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. A religious order whose members believe in pacifism, celibacy, and communal living, Shaker religious expression took the form of singing and ecstatic dance, which is why they were called the “Shaking Quakers,” or “Shakers.” There are currently no Shakers living at Hancock, although members continue to live at other Shaker communities.
Shakers came to America from Manchester, England, in 1774, when Ann Lee led eight Shaker converts here seeking freedom to live, work, and worship. The Hancock settlement was founded in 1783, and was active through 1960.
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. Concerned citizens stepped in to preserve the Village in the 1960s.
Today, the 750-acre Hancock Shaker Village operates as a living-history museum open to the public with 20 authentic Shaker buildings, costumed interpreters, rich collections of Shaker furniture and artifacts in rotating exhibits, a full schedule of activities and workshops, a mile-long hiking trail and picnic areas, store and cafe, and a working farm with extensive gardens and heritage-breed livestock.