xt78gt5fbt2m https://exploreuk.uky.edu/dips/xt78gt5fbt2m/data/mets.xml Shakers. 1846  books b92-75-29579077 English Reprinted [by Egbert, Hovey & King], : New York : Contact the Special Collections Research Center for information regarding rights and use of this collection. McNemar, Richard, 1770-1839. Wickliffe, Robert, 1775-1859. Account of some of the proceedings of the legislatures of the states of Kentucky and New Hampshire, --1828 -- in relation to the people called Shakers text Account of some of the proceedings of the legislatures of the states of Kentucky and New Hampshire, --1828 -- in relation to the people called Shakers 1846 2002 true xt78gt5fbt2m section xt78gt5fbt2m 

       ACC OUNT


           OF THE




- 1828





'Be bold for rruth-thouah all the world despise,
Be strong for Right-though all the world oppose,
Be free in Love-though all nmeu are thy foes,
    And God will bless the sacrifice."


           A DEFENCE

                 OF THE








     Addressed to the Political World.




     374 Pearl-street, New-Yo1rk.


   THE design of this small publication is to shed light on
a subject which heretofore has been veiled in some obscur-
ity; we mean the form and order of the United Society in a
civil or political point of view. By a variety of copious
publications, we have exhibited to the religious world
almost every thing that relates to our faith and manners as
a religious society; but as there is an external form and
order in our association as a Church, related to the civil
rights established by the civil institutions of our country,
in order that our civil rights be not violated either through
ignorance or design, it becomes necessary that all such of
our social contracts, rules, manners, laws or customs, as
are in any respect connected with our civil rights, should
be explicitly known and correctly understood.
 It is generally known that serious difficulties have, for
some time past, existed in this branch of the United
Society, owing to the withdrawal of certain members, who
through the influence of popular or interested connections;
instituted claims on the Society repugnant to all our well
known covenants, rules and customs. Various were the
mearns used to interest public sympathy on the side of the
withdrawing party, if possible to substantiate those claims,
which it seems could not be done under the present system
of civil law; hence a petition was presented to the legis-
lature at their last session praying for a special act to aid
the party in their intended enterprise.
  This act being obtained, almost the first notice we
received of its existence was from a display of its author-
ities on our house of worship, the door being abused in
posting up public notices to the Society, of a character


very unsuitable to the place. This, indeed, appeared to
us a strange affair, knowing that we had ever observed the
greatest punctuality in our dealings with mankind and
with each other. We had constituted an office and trustee-
ship, for the transaction of all matters of trade and com-
merce abroad, and all our domestic concerns we considered
as fully and finally adjusted by our own mutual contracts
and articles of agreement: it did, therefore, appear to us
a mysterious thing, indeed, for the whole Society to be
attacked, in a way so imposing on our religious character
and sacred rights, as if the house of God had become a
den of thieves, that a subpoena must be stuck up on the
door calling us out, in a body, to answer the claims of
j ustice.
  From the abundant information contained in our religious
publications, we could not have supposed that any respect-
able body of well informed citizens could have conceived
of us, as a political establishment. The well known prin-
ciples of faith and manner of life which we have adopted
sufficiently negative the idea; and how any legislative
body could claim a right by special enactment to intrude
into the sacred asylum of our church order is to us a mys-
tery, seeing that, even " Congress shall make no law con-
cerning an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the
free exercise thereof."
  In forming our religious association we have not con-
sulted the civil authorities of men, further than to see that
we did not trespass upon their premises. Our faith and
forms of devotion were not chartered by any legislative
power of a political nature. As a community of Believers
we disclaim the right or privilege of suing or being sued,
in a body; our main policy is to keep out of the reach of
the municipal law, by strictly observing all its just require-
ments, and so arranging our social concerns as not to inter-
fere with the rights and privileges of others. With this


confidence we shrink not from the scrutiny of the public
or the law, on any point relating to out civil economy or
social contracts, provided we be not compelled into such
scrutiny by illegal and unconstitutional measures, requiring
a surrender of our impartial rights, and subjection to an
authority not claimed by our National Government.
  The singularity of our religious profession has -always
dictated to us retirement from the contentions of the politi-
cal world, and the conscious innocence which we labor to
maintain, forbids our attention to the absurd and ridiculous
charges so often peddled about through the country by
those who wrongfully hate us. It is not, therefore, the
slanders of a few solitary individuals, nor the popular
clamors of a misinformed public that, at present, excites
our attention; but the voice of those civil authorities which
we ever respect, and which have been roused, by the cry
of injustice, in effect, to demand of us a statement of facts
with coroborating evidence from which the legality or ille-
gality of our institution might appear, and our claims to
equal rights of toleration, as a religious society, be legally
  From these considerations we respectfully offer to the
political department of our country, whether professors of
religion or non-professors, such information relative to the
points in question, as we think, will come properly under
their cognizance, including-Tbe aforesaid petition to the
legislature-The Act of the legislature founded on said
petition-Objections to said Petition and Act, with refer-
ence to the decision of the legislature of Pennsylvania on
a similar case-Various details and statements concerning
the laws, customs and character of our Society-The.
decisions of sundry Courts of Justice on all the important
questions that relate to our civil and social rights, c. c.


  Petition of John Whitbey and others to the Legislature.

  WE, the undersigned petitioners, feeling ourselves much
aggrieved by the fraudulent conduct of those who hold the
reins of government in a society of people called Shakers,
residing at Pleasant Hill, Mercer county, do respectfully
implore your honorable body to take our case into consid-
eration, and if it is not inconsistent with the powers con-
fided to you by the Constitution, we humbly pray that you
may devise, in your wisdom, some plan whereby our dis-
tresses may be alleviated.
   Your petitioners do solemnly declare, that some years
previous to this, from honest and conscientious views, they
were induced to unite themselves to that Society on certain
principles which they considered were best calculated to
promote their happiness. We were told by them that as
the work of their institution was progressive in conse-
quence of its members increasing in knowledge and virtue,
they had no creed or articles of faith, neither aily written
laws by which their Society was governed. That no
coercive or arbitrary measures were ever taken in the
government of this Society-that conscience was entirely
free, that all required of each individual was always to
act honestly according to that degree of faith which be
or she should at any time possess. And that usurpation
of authority over the conscience, anmong them was never
known.   That each individual had an indefeasible and
equal right to all property belonging to the Society, and
.that no member was ever expelled from the Society for
any cause whatever. The above stated conditions, with
others of the same import, we considered to be sufficiently
liberal, and when we compared them with their written


publications sent abroad into the world we believed them
to be true.
  Under these considerations and with these views we
continued with the society for some years, and by an active
and laborious life, faithfully discharged what we believed
to be our duty, by a willing conformity to all the rules and
orders of practical life given to us by our leaders, and by
these means secured to ourselves much satisfaction, until
our leaders began to deviate from those principles on which
we had joined them. Your petitioners do further testify,
that for no other cause than a private expression of certain
opinions relative to moral sentiment, which we most con-
scientiously believed to be not only true, but the strongest
basis of pure morality, that some of us were publicly
anathematized, grievously misrepresented and most per-
emptorily ordered to leave the society or make a recanta-
tion of our sentiments; and (to heighten the injustice of
their oppression) sentiments too that would not-lead to the
violation of one moral precept contained in the doctrines
of the society, but remove many manifest errors of which
the society [i. e. the flesh] complained. The oppressive
dealings towards some, and the severe threats of like abu-
sive treatment of others, rendered us so uncomfortable
that we could no longer enjoy satisfaction in the society,
and were almost forced to leave the place without any
compensation for our long and faithful services.
  These, with many grievances too tedious to mention,
have created a determination in some of us to seek redress
at law; but we have been told by our counsellors that as
the society of Shakers are a body without any Act of
Incorporation, and as many of them stand in a very singu-
lar relation to each other in consequence of a form of cove-
nant established among them, redress at law could not
easily be obtained, without first, some provision being
made, by an Act of your honorable body.


  Therefore we humbly submit our case to your consider-
ation, to do, as you in your wisdom, may consider most
prudent. That the above statements are in substance true,
we have no doubt, can easily be made appear to the full
satisfaction of any court of justice in this Commonwealth.

   WE the undersigned, citizens residing in and near the
vicinity of Shakertown, being fully persuaded, according
to all the information we are able to collect, that the above
stated petition contains an impartial statement of facts, and
feeling anxious that some law may pass whereby justice
may be administered to the petitioners, do most cordially
unite with those aggrieved in subscribing our names.-
Floyd Burks, H. T. Deweese, Lambert Banta, James Lil-
lard, Win. Pherigo, Thos. Wood, Robert P. Steenbergen, jr.
Josiah Utley, Abraham A. Brewer, John Rinearson, Aaron
Rinearson, W. A. Bridges, Wm. T. Wood, Saml. Eccles,
B. Prather, J. Smedley, Thos. Alleni, sen., Philip T. Allen,
Wm. Tume, B. T. Hall.

   Mr. Samuel Banta having stated to me (in which I have
the utmost confidence) that in leaving the Shakers he lacks
complete remedy to recover the property which he first
and subsequently took to them: That they refuse satisfac-
tory accountability, he only demanding the original sums,
waiving his pretensions to interest and labor: And think-
ing this reasonable, if a remedy can be constitutionally
devised. My belief of the personal honesty and upright-
ness of Samuel Banta, and that be would ask nothing
improper, induces me to sign his petition.-P. Trapnall,
Chr. Chinn, Garret Banta, Wm. Ross, Wm. Edwards,
John S. Chenowith, John Eccles, Isaac Westerfield, James
Burnett, Abram V, Brewer.

  With much difficulty we obtained the foregoing docu-
ments;- they are without the principal signatures,, we

therefore add the following extracts of a private commu-
nication from the author and principal instigator of the
petition.-" Being called upon by one of the Shaker friends
for a copy of the petition drawn by me, and which was
presented to the Legislature, containing a part of my grie-
vances upon which a law was passed,-my memory not
serving me to gratify their wishes (not having reserved a
copy) I, with frankness, give them the substance of my
objections or grievances, so as to give them a fair oppor-
tunity of explaining to me or the world the reasons for
their conduct, which was then and still is considered as
oppressive and despotic." [Here he gives the detail of his
treatment much as it is in the petition; and in allusion to
his being called to an account by the elders, observes]
"for the correcting and exposure of which error, I have
been disposed to set about an inquiry, and still to prosecute
it, not so much for the purpose of gain, but that a fair
exposure of it shall be made. The sum total of my objec-
tions to the society was the spirit and manner of exercising
this despotic oppression, through a secret counsel of the
leads and elders, c."_-" The many things to which my
soul stands wedded in the Shakers need not nor have time
to name.
                                JOHN WHITBEY.'Y

  What a noble subject for legislation! Seventeen names
it is said were attached to the main petition, in union with
this principal plaintiff, thirteen of whom had never been
admitted into the fellowship of the church, and of course
could have no cause of complaint except, like their leader,
that they were not tacitly permitted to say and do as they
pleased. As for those near neighbors of ours whose names
went to corroborate the petition, with the exception of
three or four (who live within the distance of four miles)

they generally reside from seven to seventeen miles dis-
tant. It may also serve as a memorial of the sagacity of
the managers of the affair, that no invitation was extended
to us, to enter into any investigation before the committee.
A trustee of the church, it is true, who happened to be
present, presented a response, which, it seems, was but
little regarded. A plan so artfully constructed was not to
be frustrated with trifles.  The bill, we are told, was
warmly opposed by members of the first respectability.
But popular prejudice! ! who can penetrate its damps
with the torch of reason, or- even the blaze of common
sense 1 However, we must check those fieedoms of
thought; and respectful of the wisdom and talent that
graced the political temple of the State, introduce this
singular act, and let it speak for itself.

   1. Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the
Commonwealth of Kentacky, That it shall and may be
lawful for any person having any demand exceeding the
sum of fifty dollars, founded on any contract implied or
expressed, against any of the communities of people
called Shakers, living together and holding their property
in common, to commence and prosecute suits, obtain
decrees, and have execution against any such community
by the name or -description by which said community is
commonly known, without naming or designating the indi-
viduals of such community, or serving process on them,
except as is hereinafter directed, all such suits shall be by
bill in chancery in the circuit court of the county in which
such community resides; and it shall and may be lawful
to make parties to such suits, all other persons, by name,
who may have any interest in the matter in controversy,

or who may hold any property in trust for said community
or may be indebted to them.
    2. When any subpoena founded on any such bill shall
be placed in the hands of any officer to execute, he shall
fix a copy of such subpoena on the door of the meeting-
house of such community, shall deliver a copy to some
known member of the community, and shall read the sub-
poena aloud at some one of the dwellings of said commu-
nity at least ten days before the term of the court at which
said community are required to answer; and on those facts
being returned in substance on the subpoena they shall con-
stitute a good service of process on said community, so as
to authorize the court to require and compel an answer
agreeable to the rules and usages in chancery.
    3. All answers for and in behalf of such community
may be filed on the oath or affirmation ,of one or more
individuals of such community, who shall moreover swear
or affirm that he or they have been nominated as the agents
or attorneys of such community to defend such suit, and
thereupon tke individual so swearing shall have full power
and authority to manage and conduct said suit, on the part
'of such community, or to settle and adjust the same; and
all notices to take depositions against such community may
be served on such agents, or left at their place of residence:
provided, that for good cause shown, the court may at any
time permit such agents to be changed or substituted by
others of the community; provided, however, that the
agents or defendants shall not be compelled to answer on
oath to any charges or allegations which are by the existing
rules of law and equity cognizable alone in courts of com-
mon law-provided further, that in all such cases as - men-
tioned in the foregoing proviso, the defendants shall be
entitled to a jury if they or any one of them shall signify
their desire to that effect any time before the trial shall be

gone into: and in such cases as above described either
party may require the personal attendance of witnesses,
and a viva voce examination as though the suit were at
common law, and the court shall direct such process at
the request of either party, or summons may issue, as in
other cases of the kind.
    4. Be it further enacted, that nothing in this act con-
 tained shall be so construed as to render the communities
 aforesaid, or either of them, liable upon contracts entered
 into by any individual or individuals not authorized by
 their laws and usages to contract for such community;
 nor shall it be so construed as to give to any person who
 having been a member of any such community, has here-
 tofore left it, or may hereafter leave it, any right in conse-
 quence of such membership, which he or she would not
 have had if this act had not passed, but such right shall
 depend upon and be determined by the laws, covenants
 and usages of such society, and the general laws of the
 land, except as to the mode of the suit.
 v  5. Be it further enacted that any community which may
 -be sued under the provisions of this act, shall have the
 same right to a change of venue as other defendants.-
 Approved, Feb. 11th, 1828.
 Having, now, presented, in full,..the substance of this
 singular prosecution; that the public may not imagine
 that our Investigation or Defence is offered by a nameless
 and irresponsible set of beings, such as the foregoing pro-
 ceedings seem to be directed against, the following names,
 of a few responsible characters, are hereunto subscribed-
in behalf of the society.
      ABRAM WILHITE,           JOHN R. BRYANT,
 Pleasant Hill, June 10, 1828.


          INVESTIGATOR, c.

   Printing presses shall be free to every person who undertakes to
examine the proceedings of the Legislature or any branch of Govern-
ment-and every citizen may freely speak, write and print on any
subject, being responsible for the abuse of that liberty."

  It is objected to said petition, That its contents were not
legitimate subjects of legislation-that the supposed facts
stated in it are destitute of proof, and that it contains a
variety of misrepresentations.
  1. To suppose, as this petitioner represents, that we have
no creed or articles of faith, neither any written laws by
which we are governed, is false. We hold out no such
character of the society to induce unprincipled men to join
us; it is well known that we reject human creeds and articles
of sectarian faith; but our belief in all the essential doc-
trines of the gospel is no less public. We have no system
of laws of our own making, but we have the law of Moses,
and the laws of our country and the precepts of our ances-
tors and elders, which are all written and common in every
family, according to the spirit of which our actions are
  2. We hold indeed that conscience is entirely free from
human control; but we have never taught that under pre-
tence of freedom of conscience, every member of society
might say and do as he pleased, secure from censure or
blame: The rules and orders of our institution have ever
maintained all necessary control over the words and actions
of members, to preserve a respectful conformity to the

principles of truth and virtue established both in civil and
religious society.
  3. The insinuation, in said petition, that we force people
to act beyond or contrary to their faith, is groundless. It is
true, we admit of different degrees of faith, and hold each
one justified, in always acting honestly according to the
degree of faith which he has attained, but we do not
approve of any member turning away from the faith and
adopting the opinions of Epicurus, Voltaire, or Robert
Owen, and usurping authority to disseminate those, or any
other opinions repugnant to our common faith, either
publicly or privately among the members of our society:
and to reprove a disorderly member sharply that he may
be sound in the faith, we have not considered a crime
worthy of a legal prosecution. Indeed, the authorities of
a just internal government adapted to check evil doers
and for the praise of them that do well, we rank among
our greatest blessings.
   4. With regard to coercive or arbitrary measures, our
public testimony is, that " in the order and government or
regulation of the church, no compulsion or violence is
either used, approved, or found necessary," and the peti-
tioner has proved nothing against the church to the con-
trary. In the junior order where he was located such
government is exercised as wisdom and prudence may
dictate and the law of the land justify.
  5. Respecting the rights of property we are sorry, that
the petitioner so greatly erred on a subject of such import-
ance, and that in direct contradiction to his own public
statements previously made. Perhaps nothing could be
more foreign from the truth than to hold out the idea that
each individual ever had an indefeasible and equal right to
all the property belonging to the society. This we can
prove to be false from his own printed pamphlet.
  6. With regard to expelling members. No compulsion


or arbitrary force has ever been used in that case. What
the petitioner states, relative to his own case, cannot be
construed so as to imply any act of violence. In his book,
he details the circumstances at large; in which he shows
plainly that he was the first who deviated from the terms
of membership,-That he announced his belief in the
system of Robert Owen; discarded the doctrine of praise
and blame, rewards and punishments, 4-c.-was admonished
by the Ministry and Elders not to propagate such doctrine,
-refused admonition,- became contumacious and bold,-
rejected all authority, and was ordered to retract what the
elders called vile stuff; or leave the society. Admitting le
was treated with some severity as a catechumen, we can-
not conceive that a Legislature was the proper tribunal to
dictate the means of redress.


   "Acts of the Legislature that are impossible to be per-
formed are of no validity; and if there arise out of them
any absurd consequences manifestly contradictory to com-
mon reason, they are with regard to those collateral cir-
cumstances void."  1 B. p. 90. Agreeably to this maxim
we object to the description of our society in said act,  1.
as Cs living together and holding our property in common."
We know of no public record, act, matter or thing to autho-
rise such a description, beyond the partial and incorrect
statements given in the foregoing petition.
  2. We object to the idea of prosecuting suits, obtaining
decrees, and having execution against the whole society by
the name or description by which we are commonly
known. All bodies cognizable by law must, in our
opinion, have a name or description by which they are


known in law. Vulgar names and descriptions, without
any allusion to persons, we must consider a precarious
foundation for a legal process.
   3. We object to the idea of making parties to such suits,
all other persons by name, who may have any interest in
the matter, c., however lawful this may be in common
cases, considering the ground on which we are placed, by
this mode of forming parties, too great a force may be
enlisted against us, to afford us any ground for a legal or
just deft-nce.
   4. We object to the mode of serving process described
 at large in sec. 2, as incompatible with our religious
 rights. A meeting-house known in law as "a temple or
 building consecrated to the honor of God and religion, " we
 deem an improper place for setting up such public notices,
 calculated to arrest the attention of the worshippers to
 improper subjects, and afford spectators occasion of con-
 ducting disrespectfully toward us, as a people under such
 legal impeachments. The British statutes debarred trans-
 actions, inconsistent with the place, even from the church-
 yard; and are our civil laws less respectful of religious
   5. We further object to sec. 3, as exercising an authority
over our community subversive of our common rights;
that is, in either admitting, as defendants in any suit, per-
sons not duly nominated according to our rules, or com-
pelling us to make such nomination, which we could not
consistently do, without acknowledging this arbitrary act
as constitutional, and the society obliged by it to change
their character, conformably to its definitions. The proper
persons, among us, for defending all causes actionable in a
court of justice, are already nominated and known by
name, whether as private individuals or public agents.
It does not therefore appear to us consistent with sound
policy, that we should, as a religious society, be obliged to


enter into any measure not consistent with our established
rules and the constitution and laws of the land.
   These things considered, is it not to be regretted -that
the Legislature did not act with caution similar to that of
the Pennsylvania Legislature at their last session in a
similar case  We allude to a petition of a number of
inhabitants of the county of Beaver, relating to the cele-
brated society at Economy. This case was so perfectly
similar to that before us, that we deem it proper to adduce
the report of that committee as a striking evidence of the
precipitance and partiality in the enactment against this
society, as well as the unconstitutionality of its bearings.
   The following extract is copied from the TVaynesburgh
Messenger of Jan. 12th, 1828. "SENATE,. Dec. 17th.
Mr. Hawkins, from the committee of the judiciary, made
report, which was read as follows:-
   "The judiciary committee, to whom was referred the
petition of a number of the citizens of the county of
Beaver, relating to the society at Economy, reported:
That they have carefully examined the petitions and docu-
ments submitted to them, and havee heard the statements of
the representatives of the parties interested, from which
they have gathered a slight knowledge of the rise, prog-
ress and present condition of the society.   
  "' With the objects of the society, or its police or-regula-
tions, your committee have derived but a very limited
knowledge, except what is communicated in a document
accompanying the petition of the complainants, which is
altogether ex parte, and was unsupported by the oaths of
those who signed it. It seems to be admitted, however, and
not denied by either party, that the joint labor and pro-
perty of the society is held, or was originally intended to
bee held and enjoyed in common; and that George Rapp,
the priest and patriarch of the company, has the super'-


vision, control and management over all their concerns,
both spiritual and temporal.
  " They have formed, at different times, two several con-
stitutions, the one at Wabash, the other at Economy, which
contain provisions very similar, except that the last one if
more favorable to persons disposed to withdraw. It con-
tains in substance, the following conditions, viz. 1. That
all holding property, who joined the -society, put it into the
common stock; and when they leave the society, they get
back what they put in, without interest. 2d. Those who
put no property into the society, and leave the society
without leave, or giving notice to the society of their inten-
tion, their services are to be considered voluntary, and
entitled to no compensation. 3d. That those who put no
property into the common stock, who give notice of their
intention to leave the society, and behave well, will be
given something to begin the world with, the amount in
the discretion of the society. Before signing this, persons
having a desire for admission have a probation from six to
nine months, during which time, they are instructed in
the principles, rules and regulations of the society.
   "Jacob Shriver (whose case gives rise to the present
 application) states, that he entered into this association at
 the age of seventeen, and remained among them about
 twenty years, when having made some discoveries, which
 caused him to be dissatisfied, he left them. When he
 entered the society, he contributed no property to the
 common stock; so that his claim is wholly for services
   He states in the petition, " that the inhabitants are now
 suffering the greatest injustice and imposition, contrary to
 the spirit of the constitution, c.-but does not refer to
 the nature of the offence against the constitution, or to any
 particular clause in the constitution that is violated. He
 also sets forth, that numbers, through ignorance have been


drawn into the slavery of George Rapp, through the delu-
sion of being joint partners of the institution; but when
they wished to withdraw, they found they were mistaken,
and were not allowed one cent for their services. With-
out presuming to affirm or deny the truth of these allega-
tions, your committee are clearly of opinion, that they are
legitimate subjects of judicial inquiry; nor have the peti.
tioners pointed out any definite mode of relief, which
could be given by the Legislature. If Mr. Shriver has,
voluntarily, entered into a contract with Mr. Rapp indi-
vidually, there can be no doubt of his obtaining redress in
a court of law, if by the terms or nature of his contract,
he be entitled to it; but if his agreement was with the
society, whether it has been faithfully complied with or
not, it is absolutely void. As a society, having no charter
of incorporation, they have no legal existence, they can
make no binding contract, nor can they sue or be sued.
  If Mr. Shriver has made a contract which has turned
out to his disadvantage, it is his own fault; that contract
can neither be cancelled by the Legislature, nor can they
create a new one for him. Besides, a suit at law has been
brought, and is now pending, in the court of common
pleas of Beaver county; and