Maps of the Shaker West: A Journey of Discovery

Martha H. Boice
Few people realize that the Shakers or the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing is the longest lasting communal group in Ohio as well as the nation. Mother Ann Lee brought a small group of followers from Manchester, England, in 1774. The group is still represented by a small society at Sabbathday Lake, Maine. Because the Eastern communities survived into the twentieth century, they are better know than the societies established in the Midwest and Upper South, known in the early nineteenth century as the West.. The book, Maps of the Shaker West, started as a 12-page compilation of maps of Shaker sites in Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana and Michigan. It was a cut-and-paste job financed by the Western Shaker Study Group for the participants of the Berkshire Shaker Seminar coming "west" in the summer of 1993. The seminar, sponsored by the Berkshire Community College, Pittsfield, Massachusetts, visits a different Shaker site each summer and many of the participants live in the East. The booklet was well received. A few extras sold at the Pleasant Hill (Kentucky) Shaker gift shop. It was enough encouragement for us consider doing a more professional job. As the proprietor of the Shaker Map Company, we thought of Richard Spence of Cincinnati to create directional maps. As we thought about the site maps, we found a computer generated map of South Union near Bowling Green, Kentucky, which Dale Covington of Marietta, Georgia, had created. We asked him if he would be willing to help with a few site maps. Dale was eager to assist, bringing not only his mapmaking skills, but his critical eye for editing text and checking every quotation for accuracy. We started out by approaching the subject chronologically. Three missionaries from the lead Eastern community at New Lebanon, New York, started west on New Years Day, 1805. They had heard reports of the Great Kentucky Revival and visited many of the churches effected by this religious outpouring. The Kentucky Revival sites which the Shakers visited provide the setting for the coming of the Shakers. Union Village in Lebanon, Ohio, was the first village established by these missionaries in 1805 and became the lead community for the West. Eagle Creek and Straight Creek Shakers were gathered, too, the result of the same early missionary effort, but the scattered community lasted just six years. Watervliet near Dayton formed in 1806, followed quickly by the two societies in Kentucky: Pleasant Hill (1806) and South Union (1807), as well as a short-lived community in Indiana: Busro or West Union (1809). It was missionary work in the 1820s by the Shakers at Union Village which produced an affiliation with a group in the Darby Plains area near Marysville and later Urbana. Union Village also worked with the White Water Shakers during the same period and eventually combined these two groups. North Union, now Shaker Heights, was also established in the 1820s. The final story in the book unfolded as we studied properties in four locations purchased or improved by various Shaker communities in the 1850s. Activities related to the Underground Railroad seemed to account for the Shakers' acquisition of these properties. This framework of Shaker outreach in Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan provided the scope of the book. 1 copy

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