The Shakers are a religious order whose members believe in pacifism, celibacy, and communal living. (There are currently no Shakers living at Hancock, although members continue to live at other Shaker communities.) Their religious expression took the form of singing and ecstatic dance, which is why they were called the “Shaking Quakers,” or “Shakers.”
In 1774, Ann Lee led eight Shaker converts from Manchester, England, to America, seeking freedom to live, work, and worship. The Shakers are one of the most intriguing religious movements in American history, and considered among the most successful utopian societies ever to have flourished in this country.
The Shakers have made important contributions to American culture in their art, architecture, craftsmanship, music, government, agriculture, and commerce. They are renowned today for their plain architecture and furniture.
The Hancock community, the third of nineteen major Shaker villages established in New England, New York, Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana, grew under the leadership of Joseph Meacham and Lucy Wright, with land donated by converted farmers. At the peak of its success in the 1840s, the Hancock community had more than 3,000 acres and 300 members. The community gradually declined, in part due to the urban migration that followed the Industrial Revolution. By the early 1900s, only 50 members remained, most of them children. Eventually, excess land was sold and many buildings were destroyed until concerned citizens stepped in to preserve the Village in the 1960s.