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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

Shaker History

Contributor:
Dallas Bogan on 29 September 2004
Source:
The following is taken from Dallas Bogan's book, "The Pioneer Writings of Josiah Morrow."
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

Beginnings of Society at Union Village in Warren County.

Three Shaker Missionaries from the East Make a Winter Journey on Foot of a Thousand Miles--They Begin Their Preaching, Make Their First Converts, and Establish
Their First Community at Turtlecreek.

December 5, 1907

The Shaker society at Union Village has long owned five thousand acres of the most fertile land in Warren county and is more than one hundred years old. The society which was once large and prosperous is now reduced to a small number and seems destined to total extinction.
The first Shaker sermon in Warren county, and I believe the first west of the Alleghenies, was preached in the Turtlecreek log church four miles west of Lebanon on Sunday, March 24, 1805. The first Shaker society in the world was established in New Lebanon, N.Y., a place about twenty-five miles southeast of Albany, by the followers of Ann Lee, who with nine others, had emigrated from England in 1774. Their numbers were few until 1787 when a great religious revival in the churches at New Lebanon led many into the new sect. Other societies were formed from time to time, and at the beginning of 1805 there were thirteen Shaker communities, all in the eastern states.
The greatest and most remarkable increase in the converts to Shakerism was in Ohio and Kentucky in 1805. The first, the largest and the most important of the western societies was organized at the Turtlecreek church.
The Turtlecreek Presbyterian church was formed about 1797 and soon became the largest church of any denomination in Warren county. Rev. James Kemper, the pioneer Presbyterian preacher of the Miami Valley, was its pastor for a time and he was succeeded by Rev. Richard McNemar, who was a leading spirit in the remarkable religious movement known as the Kentucky revival, and nowhere on either side of the Ohio does there seem to have been greater excitement or more extraordinary physical manifestations in the revival than at Turtlecreek.
In September, 1803, the Turtlecreek pastor was condemned as a heretic by the Presbyterian Synod. Nearly all the members of his congregation agreed with the pastor, and on Sunday, April 29, 1804, the members of the church voted with uplifted hands unanimously to separate from the Presbyterian body. Thus was organized the first of the New Light or Christian churches in Warren county. This Christian denomination was not the one now called Christian of Disciples which was of later origin. In a little over one year the pastor and a large proportion of his congregation became Shakers.

A Long Journey on Foot.

Who were the first missionaries of the Shaker faith, meeting with such wonderful success in the new states of Ohio and Kentucky? And how did it happen that they preached their first sermons and obtained their first converts at the Turtlecreek church? Richard McNemar's History of Kentucky Revival, now a rare book and the Writings of Other Shakers, both in manuscript and print enable us to answer these questions.
The Shakers in the eastern states had heard many accounts of the progress of the great revival on both sides of the Ohio and had read in the public papers of the varied and recurrent transcripts of great multitudes and attendant convulsive and bodily movements from which they probably had derived their name. They determined to send their missionaries to the scenes of the great Kentucky revival.
They set out on their long journey from New Lebanon, N.Y., about three o'clock in the morning on New Year's day, 1805. They were taken in a sleigh for the first sixty miles, the remainder of the journey was on foot. They had one horse on which was carried their baggage. They were accustomed to making long journeys on foot. One of the men, Issachar Bates, relates in his autobiography that in the ten years succeeding 1801 he traveled as a Shaker missionary about 38,000 miles mostly on foot, and was instrumental in converting about 1,100 persons.
In their journey they passed through Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington. When they arrived in Kentucky they visited the places where the most extraordinary scenes of the great revival had been witnessed. They crossed the entire state of Kentucky and visited Tennessee and then traveled northward. They saw and conversed with the preachers who had been leaders in the revival and among others with Rev. Matthew Houston at Paint Lick and Rev. Barton W. Stone at Cane Ridge, both of whom had passed out of the Presbyterian church and were now New Lights. On March 19, they crossed the Ohio and visited the revivalist preacher, Rev. John Thompson, pastor of the Springdale church in Hamilton county, Ohio. On March 22, 1805, they arrived at Turtlecreek after journeying 1,233 miles since the first day of January. How many traveling preachers and evangelists of our day would be willing to make a journey on foot without receiving a dollar for their labor?

First Converts in Warren County.

The Shaker missionaries were described as grave and unassuming 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 the crowns five inches high. Their coats were grey, waistcoats blue and overalls brown. A.H. Dunlevy, who when a boy saw them first at Turtlecreek church, remembered them as strangers with broad-brimmed hats worn on their heads in the church.
It was Friday when they arrived at Turtlecreek and they first went to the house of Malcolm Worley, a man of large property and good education, but who had become so wild in the revival meetings that many men doubted his sanity. He had been the year previous authorized to preach on exhort in the New Light churches. The next morning the strangers went to the house of the pastor of the church who says this was the first means by which he learned that a people called Shakers existed upon earth. He further says he judged them to be men of honest principles, singular piety and deep understanding of the things of God, though some of their conversation he could not well understand.
They desired to speak in the church on the next day, which was Sunday, and permission was granted. After the sermon by the pastor two of the missionaries addressed the congregation and this was, I think, the first public preaching in a church of Shaker doctrines in the west. The great revival had well paved the way for the new doctrines. The first convert was Malcolm Worley, who embraced the new faith on Tuesday after the sermon. The second convert was Ann Middleton, a Negro woman who had been a slave. After a few other conversions the pastor of the church and his wife were formally received into the new church on April 24th. Within a year the greater portion of the members of the Turtlecreek church were Shakers and remained steadfast in the faith unto the last.
The first regular meeting of the new society was held at the house of David Hill on May 23, when the missionaries introduced dancing as a part of the Divine worship, one of them striking up a step song and the other two beginning the dance. The new society had at the start one ordained preacher, two licensed exhorters, two ordained ruling elders, two physicians and about thirty other members. They soon began to hold public meetings in the log church where "they preached and sang and danced and shouted until the opposing party withdrew and left them in peaceful possession."

Rapid Spread of Shakerism.

The Shaker missionaries with their converts at Turtlecreek became active propagandists and new societies were rapidly formed out of the congregations that had been carried out of the Presbyterian body by the revival. New societies were begun at Eagle Creek in Brown county in June, 1805, and at different places in Kentucky in the same year. The society at Beaver Creek, southeast of Dayton, was begun in the spring of 1806 and long continued its existence.
Four of the Presbyterian preachers who had been active in the Kentucky revival joined the Shakers in the following order: 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 died in the Shaker faith.
Dunlavy was pastor of the Eagle Creek congregation in what is now Brown County, Ohio. The Shaker community formed chiefly out of his congregation numbered in 1807 twenty or thirty families. No village was established here but the members lived in scattered houses and met on Sunday for worship. They were all removed from Brown county to other communities about 1810. Dunlavy was long a preacher in the Shaker community at Pleasant Hill, Ky. He died in 1826. Houston and Rankin were pastor of churches in Kentucky, and Shaker societies were formed from their congregations. Matthew Houston died at Union Village in 1848 in the 84th year of his age. John Rankin died at the South Union community in Kentucky in 1850.
Malcolm Worley, the first convert in the western community was never a Pres-byterian minister, but was a licensed preacher in the New Light church. He died in 1844 aged 82 years. His children did not follow him into the Shaker faith and they brought suit to recover from the Shakers the land he had deeded to them, on the ground that he was not of sound mind when the deeds were executed. If the suit had been decided against the Shakers they would have lost the land on which stood their principal buildings, but after long delay the case was decided in the Supreme Court in favor of the society. Though this suit was gained by the Shakers it cost them $1,200.
The society at Union Village has always been regarded as the principal and parent community in the west. Its progress was rapid. The records of the society give the number of members in 1812 as 370, and in 1839 as about 500. This last number seems to have been the maximum membership, and in the next six years there was a serious diminution.
I conclude this brief history with the statement of Rev. James Kemper, who in the Presbyterian church was the chief opponent of Richard McNemar and his doctrines and methods. Mr. Kemper had been McNemar's predecessor at Turtlecreek, and he wrote as follows:
"The people of Dick's Creek and Turtlecreek invited me to them. Those on Dick's Creek were Pennsylvanians and those on Turtlecreek were from New Jersey. The former of these had been well instructed in the doctrine of religion, while the latter had not been. I purchased a farm in that neighborhood and moved to it. But after being there one year, Richard McNemar, a deposed member of our presbytery, came and soon ran away with my Jersey people and so deranged all my plans that after the first year I moved back to Walnut Hills to the grief of Pennsylvania friends and McNemar and his friends soon became Shakers."


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