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THE WORLD OF HERBS
J. E. Kinghorn

If you should have a lovely garden,
you should live a lovely life. -- Shaker Saying

In the nineteenth century the Shakers, also known as, The United Society of Believers, made contributions in many areas, as artisans, inventors, builders and were very successful as gardeners.  They developed a very sophisticated retail business selling vegetable seeds and medicinal herbs, which they grew, processed and packaged.  They invented the paper seed package in use today.  The highly successful business of cultivating and preparing medicinal plants for sale to druggists, doctors and apothecaries began on a limited basis, circa 1820. Drs'. Lawrence and Harlow of the order, both excellent botanists, developed the business and improved cultivation, collecting, preparation and distribution methods.  In the 1850's the New Lebanon herb  business was at its peak producing 100,000 pounds of dried herbs and several thousand gallons of extracts annually.  Medicinal herb catalogs were distributed listing, 356 medicinal herbs, 4 common culinary herbs, 181 fluid extracts and most were accompanied by a detailed description of the product and it's uses.  The Shakers were the forerunners of the modern seed and garden catalog's you see today.  

When you here the title Shaker, you most likely will relate it to the furniture style they are famous for.  The functional clean lines of the Shaker style furniture clearly express their life philosophy.

They committed themselves to improving  human nature and developing a model society based on virtue and integrity. Their values, simplicity, harmony, usefulness, efficiency and beauty were the core of the community.

The Order was founded by Ann Lee a  factory worker from Manchester, England.  She began having revelations and visions and began preaching that men and women should confess their sins, renounce lust, and adhere to celibacy.  She preached that all who adhered to a pure Christly life would find eternal salvation.  Persecuted in England, Ann Lee, who became known as `Mother Ann,' and eight of her followers came to America.  In 1776 the small order purchased land near Albany, New York.  Ann Lee died in 1784 and the new leaders developed rules for membership in the order, recruited members and established an orderly system of communal living. Two Shaker Communities were established between 1787 and 1836, and twenty two Shaker communities in neighboring States as well as Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana. There was a large community in Enfield, CT. in the 1800's.  Each community owned several thousand acres of land and operated for the most part independently, but all recognized the Central Shaker authority in New Lebanon, New York.  

The Shaker movement peaked in 1847 with 6,000 members and gradually dropped to fewer than 1,000 by 1900.  There were fewer than 50 members in 1950 and in 1965 the remaining Shakers voted to close the covenant of membership.  Less than 10 true Shakers are living in Sabbathday Lake, Maine today where they still  grow and sell herbs.  There may be a few more small communities scattered about but since membership in the covenant is closed, the Shaker communities are destined to  fade into history.


Note:
To learn more visit the Hancock Shaker Village Museum in Pittsfield, MA.
(Sleigh rides, if conditions warrant.)


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