Thursday, September 26, 2013

Catharine Littlefield 1755-1814 m Rev War Gen Nathanael Greene & helpled Eli Whitney change the economy of the South


James Frothingham (American artist, 1786–1864) Catharine Littlefield Greene Miller

Catherine “Caty” Littlefield was born in New Shoreham, R.I., on Block Island.  The 3rd child of 5, she was the 1st daughter of John & Phebe (Ray) Littlefield.  Catharine Littlefield was born off the coast of Rhode Island on Block Island, which her family had helped settle in the 1660s. Her father, John Littlefield represented the town in the colonial assembly from 1747 to the Revolution.  Her mother, Phebe Ray, was a descendant of the earliest settlers of Block Island.

Caty's mother died, when she was 10 years old; & she was sent to live with an aunt & uncle, Catharine Ray & William Greene, in East Greenwich, Rhode Island.  Her aunt, Catharine (Ray) Greene, was a close friend of Benjamin Franklin & corresponded with him for years.  Her uncle William Greene was a leader of the Whig Party & governor of Rhode Island.  Benjamin Franklin was a regular visitor at the Greene house, while Caty was growing up.  Another frequent caller was Nathanael Greene, a successful merchant who was a distant cousin of her Uncle William's. Nathanael, the son of Rhode Island Quakers, who was 14 years older than she. The two began a courtship in 1772.

Charles Willson Peale (American artist, 1741-1827) Nathanael Greene (1742-1786) 1783

At William & Catharine Greene’s house in Warwick that Kitty Littlefield on July 20, 1774, was married to Nathanael Greene of Coventry, R.I.  Nathanael Greene, brought up as a pacifist Quaker but turned to military concerns by the threats to his country’s liberty, had left his father’s forge; & in 1774, was helping to organize the Kentish Guards, a volunteer military company.  Catharine's new husband was selected by the Rhode Island Assembly as brigadier general, in charge of Rhode Island's 3 Continental regiments. During the war young Caty was not content to sit at home awaiting word of her husband. Instead, she visited him at his headquarters & joined him at his various encampments, where she witnessed many battles firsthand.

Catharine came to the notice of Washington & his troops at Valley Forge in the grim winter of 1777-78.  She had followed her husband, soon to become quartermaster general, to the Schuylkill headquarters to sharing the hardships of those bitter months with the men upon whom the success of the Revolution depended.  She was with her husband again the following winter at Morristown.  “We had a little dance at my quarters,” wrote General Greene, “His Excellency & Mrs. Greene danced upwards of three hours without once sitting down.”  Catherine’s gallantry of spirit won Washington’s grateful admiration, although some gossiped about her association with mostly men at these encampments. Catharine Littlefield Greene stood out among Revolutionary War military wives, engaging in political discourse, maintaining friendships with men & bearing her children at the same time.

Three of their 5 Greene children were born during those years-Martha Washington in 1777, Cornelia Lott in 1778, & Nathanael Ray in 1780.  George Washington Greene, the oldest, was 8, when peace came in 1783; Louisa Catherine, the youngest, was born the following winter.  Greene's presence at her husband's encampments endeared her to the troops & to the other military leaders. George & Martha Washington became friends & supporters of Greene. The trips were made more challenging, when she began to have children. By 1779, she had three—George, Martha, & Cornelia—& was expecting a fourth. She was looking forward to joining her husband again; when word arrived, that he had been appointed commander of Washington's southern forces. It was not until 1781, that she was able to head to Charleston, South Carolina, to join him. By then their 4th child, Nathanael Ray, had arrived.

When the war finally came to an end & the family was reunited, Caty looked forward to having Nathanael there to share in the responsibility of raising the children & handling family business affairs. His presence at home "brought a peace of mind unknown to her since the conflict began." She was eager to let Nathanael take charge & to settle herself into the life of a respected, well-to-do gentleman's wife.

Though Nathanael was not required to be of further service to his country, his involvement in the war continued to affect their lives. During his Revolutionary command in the south, he faced very harsh conditions. In order to clothe his soldiers during the winter, he had to personally guarantee thousands of dollars to Charleston merchants. He later discovered that the speculator, through whom he had dealt, was fraudulent. At the end of the war, the merchants began pressing him for payment on the notes & judgments began coming down from South Carolina courts. He was without sufficient funds & heavily in debt.

 In recognition of General Greene’s war services, Georgia deeded him a sequestered loyalist estate that included Mulberry Grove plantation on he Savannah River.  Here he hoped to make a living by cultivating rice & pay off their debts by selling their other lands, when real estate markets proved favorable. This decision was particularly hard on Catharine. She had lived her whole life in the north. She would be leaving behind many friends & what was left of her family on Block Island.  There the family settled in the autumn of 1785, while the 43-year-old Nathanael undertook to restore the long-neglected land to productivity.  He would die only 9 months later.

When her husband died of “severe sunstroke” in June 1786, the widow Greene was left alone to raise their 5 children & oversee the family plantation. Catharine decided to remain in Georgia. The plantation was still not a financial success; but by 1788, with the help of the new plantation manager, originally their children’s tutor Yale grad & Connecticut native, Phineas Miller 1764-1803, Mulberry Grove was thriving.

She also gratefully yielded to General Lafayette’s request to let him educate her eldest, son of his beloved comrade-in-arms, with his own son in France.  Retaining her place in the “court circles” of the new republic, Mrs. Greene returned every summer to the cooler air of Newport, a center of Rhode Island society.  Her cultivated manners & warmth hade Mulberry Grove a gathering place for all her southern neighbors, as well, who valued such status & social graces.

In 1791, the Greene family of Mulberry Grove entertained George Washington during his presidential tour of the South.  Soon after that visit, Catharine personally presented to the United States Congress a petition for indemnity to recover funds that Nathanael had paid to Charleston merchants. On April 27, 1792, President  Washington approved & signed an act that indemnified the Greene estate. In a happy letter to a friend, she wrote:

I can tell you my Dear friend that I am in good health & spirits & feel as saucy as you please-not only because I am independent, but because I have gained a complete triumph over some of my friends who did not wish me success-& others who doubted my judgement in managing the business & constantly tormented me to death to give up my obstinancy as it was called-they are now as mute as mice-Not a word dare they utter... O how sweet is revenge!

On her journey homeward from Newport in the fall of 1792, a traveling companion was Eli Whitney 1765-1825, newly graduated from Yale, whom tutor-turned-plantation-manager Phinaes Miller had secured as a tutor for a South Carolina family across the Savannah River. 

During Whitney’s youth, the tall, heavy-shouldered boy with large hands & a gentle manner was a blacksmith, a nail maker on a machine he made at home & at one time, he was the country's sole maker of ladies' hatpins.  In his early 20s, Whitney determined to attend Yale College; so unusual a step for anyone not preparing for either the law or theology, that his parents objected. He was 23, before he got away from home & 27, when he received his degree, almost middle-aged in the eyes of his classmates. Again the most serious drawback facing him was that no profession existed suited to a man of his talents.

Eli Whitney 1765-1825

When Whitney’s teaching plans collapsed, Mrs. Greene invited him to accompany her to her plantation & read law. In the meantime, he could make himself useful in one way or another helping the tutor-turned-plantation-manager, Phineas Miller.  Miller was also a Yale alumnus, about a year older than Whitney. Whitney accepted the offer.

Being from New England, Whitney was unfamiliar with cotton farming, but Greene quickly brought him up to speed. She explained the difficulties of raising green-seed cotton.  Struck by his ingenuity in designing & fashioning a new tambour frame for her embroidery, Catherine Greene persuaded him to turn his talents to devising a machine that could rapidly strip the tenacious seeds from short-staple cotton & thus make it a profitable crop to raise. 

Some believe that she not only suggested the idea of the cotton gin, but she drew the rudimentary design, made corrections for improvement, & later financed the patent & fabrication. In Woman as Inventor, written in 1883, Matilda Joslyn Gage asserted that it was Caty & not Eli Whitney who should be credited with the invention.

Gage wrote that the cotton gin “owes its origin to a woman, Catherine Littlefield Green.” Gage goes on to describe Whitney as familiar enough with “the use of tools” to be able to build the machine. Nonetheless, the young man’s first contraption featured inefficient wooden teeth & he nearly quit, but the widow Greene’s suggestion to substitute wire for wood proved successful.

At the urging of Catharine Green & Phineas Miller, Whitney watched the cotton cleaning process of the slaves & studied their hand movements. During the slow process, one hand held the seed while the other hand teased out the short strands of lint. The machine he designed simply duplicated this.  To take the place of a hand holding the seed, Whitney made a sort of sieve of wires stretched lengthwise. More time was consumed in making the wire than stringing it, because the proper kind of wire was nonexistent.

To do the work of human fingers, which pulled out the lint, Whitney had a drum rotate past the sieve, almost touching it. On the surface of the drum, fine, hook-shaped wires projected which caught at the lint from the seed. The restraining wires of the sieve held the seeds back, while the lint was pulled away. A rotating brush, which turned 4 times as fast as the hook-covered drum cleaned the lint off the hooks. Originally Whitney planned to use small circular saws instead of the hooks, but the saws were unobtainable. That was all there was to Whitney's cotton gin; & it never became any more complicated.

Whitney worked developing his cotton gin for 6 months in a basement room of the plantation house.  In that interval Caty’s older son, returned from France, drowned in the Savannah River. 

When Whitney announced in April 1793, that he had completed a working model of an engine, or “gin”, his hostess called the attention of influential planters in the neighborhood to the potentialities of the new machine.  With no more than the promise that Whitney would patent the machine and make a few more, the men who had witnessed the demonstration immediately ordered whole fields to be planted with green seed cotton.


Eli Whitney's Cotton Gin

Word got around the district so rapidly, that Whitney's workshop was broken into & his machine examined. Within a few weeks, more cotton was planted in the area than Whitney could possible have ginned in a year of making new machines. Before he had a chance to complete his patent model, or to secure protection, the prematurely planted cotton came to growth. With huge harvests pressing on them, the planters had no time for the fine points of law or ethics. Whitney's machine was pirated without a qualm.

Descriptions of the main features of the gin leaked out; as it was simple to build, copies began to appear in Georgia, almost before Whitney secured his patent in March 1794.  A newly formed partnership with tutor-turned-plantation-manager Phineas Miller, could manufacture few more than half a dozen gins.  A prolonged struggle to establish the partners’ rights early threatened the new firm with bankruptcy. 

Whitney’s partnership with Miller ran into problems immediately. The agreement was that Whitney was to go north to New Haven, secure his patent, & begin manufacturing machines, while Miller was to remain in the South & see that the machines were placed. Having no precedent of royalty arrangement to go on, the partners' initial plan was that no machine was to be sold, but simply installed for a percentage of the profit earned. Since they had no idea that cotton planting would take place in epidemic proportions, they did not know that they were asking for an agreement that would have earned them millions of dollars a year. It had been Miller's idea to take 1 pound of every 3 of cotton, & the planters were furious. Meanwhile, cotton, one of the easiest growing crops, was coming up out of the ground engulfing everything around.

Catherine Greene in 1795, enabled the venture to continue by committing her entire resources to the effort.  According to The National Archives, Greene’s “support, both moral & financial were critical” to Whitney’s efforts. When Miller began charging farmers a fee to use cotton gins, & disgruntled farmers started building their own.

By the time Whitney & Miller were willing to settle for outright sale or even a modest royalty on every machine made by someone else, the amount of money due them was astronomical. He & Miller were now deeply in debt & their only recourse was to go to court; but every court they entered was in cotton country. At length in 1801, Miller & Whitney were willing to settle for outright grants from cotton-growing states in return for which the cotton gin would be public property within the boundaries.   By 1807, Whitney had re-established title to his invention, but his patent expired in that year, ending any real hope of financial return.  He was penniless, & his patent worthless.  Whitney was 39 years old, & most of the past 10 years had been wasted either in courtrooms or in traveling from one court to another. He returned north, turning his back on cotton, the cotton gin, & the South forever.

As for why Caty Greene did not attempt to patent the cotton gin herself, Gage suggested that doing so “would have exposed her to the ridicule” of friends & “a loss of position in society,” which disapproved of women’s involvement in any "outside industry." Perhaps she didn’t receive credit for the invention, because women were not allowed to hold patents. Regardless, neither Whitney nor Caty profited from the invention, after Congress refused to renew the patent, & it was mass produced.

An unforeseen by-product of Whitney's invention, a labor-saving device, was to help preserve the institution of slavery in the South by making cotton production highly profitable. Exports of cotton from the U.S. skyrocketed exponentially after the introduction of the cotton gin. Between 1820 & 1860, cotton represented over half the value of U.S. exports. Prior to the invention of the cotton gin, slavery was in decline. The profitably of crops grown with slave labor, such as rice, tobacco, indigo & cotton was steadily decreasing. Some slaveholders began freeing their slaves in response. By effortlessly separating the seeds from the cotton fibers, the cotton gin removed the main obstacle to producing cleaned cotton. As the price of cotton decreased, the demand for cotton soared; so too did the demand for more land & more slaves to grow & pick the cotton. The number of slave states increased from s6 in 1790 to 15 in 1860.  By 1860, 1 in 3 Southerners was a slave. The labor-saving device Whitney created effectively rejuvenated the institution of slavery in the South & helped split American society.

Catherine married Phineas Miller on June 13, 1796 in Philadelphia's First Presbyterian Church. The President & Mrs. Washington served as witnesses to the wedding.  Despite the couple’s best efforts, by 1798, Mulberry Grove fell upon hard times.

Post Civil War ruins of Dungeness Plantation on Cumberland Island

Catharine, in financing the cotton gin firm of Whitney & Miller, had lost a great deal of money. Caty was forced to sell the plantation along with many of Mulberry Grove's slaves, moving her family to Cumberland Island. There she & Phineas established a new home on land that had been given to Nathanael for his Revolutionary War service. The plantation, located near the southern end of the island & called "Dungeness," thrived. They held a total of 210 slaves to work the plantation. Miller succumbed to a fever & died in 1803, worn out at 39. Catherine Greene Miller died of fever at “Dungeness” in 1814, at 59, & she is buried there.

Post Civil War ruins of Dungeness Plantation on Cumberland Island


Sunday, September 22, 2013

1841 Rare African American portraits connected to Philadlphia's 1st Mayor


Franklin Street (Philadelphia artist) Charles Montier (1818–1905) 1841


Franklin Street (Philadelphia artist) Elizabeth Brown Montier (1820–c. 1858)


The Philadelphia Museum of Art houses an extremely rare pair of portraits of African American sitters whose heritage can be traced back to the city’s first mayor, Humphrey Morrey (b. c. 1650, England; d. 1716, Philadelphia), appointed to his office by William Penn in 1691. In 1742, Mayor Humphrey Morrey's son Richard (1675-1754) married one of the family’s servants, Cremona Satterthwaite (1710-1770) who was 35 years younger than he. The union resulted in five children, and in Cremona Morrey receiving 198 acres of land from Richard in 1746, near Guineatown in Cheltenham Township of Montgomery County just northwest of Philadelphia. One of their 5 children, Cremona, married a free black man, John Montier. Hiram Chales Montier descended from this union.

 The portraits were painted in 1841 and depict Hiram Charles Montier (1818–1905), who was a bootmaker on N.W. 7th Street at the time of the painting, and his wife Elizabeth Brown Montier (1820–ca. 1858) whom family records indicate had lived in the city’s Northern Liberties neighborhood.  Living in Philadelphia, the Montiers were members of one of the largest free African American communities in the North although Pennsylvania’s gradual emancipation law of 1780 permitted slavery well into the 19th century.  

The signature “Fr Street” on the reverse (now concealed by lining) of Elizabeth’s portrait corresponds to an artist named Franklin R. Street who was active in Philadelphia between 1839 and 1872. No other works by the artist are recorded and no contemporary exhibition records for him have been found, though he was listed in city directories and census records; he was likely a professional painter, producing commercial signs and fancy work as well as portraits. The paintings nevertheless adopt the conventions of high-style portraiture, including the elegant attire, grand architecture, and dramatic landscapes that characterize the works of Philadelphia masters such as Gilbert Stuart and Thomas Sully. At the time of these paintings, Franklin Street’s studio was located at 41 Chestnut Street.


Monday, September 16, 2013

African American Shaker leaker, Philadelphian Rebecca Cox Jackson 1795-1871


Little is known of the early life of Rebecca Cox Jackson, an African American woman who became an eldress in the Shaker religion & founded a Shaker community in Philadelphia. Rebecca was born in 1795 to a free family, & lived until the age of 3 or 4 with her grandmother, who died when Rebecca was 7. From the time she was 10, she was responsible for the care of 2 younger siblings; as a result, she was "the only child of my mother that had not learning." Rebecca's mother died when she was 13, & she was taken in by her brother Joseph Cox, a 31-year old AME minister, widower, & father of 6 children.

 Pavel Petrovich Svinin, African American Church in Philadelphia (St. Petersberg, 1815),

Sometime during the next 22 years, when her autobiography begins, Rebecca married Samuel S. Jackson, who also lived in the Cox house. In addition to managing her brother's home, Rebecca worked as a seamstress, one of the most common occupations for black women during that period.
In July 1830, Rebecca experienced a religious awakening during a severe thunderstorm. For 5 years, her fear of storms had been so great that "In time of thunder & lightning I would have to go to bed because it made me so sick." On this day, she was unable to contain her fear, convinced that she would die during the storm. In her moment of greatest despair, as she prayed for either death or redemption, she suddenly felt as though "the cloud burst," & the lightning that had been "the messenger of death, was now the messenger of peace, joy, & consolation."

After her conversion, Rebecca began to experience visions in which she discovered the presence of a divine inner voice that instructed her in the use of her spiritual gifts. She soon developed a large following among a neighborhood "Covenant Meeting," typically comprised of women, that in this case also included several men. Rebecca was harshly criticized for "aleading the men" & for her refusal to formally join any church, which several Methodist ministers saw as "chopping up our churches."

Portrait of Reverend Morris Brown was included in James A. Handy's Scraps of African Methodist Episcopal History, printed in Philadelphia sometime in the 19th century, and reprinted in 1901.

Morris Brown, who succeeded Richard Allen as Bishop of the AME Church, came to a meeting led by Rebecca with the intention of stopping her; but after listening to her, he declared, "If ever the Holy Ghost was in any place, it was in that meeting. Let her alone now."

Rebecca's religious activism soon led to the dissolution of her marriage, as well as a separation from her brother, who "had always been kind & like a father to me." An incident that led to the rupture in their relationship -- Joseph's failure to teach her to read, as he had promised -- also sparked a remarkable manifestation of Rebecca's "gifts of power." Frustrated with her inability to read & write for herself, Rebecca listened to the inner voice telling her that God would teach her to read, & suddenly discovered that she could!

Rebecca became an itinerant preacher, inspiring both white & blacks. Her desire to preach, her insistence on absolute obedience to her inner voice, & her radical notions of "holy living" (which included celibacy, even within marriage) created controversy within the churches. According to her account, some ministers even threatened to expel church members who opened their homes to her during her travels.

During her travels, Rebecca discovered the Shakers, whose religious views were remarkably similar to her own. Impressed by her spiritual gifts, they embraced her as a prophet, & she remained in the Watervliet, New York community for four years. Although devout in her commitment to Shaker doctrine, Rebecca was not satisfied with Shaker outreach to other blacks. A conflict over authority soon led her to return to Philadelphia with her companion & protégé, Rebecca Perot.
After 6 years in Philadelphia, the "colored Rebeccas" ended their estrangement from the Shaker leadership & returned to Watervliet for a year. Now reconciled, they once again left, intent on establishing a Philadelphia family of black Shakers, but this time with the moral, legal, & financial support of Shaker society.

The Philadelphia family, which combined elements of Shaker theology & black female praying band traditions, consisted of anywhere from 12 to 20 members, mostly but not exclusively black & female, living together in a large house on Erie Street. Other black Shakers in & around Philadelphia also gathered there for services.

When Rebecca Jackson died in 1871, Rebecca Perot took the name "Mother Rebecca Jackson" & assumed leadership of the Philadelphia family, which survived another 40 years. When Perot & other elderly sisters retired to Watervliet in 1896, it was believed that "Mother Jackson's colony in Philadelphia" had come to an end. However, that same year, in his pioneering study of black Philadelphia, W.E.B. DuBois found two Shaker households in the 7th ward; & in 1908, a Shaker editor noted the discovery of "a colony of Believers there, & zealous, too."

Jackson's journals are preserved in Jean McMahon Humez' "Gifts Of Power" which collects the writings of Mother Rebecca Cox Jackson, whose career as preacher and Shaker leader spanned from 1830 until her death in 1871.

At the beginning of her career Rebecca was a part of the Methodist Episcopal Church in her youth & was involved in "Holiness" prayer meetngs during the 1820s.  As a result of the Holiness movement's highly participatory nature, was able to write down detailed visions of the coming of Heaven & the Day Of Judgement. Many of her early visions realted closely to Jesus's miracles, but there were also many dreams of such mundane things as quilts, cakes, rain, and deaths of her relatives. Later, she decribed the strains preaching was having on her married life, as she moved into intense prayer as Methodists criticised her ministry as a black woman preaching a false doctrine.  Jackson focused clearly and sincerely on trying to live the life of Jesus, especially after visiting the Shakers in 1836.

As a Shaker, Rebecca Jackson did not cede that mystical, fiery character of her early writings, but her later writings have an epic tone lacking in previous letters. She saw during her residence at Watervliet a desite to do missionary work among blacks, which is seen in visions of herself traveling long distances or of the arrival of Native American seeking help. In Philadelphia, Jackson's dreams became focused on early events in her life, and she would dream of being united with her brother as she went on a long pilgrimate to develop a Shaker community for blacks. Her work during her 2nd residence at Watervliet and with the Philadelphia Shakers was indeed seen by her as "going to Zion." She saw herself as revealing the Kngdom of Heaven in her labors with the people of Philadelphia.


See PBS Africans in America.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

American artist Winslow Homer 1836–1910 takes us fishing in 19th-century America


Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836-1910)  A Good One


Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836–1910)  An Unexpected Catch


Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836–1910)  Bass Fishing Florida  1890


Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836–1910)  Boy Fishing 1892


Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836–1910)  Casting, Number Two 1894


Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836–1910)  The Rise 1900


Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836–1910) A quiet pool on a sunny day


Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836–1910) Casting in the Falls (1889)


Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836–1910) Casting


Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836–1910) Crab Fishing


 Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836–1910) Playing a Fish


Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836–1910) Hauling in the Nets


Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836–1910) Spearing Eels


Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836–1910) The Herring Net 1885


Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836–1910) The lobster pot


Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836–1910) The Lone Fisherman


Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836–1910) Trout Fishing, Lake St. John, Quebec (1895)


Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836-1910) Three Boys in a Dory with Lobster Pots


Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836–1910) Three Men in a Boat

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A 19C Shaker Community Restored in Pleasant Hill, Kentucky


Pleasant Hill, Kentucky, was a Shaker religious community from 1805 through 1910. Shakertown, as it is known by the locals, is about 25 miles southwest of Lexington, in the state's bluegrass region.


By 1800, Mother Ann Lee's (1736-1784) religious movement had already established 11 Shaker communities in New York state & throughout New England. About this time, the community sent 3 Shaker missionaries across the Cumberland Gap & through Ohio to find converts in the west. Shakers practiced celibacy & their numbers would die out without new converts.


The Pleasant Hill community was begun by 44 converts who signed a covenant of mutual support & common property ownership of the 140 acres on which they were living. It did not take long for the community to expand & the property to grow to 4,369 acres.


The Shakers chose a peaceful way of life. They were celibate and believed in equality of race & sex and in freedom from prejudice. A quest for simplicity & perfection is reflected in their fine craftsmanship.


The Shakers were skilled farmers, and over the years they expanded land holdings by acquiring adjacent farms for orchards & fields. The Shakers at Pleasant Hill became known for their excellent livestock & engineering accomplishments. Their location near the Ohio River was ideal for agricultural & economic commerce.


By 1816, they regularly traveled to larger communities to sell their wares: brooms, shoes, preserves, garden seeds, & herbs. The Shakers sold their wares in cities and towns up & down the Ohio & the Mississippi rivers, some at great distances, such as New Orleans.


The Shakers, known for their beautifully simple furniture & architecture, also invented many labor-saving processes to serve their large community. In the early 1830s, they constructed a water tower on a high plot of ground. A horse-drawn pump lifted water into the tower, and from there a system of pipes carried it downhill to kitchens, cellars, & wash houses.


In the wash houses, horse-powered washing machines were built to reduce the enormous chore of laundering the community's clothes & linens.


Music was also an important part of Shaker life, with songs, hymns, & anthems written by both men & women. Their dancing or shaking was the origin of the name Shaker.


The community began to decline with the advent of the Civil War & controversies over slave ownership. The last resident on the property died in 1923. The 14 original buildings of the religious community were restored in the 1960s, & it is now the largest restored Shaker community in America, a National Historic Landmark visited by thousands of tourists annually.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Lucy Wright (1760-1821), Shaker leader & successor to its founder, Ann Lee



Lucy Wright (1760-1821), a Shaker leader & the dominant figure during the period of the society’s greatest growth, was a female successor to its founder, Ann Lee.

She was born in Pittsfield, Mass., the daughter of John & Mary (Robbins) Wright. Her mother died when she was about 18 years old. The following year she was married to Elizur Goodrich, a young merchant in the neighboring town of Richmond, just before his conversion to Shakerism, which demanded celibacy of it members. This did not bode well for their new marriage.

Elizur Goodrich accepted the gospel which the Shakers were beginning to preach at Watervliet, N.Y. Lucy was sympathetic but did not immediately join the group. In August 1780, when Ann Lee was confined to the Poughkeepsie jail, Lucy sent her presents "for her comfort & convenience.”
Lucy soon became a Shaker, & she & Goodrich quitted their “fleshly relations” & lived in separate men’s & women’s orders. After that, Lucy was renamed Lucy Faith in 1785, & lived at Watervliet. Her husband became an itinerant preacher & finally settled at New Lebanon, N.Y. After her husband left, she often used her maiden name.

In 1787, after the deaths of Mother Ann & Father James Whittaker, Father Joseph Meacham (their successor) selected Lucy Wright as the “first leading character in the female line.”

Under the joint administration of Father Joseph & Mother Lucy, the Believers were gathered together at the mother church in New Lebanon, forming a common-propertied, socio-religious organization which was copied by the 10 other Shaker communities in New York & New England. By this decision the Shakers were transformed from a loosely organized body of followers into an association of monasticlike self-supporting communities.

On Meacham’s death in 1796, Mother Lucy assumed the leadership of the central ministry assisted by one or two “elder brothers.” Under her administration the decision was made, in 1804, to send out the mission which eventually led to the establishment of 7 Shaker societies in Kentucky, Ohio, & Indiana.

She also authorized the publication of the basic theological work of the sect. Benjamin S. Youngs’ The Testimony of Christ’s Second Appearing (1808). Lucy brought more songs into the worship & more lively dances to keep the Shaker meetings animated, & she improved the schools.

She died at Watervliet, at the age of 61 & was buried there beside the grave of Ann Lee.