Ohio History Journal

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Professor of History, Kent State University

On August 27, 1810, a body of some five hundred armed men.

threateningly descended upon the Shaker community at Union

Village, near Lebanon, Ohio. The crowd eventually withdrew, how-

ever, without committing any act of violence. In explaining this

withdrawal official Shaker historians gave credit not only to "the

calm, peaceable and harmless deportment of the believers" but

also to "the orderly and flourishing appearance of their school; the

marks of contentment visible in the countenances of the children."1

Because their school life has not been much studied, the present

paper examines Shaker educational practices and ideas, especially

the ideas of Seth Youngs Wells (1757-1845), who for twenty-four

years supervised Shaker schools and was the society's "educational


The communities of "The United Society of Believers in Christ's

Second Appearing," although practicing celibacy, usually had chil-

dren under their care. Convert families, widowers and widows,

guardians of orphans, brought their children. In addition, as Wells

put it, "we have from time to time, many children urged upon us,

by poor parents, who are not of our community, as well as those

who are; and, generally speaking, we think there are ten offered

to us where one is accepted."2 The preference was given to "children

whose parents profess the same faith with us." Shiftless or insecure

parents or guardians, mothers of illegitimate children would send

children to the Shakers:


We have no lack of children here--I suppose there are about 150 under

the age of 14, & about 30 that are under 5 years old, & a number of them

1 A Summary View of the Millennial Church, or United Society of Believers

Commonly Called Shakers (2d ed., Albany, 1848), 82.

2 Seth Y. Wells, A Plain Statement of the Custom and Manner of Receiving,

Managing, Teaching, Governing and Disciplining Children in the Society of People

Called Shakers. Unpublished manuscript, 1815, Cathcart Shaker Collection, Western

Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland. All manuscripts cited hereafter, including

letters, are in the Cathcart Collection.