Communes – and the Shakers

The communal style of living which is now so much a part of our picture of the Shakers was actually not a part of their beliefs. When they moved to the Colonies, however, relocating around Albany, financial stresses compelled them to living in a communal setting

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Their belief in the dual nature of God; a masculine half and a feminine half, led directly to the equality between the sexes. However, the celibacy that marked them from most of the other new faiths sprang directly from Ann Lee and her experiences in childbirth. She believed that all sin came from the sexual act between Adam and Eve and that only by overcoming fleshly desires could true salvation be attained. The sexes therefore were separated, living on separate sides of the Dwelling House. Personal property was abolished as well, all the property being held communally. New converts brought with them and gave to the order all of their worldly possessions. Even though they accepted anybody, including those who were penniless, the Church became quite wealthy.  Of course when the economy in the United States shifted from farming and handcrafts to factories, the Shakers couldn’t compete and their numbers began to dwindle. Celibacy was part of the problem. Once there were governmental agencies that cared for the poor and for the abandoned children and the number of converts declined, the number of Shakers diminished rapidly.

The Millenium Church, as they named themselves, was not a democracy. All decisions came from the top down. Obedience was a strict requirement.

However, they remain once of the most successful ‘communes’ ever established.