The United Society of Believers, commonly called Shakers, was founded in 1747 in Manchester, England. Because if their vigorous bodily agitation during worship, they were
derisively called “Shaking Quakers,” later just Shakers. A young woman named Ann Lee joined the group and was imprisoned in 1770 for her religious beliefs. During her imprisonment she experienced a series of visions, and from then on was acknowledged at the Shaker leader, known as Mother Ann. In 1774 a revelation led her to take a select band to America. They landed in New York City and eventually migrated to a place outside Albany, beginning community life in 1776.
The Shaker settlement at Sabbathday Lake, near New Gloucester, Maine, was founded in 1783 by a group of missionaries. The community grew to over two hundred members in less than a year, but even in the sect’s heyday, it was one of the smaller Shaker groups. Aurelia Gay Mace was the first leader of Sabbathday Lake Shaker community. It is now the last remaining Shaker group in the United States, and as of 2012, had only three members.
By 1850, the Sabbathday Lake Community had grown to a size of 1,900 acres with 26 large buildings, including the meeting house; Brethren’s Shop which still holds a working blacksmith shop and woodworking operation; and a large Central Dwelling House built in 1883 or 1884. Other buildings with historical significance are the Shaker Library, the
Cart and Carriage Shed, Ox Barn, The Girl’s Shop, Herb House, Brooder House, Wood House, a garage built in 1910 for the group’s first car, a Summer House and the Laundry building. The Shakers of the Sabbathday Lake Community were largely self-sufficient, selling goods from their mill and farm. In 1823 there were still about 150 members of the community
The reason the numbers have dwindled over the year is that Shakers are celibate. Thus new members cannot be born into the group and must join from the outside. Membership to the community is still open, and occasionally “novices” will explore joining the society. Current members have taken steps to ensure that Sabbathday Lake Village will remain largely unchanged once the final members of the group die.
The Museum at the settlement is the largest repository of Maine Shaker culture. Examples of furniture, oval boxes, woodenware, metal and tin wares, technology and tools, costume and textiles, visual arts, and herbal and medicinal products are among the 13,000 artifacts currently part of the Sabbathday Lake collection.