The Shakers formed their first official community at Mount Lebanon in 1787. By the mid-19th century, at the height of Shakerism, there were more than 3,500 Shakers spread over 18 communities extending from Maine to Kentucky. How did Shakers produce a sense of common purpose and identity across such distance?
Shaker Families made monumental efforts to be “in union” with each other in all aspects of their lives. This meant not only worshiping with the same songs and dances but also building, dressing, speaking, farming, and manufacturing in as similar a manner as possible. A consistent and well-ordered built environment was to be a mirror for a consistent and well-ordered social body. But laws dictating, for instance, what furniture could be painted in which colors, or what level of woodworking detail was theologically acceptable, were sometimes felt to be restrictive. “Where there is no law there is no transgression,” wrote one Shaker carpenter of the satisfaction he found in identifying small opportunities for self-expression.