Happy Birthday to Ann Lee, Founder of America's First Shaker Settlement in the U.S.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Happy Leap Day everyone!  Today is a special day.....a gift, an extra day in our year, one we only get once every 4 years.   It's my daughter's birthday today.....but it's also someone else's birthday.  In fact it's the birthday of a famous person in history, and especially in our local history.  Today is the birthday of Ann Lee, leader of the Shakers, specifically the first Shakers who settled in the U.S. in an area now known as Colonie.  Today is her 280th birthday!

Ann Lee was born on February 29, 1736 in Manchester, England.  Her original surname was Lees, but over time it became Lee.  In 1758 Ann joined the Wardleys, an English sect founded by Jane and Preacher James Wardley; this was the precursor to the Shaker sect.   She believed in and taught her followers that it is possible to attain perfect holiness by giving up sexual relations.  Although she believed in celibacy, her father forced her to marry Abraham Stanley.  Ann and Stanley had four children, all of whom died in infancy, further contributing to her dislike of sexual relations.  Lee developed radical religious convictions that advocate celibacy and the abandonment of marriage, as well as the importance of pursuing perfection in every facet of life.  Ann also felt strongly about gender equality.  She was often characterized as virago - a woman with masculine, domineering attributes.


Ann had a difficult time in England as a result of her attempt to gain followers.  She was imprisoned for treason and refused to sign an oath of allegiance.  Once released, witnesses say Ann performed a number of miracles, including healing the sick.  While in prison, Ann had a vision of travelling to the new world to establish a new religious society.  According to Wikipedia:

"In 1774 a revelation led her to take a select band to America. She was accompanied by her husband, who soon afterwards deserted her. Also following her to America were her brother, William Lee (1740–1784); Nancy Lee, her niece; James Whittaker (1751–1787), who had been brought up by Mother Ann and was probably related to her; John Hocknell (1723–1799), who provided the funds for the trip; his son, Richard; James Shepherd, and Mary Partington. Mother Ann and her converts arrived on 6 August 1774, in New York City, where they stayed for nearly five years. In 1779 Hocknell leased land at Niskayuna, in the township of Watervliet, near Albany, and the Shakers settled there, where a unique community life began to develop and thrive."

The Shaker Heritage Society exists to recognize and preserve the area where this piece of history took place.  In addition to educating, the society works hard to inspire a deep appreciation for the history of America's first Shaker settlement and the benefits of historic preservation.  Last summer we visited the Shaker site on several occasions, mostly to enjoy the beautiful botanical/physic garden. Aside from the beauty of the large variety of plants grown here, reading the history of the uses of each plant was particularly entertaining.  I collected a number of photos over the summer and today, in honor of our local Shaker founder, Ann Lee's birthday, I want to share them with you along with a few photos of the settlement.

Click on individual photos for a closer look.
















Ann's husband abandoned her soon after they arrived in America.  Ann then changed her name back to her maiden name, Lees.  Ann died on September 4, 1784 at the age of 48.  She is buried at the Shaker Cemetery.



Of course, you know this is not where the Shaker history ends, but I think it's pretty cool to know such an interesting piece of history is right in our own back yards.  This summer I hope you'll take time to pay a visit to the Shaker site which also includes the Ann Lee Pond Nature Preserve (featured in an earlier blog post, link included at the end of this post).  Or you can visit Hancock Shaker Village in Hancock, MA (also featured in this blog).  It's good to remember we don't have to travel out of state to take in a little history lesson, it's just around the corner!  There's so much more to read about the local Shakers, so if you want more, use the links provided below to learn more, including the local Shaker Society and their Facebook Page, both full of interesting information both from the past and of current educational events, craft fairs and more!

Enjoy your extra day.....use it to tell some person in your life why they are significant and tell them about Ann Lee too!  Thanks for reading.  Come back soon to Life As I See It.



Elderss Anna White - another powerful Shaker woman.


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3 Comments »

3 Responses to “Happy Birthday to Ann Lee, Founder of America's First Shaker Settlement in the U.S.”

  1. Thanks for the great post! I just want to point out that the photo of the Shaker woman included here is Elderss Anna White--yet another interesting and powerful Shaker women. Of course, there are no photos of Ann Lee. Unfortunately, we have few images or records related to her but there is no doubt that she was a remarkable woman!

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    1. Thanks for that info....that image came up when I googled Ann Lee. Glad to have correct info.

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  2. More about the Shakers at http://shakerpedia.com

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