Note: this is a repost from my "purged" materials, originally appearing on another blog in early October 2015, shortly before that year's JASNA AGM. I share it again now having recently revisited Pleasant Hill. I will share my updated impressions next week. Please enjoy.
|Aerial view of Pleasant Hill|
‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be freeTis the gift to come down where we ought to be,And when we find ourselves in the place just right,‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.When true simplicity is gained,To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed,To turn, turn will be our delight,Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.– Words and Lyrics by Elder Joseph Brackett, 1848
We receive little hint in Austen of the evangelical and revivalist movements of the 19th century. Mary Bennet is mocked for her religious austerity, but that is about as close as we come. However, the late 18th and early 19th centuries were a boom time for dissenters, or those who interpreted christianity in a manner differing from the Church of England. Unsurprisingly, many persecuted believers found their way to the United States, where they hoped for more religious freedom.
|Amazing stairway designed by Micajah Burnett|
There are a few (like four) Shakers still living in their community at Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village in Maine, but the groups fierce belief in abstinence prevented it from ever becoming mainstream. Shaker men and women, who were considered completely equal within the community and divided all leadership roles, lived in separated communal houses. All property was shared. Everyone worked in the self-supporting communities, as the act of labor was considered a path to god. I’ve always wondered how much abstinence fueled the amazing creations the Shakers produced (need to channel that energy somewhere), for they were incredibly innovative, inventing such things as the first washing machine. The Village at Pleasant Hill is an architectural marvel. Brother Micajah Burnett, who joined the group with his parents at the age of 17, was a self-taught architect who designed the main buildings in the village, using innovative techniques to create large, open spaces, minimizing obstructive beams and supports. The buildings are in amazing condition all these years later. The acoustics in the Meetinghouse he designed are phenomenal. As Shaker worship involves ecstatic singing and dancing, the entire room must have erupted with their voices, clapping, and stomping. Above the main floor of the Meetinghouse was the housing for the village elders: two women and two men.
|Attic of the Meetinghouse designed by Micajah Burnett|
The Shakers were pacifists, like the Quakers, and were the first religious group to receive an exemption form military service during the Civil War. Though they were anti-slavery, they tended to both Union and Confederate forces who found their way to the communities. There were many African-American members, who were considered and treated as true equals in a time when even the staunchest abolitionists tended to believe in white superiority. As the members did not have children (unless the family joined as a unit), foundlings and orphans provided population stability. At age 21, members could choose to stay or remain. Most chose to leave, for no matter how prosperous and harmonious life was in the Shaker Villages, abstinence always has and will be a hard sell.
|Simple and open interior of the Meetinghouse|