Shaker “families” were organized with elders/eldresses, deacons/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. The museum campus at Hancock is located at what was known as the “Church” Family because the Meetinghouse was located there. 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 in 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, 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 the outside world and other Shaker Villages. These Shakers traveled widely and handled economic and legal matters for the community.