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Kentucky: a road trip through the state - Part 47 - Orlando / Florida Guide

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Academics and theology scholars have many different opinions about the followers of Mother Ann. They are not certain if they believed she was the female reincarnation or if she was just a prophet predicting that the second coming would be in a female form. Mother Ann’s vision was that God had chosen the people of America and that was what caused them to make the long journey. Their first year in the New World was a battle for survival as was the case with many who made this journey at that time. However at the end of 1776 they had managed to establish a permanent settlement at Niskeyuna, just outside of Albany in upper New York State.

Mother Ann and her brother William along with James Whittaker decided to journey to New England for their first conversion mission in May of 1781. In 1784 at age 48 Mother Ann died at Watervliet and is buried in the Shaker cemetery located in the Watervliet Shaker Historic District. Her followers took up the cause and in 1787 founded the New Lebanon Shaker Village, southeast of Albany. This became the mother colony which had the final authority and was the maker and dispenser of laws for all the Shaker communities.

James Whittaker became the new leader and under his leadership the Shakers founded 21 villages from Maine to Kentucky. New Lebanon was the largest and had around 600 members but the Union Village in Ohio was almost the same size. The Pleasant Hill community in Kentucky was third largest with about 500 members.

From 1787 to the current time the total recorded membership of the Shakers is 16, 828. This figure comes from the Western Reserve Historical Society. There is only one community left today that still has Shakers in residence. It is near Lewiston in Maine at a place called Sabbathday Lake. Up until recently it had the last three remaining residents, two of whom were in their 80’s. The Shaker vow of celibacy has meant that only adoption and conversion can insure the sect continues. In 2015 a fourth person, aged 29, joined the community so maybe they will continue.

The Pleasant Hill Shakers embraced a kinship with the land and with each other and chose a peaceful way of life. The Shakers had a quest for simplicity and perfection which is reflected in their designs and craftsmanship, and today the term Shaker-made is synonymous with excellence around the world.

The Pleasant Hill population peaked at almost 500 in the 1820s and the community thrived into the mid-19th century. It acquired more than 4, 000 acres of farmland but then changing social attitudes and the Industrial Revolution caused the community to decline. Kentucky Shakers no longer exist and yet their influence is a legacy to all who visit the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill.

The next section continues in part 48.

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