This humble volume – A Concise Statement of the Principles of the Only True Church …— is one of fewer than a dozen surviving copies of the Shakers’ first printed publication and their first publication of their basic beliefs. It is a modest pamphlet of only 24 printed pages – one of those publications that […]
This humble volume – A Concise Statement of the Principles of the Only True Church …— is one of fewer than a dozen surviving copies of the Shakers’ first printed publication and their first publication of their basic beliefs. It is a modest pamphlet of only 24 printed pages – one of those publications that has more words in its title than it has pages.
Although authorship was not apparent until an 1847 edition was published with Father Joseph Meacham’s name attached to it, he was most assuredly responsible for the writing and principles presented in 1790. Father Joseph’s work does not include the word Shaker or make mention of their founder Mother Ann Lee. His intention appeared to be to establish a pedigree for the new church that was free from any preconceptions that may have been held by readers with prior knowledge of the Shakers. He described four dispensations that God intended would eventually lead man to eternal salvation. The first dispensation: the “first light of salvation” was given to those who believed that there was but one God. The second dispensation began with God giving the laws to Moses. The third dispensation began with the appearance of Christ in the flesh and the fourth and final dispensation occurred in 1747 with the revelation that Christ had made a second appearance in every person willing to take up the cross of living a Christ-like life. Father James Whittaker’s attached letter to his relations tells them that there is nothing he can do for them as long as they follow the ways of the flesh and that this time – this final dispensation – is their last chance for salvation.
It was probably printed duodecimo – twelve pages to each side of a large single sheet of paper, cut and folded into three eight page signatures identified by the printer as “A,” A2,” and “B.” The Museum’s copy is wrapped in a slightly heavier unprinted sheet for cover. It has an unprinted sheet pasted to the title page. The pamphlet was originally sewn together with stitches about every half centimeter along its folded edge. The sewn pamphlet was at some time inserted into a folded calfskin cover. The cover was stitched to the pamphlet at top and bottom of its folded edge. The cover is crudely decorated front and back with blind-stamped lines around its four edges and two crossed lines connecting the corners made by the intersecting lines. The pamphlet measures 12.3 centimeters by 9.5 centimeters.
It is not known how many copies of A Concise Statement were printed or whether they were widely distributed – probably not many and not widely. The Museum’s copy was always in Shaker hands. It was acquired at the Hancock Shaker Village through Eldress Emma B. King in 1957 and was part of a mass of materials brought over to Hancock from Mount Lebanon in 1947 when that community closed. The pamphlet bears the name Truman Treat written in brown ink on its front cover. His name also appears at the top of the pasted-in sheet preceding the title page. Brother Truman was born in 1780, the same year his parents Sarah and Richard Treat joined the Shakers at Mount Lebanon. Brother Truman came to live at the Church Family in 1808 where he resided until his untimely death in February, 1813 at the age of thirty-three – one of the many victims of that year’s fever epidemic. The pasted-in sheet also bears the names of Stephen Woodward and Stephen Woodworth. These names likely belong to the same Shaker brother most commonly identified as Stephen Woodworth. There were two Stephen Woodworths at Mount Lebanon – a junior and a senior. Brother Stephen senior died of “winter fever” at the East Family at Mount Lebanon in 1813, one month before Brother Truman. Brother Stephen Woodworth, Junior, joined the Church Family at Mount Lebanon in 1807 and resided at that family’s Second Order where he was the family elder until his death at age fifty-one at the end of 1824. Considering the timing of the deaths of Brother Richard Treat and Brother Stephen Woodworth, Sr., it seems most likely that the signature in A Concise Statement was that of Elder Stephen Woodworth. The passing of the volume from hand to hand between the death of Elder Stephen and its acquisition by the ShakerMuseum is not recorded.
A Concise Statement of the Principles of the Only True Church… is certainly one of the critical documents that record the development and presentation of Shaker beliefs. It is a volume with great “texture” in its printing, binding, and evidence of use over the years. It is available for research at the Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon. For anyone interested in reading the full text of the work, Williams College has made available a copy available online.