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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

Shakers Faced Setbacks While In County

Contributor:
Dallas Bogan on 29 July 2004
Source:
Dallas Bogan, Warren County, Ohio and Beyond (Bowie Maryland: Heritage Press, 1979) page 316
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

The Shaker sect, namely the Society of Believers, is full of rich history. There is so much written about this subject that this column can hold just a portion of the many happenings. An account of some of the setbacks embarked upon by the Shakers will be our subject for this article.
The direct results of the "Great Kentucky Revival" caused the Mother Church of the Society of Believers in Lebanon, N.Y., to send three of its missionaries to the Miami Valley, namely, John Meacham, Benjamin S. Youngs, and Issachar Bates. (They arrived in Turtlecreek Township on Friday, March 22, 1805.)
Rev. Richard McNemar was a principal player in the revival. Following this momentous event, Rev. McNemar was found preaching at the Turtle Creek Presbyterian Church at Beedle's Station. Through his conversion to the Shaker faith, he became a great leader in a movement that was to last for over 100 years in Warren County.
The first convert to the Shaker faith was Malcolm Worley. His lands became the site of the newly formed Society. He was recognized as the first Shaker converts in the West. He had previously been involved in the Kentucky Revival, which had so affected him that the ways of the Shakers totally embraced him. Worley entered Shakerism at the age of 43; he lived 39 years after becoming a member, and died August 3, 1844, at the age of 82.
His family had converted with him. However, his three children, Rebecca, Joshua and Joseph, at a later time withdrew from the Society. They went through legal channels in efforts to try to reclaim the land he had deeded to the Shakers. Their claim was that their father was not sane at the time of the transaction.
The Supreme Court heard the case and a decision was made in favor of the Shakers. A sum of $1,200 was spent in legal actions by the children, but to no avail. Another decision by the Supreme Court was rendered in 1811, again the Shakers being the defendants. Robert Wilson sued Elder David Darrow for $250, and again the Believers were victorious. Court action was brought against them in 1816 by Jonathan Davis, but again proved unsuccessful. They were also involved in court proceedings as a result of the 1817 mob. Elder Solomon King became the new leader in 1829. Joshua Worley was second in the ministry to Elder King, while his brother, Joseph, was an Elder at the North House.
The year 1835, near the end of Elder King's reign, saw a financial reverse, which totally shocked the Society. Nathan Sharp, the Society's primary trustee, departed with a valuable horse along with an unknown amount of money and valuable papers. The new converts were astonished at this act, which were at this time trying to establish the character of the Ministry and Elders.
The same year other disasters to the organization were experienced. On June 9, close to nine inches of rain fell in a very short period of time. Damages incurred amounted to about $25,000 when all the milldams were swept away. The tailrace had been filled with gravel and stones. Other noted damage included clothing, fulling and coloring shops. The lowlands to the west of the community were many feet under water and large trees were uprooted and carried away. The crops in this section were also damaged. An abundance of caterpillars caused significant damage that year, eating away the foliage on the forest trees and killing many of them.
In October of the same year, Elder King returned to the parent home in New Lebanon, N.Y., and while there resigned his position at Union Village. In succession to the leadership, David Meacham was next and served a short time. In 1836, Freegift Wells took over. At this time Joshua Worley's name was still entered as an assistant to the ruling Elder of the Society. Joshua's name does not appear again in the legislative committee. A thought was passed on that he might have been disappointed for not having been chosen as the head of the settlement, even though his faithful service merited it.
In July 1859, a gang of organized thieves from Indiana made arrangements to burglarize the sect. A gang member unveiled the plot and all appropriate steps were taken to prevent an occurrence. A large amount of wheat and clothing was stolen in March 1860. The thieves proved to be renegades.
A fire that completely engulfed the old North House occurred on March 4, 1865. In this enclosed building were a tin shop, broom factory, carpenter shop, shoemaker room, and sarsaparillas laboratory. A total loss of $10,000 was experienced. To add to this tragedy, they already had an indebtedness of $12,000. By 1875 the debt added up to $20,000. A reform of sorts was called for, and instead of paying a rate of eight or nine percent interest; money was borrowed from other Shaker communities. Consequently, $2,000 was paid on the debt the first year. Elder William Reynolds was the appointee handling the finances.
A cow barn and 39 head of cattle were lost by fire on January 2, 1876.
Further losses to the Society were felt in 1877 because of a bank failure in Lebanon. The Shakers suffered a loss of $7,468.
On January 22, 1884, the Elder at the West Family fled with $500 belonging to the family.
The Society had begun loaning money in 1885 in which a Dayton business (the Dayton Furnace Company) had collective loans of $16,000. This venture proved to be a total loss, the culprit being a shrewd lawyer.
A tornado struck the village on May 12, 1886, which caused havoc to several buildings, uprooted many of their fruit and forest trees, and blew their wooden fences over. In 1890, the Farm Deacon sold about $700 worth of livestock and disappeared with the money. On April 12, 1890, the two-story wood shed at the South House was destroyed by fire. Just seventeen days later the dwelling at South House, washhouse, and laundry equipment were destroyed by fire. The homeless quickly took up residence amongst the other families. An investigation by a detective was called for by the Elder, which revealed that one of the Shaker inmates was the rogue. He was sent to the penitentiary for a period of four years.


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