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Herman Nootix in New Hampshire

September 19, 2015

Herman: New Hampshire’s divine beauty is quite in evidence here. Please join me for a look around the Canterbury Shaker Village.

To the Shakers, equality between men and women was important, and this was back at a time when men and women weren’t even allowed to vote in America. Here in the dwelling house, men lived on one side and women on the other, in nearly identical sets of rooms. They stayed separate, but they always shared in work, worship, and control of the community.

Shaker women worked here in the sister shop. Hands to work, hearts to God was their motto, and it showed. Shaker tools, foods, and ever products with top quality and sold well all over the country, even today, original Shaker furniture is quite prized, therefore quite pricey.

Here’s the Shaker Children’s House, where children live with their caretakers. Shakers didn’t believe in marriage or having their own offspring, but they adopted orphans, raised them, and cared for them. Once they reached adulthood, they could either stay in the community, or move back out into society. The no-marriage rule is the main reason the Shakers died out.

Canterbury was one of a dozen Shaker religious communities in the United States. During the 19th century, thousands of Shakers lived in communal farms like this one, sharing their belongings and praying and working. The religion started in England, where its leader, Mother Ann Lee, was jailed for her beliefs. That’s why the Shakers move here, for religious freedom.

The Shakers weren’t always called Shakers. They got the nickname because of how they worship. Here in the meeting house, men and women stood in separate groups, facing each other, singing hymns and shaking with religious fervor. The religion’s official name was the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearance. Shaker is just a little catchier, I’d say.

Like the Amish, the Shakers intentionally stayed apart from society, but, while the Amish rejected technology, the Shakers liked it. In fact, they invented a lot of it: the circular saw, the flat broom, the cut nail, the clothespin, and the metal-tipped pen were all Shaker inventions. Where if not for these folks, you might be still writing with a quill today.

Goodbye then. It’s been a pleasure.

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