Plain People Discussion Continues–Author Ann H Gabhart & The Shakers

Ann Gabhart

Well, our discussion of the different sects of PLAIN PEOPLE continues with Author Ann H Gabhart, also known as the Kentucky Storyteller. Ann will be giving away a copy of CHRISTMAS AT HARMONY HILL to a commenter so be sure to leave one Ann has been my guest before and I’m happy to host her again. Here’s Ann:

1-When and where did your sect of Plain People begin? Please elaborate as you wish.

Ann Lee was the principal leader of the religious group that came to be known as the Shakers. She led a small band of eight followers to America in 1774. Here she gained more followers who believed she was the “second embodiment of the Christ Spirit.” She and her followers established the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, but due to their style of worship in which they often shook when overcome by the spirit, people derisively called them Shakers. In time, the Believers embraced the name and called themselves Shakers. To escape the evil influences of the “world,” they established villages where they shut away worldly influences and all worked for the common good without individual gain. Any possessions or property they owned when they joined the Shakers were surrendered to the Society. Members of the sect gave up whatever the leadership deemed worldly and attempted to live perfect lives in villages they endeavored to make into little heavens on earth.

Shaker originator

At the turn of the nineteenth century, religious fervor swept the Western frontier, and thousands of people came to camp meetings such as the 1801 Cane Ridge Revival in Kentucky to hear the gospel and embrace new ways to worship. The Shakers, whose communities were flourishing in New England, sent missionaries to the west to take advantage of this wave of revival. Two Shaker villages were established in Kentucky, Pleasant Hill and South Union, from the converts they were able to convince to follow the Shaker way.

2-What sets your group apart from other Christians?

Many things set Shakers apart from other Christian followers. They had very different beliefs than other church denominations. The Shakers believed in celibate living, community property and confession of sins. Mother Ann, as their founding leader was called, taught that individual family groups and marriage unions caused strife and led to sinful living. Shakers lived as brothers and sisters with the sexes strictly separated. Houses had two doors and two staircases so that even incidental contact could be avoided. Also, the Shakers believed in equality of the sexes and races at a time when that was very uncommon in general society. Shaker women had places of leadership along with the men and blacks were welcomed into Shaker villages on equal footing long before slavery was abolished and the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote in 1920.

The Shakers believed in unity in all things and that work was a way of worshiping. They “labored” their songs and “exercised” their dances in their meetings. They were staid, hard workers but exuberant and often frenzied in their worship. The Shakers sometimes opened their worship services in hopes of gaining converts, but most who attended from the “world” did so merely to view a curiosity and as a kind of odd entertainment. The church people who lived near the villages considered the Shaker worship wrong and even blasphemous. However, they did admire the Shakers’ charitable spirit and their fine workmanship of their buildings and their products. Shaker was perhaps the first widely known trade name that people all across the country recognized and trusted. If it was Shaker made, it would be as advertised and a good product.

Shaker house

3-Is your sect still active today? If so, why do you think that this sect has survived? If not, why do you think your sect didn’t last?

One Shaker village remains in Sabbathday Lake, Maine with two or three Shakers. All the other Shaker villages were abandoned by the middle of the 20th Century. Many think the Shakers died out because of their belief in celibate living which certainly didn’t lead to children growing up in the religion. The Shakers did take in orphans in hopes of raising them in the Shaker way, but nearly all of these children left when they came of age. Difficult economic times brought many converts into the village prior to the Civil War. At the Shaker villages, members were expected to work, but they were also guaranteed food and shelter and the young people received schooling. After the war, the villages began to lose many of their young and middle-aged men to the opportunities opened up by an era of industrialization. They were able to find jobs to support themselves and their families without having to abide by the Shakers’ strict rules. Those in leadership positions in the villages aged and without young leaders to take over for them, they stayed in control too long, often with abilities diminished by age that sometimes caused them to make bad financial decisions. As time went by, there was a gradual decrease in worship emphasis and an increase in social activities and amusements.

The Shaker population reached its peak in the 1820s with estimates of 4,000 members at all the villages in the country from Maine to Indiana. The villages began to close one by one as membership declined. In Kentucky, the twelve Shakers living at Pleasant Hill sold off much of their property to settle debts in 1910 and then deeded the rest of their property, 1,800 acres, to a neighboring farmer in exchange for his agreement to care for the remaining Shakers until their death. Mary Settles was the last to die in 1923. South Union, the other Kentucky Shaker village, closed in 1922 when the property was sold at auction. The two men and seven women remaining were offered the choice of relocating to an eastern village or receiving $10,000.

Both Kentucky villages are now open to the public. South Union is a museum ( and the Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill was restored in the 1960’s as a living history museum where visitors can walk the same paths as the early Shakers and perhaps get a glimpse back in time at the Shaker life.

4-Why did you choose to write about this sect?

When I began writing novels many years ago–my first historical novel was published in 1978–I concentrated on Kentucky history since that’s where I live. I wrote about the pioneer days and the Civil War years. Then I wrote a book about the Shakers in Kentucky. Unfortunately, that story didn’t meet market needs at the time and stayed unpublished until years later I was blessed to have a book published in the Christian market, thus opening up new opportunities for my Shaker story. I worked it over and The Outsider was eventually published in 2008, almost thirty years after I’d first written that Shaker story. Then my publishers surprised me by asking me to write more Shaker books, not something I had planned to do. But I did go back into the Shaker world, did more research, found more fascinating Shaker history and came up with new Shaker characters. Each of the books I’ve written about the Shakers are stand alone stories set in my fictional Shaker village of Harmony Hill, but the physical setting is based on the Shaker village of Pleasant Hill near where I live here in Kentucky. So I suppose I wrote that initial Shaker story because I was captivated by the history of the Kentucky Shakers and then I wrote more Shaker stories because readers seemed as interested as I was in seeing my characters experience the Shaker way while dealing with the challenges and problems in their lives.

Here’s Ann’s most recent Shaker book.

To purchase, click here.Christmas at Harmony Hill: A Shaker Story


Christmas-Ann Gabhart

Christmas at Harmony Hill blurb

It is 1864 and the nation is still torn apart by civil war when Heather Worth discovers she is with child. She has been working as a laundress with her husband’s army unit, but when the army gets orders to march south to Tennessee, Gideon insists Heather go home to have their child under safer conditions. Heather agrees, but returns home to another kind of devastation–deaths in the family and a father who refuses to forgive her for marrying a Yankee. With nowhere else to turn, Heather seeks refuge at the Shaker village of Harmony Hill, where her great aunt Sophrena lives. There, after many peaceful years at Harmony Hill, Sophrena is having doubts about her Shaker path. Both women are in need of love and forgiveness–whether given or received. With Christmas coming, can the miracle of new life fill their hearts with unexpected joy?

To find out more about Ann or her books visit Check out her blog, One Writer’s Journal, or join her on Facebook.


Now Ann’s turn to ask  A QUESTION. Do you think you could have lived the Shaker way? Why or why not?–Ann

That’s a good Question, Ann. I don’t think I could. I like being married AND DON’T FORGET TO LEAVE A COMMENT TO BE INCLUDED IN THE DRAWING FOR A COPY OF CHRISTMAS AT HARMONY HILL.–Lyn

PS: Last week’s winner of Judith Miller’s A SHINING LIGHT is Emma!


About Lyn Cote

Lyn Cote welcomes other authors to her "Strong Women, Brave Stories" blog to share stories of women who triumph over the challenges common to all women.
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45 Responses to Plain People Discussion Continues–Author Ann H Gabhart & The Shakers

  1. Jan Hall says:

    I don’t think I would be able to live the Shaker life.

    • Jan, I think your opinion is the majority opinion here. It would be very difficult to live the Shaker life in our modern day, but perhaps in the 1800’s it wouldn’t have been as much different from the common life of many of the people.

  2. Heather S says:

    I could if I had to but if given a choice, no. Thanks for the chance to win! 🙂

  3. Juanita Cook says:

    This would be a very hard way of life to live. But would love to read more on their way of life.

    • It’s more interesting to read about than to actually try to live that way. One book I read once, a writer did go stay with the Shakers during the daytime, living as they lived then. The interesting thing about that was she had a baby that a friend kept at a nearby motel for her and the writer was with her baby at night. I can’t remember the name of her book or her name either, but it was an interesting read. A unique view of the more recent Shakers. All of my Shaker books are set in the 1800’s.

  4. Donna Vincent says:

    I don’t believe in the Shaker way of life. I couldn’t live that way.

    • I think the majority of those leaving comments here agree with you, Donna. Including me. I would have no interest in living as a Shaker but I can understand why some joined with the Shakers in those days of less choices. At least with the Shakers, they had food and warm shelters and something to do. In those days there were no government help programs to fall back on and if you had no way to feed your children, they went hungry. Better to see them with the Shakers, fed and educated and trained in various working skills. Young people could not sign the Covenant of Belief with the Shakers until they were 21. And even then, a member was always free to leave the ranks if they so chose.

  5. Lori says:

    No. There is no way I could live this way. Even though I like the equality among the sexes, there is no way that I would put up with celibate living, community property within the sect, and confession of sins to the community.

    • Lori, that’s probably one reason the Shakers died out. It was hard for the vast majority of people to accept their rules and their doctrine in the 1800’s when they had the largest number of members. Now, with so much more freedom of choice, they would have had even less chance of converting anyone to their way of life. My main characters usually struggle with the same things you mention and never convert to the Shaker way in spite of living among the Shakers and trying to conform to their rules for a time.

  6. Frances Cavallo says:

    I would love to live the Shaker way! It is simpler and sort of calmer! People care about people for who they are, not what they have! I hope I win the bo ok k!!! But Good Luck to everybody!!! I could really use some reading material! I am not working due to illness and I spend a lot of time in hospitals and doctors, so i read a lot! If anybody could help by lending or donating books. It would be a blessing to me!!! My library was very limited in their Amish and Christian Fiction and won’t be getting any more soon! Please help me – it would be much appreciated!!! God Bless!!!

    • Great to hear from you Frances, and good luck in the drawing. Perhaps some of the people you meet in those doctor waiting rooms would have books they might share with you. And most towns have libraries in convenient and easy to get to places. One thing I wouldn’t have liked about the early Shakers was that they didn’t allow their converts to have books and certainly no fiction. They softened their stand on that over the years until the Shakers had extensive libraries in their later years.

  7. Lois Klobucher says:

    I do not think I could of lived the way of the Shakers, I would miss having my family around, but I really did enjoy reading about them and I would love to win the book.

    • Glad you enjoyed reading some of the Shaker history, Lois. The Shakers traded their individual families for many sisters and brothers, but you’re right. It would’t have been like having your own family around. Good luck in the drawing.

  8. Hello Lyn and Ann. I love Ann’s Shaker books but no, I couldn’t be one. First the woman claiming to be the second embodiment of the christ. No way. Also on marriage, GOD made Eve for a mate for Adam. And, when they sinned, HE said Eve would hurt when having children, so HE intended for babies to be born. And, He told one of the disciples it was better if they didn’t get married but if they couldn’t be celebute, then it was better to marry. This was so their attention could be more on the serving GOD. Also to keep them from sinning by having sex without marriage. So, I feel sure HE planned for families, which the Shakers didn’t. I wanted to have children, so couldn’t join a church like that. He also said they should replenish the earth. We used to laugh about daddy doing his part. He and mother had 8 children. So that brought many grandchildren, and now I am already great-grandmother to 19 so just look how our family multiplied times my siblings also. LOL I like to hear about group like this but not live it. Sure hope I can win your book Ann, tho the only one I have won from you was the where I had not been a winner on your blog. 🙂 But, I still try. Thanks Lyn for hosting Ann, one of my favorite authors.

    • Always fun to read your comments, Maxie. The Shakers had a different way of looking at those Scriptures about marriage. Like so many, they chose to look at the passages that supported their own ideas of the way best to live. There were many good things about the Shaker life, especially in the middle 1800’s when they were so well organized and had their highest membership nationwide. They did have many rules to make sure their converts lived a “plain” life and that all their energy went to their work and worship. Hands to work and heart to God was one of their well known sayings.

  9. Mary D Ellsworth says:

    Though I enjoy reading about them, I could not agree with the Shaker teachings. I believe marriage is God ordained. And I love my children too much to think of life without them. Would love to read your new book Ann.

    • Mary, their teachings were very different from the Protestant church beliefs, especially in their earlier days. Later, their views shifted more toward the general beliefs, perhaps because new converts brought certain attitudes and beliefs into the Sect with them and thus softened the Shaker doctrines. As a Shaker you weren’t really without your children, but they weren’t under your specific care any longer. I’m sure they saw them about the village often, but it still had to be difficult for some of the members. But then again they were well cared for as I said in a previous comment..

  10. Patricia M says:

    I have liked learning about the Shakers since a visit to Pleasant Hill, Ky, a place I would recommend if you have not visited. Interesting people, certainly not a way of life for most. I find that very few people even know to whom I am referring when I mention the Shakers. Personally, I think we were never intended to live this way.

    • It is a beautiful place to visit, Patricia. Those of you curious about Pleasant Hill, the Shaker village I use as inspiration for the setting of my fictional Harmony Hill, you can go to their website and see photos and event schedules. They have several neat events coming up and do so throughout the year from garden to table dinners in the summer to Christmas teas. A guided walk across some of their property sounded good to me. Here’s their website. I would have to agree with you that not everyone was intended to live the Shaker life. That includes all my main characters in my books. 🙂

  11. Emma says:

    Hi Lyn and Ann,
    I could not have lived that way.I believe in marriage.I am looking forward to reading CHRISTMAS AT HARMONY HILL..

    • Emma, when I read the Shaker history, I’m often surprised to see that whole families embraced the Shaker life. Of course in that era women didn’t have many options for self support so if their husbands decided to go to the Shakers, they had a dilemma. It’s good we have so many more choices in this day and age, but I agree with you that I don’t think I would have wanted to live as a Shaker.

  12. Lucy says:

    First let me say that I love your books and learning new things. I couldn’t live without being surrounded by my family and being free to worship as the spirit leads. I do admire their work ethic and the pride they took in what they made.

  13. I too believe the family is definitely a unit blessed by the Lord, Sonja and Lyn. The Shakers had a much different slant on that, one I couldn’t agree with either nor do my main characters in my stories ever fully accept the Shaker way even when they try to live in the villages for one reason or another. They explore the Shaker ways and that helps them to find their own spiritual way that leads them away from the Shaker villages.

  14. Paula Osborne says:

    Hi Lyn and Ann, I enjoy reading different types of books so did read some about the shakers and was interesting but could not have lived that way, much too strict. I believe in marriage also as God says in the Bible that two together can help one another.
    Always like to stop by and see some of Lyn’s strong women and I believe Ann is definately one of those growing up in Ky and living on a farm.

    • Fun to hear from you here, Paula. That farm girl background does stand a person in good stead. I wouldn’t have been able to live the Shaker life either. That giving up family and living as brothers and sisters wouldn’t work for me as if usually doesn’t for my main characters in my stories. Of course, the Shakers did believe in helping one another and sharing work and profit.

  15. No, I do not think I could have lived as a Shaker. It would be hard for me to live Amish, although I love the way they live, simple, faith and loyalty to family and community. I think the Shaker lifestyle would be much harder, they are much, much stricter as I see them.

    I have read all of your Shaker series except “Gifted” and loved the books , I will get to it, I just have soooo many TBR bookshelves that some get put onto the back burner.


    • I understand about that overflowing TBR shelf, Wendy. I have some of those too. So many books, so little reading time. But thank you for reading those of my stories that you have read. The Shakers did have a lot of rules, but they were also kind and very accomplished workers. Many people did settle into the Shaker life quite happily.

  16. Deanna S says:

    I do love that they were so faithful but I don’t think I could live that way. I would need more family life. I would need more interaction than they would allow. I’m learning a lot from your blog, thanks

    • Glad you’re enjoying the Plain People discussion here on Lyn’s blog, Deanna. It is interesting to read about the different sects. The Shakers were quite different from the others mentioned. The no individual family part was difficult for many even back then, but often people had little choice since they may have come up on bad luck in other ways so that they needed food and shelter which they could get at the Shaker villages.

  17. Marilyn Williamson says:

    I don’t think I could have lived the way of the Shakers. But I do enjoy reading the books. They probably lived a more moral life than a lot of Christians today. Not judging, just saying. But I believe that ” family” is God ordained.

    • The Shakers definitely intended to live a very moral life, but where I think they erred was in thinking that making so many rules could ensure that. Then they had that different idea of a God ordained family. They wanted to bring heaven down to earth and live perfect lives without individual family units as they believed the Bible says it will be in heaven.

  18. Faye Simer says:

    In some ways the Shakers ways as strict as the Amish, not sure I’d be able to not have my own money and sleep in rooms with a lot of other women. Also not being able to interact with the male gender. But I love to read about the Shakers & would love to have this book !

    • Faye, I think that community property might have been a stumbling block for a lot of potential Shaker converts. Yet, many did join and give over their land and possessions to the Society. The dormitory sleeping might have been hard too as one of the rules also instructed the Shakers to sleep lying on their backs. Snoring time! They did have times of interaction with their brothers and over the years, loosened those restrictions until you see pictures with a Shaker brother with his hand on a Shaker Sister’s shoulder.

  19. I grew up new South Union. I’ve always been fascinated by the Shakers and know I could never choose to live that lifestyle.

    • I think that’s where most of us are, Shelia. Interested in the Shaker history, amazed by their beautiful handwork and great architecture, but not interested in living in one of those fine old buildings.

  20. Hi Ann,
    Enjoyed reading your post. Could I live the Shaker way? I doubt it, though when I visited a couple of the Shaker villages, I truly wondered what it would be like to live without the influence of the outside world. I think I could have adapted to the Amana way of life more easily since they could marry and have families. Thanks for sharing with us this week!

    • The no marriage rule would be a tough one for most of us, Judy. It was a hard one for the young people they raised and hoped to keep as members of their Society. Nine out of ten of those young people left the Shakers when they were old enough to think about love and marriage themselves. Plus, as much as they tried to keep out the world, it had a way of sneaking into their villages.

  21. Robin Bunting says:

    Always interesting to read about historical things. The Shakers were definitely an interesting group of people and their craftmanship was super. Would love an author signed copy of Honor. Thank you.

    • Robin, so glad you found the information about the Shakers interesting. I’m not sure if Lyn is giving away a copy of her book too, but I do plan to give away a copy of my Shaker book, Christmas at Harmony Hill. I don’t think Lyn put that information with the post yet.

  22. Marta Perry says:

    Fascinating information about an unusual group. Thanks!


  23. Sonja says:

    I don’t think I could have believed in this religion. It is really interesting to read about. But I truly can’t believe God wanted us to be without a family, which to me is the center of society.

    • Lyn Cote says:

      I agree, Sonja. Also saying that Ann Lee was the “second embodiment of the Christ Spirit.” would put me off. Still in America people have the right to believe whatever they wish. And I think Ann’s stories reveal an important group in our history. Shakers did take in orphans and their style of furniture is a classic.

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