Ann Lee, known to the Shakers as "Mother Ann," is the founder of the Shaker religion. She was born in Manchester, England, the daughter of a blacksmith, and worked in textile mills beginning at the age of eight. She was married against her wishes to Abraham Standerin, her father's apprentice, and had four children who all died young. She underwent a period of spiritual crisis and physical hardship, and emerged from the experience with the conviction that she was the first to be imbued with the spirit of Christ, and that the way to salvation was available to all who did as she did, forsaking and confessing of sin, and practicing celibacy. She attended meetings of the Wardley Society, a group that practiced a form of ecstatic worship. She eventually took over as leader of the society, and was jailed several times for disturbing church services. In a vision, she saw that she would find greater success in America. In 1774, she and seven followers set sail on the ship Maria, and arrived in New York City on August 6, a date still celebrated by the Shakers as Landing Day. Though her husband Abraham came to America with her, he abandoned her not long after. During the winter of 1775, she and her followers moved to land in what was then known as Niskeyuna, near Albany, NY; it would later become the site of the Watervliet Shaker community. Following the "Dark Day" of May 19, 1780, she decided that the time had come to seek out converts. Because she was English and advocated pacifism, she was suspected of being a British spy, and her beliefs and practices were considered radical. The ecstatic form of worship, for which the Society came to be known as the "Shaking Quakers" and then simply the Shakers, seemed strange or even dangerous to many observers. Yet Mother Ann was a charismatic and compelling figure. Among her earliest converts was a Baptist preacher named Joseph Meacham from New Lebanon, NY, who not only carried some of his congregation with him to the Shaker faith but also, as she foresaw, became the first American-born leader of the Shakers. In May of 1781, Mother Ann set out on a missionary expedition across New England. Though she was met with hostility and violence, repeatedly attacked, and driven from places, she continued to gain converts, pockets of which later became Shaker communities. In 1784, having suffered from a skull fracture and other injuries, as well as frequent physical depredation, she died at Watervliet.
Though she was illiterate and the earliest Shakers did not commit her teachings to paper, testimonies written decades later depict a woman who provided the comfort, love and lessons of a parent to her followers, and offered a path to heavenly joy to all who were open to receive it. In the period of revival known as the Era of Manifestations or the Era of Mother's Work, Shakers who received spiritual messages or visions continued to be inspired by her wisdom and love, as have countless Shakers since.