Shaker Manuscripts: A Collaborative Digital Library

Material Description

The digital collection comprises approximately 3,400 manuscripts produced by members of the Shaker religious sect between 1760 and 1950. The Shakers are a celibate, communal sect who believe that God is biune: both male and female. They believe that the Christ spirit came a second time through Mother Ann Lee (1736-1784). Mother Ann was born in England and immigrated to America in 1774. Following her death, nineteen major Shaker communal settlements were established in New England, New York, Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky. At these villages Shakers practiced equality of the sexes and races beginning in the 1790s. Shaker communities gained a national reputation for the quality of their products, and the sect innovated items such as the flat broom, individually packaged garden seeds, and were known as "America's pharmacists" for their high quality medicinal herbal products. The sect are also renowned for their minimalistic and efficient designs for furniture, architecture, and mechanical improvements and inventions. The manuscripts comprising this collection (drawn from six institutions) represent a complete sampling of types written by the community, including: daily community and personal journals, theological and visionary writings, financial and real estate records, covenant and membership records, correspondence, hymn and poem books (many with musical notation), and technical recipe books for medicinal, textile, apiary, and other industries. The collections from Winterthur and Hancock Shaker Village come primarily from pioneer Shaker collectors and scholars Edward Deming Andrews and Faith Andrews. These items were collected directly from the Shakers beginning in the 1920s and through the 1950s. The Fruitlands Museum collection was primarily collected directly from the Shaker community at Harvard, Massachusetts, beginning in the 1910s by Clara Endicott Sears.


The project will comprehensively digitize more then 3,060 Shaker manuscripts from eight collections. Participants include Hamilton College, Winterthur Library, Hancock Shaker Village, Fruitlands Museum, Shaker Museum at South Union, Enfield Shaker Museum, Pleasant Hill Shaker Village, and the Berkshire Athenaeum. 139,225 pages of content will be scanned. Archival quality TIFF images will be created, and also publicly accessible JPEG2000 and PDF files for each item. The collection will be hosted by Hamilton College, whose staff will oversee metadata creation, website development, and management of digital files. The completed digital library will provide scholarly access to a broad variety of Shaker manuscripts, including journals, theological and historical writings, account books, real estate records, financial records, membership records, hymn books with musical notation, and correspondence.


Digitizing Hidden Collections

Amount Awarded


Year Added



Hamilton College


  • Mr. Christian Goodwillie (Hamilton College)
  • Ms. Lisa McFall
  • Mr. Peter MacDonald

Collaborating Institution(s)

Winterthur Library, Wilmington, DE; Hancock Shaker Village, Pittsfield, MA; Fruitlands Museum, Harvard, MA; Shaker Museum at South Union, Auburn, KY; Enfield Shaker Museum, Enfield, NH; Pleasant Hill Shaker Village, Harrodsburg, KY; Berkshire Athenaeum, Pittsfield, MA;

Date Range

1760 - 1950

Geographic Scope

Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky.


  • 139225 Manuscripts