Monday, October 28, 2013

Vacation FAIL

On one day of my visit, my adviser and I agreed not to work at all (!) and to just drive around and see the sights. This was, of course, the day that our camera batteries decided to die, in tandem, 45 minutes from his apartment. Naturally the gift shop at the Hancock Shaker Village could have supplied all the wooden boxes, quilts, and rock candy we could have wanted--but not a disposable camera. Vacation FAIL. So these are my photographs of the postcards he bought there. I'll paint word pictures for the rest.

We started at Hancock Shaker Village, one of the earliest and longest-running such settlement, active between 1791 and 1960. The Shakers may be most famous today for a little ditty "Tis A Gift To Be Simple," but one or two hundred years ago they were infamous for their revolutionary beliefs. The sect was founded in England in 1748 by James and Jane Wardley. In 1770 a working-class woman by the name of Ann Lee (1736-1784) became their prophetess and leader. Lee came to believe that she was the female incarnation of Jesus Christ. She had taken the deaths of her four children very hard, and after much prayer and soul-searching blamed the sexual relations in her marriage. She became increasingly independent, eventually preaching gender equality, abstinence, and ecstatic cleansing by the Holy Spirit (the dancing in their open worship services that purportedly devolved into "shaking"). Others called them "Shaking Quakers," or "Shakers." They called themselves the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing. Lee's little band of followers was heavily persecuted in Manchester, so they decided to set out for America in 1774. (Her husband came along but didn't last long.) The persecution wasn't any better there, even after they founded a secluded settlement at Niskayuna, NY. Among other things, they claimed absolute pacifism and refused to take a side during the American Revolution. Mother Ann died at age 48, probably helped along by the physical and mental stress of a beating and near-rape at the hands of unhappy colonialists in Shirley, MA.

Kitchen in the Brick Dwelling (built 1830)
(the biggest building in the postcard above)
The Hancock village in western Massachusetts was founded in 1783. At its height in the 1840s, it housed over 300 men (Brethren) and women (Sisters), as well as many children, mostly orphans. The children could decide at age 21 whether they wanted to stay; only 1/4 did. With fewer and fewer new members joining, the population of the village dwindled. By the early 1900s, there were only 50 inhabitants. The property was finally sold in 1960 to a preservation society.

While the settlement was active, the sexes lived in separate dormitories, ate at different tables, and entered the church from different doorways. But it was a complementarianism they practiced, rather than a hierarchy. There was always a female Eldress to travel with the male Elder to visit the different communities. Men and women had different chores, too. The women cooked, dairied, and taught school, while the men made shoes, chairs, and brooms. The Shakers were known for the industriousness and dedication to efficiency. Although their clothing was often simple and "old-fashioned" (like the Amish), they eagerly adopted time- and labor-saving devices like dumbwaiters and electricity. Because they cared for the environment, it is not out-of-place to find solar panels at the farm. But we were surprised to discover their love of color: they painted their wooden buildings bright, cheery pastels!

This is the famous Shaker Barn, built in 1826. It was designed to obviate the need to pitch hay up and down. On the back side, an earthen ramp allows wagons to be driven up and into the second floor of the building. The horses were led around in a circle while the hay was pitched down into the large racks pictured on the left. The postcard shows the central chute and chimney added to allow heat to escape, after the original barn burnt. On the first floor, the cattle were allowed up onto a short platform. When they stuck their heads through the wooden slats to reach the hay, a bar was titled that trapped them there while they ate and were milked. The platform was just a little short, so their hind legs (and waste-producing parts!) were on the lowest level, to keep the milk pails clean. There are even trap doors in the floor to make mucking that much easier. Clever of them Shakers. In the low side barn we visited the pigs, sheep, goats, and chickens, and I learned that if my adviser hadn't become a historian, he would have become a veterinarian. Whatever your job, I'll leave you with this Shaker saying:

"Put your hands to work and your heart to God."

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