Who are the Shakers?
Some Further Sketches of the Life and Character of Mother Ann Lee
Headstone of Mother Ann Lee (b. 1736 – d. 1784)
Shaker Cemetery, Watervliet, New York.
Some Further Sketches of the Life and Character of Mother Ann Lee
by Mehetabel Farrington
1. Mother Ann Lee was a woman of strong constitution, rather exceeding the ordinary size of woman; rather thick, but very straight and well proportioned in form; of light complexion, and blue eyes; her hair of a light chestnut brown. In appearance, she was very majestic, and her countenance was such as inspired confidence and respect; and, by many of the world, who saw her, without prejudice, she was called beautiful. To her faithful children (spoken of spiritually), she appeared to possess a degree of dignified beauty and heavenly love transcending that of mortals.
2. She possessed remarkable powers and faculties of mind, which were greatly enlarged and strengthened by the gift of God. At times, when under the power and operation of the Holy Ghost, her countenance shone with the glory of God, and her form and actions were divinely beautiful, and very angelic. Her power and influence, at such times, were great, beyond description; and no one was able to gainsay or resist the power by which she spoke.
3. Though Mother’s words were generally few, they were always adapted to the occasion; and it did not appear that she ever spoke in vain. Her whole sole was always engaged in the work of God, and the spirit of God seemed to breathe in all her words and actions. So great and godlike was the power of her spirit, that, within a few words, and often with a single word, or touch of her hand, she would instantly raise individuals, and sometimes a whole community, from a state of deepest tribulation and distress of soul, to a state of the most heavenly joy and comfort. Again, she has often ministered, in a few words, to a whole assembly, such a measure of the power of conviction and repentance, that, in a few minutes, the floor has been wet with tears. She inspired into the hearts of her spiritual children, the greatest fear of God, and commanded the most unbounded love and respect of any person then living. Her countenance was mild and lovely, yet graceful and solemn. In reproof she was terrible; in admonition she was quick, sharp, and powerful as lightning; yet always careful not to hurt the oil and wine (the gift of God in the soul); but labored to save all that God owned.
4. She possessed a degree of discernment and penetration which nothing short of Divine Power and Wisdom could inspire. In her labors with young Believers, she seemed to penetrate the inmost recesses of their souls, and would often lay open before them the state of their minds far more clearly than they were able to do themselves. It seemed that nothing could be hidden from her; and, in whatever she asserted for truth, though at the time, ever so doubtful to others, she was never known to be in the least mistaken. Her mind rose superior to the ordinary passions of human nature; and her great labor was to subdue those passions in her followers, and to inspire their souls with divine and heavenly affections. She was never known to be in the least degree ruffled, or out of temper with any one, during the whole period of her ministry among us; but, even in the severest reproof, she appeared to feel unbounded charity for those whom she reproved. When she rejoiced, her joy was unspeakable, and it seemed as if her whole soul was with the angelic host, rejoicing in the mansions of glory. When she wept, it seemed enough to melt a heart of stone. She was often in supplication before God, and her cries and weeping were such as we had never heard before; it seemed that the sound of her voice was enough to cause the most relentless heart to break, and yield before God.
5. In times of tribulation she was often heard to say, “There is no sorrow like my sorrow.” And surely there is no sorrow worthy to be compared with the sorrow that proceeds from a heart that is pure and holy before God as Mother’s was. It appeared that every feeling and faculty of her soul and body was wholly devoted to the will of God in all things. She was frequently heard to say “once I served God through fear, but now I serve Him by love.”
6. In her manners and daily deportment, she was meek, harmless, and inoffensive. Her love and charity seemed boundless; always ready to succor the afflicted, and minister to the wants of the needy, and those who were well acquainted with her during the whole course of her ministry from the first opening of the gospel in America, until her decease, can truly say that they never saw any mortal that appeared so lovely, so godly, and so heavenly. For meekness and simplicity of manners, Mother was very remarkable, and her humility was very great. In speaking of herself, she used to speak in the same heavenly simplicity and truth as when she spoke of any person. When any of the Believers expressed their love to her, she would often reply, “It is not me that you should love, but the God in me.” When some kneeled down to her, she often used to say, “Don’t kneel to me; but kneel to God; I am but your fellow-servant.” She frequently kneeled, when any one kneeled to her.
7. In her instructions and labors for the increase of the gospel among the young Believers, Mother spared no time or pains. She often used to say to those who came to see her, “The gospel is the greatest treasure that souls can possess; go home and be faithful; put your hands to work, and give your hearts to God. Beware of covetousness, which is as the sin of witchcraft; if you have anything to spare, give it to the poor.”
8. Mother Hannah Kendall, who was much with Mother Ann, and often accompanied her in her journeys, remarks that she often used to say, when visited by poor widows, “Hannah, give this woman a piece of money; she is a poor woman, and has children.” She was often heard to say to Believers, “How many poor creatures there are who suffer with hunger and cold, and here you have enough! How thankful to God you ought to be, for his tender mercies toward you.”
9. In laboring for the increase of the gospel, and the salvation of the lost world, Mother passed through inexpressible sufferings; in this she was second to none but Christ Jesus, her Lord and head. She bore her sufferings with a degree of fortitude, patience, and resignation worthy of the lot in which she stood, and which, many times, appeared far more than human. Sometimes she would endure the most extreme sufferings, without saying any thing about them; at other times she used to speak of them in the simplicity of a child. Sometimes, when the Brethren and Sisters came to see her and asked how she did, she would answer, ” Bonds and afflictions abide me.” She was often heard to cry out, in the extremity of her anguish, “O that every thing that has breath, would cry to God for me! Yea, I desire that the very grass of the field, would cry to God for me.”
10. At Watervliet, N. Y., in the presence of Eliphalet Slosson and others, Mother Ann said, “I bear daily, in my soul and body very great sufferings for the sins and loss of souls, in so much that my flesh seems bruised upon my bones, and the blood ceases, in a great degree, its circulation. But I often feel the healing power of God, which heals me, so that I feel perfectly well again, both soul and body.”
11. Ezekiel Stevens, of Canterbury, related the following, “As I had much opportunity to be with Mother I often heard her speak of her sufferings, both in body and spirit. She would often foretell the Believers were coming to the Church, who were sorely bruised, and wearied with their journey; that she felt it on her body, so that her flesh felt sore, and bruised; and she sometime showed to her Sisters the bruises and said, “I feel them coming.” And I observed that they would always come when she said so. She sometimes said, “When people come to the Church under the condemnation of sin, it brings such sufferings upon me as almost takes my life.”
12. Mother also manifested in her deportment, the most distinguishing marks of humiliation. She would frequently wait on those who came to see her with the same attention and assiduity as though she had been a mere servant in the family. When people came who were fatigued with their journey, who were feeble, wet, or cold, she would often use her utmost endeavors, with her own hands, to wait on them, and make them comfortable. Sometimes, while waiting upon them she would say, “I am among you as one that serveth.”
13. As many people came, from time to time, she would, sometimes, in providing places for them to lodge, according to circumstances, give up her own bed, and take her lodging on the bare floor, without a single article of bed clothes, except some garment folded under her head for a pillow. This she was known to do, not only in the summer season, but also in the winter, when the weather was very cold.
14. John Farrington says, “I have a number of times seen Mother wait till the multitude had done eating, and then go to the table, with a mild and pleasant countenance, and there make her a whole meal, out of the fragments. I have seen her walk from end to end of the table, picking the bones after us, and eating the broken bits of bread which the multitude had left. Again, after the people had been eating spoon victuals, I have seen her gather the remaining driblets into one dish, and eat them with singular marks of thankfulness.” This she often did, not only at home, in her own family, but also abroad, among the people where she visited; and she often took such opportunities to teach prudence and economy. Sometimes the Elders, or some others, would urge her to have something better; but she would reply, “It is good enough for me, for it is the blessing of God, and must not be lost. You must be prudent, and saving of every good thing which God blesses you with, so that you may have wherewith to the to them that stand in need.” This is confirmed, by many things the Believers who have been eye-witnesses of these things.
15. Mother’s industry, prudence and economy, were equal to her zeal and charity; so that, in all things, she was a pattern of godliness, and showed herself to be a mother indeed, in every good word and work. As the Lord Jesus did set an example of righteousness to all men, and instructed all Believers to follow his footsteps, in order to find acceptance with God, so Mother Ann set an example to all women, and instructed all her followers to take up the same cross, in order to find their relation to Christ.
16. David Slosson relates, that, at one particular time when he was at Mother’s home in Watervliet, she had been much exercised in labors with the people, and had sent them away; after which she went into the kitchen, and said she wanted some of the Sisters to go and help her clean the door yard. She had no sooner spoken, than all readily offered their services; but she took only a part, and went with them, and was very active, with her own hands, in cleaning away all the litter and rubbish, and putting things in order. Soon after they had finished, there came such a number of people, that the house was too small to hold them; therefore they had their meeting in the dooryard.
17. Thus was manifested, not only Mother’s neatness, industry, and prudence, but also her gift of wisdom and foresight, by which she always had all things in readiness. It appeared, indeed, that nothing was ever lacking, on her part; but she seemed to be always ready, waiting on the gift of God; and to be, in truth, a worker together, with God, in all her undertakings.
18. After the decease of Father William, Mother, who had been ably supported by him, in the vast weight and care and burden which such a vast weight of Believers brought upon her, now began to decline in bodily strength; and knowing that her work was nearly at a close, she accordingly endeavored to prepare the minds of the Believers for it. She repeatedly warned them to be faithful; for she was about to leave them.
19. Soon after Father William expired, Mother said, “Brother William is gone, and, it will soon be said of me, that I am gone too.” She was afterward often heard to say, “Well, I am going soon.” She would then say to those who were present, “Brother William is calling me.” Sometimes she would say, “Yea, Brother William, I shall come soon.”
20. She continually grew weaker in body, without any visible appearance of bodily disease, till the 8th of September, 1784, between twelve and one o’clock in the morning, when she breathed her last without a struggle, or a groan. Before her departure, she repeatedly said to those around her, that she was going home. A little before she expired, she said, “I see Brother William, coming in a golden chariot, to take me home.”
21. After her decease messengers were immediately sent to New Lebanon to notify the Believers. Notice was also sent to Albany, and other places in the vicinity, that all who so desired, might attend her funeral. Accordingly, a vast concourse gathered, both of Believers and others.
22. At the grave Father James Whittaker spake as follows, “Here lie my two friends; God help me; as ever a man desires to eat, who is hungry, I desire to lie here with them! They are a part of myself! They are gone to that treasure which is my only interest. It is the gospel of Christ which is all my interest; and I should desire to depart, and to lie with them here, were it not for your sakes. But I forbear—There is not a man in America that is able to keep the gospel without help.” The tears flowed down his face abundantly; it seemed as though his heart would break for very grief. He proceeded, “I say, the will of God be done; I desire to do the will of God. This is the greatest gift of God that the soul can obtain. You will all have to feel so too,—to be reconciled with God’s will, and to feel that the gospel is your only interest.”
23. He then addressed himself to the unbelievers, saying, “This that we do much esteem, and so much adore, is a treasure worth laboring for; it is the gospel of Christ’s Second Appearance; it is the only means of salvation that will ever be offered to sinners; it is the last display of God’s grace to a lost world.”
This chapter is taken from: Testimonies of the Life, Character, Revelations and Doctrines of Mother Ann Lee and the Elders With Her, Through Whom the Word of Eternal Life was Opened in this Day, of Christ’s Second Appearing, Collected from Living Witnesses, in Union with the Church, Second Edition. (Albany, N.Y.: Weed, Parsons & Co., 1888), 268-275.
Editor’s Note: This work was originally published by the Shakers in 1816. It was reprinted in 1888.
The photograph of Mother Ann Lee’s headstone appears courtesy of the Mary L. Cook Public Library, Waynesville, Ohio.