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Read more entries by UMass History alum Brian Bixby on his blog Sillyverse.

By Brian Bixby, Alumnus, Department of History

The Shakers are best known now for the chairs they produced, a fact which obscures their history as a celibate communal religious movement. Similarly the interest in the Shaker founder, Ann Lee (1736-1784), has obscured interest in other Shakers who played a prominent role in the movement. Recently, historians have turned to documenting the lives of these other leaders. UMass’s own Glendyne Wergland (Ph.D. 2001) wrote One Shaker Life: A Biography of Isaac Newton Youngs, 1793-1865 (2006), about a lifelong Shaker who lived at the center of Shaker society in New York. Now Carol Medlicott, Associate Professor of Geography at the University of Northern Kentucky, brings us Issachar Bates: A Shaker’s Journey (2013), about a man who only joined the Shakers in his forties, and spent most of his life with them traveling about the upper Midwest.

This biography of Issachar Bates (1758-1837) is a good read. Bates was a paradox, a veteran of the Revolutionary War, a husband with many children, a sometimes alcoholic, and a cantankerous individual, yet he became one of the most important missionaries for the Shakers, a sect which prized pacifism, abstinence from both sex and alcohol, and submission of the individual to communal guidance. His travels took him through the Revolutionary battlefields, out to the frontiers from New York to Indiana, and to the heartland of the Second Great Awakening around Cane Ridge, Kentucky. Along with two other Shakers, Bates was responsible for bringing Shakerism to Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana. And while it is often forgotten there were Black Shakers, their second convert in Ohio was an ex-slave named Anna Middleton. Read More