Ohio History Journal

AN EXPEDITION AGAINST THE <span style="color:#cc0000;font-weight:bold">SHAKERS</span>



MONDAY, August 27, 1810. -This day occurred, in the

county of Warren, now Union Village, near Lebanon, in the

State of Ohio, one of the most extraordinary instances of un-

constitutional proceedings, and the most formidable appearance

of infringement on the rights of conscience, that ever was wit-

nessed in this country.

A body of five hundred armed men, equipped in uniform,

and in military order, with their officers, appeared on the ground

before the meeting-house, and, by a committee of about twelve

men, appointed for the purpose, demanded of us that we should

renounce our faith and practice, our public preaching and mode

of worship, or quit the country.

This very extraordinary attempt first began to be agitated

principally through the instrumentality of a certain John Davis,

John and Robert Wilson, and John Bedle, who had apostatized

from the faith, and became bold in wickedness and false ac-

cusations against the Believers; whereby those who had long

waited for false witness to accuse the Believers of something

criminal, were at length furnished with sufficient matter (as they

said) to answer their purpose.

Accordingly, about the first of June, a piece appeared in

the public papers, signed by Col. James Smith, stating as mat-

ters of fact, what he had been informed by the aforesaid

apostates-viz: that the education of children among the SHAKERS

is chiefly a pretence - that they whip their underlings severely,

and also their children - that they count it no sin to have carnal

knowledge of their own women - that all surplus money and

property is given up to Elder David--that he keeps the whole

treasury of the Society in his own hands; and that he, like

the Pope, exercises unlimited authority over all under his control;

and that he, with his council, live sumptuously on the labors of

others; with many things more of a like nature; with remarks

made to exasperate the public with the hottest indignation against


404 Ohio Arch

404       Ohio Arch. and Hist. Society Publications.


the Society, as being a poisonous nest, and enemies to the cause

of American liberty.

But what seemed to be intended as the weightiest charges in

this publication, were certain things therein alleged against James

Smith, Jun., who was among the Believers, and for which there

was some plausible pretence. James's wife, Polly, having left

him on account of his faith, and he refusing to give up his

children to her, furnished the old man with matter for many

heavy charges of oppression and cruelty.

This piece was publicly answered, in a spirited manner, by

Richard McNemar, the falsity of it exposed, and the author cited

to prove what he had alleged, or bear the character of a slanderer.

Notwithstanding, as many wished to receive accusations upon

any ground whatever, the answer was little regarded by such;

nor did it appear that Smith, or any of his associates, had any

intention of prosecuting the matter in any lawful manner.

About the middle of July, we were secretly informed that a

subscription paper was handing about, for the purpose of raising

a mob against us, and that John Davis and the two Wilsons were

active in the business. But they, being publicly taxed with it,

denied that there was any such thing in agitation; and so it re-

mained in the dark until August 23d, when there was a small

hint dropped to some of the Believers at meeting, that Col. Smith,

with a number of men from Kentucky, were over, and engaged in

collecting others, to assist in taking off his grand-children.

Next day, being Friday, we heard from credible authority

that five hundred men were to assemble the next Monday morn-

ing at Capt. Kilbreath's, about three miles off, and intended to

come as a mob, and take off J. Smith's children, and other acts

of outrage. The next day, the news became still more flagrant;

and in the afternoon we were informed by Wade Loofbourrow,

a young man from Butler county, near Hamilton, that he had

seen the written instrument which the designing party had signed,

but did not read it; that it was in the hands of Major J. Potter,

at Hamilton Court, the day before; that the mob was a common

subject of conversation on that occasion; that he heard Major

Potter say that five hundred were subscribed; also, that Rev.

Matthew G. Wallace was forward and active in the business;

An Expedition Against the <span style="color:#cc0000;font-weight:bold">Shakers</span>

An Expedition Against the Shakers.        405


that Major Potter would be second in command; that the Spring-

field Light-Horse would be on the ground, and many more of

the baser sort from Springfield, the Big Hill, from around Ham-

ilton, and from the vicinity northwest of us; that we might ex-

pect the party to appear on Monday, without doubt; and that

he came on purpose to inform us of the plot, and wished to tarry,

and see the result.

The same evening, news came in from every quarter of their

preparations, and threats of abuse -that they meant to tar and

feather R. McNemar, drive the old Shakers out of the country,

and restore the rest back to their former faith and manner of


The next day, (Sabbath, August 26,) some of the party came

to our meeting, particularly Capt. Robinson, who avowed the fact

that they would be on the ground the next day, for the purpose

of violence; but what, he did not fully specify. The State's At-

torney, J. Collet, and the High Sheriff of the county, T. M'Cray,

both of Lebanon, finding out their place of rendezvous, went for

the purpose of giving them a lecture on the unlawfulness of their

intentions, which we understood they delivered. The matter had

now become generally known; and a number of sensible, influen-

tial men, being at our meeting, determined to return the next day,

and see the event. Among these, were Dr. Budd and Dr. Bladg-

ley, from New Jersey; Col. Stanley, from Cincinnati; and D.

Corneal, a noted young man from Kentucky.

Monday morning, the Believers went about their ordinary

business, and about eight o'clock the people began to collect from

different quarters as spectators to the scene which they expected

shortly to commence. The First Circuit Judge of the State, F.

Dunlavy, was early on the ground, intending, if anything unlawful

should be attempted, to countermand the proceeding. News came

from every quarter that the troops were assembled at Kilbreath's,

and would certainly appear. Dr. Bladgley (with some company)

concluded to ride out and meet them, which he accordingly did;

and about twelve o'clock returned, and informed us that they

were mounted and moving on, and would be on the spot in less

than an hour. Accordingly, about one o'clock, the troops ap-

peared, entered in by the Dayton road from the North, and

406 Ohio Arch

406       Ohio Arch. and Hist. Society Publications.

marched in order till the front came within a few rods of the

meeting-house, and called a halt. A number of officers were in

uniform, and the troops armed, and generally equipped in regi-

mental order. The whole body of people now collected on the

ground consisted of about fifteen hundred-some supposed up-

wards of two thousand. Besides the five hundred troops in mili-

tary order, many scattering ones, who came with the multitude,

were also armed, but undisciplined persons; old gray-headed men,

boys and others, who exhibited a very mean and mob-like appear-

ance. Some of the undisciplined multitude were armed with guns

-some with poles, or sticks, on which were fixed bayonets; and

others with staves, and hatchets, and knives, and clubs. The

exhibition presented a scene of horror, the intention of which

was covered with duplicity. It is very probable, that, through

the influence of those peace-designing men before mentioned, the

mob-party had agreed upon the expedient of choosing a com-

mittee to state to us proposals in the name of the party, and to

receive and return our answers. After a few minutes' halt at

the meeting-house, the committee came forward and faced the

yard before the dwelling-house of the old Believers. They re-

quested three of the original men, (meaning of the old Shakers,)

viz.: John Meacham, Benjamin S. Youngs, and Issachar Bates, to

come forward, in order to confer with them on the occasion of

the people's assembling, observing that a committee was chosen

for that purpose, consisting of twelve men then present, among

whom was one chief speaker. They were told that two of the

men they called for were not here; only one of them, viz.:

Benjamin Youngs, was present. Then they said two others (in

place of those absent) would answer. Several respectable char-

acters stood present in the yard before them, and we concluded

to take with us two or three of those who were not of our society,

viz.: Judge Dunlavy, Gen. W. Schenck, and J. Corwin, Esq., al-

lowing that six, at least, would not be too many to be present

with their committee, whom they said consisted of twelve in num-

ber. This we proposed, but they objected, allowing none to be

present but those of the Society, and of those, only three. Judge

Dunlavy asked, Have you any objections to by-standers? (allud-

ing to himself and those with him.) They answered, Yes. As

An Expedition Against the <span style="color:#cc0000;font-weight:bold">Shakers</span>

An Expedition Against the Shakers.        407


they had devised for us to meet with them in the woods, we pro-

posed to meet in a room in the house; but to this they objected,

and insisted upon going into the woods. Unreasonable as their

request was, that only three of us should meet with them in the

woods, and that no one should be present in the conference pro-

posed, who was not of the Society, and might serve as a witness

for us to the proceedings, yet we consented, as no alternative

was granted.

Three of the Society, viz.: Benjamin S. Youngs, Peter Pease,

and Matthew Houston, withdrew with the committee into a piece

of woods beyond the garden, about sixty rods south of the dwell-

ing-house, and half a mile south of the meeting-house.

The leading characters of the committee, were Matthew G.

Wallace, a noted Presbyterian preacher, chief speaker; Doctor

Squire Little, a New-Light; Capt. John Clark, and John Fisher.

The names of the rest we did not ascertain. Wallace began in

the name of the people to state their grievances, observing that

our principles and practice had caused great disturbances in the

minds of the people, and led to the extinction of civil and religious

society, which they are determined to uphold; that our system

was a pecuniary system, and led mankind into bondage and op-

pression; and that the people were determined to bear it no longer

-and they endeavored to insinuate, that they (the committee)

were in a capacity to prevent evil being done, and perhaps pre-

vent much blood being shed, as the people were fully resolved on

a redress, provided we would comply with the terms they had

to propose, as the voice of the people. After speaking in this

manner for some time, they stated the following conditions as

the only terms on which the people would be satisfied, and pre-

vented from forcing a compliance by violent measures, viz:

1. That we should deliver up the children of James Watts,

deceased, to their grandfather; alleging that the said James, at

his decease, gave his children to his father - and asked us if we

did not see the propriety.

We answered - we had not seen the propriety hitherto, as

we supposed the mother, under whose care the children now were,

had the greatest right to them; and asked them if it was recorded,

that the said James gave his children to their grandfather? They

408 Ohio Arch

408       Ohio Arch. and Hist. Society Publications.


answered, that it was not. We told them that we could not give

up that which was not in our possession. The children were with

their mother, and under her care, and we exercised no authority

over them. We were sure that the mother and children might be

seen by any two or three civil men; and if the parent was willing,

and the children wished to go, it was not our wish to have them

retained; nor if any demanded them, and chose to force them

away, would any violence be used to prevent them.

2. That old William Bedle be permitted to see his grand-

child, a son of Elijah Davis, alleging that the said child came

away, (from his father,) and was forcibly brought back contrary

to his inclination. To this we also replied, that the child was

under the care of his own parents; that we had not any control

over him -that we did not usurp the parents' right over their

children, but we doubted not that the child might be seen, etc.,

etc., an answer similar to the above.

3. That we should give up the children of James Smith

observing, that we were doubtless well acquainted with the cir-

cumstances relative to these children. To this, we also answered,

that the children were under the care of their father; that they

were now in the hands of authority, and that a suit had com-

menced in court respecting them. This, therefore, they con-

cluded to drop for the present.

4. The chief speaker here observed, that the next thing

might probably seem hard to us, and then proceeded to state the

weightiest proposition, as the sense of the mob party, (whom he

still termed the people,) viz: that we cease publicly to inculcate

our principles, and that we cease our practice; that we cease to

dance on the Sabbath-days and on the week-days, observing that

such practices were reverse from the gospel; or depart out of

the country by the first Monday in December next. The amount

of which proposition was, that we should renounce our faith and

practice, our manner of living, preaching, and mode of worship;

or depart out of the country.

These were the terms proposed by the mob's committee in

the name of the people. If we accede to the terms, well; and if

not, the people, as they called them, were determined to enforce

them by violence. We now requested them to state their pro-

An Expedition Against the <span style="color:#cc0000;font-weight:bold">Shakers</span>

An Expedition Against the Shakers.        409


posals in writing; but Wallace observed, that what had been pro-

posed was short, and could be easily remembered without writing.

Benjamin replied, as the proposals were short, they might be the

more readily committed to writing; but they pointedly refused.

It was two o'clock, and one hour was agreed upon to receive

a positive answer. The committee arose, and we returned home.

All the elder brethren and sisters present, were assembled together

in an upper room of the house. We invited in Judge Dunlavy,

Squire Corwin, and General Schenck, all of this country. We

stated in their presence the proposals and demands of the com-

mittee, and the answer we expected to return; observing, also,

wherein we felt their requirements, &c., in the first instance,

unreasonable and unjust, particularly in not allowing any persons

present at the conference who might serve as witnesses against

the unlawfulness or injustice of their demands; and also, of the

unreasonableness of grandfathers demanding to be given up to

them their grand-children who were among us under the care of

their own parents.  These judicious men, though they said

nothing on the present occasion, appeared to be much affected, and

feelingly interested for the cause of justice. After we arose,

Judge Dunlavy and General Schenck went out, and found Dr.

Little, one of the committee, in the yard before the house, and

talked to him in an affecting manner on the illegality and conse-

quences of this day's concourse of people.

At the expiration of the time appointed, Benjamin informed

Dr. Little that we were now ready to meet them. Accordingly,

we again met the committee at the same place in the woods,

before-mentioned, and delivered the following answer, viz:-

I. Respecting the children demanded to be given up, we

observed, that we had already stated what we had to say on that

subject; adding, that all adults among us were free, and that it

was contrary to our principles and our practice to oppress any,

or hold them in bondage.

2. Respecting our faith which we held in the gospel, we

esteemed it dearer than our lives, and therefore meant to main-

tain it, whatever we might suffer as the consequence. And as to

our leaving the country, we were on our own possessions which

we had purchased with money obtained by our own honest in-

410 Ohio Arch

410       Ohio Arch. and Hist. Society Publications.


dustry. It was our endeavor not to owe any man anything; we

had not a cent of any man's money; we enjoyed our own peace-

able possessions in a free country, and were entitled to those

liberties (including the liberty of our consciences) which the laws

of our country granted us. This was the answer.

In the course of the first sitting of the committee, we had

observed to them, that things were misrepresented and wrongly

reported of us; that there was no evidence of the existence of

those things of which we were accused, and that they were only

reported by prejudiced persons; that there was no need of all this

concourse of people; if we had done wrong in any matter, we

were willing that any judicious persons should make examina-

tion, and the laws of our country made ample provisions for the

redress of grievances. To which they replied by the chief speaker,

that the means prescribed for redress would require too lengthy

a process, and the people would not wait the issue of such

measures, adding that they had evidence sufficient.

It is here worthy of notice, that, although the committee had

solemnly agreed not to admit or suffer any of the party near them

while they conferred with us, yet before we closed with them,

they had a number of false witnesses and accusers standing by,

with charges against us, particularly John Davis, the apostate

before-mentioned, who falsely, and in the most malicious spirit,

brought accusations against the Believers; others, also, were

standing round, in readiness to take their turns in accusation. In

this state of things, we asked the committee again and again if

they had understood us. And they again and again answered in

the affirmative; and though we had pointedly delivered our

answers, still they labored hard to urge upon us the propriety of

our compliance to their demands; for how, said Wallace, could

we withstand a thousand men? But not acceding to their terms,

we left them, and it appeared very doubtful what would be the


About the meeting-house, the school-house, the children's

family, and the first family of young Believers, there was a vast

and promiscuous concourse of armed men and spectators, some

disputing, some inquiring, others railing out against, and en-

deavoring to scatter falsehood, and urging the propriety of ban-

An Expedition Against the <span style="color:#cc0000;font-weight:bold">Shakers</span>

An Expedition Against the Shakers.        411


ishing us out of the country by violence. Women of the baser

sort, who were in fellowship with the riot, had placed themselves

within sight of the buildings, on the edge of the woods, waiting

to see the destruction of the Shakers; others, of the same cast,

were taking an active part in urging on parties of the mob to

take away, by force, children of their connections, who believed,

and such like acts of violence. Some men of talents and good

principles, were engaged in contesting those violent measures

agitated by the mob party, urging our right of citizenship from

our peaceable deportment, and the unconstitutionality of infring-

ing upon our right, which had never been forfeited by any mis-


About three o'clock, a public speaker of the party, standing in

the street before the meeting-house door, proclaimed liberty,

that all who had any charges against the Shakers might come

forward and enter them. A number of charges were produced;

but no charge, however, was regularly entered and taken up,

except a charge of murder against Amos Valentine, upon the

deposition of John and Robert Wilson, two of the before-men-

tioned apostates, who deposed, that when they lived among the

Shakers, the said Amos had a boy that had fits - that he whipped

said boy unmercifully; also, that the said boy was whipped by

Daniel Moseley, and that the said Amos and Daniel both wished

that he was dead; that the boy for some time past had been miss-

ing, and that the said deponents believed that the said boy was

murdered, and put out of the way. A habeas corpus was im-

mediately served on Amos, and he put under guard, until the

said boy should be produced. The boy was immediately sent for,

being at Moses Easton's, about two miles off. About this period

of transactions, the committee were sitting the second time, with

the three brethren before mentioned.  Judge Dunlavy, who

understood the proceedings of the committees before, followed

them to the edge of the woods, and there sat down upon a log,

about five rods distant from where the committee were sitting,

and there waited to see the issue. Immediately after the brethren

left the committee, he mounted his horse in the midst of the as-

sembly, and, with a loud voice calling attention, he delivered a

solemn injunction, that no one violate the laws of Ohio, and re-

412 Ohio Arch

412       Ohio Arch. and Hist. Society Publications.

quired all civil officers present to take cognizance of the conduct

of any who should violate them. Soon after this, the aforesaid

boy arrived, very corpulent and hearty. This was about four

o'clock. Dunlavy understanding the case, gave public informa-

tion of the boy's arrival, and the satisfaction which was given

of the innocence of the party accused, ordered the prisoner to

be released, and the people to disperse, as nothing remained as

any matter of investigation. Nevertheless, Capt. Kilbreath re-

fused to comply with Dunlavy's order to release the prisoner,

alleging that he was as high in office as the judge. Upon which,

Dunlavy ordered him to be apprehended, and put in prison; but

Kilbreath being armed with a sword and pistol, and refusing

to be taken, they left it to be determined some other way which

of them should be greatest. The prisoner, however, was released;

but some of the party treated the judge with great contempt, and

uttered the most bitter invectives against him for his interference.

At this stage of the proceedings, the committee having returned

and mingled among the multitude, and Dunlavy having given his

orders, the mob-party were somewhat irritated, and thrown into

confusion. But the word of command being given, and the party

mounted, they moved down the street in a violent career, amid

clouds of dust, and halted in a vast crowd, facing the dwelling-

house of the Elders; and, after a little pause, Major Robinson,

with a loud voice, demanded of those in the house whether we

would comply with the proposals of the committee, Yea, or Nay.

This was repeated a number of times, crying aloud, Give us an

answer, Yea, or Nay! but no one answered a word. Then all

the people in the house, men and women, old and young, were

commanded to come out of the house, and to place themselves in

a circle on the green before them. But none offered to move.

Then Robinson continued his harangue to this effect; that

we should comply immediately with the proposals of the com-

mittee, and accede to remove out of the country by the first of

December next, or suffer the consequences; and then cried, Is

not this the voice of the people? which was instantly answered

by the mob with uplifted hands, and a general loud and hideous

yell, in the most exasperated manner. But as none appeared or

answered, they ordered the gates to be thrown open, which, after

An Expedition Against the <span style="color:#cc0000;font-weight:bold">Shakers</span>

An Expedition Against the Shakers.        413


some considerable hesitation, some of the concourse ventured to

perform. The doors of the house were now instantly shut and

fastened, as hitherto they had been left open. After the gates

were thrown open, the house was immediately surrounded by a

promiscuous multitude of armed men and spectators, but the

main body of the corps remained on their horses in the street.

After some consultation in the mob-party, they proposed a com-

mittee from among them, whom they wished to enter and search

every apartment of the house, to see whether there were not

some who were held in bondage, and such other like instances of

cruelty and injustice as were reported. The committee proposed

came forward, consisting of Major William Robinson, Capt.

John Robinson, Capt. John Clark, and Capt. Cornelius Thomas,

and one or two more. They entered upon conditions of behaving

civilly, and began their search and examinations with the young

sisters, and asked them, one by one, if they wished to leave the


Betsey Seward replied, that she was satisfied with the people,

and her present place of abode--that she liked it better than

among her natural relations; because they treated her more kindly

than ever her natural relations did, and that she did not wish to

see any of them any more, while they remained so wicked. The

committee then said, Let her stay. Prudence Morrell being

interrogated, replied, that all the world would be no inducement

to her to go away; that she had much rather lay her head down

upon the floor, and have it chopped off, than she should be taken

from her present abode; and so did Jenny McNemar, and all

the rest - each declaring that they were free to go away, if they

chose, at any time, and that nothing bound them but their faith

and love. All whom they interrogated, whether brethren or sis-

ters, made similar replies.

The committee having searched every apartment of the

house, declared themselves satisfied. Capt. Thomas, (who was

a man of considerable feeling,) in particular, said he saw a

decent house, and decent people in it. They then drank

generously of cold coffee, went out, and reported-Well

satisfied. After this, they went back again to their former

ground at the meeting-house, and the same committee pro-

414 Ohio Arch

414       Ohio Arch. and Hist. Society Publications.


ceeded to examine the house and family of the young Believers.

All who were interrogated, made firm replies, that they were

free, and might go away whenever they chose, but would not:

some said they had rather die, than abandon their faith, or for-

sake the people of God. By this time the committee were un-

der considerable mortification, and their zeal began to abate,

having been disappointed in all their researches, and some per-

suasions had to be used to get them into the schoolhouse. Mat-

thew being present at their examinations, wished them to go,

especially, as they had it reported that we would not suffer our

children and youth to read the scriptures. When they went into

the school, they found Testaments plenty. Matthew observed,

they might see at least one lie had been told them. They looked

at the children's writings, which they acknowledged far sur-

passed their expectations. Matthew then wished them to ask the

children questions, whether they had enough to eat, etc., ob-

serving, that he had children among them, and had long been

absent, and knew not at present how it might be with them.

When they asked, First-have you enough to eat? they an-

swered, Yea! yea! yea! as much as we want, ran all through the

school. Second-are you whipped more than you deserve? They

answered, Nay! nay! nay! all through; and many said, Not

whipped at all. Third-do you want to go from these people?

If you do, continued they, fear not, we will protect you. Nay!

nay! nay! ran all through the school. They were then wished

to hear the children read, but they would not, declaring them-

selves fully satisfied. Then they were requested to go to John

Wood's; perhaps they might find that enslaved woman, of whom

they had spoken, and about whom the party were so much agi-

tated, (for it was reported that some certain woman was en-

slaved by the Shakers; those in search had not yet found her, for

another select number of the party had searched the meeting-

house for her a little while before, and the children's order at

John Wood's had also been searched and examined.)  But the

committee would not go any further, declaring themselves, again

and again, fully satisfied; and so they departed.

No ground of accusation being found or reported to the

party, and the generality being wearied and perplexed with the

An Expedition Against the <span style="color:#cc0000;font-weight:bold">Shakers</span>

An Expedition Against the Shakers.        415


same, and under a mortifying disappointment, were dismissed;

the last of them disappeared as the darkness of night began, to

creep over the horizon, without leaving behind them any visible

marks of cruelty.

No disturbance or confusion appeared among the Believers

through the whole occasion. The generality kept busy at their

usual employments-took dinner in their usual manner, and en-

tertained such as they could with convenience. They answered

those mildly who spoke to them, whether peaceably, or in a

taunt. Such as wished to enter the rooms from the noise and

clamor, did so, and spent their time in conversation.

Perhaps a scene entirely like this, has not transpired since

the rights of conscience have been esteemed sacred by man.

That no evil or cruelty was transacted after such formidable

preparations of design, can be assigned to no other cause than

the interposing hand of Divine Providence-that invisible Power

of God which turneth the hearts of men whithersoever He will,

and saith unto the mighty waters, hitherto shalt thou come, and

no further.

N. B. The foregoing transactions are stated according to the

best recollection, and information of the circumstances, immedi-

ately after the event transpired. It is not to be understood, that

every individual of this vast body were persons of malicious

designs. Some even of those under arms, appeared not to know

in reality for what purpose they were come together, only as

they had been ordered out by their officers. There were some, also,

who had been influenced to evil designs by the malicious and evil

reports in circulation, who, when they received true information,

and were induced to consider the impropriety of such illegal con-

duct, they manifested no disposition to do any injury. Some of

this description left the mob, and returned back, after Doctor

Bladgley went to know their intentions. There were numbers,

also, who were men of good information and just principles,

some of whose names have been mentioned, whose only en-

deavors were to inculcate reason into the minds of as many as

were accessible, and to maintain a spirit of peace and freedom.


Miami County, State of Ohio, August 31, 1810.