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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

Shakers Made Their Impact On Warren County Almost 200 Years Ago

Contributor:
Dallas Bogan on 29 July 2004
Source:
Dallas Bogan, Warren County, Ohio and Beyond (Bowie Maryland: Heritage Press, 1979) page 313
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

Warren County had during its early history a religious group that was the first of its kind in the West. The Society of Believers, or Shakers, preached their first sermon on Sunday, March 24, 1805, just two short years after the formation of the County.
The first Shaker assembly in the world was established at New Lebanon, N.Y., located about twenty-five miles southeast of Albany N.Y. Ann Lee, who, with nine others, had emigrated from England in 1774, founded it. A great revival amongst the Shakers, in 1787, revitalized the church and many were led into the new denomination. Until 1805 there were 13 Shaker settlements, all located in the eastern states.
The formation of the Turtlecreek Presbyterian Church was founded about 1797 and soon became the largest church in Warren County. Rev. James Kemper was pastor for a period and was followed by Rev. Richard McNemar. The latter was a leader in the "Great Kentucky Revival."
Why was the Turtlecreek Church selected as the first sermon on the western side of the Alleghenies? What had prompted the three Shaker missionaries, John Meacham, Benjamin S. Youngs and Issachar Bates to travel from their New York home to the lands of Warren County? Again, I will refer you to the "Great Kentucky Revival." Nowhere on either side of the Ohio River was a greater effect felt than at the small Turtlecreek Church. The remarkable physical manifestations were expressed more so at this church than at any other.
The Shakers in the East had heard and read numerous accounts of the happenings due to the Revival. An account of the convulsive body movements had been received by the Shakers, and indeed, an investigative team of missionaries was sent to the scenes of the Kentucky Revival.
Their long journey from New Lebanon, N.Y., was started on New Year's Day, 1805. The excursion began in a sleigh of 60 miles, the rest on foot. One horse was used for carrying their apparel. Long journeys on foot were customary for the missionaries. Issachar Bates relates in his journal that, ten years previous to 1801, he had traveled as a Shaker missionary about 38,000 miles, mostly on foot, and contributed his part in converting about 1,100 persons.
Their journey took them through the cities of Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington. Their arrival in Kentucky allowed the threesome to frequent the sites of the great revival. They traveled across the entire State of Kentucky and down into Tennessee. They met with the preachers who had instrumental in the revival and inquired into the events.
Heading north they crossed the Ohio River on March 19, and were received by Rev. John Thompson, pastor of the Springdale Church in Hamilton County. On Friday, March 22, 1805, they arrived at Turtlecreek after a venture of 1,233 miles since the first day of January.
The Shaker missionaries were described as "grave and assuming men, intelligent and prepossessing in appearance." Their dress was plain and neat and perhaps of the old Quaker style. They wore white fur hats with brims five and a half inches wide and crowns five inches high. Their coats were gray, waistcoats blue and overalls brown.
On Friday they frequented the home of Malcolm Worley. He was a man of good education and had large land holdings. His activity in the Kentucky Revival was described as "one of wildness."
The next morning, Saturday, they visited Rev. McNemar, who made claim that he had never heard of the Shaker faith before. He proclaimed that the strangers seemed to be of honest integrity, and had a deep understanding of the things of God, though some of their discussions were not well understood.
Permission to speak in the church on the next day, Sunday, was asked and given. The first convert was Malcolm Worley, who adopted the faith on Tuesday after the sermon. The second transformation to the faith was Ann Middleton, a Negro woman. On April 24, Rev. McNemar and his wife officially joined the denomination. David Hill hosted the first regular meeting of the new denomination on May 23. Dancing was instilled into the meeting as a part of the Godly worship, one missionary "striking up a step and the other two beginning the dance."
The Society of Believers in the township had at the beginning one ordained preacher, two licensed exhorters, two ordained ruling Elders, two physicians and about thirty additional members.
Public meetings were soon held in the old log church where "they preached and sang and danced and shouted until the opposing party withdrew and left them in peaceful possession."
New settlements were quickly organized out of the followers of Shakerism. These new communities had been channeled out of the Presbyterian organization by the revival. Two of these were: Eagle Creek in Brown County, June, 1805; and Beaver Creek, southeast of Dayton, in the spring of 1806.
Four Presbyterian preachers who had been active in the Kentucky Revival, and had joined the Shaker faith were: Rev. Richard McNemar, April 24, 1805; Rev John Dunlavy, July 29, 1805; Rev. Matthew Houston, February, 1806; and Rev. John Rankin, October 28, 1807. All four lived the Shaker faith until passing on.
Rev. Dunlavy was pastor of the Eagle Creek Church. This congregation numbered in 1807 about twenty or thirty families. The members lived in different localities and met on Sunday for worship. The Brown County community was relocated to different settlements about 1810. Rev. Dunlavy was long associated with the Shakers at Pleasant Hill, Ky. Reverends Houston and Rankin were pastors of churches in Kentucky with Shaker communities expanding from their congregations.
Union Village was always considered the parent community of the Shakers in the West. The number of members in 1812 were given as 370; in 1839, about 500; March 17, 1859, 255; January 1, 1865, 167; and the close of 1867, 152.


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This page created 29 July 2004 and last updated 28 September, 2008
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