Wednesday, May 20, 2009



Richard McNemar


"Shaking here and shaking there,

People shaking everywhere.

Since I have my sins confess'd,

I can shake among the rest."

The Believers sang the chorus as loud as they could. Richard McNemar must have smiled to hear the song he wrote and to see people shaking or dancing in place.

The group had entered the large meeting room single file, men through one door and women through another. They sat on the floor in ranks with the men facing the women. After a few moments everyone stood up and began to sing as loud as possible. They sang for about an hour before being seated again.

A man then delivered a talk. At the end of his speech, he announced they were ready for "divine worship". The men took off their coats and hung them on wooden pegs on the wall. They lined up on one side of the room. The women lined up on the other side, facing the men. Each person danced in his or her own place, in time to a lively tune sung by a chorus. Some dancers jumped up and clapped their hands while others whirled on their toes and shouted. "Divine worship" lasted for about two hours.

Many people called this group the Shakers because of their actions during worship.

Richard had not always been a Shaker. When he was twelve years old, he became a member of the Presbyterian Church. As Richard grew in knowledge, he began to teach and preach. He was ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1798.

In the spring of 1801 The Kentucky Revival took place. Richard was the minister of the Cabin Creek Presbyterian Church in Kentucky and one of the leading preachers in the revival.

The following year Richard accepted an offer to be the minister at the Turtle Creek Presbyterian Church in Warren County, Ohio. The building was located on Ohio 63 near where the Lebanon Correctional Institution is located today. Soon after Richard began preaching at Turtle Creek, he and the congregation decided they no longer believed as Presbyterians. They felt they had found a new faith and so changed their name to the New Lights.

Four years after The Kentucky Revival three Shaker missionaries came west seeking those who had been involved in it. They found Richard in Ohio and spent a Saturday evening in his home teaching their beliefs. The following Sunday they went with Richard to his church, listened to him preach, and when introduced to the congregation read a letter of introduction from the Shaker church in New Lebanon, New York.

A few months later, after days of study with the Shaker missionaries, Richard and his family decided to join the Shaker faith. Most of the Turtle Creek New Lights members also became Shakers.

When people became Shakers, they gave their land and possessions to the group. They became a part of a commune, a community of people who lived, worked, and worshiped together.

The new Ohio Shakers built a village they called Union Village. It consisted of several large dwelling houses built in clusters with smaller out buildings. Gardens were located near the dwelling houses. The clusters of buildings were a few miles apart scattered over the farmland owned by the community. The groups of people who lived in each dwelling house were called families.

Three of the Union Village buildings are still standing today and are a part of the Otterbein Lebanon Retirement Community complex on Ohio 741.

Richard became an important Shaker leader. He helped establish Shaker communities in Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky and was often called to travel to these communities to help with their problems. His title as a leader was Elder so he came to be called Elder Richard.

The Shakers created many inventions that made work easier for themselves and others. They developed some farming tools and raised sheep, cattle, and hogs. Quality products were made and sold to "the world". Some of the products sold were brooms, preserves, garden seeds and herbs as well as furniture, boxes, cloth and some articles of clothing. The Shakers were the first to sell seeds in packets.

Elder Richard was a writer. In fact, he wrote so many books, booklets, brochures, poems and songs that he has been called the Father of Shaker literature. But that isn't all he did. He was a cabinetmaker, a weaver, a farmer, a singer, a printer, a pharmacist, and a bookbinder.

Indeed, Elder Richard was a very busy man. For example in 1823 he was in a hurry to finish printing a book. Each morning he got up very early, ate a cold breakfast, which he had set out the night before, and was at the print shop by 4 A.M. He worked all day until it was too dark to see, ate a piece of pie or bread, drank a cup of milk, and went to bed.

In 1839 Elder Richard died and was buried in the Shaker graveyard of Union Village.

Vocabulary Words

Believers: The name taken by those who were members of the religious group called the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing.

The Kentucky Revival: a religious camp meeting, thousands of people camped on the church grounds, preaching services were held day and night

Union Village: The Shakers owned 4,500 acres at one time. It was the first western Shaker Community and the headquarters of all the western Shaker communities.

dwelling houses: Large plain houses, in which the Shakers lived. They were built with two front doors, one for men and one for women. Men lived on one side of the dwelling house and women on the other. Inside the house were two stairways, one for men and one for women. In 1818, there were 634 Shakers at Union Village.

out buildings: i.e. sawmills, mechanic's shops, schools, broom shop, herb shop

commune: a community where all property is owned by the group and not individuals

packet: a small package

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