The Protestant Reformation spawned many different religious sects, including splinter groups from sects that had already broken away from mainstream Protestant churches. One such group was known as The United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing. This group became known colloquially as the “Shakers” and was an offshoot of the Quakers and the French Camisards.
The Quakers, or Society of Friends, founded by George Fox in 1652, were named such because of the tremblings and “quakings” during worship. The “Shaking Quakers” or “Shakers” split from the Quaker church. Ann Lee, daughter of a blacksmith in Manchester, England, joined the Shaker sect in 1758. On May 10, 1774, after receiving a vision to establish the church in American, Ann Lee and a small band of believers set sail for America. She led the group to the US and became the leader of the Shakers in America establishing over 20 communities of Shakers in the Northeast, Ohio, and Kentucky.
The Shakers became known for their enthusiastic and physical worship including spontaneous dancing, trembling, shaking, and whirling—hence their name. In addition to their ecstatic practices during church ceremonies, the Shakers held many beliefs that were considered radical at the time—celibacy, pacifism, racial and gender equality, and communal living. Because the Shakers remained celibate and therefore did not believe in procreation, the members adopted children and recruited converts to the religion to be able to grow the church membership.
Ann Lee settled in the community of Colonie, New York, the first Shaker community in the United States. Mother Ann Lee, as she was known, the charismatic leader, is buried in the small Shaker Cemetery close to what is now the Albany Airport. The communities’ egalitarian beliefs are conspicuously on display in the cemetery. One of the first things you notice as you look at the orderly cemetery is that all 445 gravestones are square-top white marble tablets—the same shape and the same size. Only the name, the date of death, and the age of the deceased appears on the stone. They are buried as they died one after the other. The exception is the gravestone of Mother Ann Lee, whose gravestone is taller than all of the rest of the gravestones in the cemetery and also contains more information:
BORN IN MANCHESTER
Feb. 29. 1736.
DIED IN WATERVLIET, NY.
SEPT. 8. 1784.
The historical sign just outside the cemetery fence reads in part:
“This cemetery is part of the first Shaker settlement in the US. Following their charismatic leader Mother Ann Lee, a small band of Shakers traveled from Manchester, England to New York City in 1774 seeking a place to worship freely. Twelve Shakers arrived in Albany in 1776. Known as the Watervliet or Niskayuna Shakers, they eventually established four “Families” or villages within a mile of this sit. They owned or leased over 4,000 acres between here and the Mohawk River.
The 445 burials reflect the equality of all Brethren and Sisters. There are a number of African-Americas, including Violet Bennet who was the first burial in 1785. A few Shakers who committed suicide are included among the burials, not shunned. Graves in the first row re “World’s People” (as the non-Shakers were known) who had lived with the Shakers or wished to be buried near their Shaker relatives. While the Shakers were pacifist, you may see flags marking some graves. There were veterans who joined the community after they fought in the Revolutionary War of other conflicts. The original stones were replaced by the Shakers in 1880.
Mother Ann Lee, her brother William Lee and one other man were originally buried on what is now Albany Airport property. Their graves were move here in 1835. Mother Ann’’s stone is the only one that does not reflect the equality of all other community members….”
Another Shaker cemetery, this one in Harvard, Massachusetts, displays the same orderly layout as the cemetery in Colonie, New York. The grave markers also contain only the name, the date of death, and the age of the deceased on the markers. They are buried as they died one after the other in the order of death. The difference is that each of the more than 300 markers, with the exception of about a dozen marble tablets, are made of cast iron and from a distance have a shape roughly appearing to look like a lollipop.
Because of that, Harvard Shaker Cemetery has been nicknamed the Lollipop Cemetery.