ Camp-Meeting. Lake Pleasant. Montague, Mass. August 4th. To August 30th. 1875,” Springfield, MA: G. E. Lyman & Co., Printers, 1875, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 2009.12.1.

The advertising flyer pictured here promoted the 1875 season. The description promised “a large Pavilion with tight roof, polished floor, open sides, built for dancing parties, dining salons, refreshment stands, boats, swings, bathing houses for ladies, sequestered walks by the Lake, artesian wells, affording soft, pure, cool, water; overlooking the auditorium, a bluff on which the tents are placed, under pine trees, … free from mosquitoes …” With this kind of promotion it seems an unlikely place for the Shakers to venture, but venture they did. In 1879, Elder Frederick Evans and Brother Emil Bretzner from Mount Lebanon’s North Family attended the camp and the next year a rather large contingent of Shakers from Mount Lebanon and Watervliet, New York, and Harvard, Massachusetts – 34 Shakers in all, went to Lake Pleasant. At the meeting on Wednesday, August 18, noted spiritual medium, Emma Hardinge Britten,  reported, “The Shakers were present in force, and conducted the exercises both morning and afternoon. Elder Evans, Eldress Doolittle, and other members of the party spoke. The singing was a novel portion of the exercises. Elder Evans is a radical speaker, and some of his remarks were loudly applauded. The audiences were very large during the day.”

“Lake Pleasant Camp-Meeting,” Montague, MA, 1880

“Lake Pleasant Camp-Meeting,” Montague, MA, 1880, Frank Crosier, Readsboro, VT, photographer, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1951.4407.1.

This photograph, taken in front of Joseph Beals’s tent, shows 20 of the Shakers who traveled to Lake Pleasant. Beals, one of the founders of the camp meetings, was a dentist and amateur photographer. Whether his tent was merely his August residence, a dental office, or a photographic studio is not known, but it is interesting that the photographer, Frank Crosier from Readsboro, Vermont, chose to take his picture of the Shakers in front of another photographer’s tent. While a number of Shakers are identifiable in the photograph – Elder Daniel Offord, Brother Orren Haskins, Sister Martha Anderson, Elder William Anderson, Brother Charles Greaves, Elder Amos Stewart, Elder Timothy Rayson, and one of the Sizer brothers – noticeably absent are Elder Frederick Evans and Eldress Antoinette Doolittle who we might guess were off lecturing the crowd.


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


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.


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.


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 Giants’ Mile-Stone”


Photograph of the Giants’ Mile Stone, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1905, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 2016.24194.1

Located along an old road that once ran down the side of the mountain at the Mount Lebanon Shaker Village, is an unusually large stone standing higher than any around it. Although it is now difficult to find a way there, it was a feature that was well known to Shakers and non-Shakers in the 19th century. The recently acquired photograph shown here, made by an as yet unidentified photographer, was titled by him or her, the “Giants’ Mile-Stone (Shaker Road).” The early American traveler was accustomed to seeing pieces of stone along the major roads carved with letters and numerals to indicate the number of miles to or from a particular location. While the old Shaker Road would not have had such markers, it did have one extraordinary marker. The Shakers, while we have never seen it referenced in their records, must have shared some sense that this stone was unusual and that it was reminiscent of the common mile markers. When they constructed a stone wall along the south side of the road and easily could have saved considerable labor by incorporating the giant stone into their wall, they chose instead to make a niche leaving the stone standing between the wall and the roadbed for all to see. While the roadbed has nearly totally eroded the stone and wall clearly remain.


Map of Shaker Road and Location of Wall and Giants’ Mile-Stone, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon

Beyond the story presented by the photographer and the location of the Shakers’ wall, the stone may have another story. All throughout New England there are examples of special standing stones and other stone structures that many believe are remnants left by those who were here before European explorers and settlers. Standing stones, balanced rocks, perched and rocking boulders, stacked stones, stone chambers, and other apparently non-geologic features dot the landscape for those who know what to look for. Whether stood on its end by glacial actions or by man-powered labor, the Giants’ Mile-Stone is thought to have had some special place in the lives of pre-European inhabitants in the area. Near the end of the last decade Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon was involved with local historians and interested hikers in exploring the area around the stone and its relationship to the road and to other nearby Shaker features.

For those interested in knowing more about early stone features in the New England landscape we suggest looking at Manitou: The Sacred Landscape of New England’s Native Civilization by James W. Mavor, Jr. and Byron E. Dix published in 1989.

Note that the stone is located on private property and arrangements must be made in advance to see it.

“[T]he first Harvesting machine ever used in the township, and we have heard, the first one in Columbia Co. N. Y.”

Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon recently received a small collection of photographs made in and around the town of New Lebanon, New York by an as yet unidentified photographer. Among the photographs is a print of Brother Levi Shaw (1819-1908) standing behind a McCormick binder at the North Family at Mount Lebanon. This photograph was published on page 115 in The Shaker Image by Elmer Ray Pearson and Julia Neal (1974). The caption for the photograph includes a notation written on the original photograph, from which the published copy was taken, that reads: “Br. Levi Shaw of North Family, Mount Lebanon, N. Y. Arranging to buy the first Harvesting machine ever used in the township, and we have heard, the first one in Columbia Co. N. Y.” In the second annotated edition of The Shaker Image, prepared by Dr. Magda Gabor-Hotchkiss, she identifies the Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland, Ohio, as the owner of the original image bearing that inscription. The Historical Society does not supply either a date or photographer for their copy of the image.


Photograph of Brother Levi Shaw and a McCormick Grain Binder, North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1900, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 2016.24192.1

The McCormick binder was part of a long line of grain harvesting machines developed by Cyrus Hall McCormick (1809-1884). His original mechanical reaper was a horse-drawn machine that cut grain and gathered an appropriate amount together to be hand-tied into a sheaf with a piece of twine or straw. A number of sheaves, usually twelve, were leaned against each other with grain at the top to form a tent-like structure called a stook or shock. When fully dry, the sheaves were taken to the thresher to have the grain removed from the straw and the chaff from the kernels. McCormick’s reaper was first marketed in 1831 and was a huge improvement over the use of sickles, scythes, and cradles for harvesting grains. In 1884 the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company offered its first machine that added a binding operation to the cutting and gathering done by the reaper. The machine, a reaper-binder, or usually just called a binder, had been invented in 1872 by Charles Baxter Withington.  Many improvements were made by various mechanics before McCormick’s machine was available in 1884. McCormick’s binder used twine and a knotting mechanism to tie the grain into sheaves. The sheaves were dropped on the ground to be gathered into stooks.

An attempt to date this photograph has netted inconclusive but enlightening results. The McCormick company’s first offering of a binder in 1884 and Brother Levi’s death in 1908 provides a wide bracket for dating this photograph.  Records of daily events at the North Family tell us that in 1891 the Shakers purchased a binder on August 1st – “Buy Reaper & Binder $145.” This is the first mention of purchasing a binder in the records to which we have access. If we assume that the comment from the copy of the photograph from the Western Reserve Historical Society is correct, then it is possible that the photograph dates from 1891. However, the binder purchased in 1891 may have been made by another company and the inscription is wrong. Few of the photographs in the collection from which this photograph came are dated. Of the ones that are dated, the earliest is 1894. An inquiry to the “askmccormick” reference desk at the Wisconsin Historical Society resulted in the information that the font style used on the McCormick name plate on this binder was used between 1898 and 1903. We will have to be satisfied with a circa 1900 date for the photograph until documentation of the date the North Family purchased specifically a McCormick binder is discovered.


Photograph of Brother Levi Shaw and a McCormick Grain Binder at the Shaker Swamp Meadow, North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1900, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 2016.24193.1

In addition to the rather well known image of the Brother Levi and the McCormick binder at the North Family, a second, and possibly previously unknown photograph is included in the collection that shows Brother Levi and the binder working in the North Family’s swamp meadow. This piece of land runs along the east side of New York Route 22 just north of the Shaker’s stone grist mill. The field has now reverted to swamp but after the Shakers had under-drained the land they grew hay, grains, potatoes, onions, and even planted an orchard on the land. This photograph shows the binder in cutting and binding mode whereas the first photograph shows it in transport mode.

While the creator of this photograph has not been identified it seems likely that it was a local man named Will S. Potter or possibly someone in his family. Potter made a number of photographs of the Shakers at Mount Lebanon. Most of them were reproduced as postcards in the first and second decades of the twentieth century. Many of these postcards had titles, locations, and sometimes Potter’s name written on the negative so that when printed it created a white hand-written description on the postcard. Some of the images in the collection from which the binder photographs came had titles written in a similar manner. These written titles are consistent in style to Will Potter’s postcards but the handwriting is different, causing us to think that possibly someone such as Potter’s wife or photographic assistant may have done the titles for the postcards – if indeed Potter is the photographer. More about that another day.