The Last Of The Shakers

The Shakers were a religious sect, an offshoot of the Society Of Friends (Quakers), who originated from the UK in the late eighteenth century.

They followed the teachings of Mother Anne Lee and the name "Shaker" derives from their habit of trembling, shouting, dancing, shaking and singing during religious worship. Anne Lee was frequently harassed by the authorities in the UK and imprisoned on several occasions for blasphemy. During one stay in Manchester Prison, Anne Lee stated she had "directions from God" to take her band of followers to America. They founded a community in Watervliet, New York State in 1776.

Over the following decades their numbers swelled to a peak of perhaps 6000 members in the 1840s. As they practised celibacy, they were unable to 'breed' new members of the sect, they overcame this by adopting the children of local "fallen women". Many other Shaker communites were founded throughout America, the town of Shaker Heights in Ohio was originally one of these settlements.

As with many sects, the appeal of the religion eventually began to wane and by 1908 there were only around 1000 remaining Shakers. Their numbers have continued to decline since then.
In 1992 Ethel Hudson , the last surving member of the community at Canterbury, New Hampshire, died at the age of 96. This left just one remaining Shaker community, at Sabbathday in Maine.

It is unclear how many Shakers remain alive, certainly less than ten, possibly as few four. It is evident that there days are now seriously numbered and in a matter of years they will be gone forever. They will leave an impressive legacy, not only did they practise a unique religion, but they left their mark on subjects as diverse as furniture design and hymn writing.

The author of these words, an agnostic, will mourn the passing of the last Shaker. If anyone reading this knows the exact number of those who remain, he would be very interested to know the answer.

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