Shaker “families” were organized with elders and eldresses, deacons and deaconesses, and trustees, overseen by the Ministry. A “family” in the Shaker community is a term that refers to a spiritual family, and the metaphor is extended as all men and women were called brothers and sisters within this family. Each family consisted of approximately one hundred Believers, and was made up of a dwelling, workshops and barns. The Hancock Shaker community included the Church, Second, East, West, North and South families. All families would gather together on Sundays at the Church family’s Meetinghouse for worship.
The Shakers were outside the norm of contemporary American society in placing women and men equally at the highest levels of authority. The Hancock Ministry consisted of two men and two women who were responsible for the spiritual well-being of the Shakers here and in villages at Tyringham, MA, and Enfield, CT.
Deacons, selected because they were practical and able, oversaw men’s work. Family Deacons made work assignments for the brothers and supervised tasks like wood cutting and farm work. Men also managed the mills, tended the animals, and constructed and repaired the buildings.
Deaconesses, who were also selected for their abilities, managed the business of providing the communal family with food, clean laundry, and necessary household and personal effects. Women’s jobs included housekeeping, cooking, preserving, gardening, weaving, laundry and sewing.
Office Deacons, or Trustees, handled business with other Shaker villages and the outside world. They traveled widely and handled economic and legal matters for the community.