Publication Date


Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

James Bennett, J. Crawford Crowe, John Scarborough

Degree Program

Department of History

Degree Type

Master of Arts


The United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, commonly called Shakers, are a most unique communistic group in American history. Their society had an economic as well as a religious base. Because of this entwining relationship, the Shakers outlived all other communistic societies in the United States.

From the beginning the Shakers placed great emphasis on the economic aspects of their communal society and this emphasis played a paramount role in many of their major decisions. In effect their theory was “Mine is thine and thine is mine.” Taking their beliefs from this statement, together with the preaching of Mother Ann Lee, founder of the society, the Shakers evolved as long as they had sufficient membership to do the needed work. Indeed, industry was one of the first lessons taught to the Shaker.

One of the outstanding Shaker communities was located at South Union, in Logan County, Kentucky. This colony evolved from the Second Great Awakening which had its early beginnings in Kentucky. The notable economic progress made by the South Union Shakers prior to the Civil War will be the topic of this paper.

The author will inquire into several questions that are necessary for an understanding of the development and maturation of the South Union Shaker colony. The agricultural crops and livestock development will be investigated, the manufacturing and selling will be examined, and the improvements made on the Shaker property will be considered.

An understanding of the Shakers’ economic base is important. By this economic stability the Shakers were able to outlive the other communal groups in America.

There are several hypotheses of this study. The Shakers produced many varieties of fruits and vegetables in an area in which there was little variation in agricultural products. Livestock played an important part in the economy of the South Union Shakers, and they made a sincere effort to improve the blood line of their stock. The Shakers produced many goods and services that were used by non-members, and the newest methods in marketing, advertising, and selling were employed. They made extensive improvements on their land and buildings.

This paper will begin on a very broad basis with a general history of the development of the Shaker Society and its general spiritual beliefs. From this point the writer will devote a chapter to the effects on economics resulting from their spiritual and temporal beliefs. Having established a basic understanding of the place of economics in a Shaker community, the writer will investigate the case in point – South Union. There will follow a discussion of the South Union colony in three basic areas: crops and livestock, manufactured goods and selling, and internal improvements. The author will then make his conclusions.

The study will be confined to the period between the founding of the South Union colony in 1807 and the beginning of the Civil War in 1861. For the sake of clarity, it will be necessary on occasion to bring to the reader information from before and after this span of years.


Economics | Growth and Development | History | Regional Economics | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Social History | United States History