When the United Believers in the Second Coming of Christ established a religious colony at South Union in Logan County, Kentucky in 1807, they were fulfilling the missionary vision of Ann Lee (1736-1784), a British-born immigrant to New England and the founder of their faith. “Mother Ann” had infused singing and dancing into worship services to such a degree that onlookers described an early meeting as full of “shaking, trembling, speaking in unknown tongues, prophesying and singing melodious songs.” Thus was born the popular name for her followers, the Shakers.
Shakers dancing during worship
The South Union Shakers were objects of curiosity for their practice of pacifism and celibacy, but by the time the colony dissolved in 1922, they had left a rich heritage of music, craftsmanship, and innovation in industry and agriculture. Known especially for their packaged garden seeds and preserves, the Shakers also operated mills, sold livestock and poultry, and offered public meetings in addition to their private religious services.
The Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections is the premier destination for anyone interested in the history of the South Union Shakers. Researchers can now browse a list of our principal Shaker collections, which focus on South Union but include materials relating to other Shaker colonies, by clicking here. The collections include Shaker journals of daily activities, records of Shaker businesses, hymnals, memoirs, photographs, and the papers of leading Shaker scholar and WKU faculty member Julia Neal. A fascinating Civil War resource is the diary of eldress Nancy Moore, which chronicles the hardships of the Shakers as both Confederate and Union troops descended upon them demanding food, provisions and horses. Each listed collection includes a link to TopSCHOLAR, WKU’s digital repository, where a detailed finding aid is available for download. For even more Shaker materials, search KenCat, the Kentucky Library Research Collections catalog.
A recent purchase by the Department of Library Special Collections bolsters the significant Shaker holdings in Kentucky Library Research Collections. This two-piece timeline map/chart is titled, “Genealogical Chronological and Geographical Chart Embracing Biblical and Profane History of Ancient Times from Adam to Christ.” The map was produced by Jacob Skeen of Louisville, Kentucky in February 1887 as an educational tool to reinforce the traditional Christian validity of Shaker communities and to arrest the decline of the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing or as they were more commonly known, the Shakers. Elder Alonzo Hollister of the Mount Lebanon, New York community wished to show that Shaker orthodoxy had continuity with scripture and the traditional church. It was also a grasping attempt to reconcile their beliefs with a fast changing, progressive worldview. Copyrighted 1887, the detailed chart with many sub-charts purports to show locations and relationships of humanity, the Church and the Devil. W.F. Pennebaker of the community at Pleasant Hill, Kentucky also participated in the publication of this lithograph. David Rumsey, a world renowned map collector and the founder of the David Rumsey Map Collection notes that “although researched, designed, drawn, and copyrighted by Jacob Skeen, a Presbyterian, the chart is strongly associated with the Shaker Church. Skeen spent 10 years developing it and it was to be used in the biblical instruction of children and adults alike.” Some 204 charts were produced, the KLRC is one of only a few holding libraries in the world. The Manuscripts and Folklife Archives has more extensive documentation of the South Union Shakers’ 115 years of existence than any other repository with many Journals, diaries, account books, hymnals, and business records chronicle the activities of the religious community of Shakers, who gathered at South Union in Logan County, Kentucky, in 1807 and disbanded in 1922.
Call the Reference Assistance desk at 270-745-5083 or search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat<