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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

Shakers' Trials And Tribulations at Union Village in Their Early 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

Much Opposition to the New Sect--A Peace Loving Community Subject to Persecution--Their Meetings Disturbed and Their Property Destroyed--A Great
Mob Marches Against Them.

December 12, 1907

In the last two articles I have given a brief history of the introduction of Shakerism into Ohio and Kentucky, and particularly of the origin of the Shaker community at Union Village, the first of the sect in the west. Several readers of the Star have expressed interest in this subject and this has induced me to devote this article to an account of the trials, tribulations and persecutions to which the community in Warren county was subjected in its early history. Strange as it may seem, no religious body in the state of Ohio has ever been more persecuted than the quiet, orderly, peace-loving and non-resisting Shakers.
There was violent opposition to the preaching of Shaker doctrines from the time of the arrival at Turtlecreek of the first missionaries of the new sect. The narrators in the Shaker books manuscripts say that this opposition was first instituted by the leaders of the Christian or New Light church. This is not strange when we remember that the great Kentucky revival had led the Christians to separate from the Presbyterian body, and now they saw that the strange missionaries from the east were about to take from the Christian churches large numbers of their members.
I have already made mention of the large camp meetings introduced by the revivalists both in Kentucky and in the Miami valley. These were the first in the United States and the pastor of the Turtlecreek church was one of the first leaders in such meetings on both sides of the Ohio. In the first meetings of this kind in Kentucky, Methodists and Presbyterians seem to have united, but in the Miami country they were held by revivalist Presbyterians and contained for a while by the Christians after their separation from the Presbyterian church. Not only did the Shakers hear of the wonderful scenes at these meetings, but the Methodists of England heard of their success as a revival agency, and in 1807 such meetings were held in great Britain by zealous local preachers. The Wesleyan Conference severely condemned them and expelled those who persisted in holding them. Those who were expelled organized the Primitive Methodist church, the second larger body of Methodists in Great Britain. Thus it was that the great Kentucky revival led to the formation of new sects both in the Ohio valley and in England.

A Disorderly Camp Meeting.

The last of the general camp meetings of revivalists in the Miami country was held at the Turtlecreek church and, as was the custom, continued some days, beginning on Friday, April 26, 1805, and ending on the next Monday. The meeting was attended by much disorder. It was one month after the Shaker missionaries had preached their first sermon at Turtlecreek. The pastor of the church had already shown in his sermons that he was strongly inclined to the new doctrines. Some of McNemar's brethren in the ministry of the Christian denomination had visited him for the purpose of keeping him from espousing the new faith. The advent of the Shaker missionaries who had already spoken not only at Turtlecreek, but at other churches of which McNemar was pastor, their strange dress and stranger doctrines was the subject of general conversation in the log huts of the pioneers, and large numbers attended the camp meeting.
The strongest opponent of the new doctrine was Rev. John Thompson, pastor of the church of Springdale in Hamilton county. He and his congregation had passed from the Presbyterian into the New Light faith, but he was determined to prevent the Shakers from carrying off the New Lights. As a minister he had the right to participate in the general camp meeting at Turtlecreek. He came accompanied by a large number of opponents of the Shakers and seems to have been opposed to permitting the strangers to speak at all. McNemar, however, as the camp meeting was held near his own church announced his determination to superintend the meeting.
The only account of the scenes of disorder at this meeting I have seen is from the Shaker writers. They call their opponents "a great body of blazing hot New Lights, with John Thompson at their head determined to break down everything before them." Isachaar Bates, a Shaker missionary, says that the tumult at Ephesus was not greater; that Thompson in his sermon on Friday declared that they had been imposed upon by deceivers; that certain eastern men had come to tell that Christ had made his second appearance, "but, they are liars; they are liars; they are liars." When for an hour there was a steady cry of glory to Jesus from the New Lights. One wicked man followed one of the missionaries from place to place spitting in his face. Bates says he himself was called by many bad names and ordered back to hell from whence he came; this order he refused to obey, but went out from the assembly and took his stand on a log where he could witness the tumult.
The disorder was so great that both sides seem to have thought it best to have no more large meetings. Thompson succeeded in keeping his own congregation in the Christian denomination and some years later he and his flock returned to the Presbyterians. McNemar's congregation was disrupted. According to A.H. Dunlevy, the larger body of the members residing in the vicinity of the meeting house became Shakers, but the majority of the whole congregation remained in the Christian or New Light faith. The church, however, was nearly entirely destroyed by the Shaker missionaries.

Persecution.

After the society at Union Village was regularly organized it met with much opposition. Their opponents endeavored to prejudice the public mind against them and incite the ruder portion of the populace to scenes of violence and persecution. The Shaker accounts say that the New Light preachers were the leaders in the persecutions, but that the first large mob was led by a Presbyterian preacher.
The Shaker writers say that the members of the society were subjected to all kinds of annoyances, their houses were beset by night; their windows broken; their persons assaulted with clubs and stones; their fences thrown down at night and their cattle turned in to destroy their grain; their fruit trees destroyed; their horses cropped and disfigured and their dwellings, barns and stables burned. In addition to all this legal prosecutions were commenced on frivolous pretenses, and subscription papers circulated and inflammatory speeches made to raise forces to drive them from the country.
When one or more members of a family joined the Shakers the remaining members often exhibited a bitter spirit against the community. Many men living near the community honestly believed that the Shaker leaders were impostors and that women and children were kept in the community against their consent and in fact held in bond- age. These charges were without the slightest foundation, but were widely circulated and received with ready ears, and in August, 1810, five years after the beginning of the society, the first large mob against the Shakers was raised.

Mob of 1810.

Unfortunately, it has always been too easy, especially among a backwoods people, to convince the multitude that they are justified in taking into their own hands the redress of their own grievances, and in all communities there are always too many who are ready to assist in riotous proceedings. If there is any innate meanness in a man, it is most likely to display itself in the time of a mob. The men who composed the mob were collected from regions around Union Village, a considerable proportion it is said, being from Dick's Creek in which region its leader preached. It is said that none who participated in the riotous proceedings were from Lebanon, with the exception of one elderly woman, a member of the Seceder church, who had come from North Carolina. In the crowd were a number of women, more fierce for the destruction of the Shakers than any of the men. There were some hundreds of persons collected together by this mob. According to the accounts of the Shakers, there were 500 armed men, exclusive of those drawn to the scene by curiosity, which is probably an exaggerated estimate. A number of cool headed and law- biding men, having a great abhorrence of mobs, went to Union Village while the mob were assembling, for the purpose of preserving the peace.
Judge Francis Dunlevy, the President Judge of the First Circuit, read the riot act and, in the name of the State, commanded the rioters to disperse. The Prosecuting Attorney, Joshua Collett, the Sheriff, Samuel McCray and Esquire Corwin, all of Lebanon, and Gen. William C. Schenck, of Franklin, and other law-abiding men, were present, and did all in their power to protect the Shakers from violence. These efforts were successful, and after some parleying the crowd slowly and angrily dispersed.
This mob, and other persecutions to which the first Shakers were subjected, as might have been anticipated, benefited the society. Many persons from the neighbor-hoods of Lebanon, Middletown, Hamilton and more distant regions, were induced to visit them from curiosity or sympathy, and from among these visitors new converts were received. From 1810 to 1818, the accessions to the society were numerous.

Shaker Account of the Mob.

The following is the account given by the Shaker writers of this mob. It is condensed from "The Millenial Church, or United Society of Believers, commonly called Shakers," a work first published in 1823:
"On the 27 of August, 1810, a body of 500 armed men led on by officers in military array, appeared before the principal dwelling of the society in Union Village. This formidable force was preceded and followed by a large concourse of spectators of all descriptions of people, estimated at nearly two thousand in number, whose object was to witness the mighty conflict expected to take place between a body of 500 armed men and a few defenseless Shakers. Among the concourse were many who were friendly to the society, and whose only wish was to prevent mischief and preserve peace; but many were armed in mob array, some with guns and swords, some with bayonets fixed on poles, and others with staves, hatchets, knives and clubs. These formed a motley multitude of every description, from ragged boys to hoary-headed men, exhibiting altogether a hideous appearance.
"The troops having taken their station near the meeting house, a deputation of twelve men came forward, headed by a Presbyterian, Rev. Matthew G. Wallace, who acted as chief speaker, and, after making a number of unreasonable demands, stated as their principal requisition that the society relinquish their principles and practice, mode of worship and manner of living, or quit the country. The answer of the society was mild and calm, but plain and positive: That they esteemed their faith dearer than their lives, and were determined to maintain it, whatever might be the consequences; as to quitting the country, they were upon their land, which they had purchased with their own money, and they were entitled to those liberties granted by the laws of their country, including the liberty of conscience.
"The calm, peaceable and harmless deportment of the believers, together with the expostulations of a few respectable individuals, the liberty given to examining the youth reported to be held in bondage, the marks of contentment and the decent and orderly appearance of everything around, all conspired to change the sentiments and feelings of the vindictive warriors to such a degree That all withdrew without committing any abuse."
The manuscript journals show that there were other mobs in the years 1812 and 1813, and on July 31, 1817. At the last named date, Richard McNemar opposed the forcible entrance of the rioters, and was afterward indicted by the grand jury for assault and battery. At the trial of the case, Mr. McNemar, as was his legal right, demanded to be heard in his own defense. He argued the case before the jury with such skill and ability that he was triumphantly acquitted.


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