No Shaker to date has taken up blogging; however, if blogs have a precedent in the publishing world, then the column “Notes about Home” in the Shakers’ monthly publication The Manifesto was a prototype. Launched in 1889, the column contained informal communications from individuals updating their fellow Believers on what was transpiring in other families and villages. Eventually renamed […]
No Shaker to date has taken up blogging; however, if blogs have a precedent in the publishing world, then the column “Notes about Home” in the Shakers’ monthly publication The Manifesto was a prototype. Launched in 1889, the column contained informal communications from individuals updating their fellow Believers on what was transpiring in other families and villages. Eventually renamed “Home Notes,” the column continued in a monthly blog-like fashion until The Manifesto ceased publication in December of 1899.
In recognition of this Thanksgiving season we share a “Notes about Home” communication from then Brother Walter S. Shepherd at the North Family, Mount Lebanon describing that family’s Thanksgiving Day in 1893. He wrote:
“You all, we presume and trust, had a good, earnest, Thanksgiving meeting, and partook of a good Thanksgiving dinner. We enjoyed the day very much, as we were very kindly invited by our Canaan friends [referring to the Upper Canaan Family, the Lower Family having closed in 1884] to spend the day with them, which we did, arriving there about 9 a. m. Held a good, free meeting, and partook of a beautiful vegetarian dinner. You will say it must have been a vegetarian dinner if it was beautiful, for who would think of describing a table set out with pieces of dead animals and birds, as beautiful? Our table truly was beautiful and replete with good vegetables, breads, sauces, jellies, fruits, nuts, etc., and yet some will say they cannot give up the use of flesh as food as they have nothing to take its place. This excuse indicates, we think, a lack of faith and resolution. However, the treat of the day was the afternoon meeting. We were entertained by the members of the ‘Ethical Floral Circle’ who meet once a week under the guidance and training of Sister Emily Offord. Their motto is ‘Cultivate the intellect. Improve the mind. Refine the manners.’ And we can truly say they give evidence of progress towards their motto. The young Brethren and Sisters, boys and girls, did themselves great credit. It was a surprise and a treat. We reached home about dusk, having spent a memorable Thanksgiving Day.” (1)
Of special note in Elder Walter’s account of their Thanksgiving Day are his descriptions of the North Family Shakers’ vegetarian dinner – sans Tofurky – and his mention of the Ethical Floral Circle. The North Family began eliminating meat from their diets in the 1830s. Elder Frederick Evans was the most outspoken advocate of the meatless diet – although the sisters around this time were forceful in their desire to not have to deal with the mess of greasy carcasses. Eventually the entire family gave up meat and by the time of the 1893 Thanksgiving dinner had been meat free for decades. The most accessible account of the North Family’s history with the vegetable diet appeared in Sister Martha J. Anderson’s Social Life and Vegetarianism published in 1893. The Educational, Ethical, Floral Circle, is described by Sister Emily as being:
“Educational, because it affords opportunities for education. Ethical, because good manners and morals, culture and refinement are included. Floral, because each member is designated by a flower name symbolic of brightness, cheerfulness and innocence. The circle denotes equality as all have equal opportunities, equal advantages and are equally compensated by making equal exertions. They hold meetings bi-weekly in which very interesting original articles are read, poems and dialogues recited, and one subject discussed verbally at each meeting. Music vocal and instrumental is added. One of the members is chosen to preside over the meeting whose duty it is to make out a written programme which she gives out at each meeting assigning a task suited to the age and ability of each one.” (2)
The Circle included all of the young children in the family and was a part of a larger movement among the Shakers to introduce self-improvement groups – taking care of the spiritual and intellectual as well as the physical bodies of its members. Sister Emily, a teacher of the young girls was particularly well suited to supervise this group.
Elder Walter and Sister Emily shared an English heritage. Sister Emily was a member of the extensive Offord family that included her father William Sr., her brothers William, Jr., Daniel, and Nathaniel, and sisters, Ann, Rhoda, and Miriam. The family began coming to the Shakers in 1850 with the last two, Daniel and Emily, arriving in 1856. Elder Walter came to the Shakers in 1888 as a direct result of Elder Frederick Evans’s second missionary trip to England a year earlier. Elder Walter signed a probationary covenant at the North Family in 1888 and was appointed to serve as second elder in 1892 but was soon sent to Enfield, Connecticut to serve as second elder of the South Family there. In 1917 as the Enfield community was closing Elder Walter moved back to the North Family at Mount Lebanon, eventually being appointed to the Lebanon Ministry where he served until his death in 1933.
We wish you all a happy Thanksgiving – with or without meat on the table.