Autobiography of a Shaker
by Frederick W. Evans
from The Atlantic Monthly
Volume 23, Issue 138
(transcribed by Susan Stalker Mulvey)
[Page 415] In consequence of the Shakers' having held a convention in Boston on November 11th and 12th, 1868, to which I was a delegate, I received from Friend Fields a note, in which occurs the following paragraph:--
"How would it do for you to write an article for our Atlantic Monthly Magazine, which should be an autobiographical account of your experience as a seeker after truth, and should give the 'reason of the hope that is in you,' that people may understand precisely the meaning of a sect which has lately been brought into notoriety by the writings of Dixon and Vincent?"
I can see great importance in a principle, very little in an individual. Not of myself should I write of myself; but, in the hope that others may be advantaged thereby, I acquiesce in the foregoing suggestion.
I have always lived much in the future; yet my present life has been a practical success; while my work has ever been before me, my reward has always been with me. I am satisfied with the continued realizations of the [page 416] prophetical spirit within,--of the abstract principles that have been my inner life.
My father's family were of the middle class in England. They were long-lived, my grandmother reaching the advanced age of one hundred and four, and my grandfather approaching one hundred. My father, George Evans, was the youngest of twelve children, and died comparatively young; he was sent into the English army, was under Sir Ralph Abercrombie in the Egyptian expedition co-operating with the fleet under Nelson, and held a commission in the service.
My mother was of a class a little above, so that the marriage caused a perpetual breach between the two families. Her name was Sarah White. I was born in Leominster, Worcestershire, England, on the 9th of June, 1808. The first fact that I can remember may be of some interest to the student in anthropology. When I came of age, I was relating to an aunt on my father's side, whom I had never before seen, that I had always had stored up in my memory one thing which I could not account for; I could remember nothing before or after it to give it a meaning, and none of my mother's relatives knew anything about it: I saw the inside of a coach, and was handed out of it from a woman's arms into those of some other person. My aunt was utterly astonished, and stated that my mother was coming down from London to Birmingham, when I was not more than six months old, that something happened to the horses which frightened the party badly, and that I was handed out (just as I had seen and remembered) by my mother into the arms of another person.
When I was four years of age my mother died, and I was thrown among her relatives, who sent me to school at Stourbridge, where there were some two hundred scholars; and the position the master assigned me was that of the poorest scholar in the school, which effected my release from the school-room, to my great satisfaction and peace of mind; for if there was one thing more than another that I hated, it was school-books and an English schoolmaster, with his flogging proclivities. I was then about eight years old.
Henceforth, my lot was cast with my uncle and aunts at Chadwick Hall, near Leaky Hill, the scene of one of Cromwell's battles, where a systematic arrangement of all things obtained, from the different breeds of dogs,--the watchdog in his kennel, the water-spaniel, the terrier of rat-catching propensities, the greyhound, the pointer, and the bulldog,--to the diversity of horses for the farm, the road, the saddle, and hunting; there were five hundred sheep, with a regular hereditary shepherd to change them from pasture to pasture in summer, and attend to all their wants, and fold them in the turnip-fields all the winter. Every field on the farm was subject to a rotation of crops as regular as the seasons, which are generally bad enough for the English farmer.
The farm was very hilly and woody, and dotted with five fish-ponds formed from a stream that ran through it. There was plenty of fish and game, and the woods were vocal with the great variety of singing birds, form the jackdaw to the nightingale.
As my friends had given up all attempts and hopes to educate, and thereby fit me for good society, I was allowed to follow my own instincts and affinities; and these led me to associate almost exclusively with the servants, of whom eight or ten were kept on the place, there being two distinct classes of human beings and two separate establishments at Chadwick Hall, as on a Southern plantation in the olden times of seven years ago. Here I was allowed to educate myself to my heart's content, reading and studying the vegetables and fruits (and of these there were variety and abundance, from the apple and pear to the apricot and gooseberry), in all of which I was deeply interested. The land and its crops, the animals and the servants who at-[page 417] tended them, together with those who officiated in-doors, were all my school masters and mistresses, and the servants were not less my particular friends, for I was a democrat.
When almost twelve years of age, my father and brother, whom I did not know, appeared at Chadwick Hall (not to me, among the servants, but) to my uncle and aunts in the parlor, and to my grandmother, who had not given me up for lost as had the others (so far as a school education was concerned), but had made me say my prayers before going to bed, and when I rose in the morning; had caused me to learn the collect on Sunday; and required the servants to take me to the National Episcopal Church to learn the text, and patiently endure an occasional gentle knock on the head from the sexton's long wand. For all this I had a proper respect; but the organ (which I heard for the first time) in another church alarmed me, and caused me to cry out in a fright, to the amazement of a large congregation.
My father, brother, &c., as I subsequently learned, had a sharp contention about taking me off to America, of which I only knew so much as I used to hear the common people sing in a doggerel originating at the time recruits for the Revolutionary War were being raised:--
"The sun will burn your nose off,
And the frost will freeze your toes off;
But we must away,
To fight our friends and our relations
In North America,"
The different parties became warm in their feelings, and quarrelled (sic), each laying claim to me; and, as neither would give way, Englishmen-like, they agreed to settle the matter on this wise; I, Frederick, was to be called into the parlor, no word upon the subject to be spoken to me previously, and uncle was to put a question to me, which he did, as follows: "Frederick, will you go to America with these men (who are your father and brother), or will you stay with us?" "I will go to America with my father and brother," was my reply, and that settled it. I was son "fixed off," and on my way to Liverpool. this was the year 1820, and I attained my twelfth year at sea.
I was hardy and healthy, and liked to work; I barely knew my letters, and detested paper books. I had not been poisoned with saleratus, or American knick-knacks or candies; nor with American superfine flour; nor with the great variety and dreadful mixtures with which the systems of children and young persons in this nation are duly prepared for Plantation Bitters, and the long, endless train of bitters resulting from dyspeptic diet.
The next ten years were spent in America in such intimate relations with my brother G. H. Evans, that some reference to him is indispensable. He was two years older than myself, and had received a scholastic education; so that, in literary knowledge, we were the two extremes of learning and ignorance. But we were brothers in a higher meaning of the term. We were Radicals in civil government, and in religion, being Materialists. He is now deceased; but he made his mark upon the page of history, which has recorded the current of thought as it flowed down from the founders of the American government to the election of Grant as President of these United Reconstructing States, upon principles more nearly realizing the abstract truisms affirmed in the Declaration of Independence than were even before advanced.
George started the land-reform movement in this country, on the basis of the principle laid down by Jefferson, that "the land belongs to man in usufruct only." And that idea was, doubtless, entertained by all the signers of the Declaration of Independence. George was contemporary with Horace Greeley in his younger days; and, at the time of starting the "New York Tribune," they were fast friends.
Another important point of agreement between the founders of the government and G. H. E. was, that they were all, so far as I know (excepting Thomas Carroll of Carrollton, who was a Catholic), infidels to the existing so-called [page 418] Christianity of the world. Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Franklin, and Washington (who has been somewhat white-washed by the sectarian priesthood) were Materialists, Deists, Unitarians, &c. These made provision that no priest of any denomination should hold any office under this government.
This school of mind had progressed up to the Community theories of Fourier and Owen, and the attempts to realize them in various places in Europe and America were most rife about the year 1830.
The right to be and the right to land, each included the other; we held that they were identical; and hence we waged a fierce and relentless war against all forms of property accumulation that owed their origin to land monopoly, speculation, or usury.
While still an apprentice at Ithaca, G. H. E. published "The Man." Afterwards I combined my means with his, and we published, successively, "The Workingman's Advocate," "The Daily Sentinel," and, finally, "Young America," besides a great variety of other publications, including "The Bible of Reason," &c., &c.; none of which, in a pecuniary point of view, was successful; for G. H. E. was a poor financier, and we had a tremendous current to stem. But that these publications had a controlling influence upon the American press, may be inferred from the very frequent quotations in other papers from the editorials of "Young America," and also from the fact that six hundred papers indorsed the following measures, which were printed at the head of "Young America":--
"First, The right of man to the soil: 'Vote yourself a farm.'
"Second. Down with monopolies, especially the United States Bank.
"Third. Freedom of the public lands.
"Fourth. Homesteads made inalienable.
"Fifth. Abolition of all laws for the collection of debts.
"Sixth. A general bankrupt law.
"Seventh. A lien of the laborer upon his own work for his wages.
"Eighth. Abolition of imprisonment for debt.
"Ninth. Equal rights for women with men in all respects.
"Tenth. Abolition of chattel slavery and of wages slavery.
"Eleventh. Land limitation to one hundred and sixty acres, --no person, after the passage of the law, to become possessed of more than that amount of land. But, when a land monopolist died, his heirs were to take each his legal number of acres, and be compelled to sell the overplus, using the proceeds as the pleased.
"Twelfth. Mails, in the United States, to run on the Sabbath."
These and similar views and principles we held and propagated to the very best of our ability; for our whole hearts and souls were in them.
This Spartan band was few in number; but there were deep thinkers among them; and all were earnest, practical workers in behalf of the down-trodden masses of humanity. It was war between abstract right and conventional rights. We held the Constitution to be only a compromise between the first principles of the American government, as they were set forth in the Declaration of Independence, drawn up by Jefferson, and the then existing vested rights of property-holders and conservatives of all sorts, secular and religious; and we contended that the mutual, well-understood intention and design of the founders of the government was, that, as soon as was possible, the Constitution should be amended, so as to conform more and more to the ideal pattern set forth in the declaration of rights inherent in humanity, it being a question only as to how long an acknowledge wrong should be permitted!
Our little party gradually and steadily increased, and acquired the title of "The Locofoco Party" in the following manner: On the evening of the 29th of October, 1835, a great meeting was to be held in Tammany Hall, by the Democratic party (which was then and there split into two, and in which [page 419] the Radical Land Reformers triumphed, taking with them a large portion of the party. The conservative leaders came up the back stairs into the hall, and secured the fore part of the meeting, and elected a chairman and committee. But these were finally entirely outvoted by the thousands of workingmen who crowded into and filled the hall, ejecting Isaac L. Varian, whom the monopolists had installed, and putting in Joel Curtis as chairman. Then the conservatives retired in disgust down the back stairs as they came in, and revengefully turned off the gas, leaving the densely packed hall in total darkness. The cry was raised, "Let there be light," and "there was light"; for locofoco matches were ignited all over the room, and applied to candles, when a fine illumination ensured, creating great enthusiasm, which finally, resulted in the election of Andrew Jackson and B. M. Johnson as President and Vice-President of the United States. For it was soon found that the Locofoco party held the balance of power; and they offered their entire vote to whichever of the parties would put at the head of their great party papers the twelve measure above enumerated, and the offer was accepted by the Democratic party.
Thus, during the last thirty-eight years, have been accomplished the following among our progressive purposes, viz.:--
Second. The United States Bank over-thrown.
Third. Freedom of public lands to actual settlers secured.
Fourth. Homestead laws in nearly all of the States.
Sixth. General bankrupt laws passed by the United States.
Seventh. Lien of laborers upon work to a great extent secured.
Eighth. Abolition of imprisonment for debt, in most of the United States.
Tenth. Abolition of chattel slavery in the United States entire.
Ninth. Equal rights for women is next in order.
I will now return to the scenes of my boyhood; for it is a truth taht "the boy is father to the man."
The example of the order and economy practiced at Chadwick Hall was not lost upon me. Two uncles, John and James, managed the farm. One remained at home mostly; the other attended the fairs and markets, which latter are held once a week at the principal towns. Here the farmers and dealers meet to sell and buy all the products of their farms; the grain being bought and sold by samples. The fairs were much the same thing, but the sales were principally of live stock on a large scale. On these occasions, servants (male and female) congregated together, and hired themselves out for the ensuing year, each one producing his "character" on paper from his former employer.
To these markets and fairs my uncle John used frequently to take me; and there I learned the relative value of property, and how to buy and sell. At home I learned to take care of horses, cattle, and sheep. Everything moved as if by machinery. For instance, there were some twenty horses; and in the morning, at a regular hour, they were all turned out to water as we now turn out cows. Whilst they were gone, their mangers were cleaned, and the racks emptied of any hay left in them overnight; this was put aside to be aired, and fresh hay was given, at night, however, the aired hay was first fed out, --nothing was wasted or lost.
In the house it was the same. Once a month they washed; once a week they baked bread made from unbolted wheat, black enough, but sweet, especially when, as often happens in that unfortunate climate, the wheat is grown; then the bread is sweetish. But the people are not dyspeptic; nor do they in the country commonly eat pills.
When my father and brother had fairly possession of me, they found they had "caught a Tartar." I had a good constitution, and, before they converted me into a "young gentleman," could stand a great deal of discipline.
[Page 420] We came over in a ship called "The Favorite," laden with salt and iron. The captain said, that, in twenty-two voyages, he had never experienced one so rough. Three times was the jibboom broken off close to the prow of the ship. At one time the ship sprang aleak; and it was "All hands to the pumps!" There were several feet of water in her hold; but the storm abated just in time to save the vessel, which was lost on her next voyage.
Landing at New York, we went up to Newburg, where we hired three teams to remove our baggage to Binghamton, at which place two uncles were already located. This became my home in America, from whence I went and came until I found a Shaker home. And here, in the company of young folks belonging to the three families, I was again the black sheep. Several of the young men became editors, while I could barely read a little. But one of my aunts, one evening, when were were all together, prophesied of me that, "of the company present, Frederick would yet occupy the most desirable position in life"; which has come to pass.
I now took a sudden turn in respect to books and learning. I saw that "knowledge was" not only "power," but that it was respect and consideration. I made up my mind that I would learn to read, and love to read. My first dose was "The Life of Nelson"; then I set myself to reading the Bible through by course; and I did it; and here I made a discovery (or rather my friends did), that my memory was so retentive, that whatever I read was, as it were, pictured on my brain. I had only to look at the picture to see it in all its minutest particulars, without any effort. And (as Lincoln would say) this reminds me of what a woman I met on a Hudson boat said; that in coming from California she was nearly drowned, but, before consciousness was gone, all the sins of her life were present to her view; not one, however small, was missing.
I next went to Ithaca, and put myself to school to an Episcopal minister, who proved a real friend. At parting, he advised me "always so to live, that I could respect myself"; and that has ever since been my life motto. Next, I apprenticed myself, at Sherborne Four Corners, N. Y., to learn the hatting business. There I had access to a library of valuable books; and I took to reading Rollin's Ancient History, Plutarch's Lives of Great Men, the "Tatler" and "Spectator," and Zimmermann, Shakespeare, Young, Watts, Thomson, Socrates, and Plato. I also took up theology, and asked myself, Why was I a Christian, and not a Mahometan, or a follower of Confucius? for I read the Koran, and the Bibles of all the people that I could obtain. I read "Locke on the Human Understanding, and the Being of a God." This laid in me the foundation of Materialism; for I came to the conclusion that matter was eternal, had never been created. Thomas Paine's "Crisis," and "Rights of Man," together with Volney and Voltaire, were among my friends.
I became a firm, settled Materialist, --a believer in matter, as I then understood it, the object of my external senses; for I then did not know that I had any other senses. This continued to be my condition until I met with the Shakers, some five years afterwards. I possessed this one great advantage, that what I did believe was true, however, much there might be true that I did not believe.
Starting from such a basis, it was not strange that I early became a convert to the socialistic theories which, about the year 1830, were so enthusiastically advocated by their respective adherents, as the grand panacea for all the wrongs perpetrated by Church and State. To all my other radical ideas I now added Socialistic-Communism; and I walked eight hundred miles (starting form New York) to join a Community at Massilon, Ohio. On this journey I was the recipient of many acts of kindness and hospitality from so great a variety of persons, entire strangers, that to this day I can- [page 421] not think of the Western people without emotions of gratitude and pleasure. At first, my feet swelled, and became very sore; but at length I could walk quite comfortably forty miles a day.
Reaching the Community, I found Dr. Underhill at the head of it, and a goodly company of congenial spirits,--infidels (like myself) and philosophers,--lovers of wisdom; there also were some Christians; and these were considered the cause of the breaking up of the Community, which occurred within some two months after my arrival.
About a dozen of us,--young men,-- looking into the causes which had destroyed so many Communities (some of us had been in five or six different ones, and were well acquainted with the whole movement), concluded to found another Community, upon a proper basis, purely philosophical, and not to allow in it a single Christian.
But, in the mean time, I had to make a voyage to England; and in the spring of 1829 I started on a raft, from the village of Chatauqua, drifting down the Monongahela and Ohio to Cincinnati, and thence on a flat-boat down the Mississippi to New Orleans. This gave me an opportunity of seeing life as it existed in the then slave States, and I formed my own private opinion of Jefferson's remark when he said, he "trembled for his country, when he reflected that God was just." which was, that he saw the end from the beginning of slavery.
Sailing from New Orleans, and landing in New York, I soon after embarked for England; and after ten years' absence, I found at Chadwick Hall no more change in persons or things than would usually occur in America in a single year.
I returned to New York in January, 1830, when we perfected our plans for the new Community; and I was deputed to travel for information, and to find a suitable location in which to start. At this time we had in New York a Hall of Science, and Robert Dale Owen and Fanny Wright were its great lights.
Calling one day in the month of June (3d), 1830, at the office in Mount Lebanon, I was directed to the North House as the proper place for inquirers. I was kindly received by those, who at that time I supposed were the most ignorant and fanatical people in existence. And knowing by experience how touchy and sensitive religious persons were to any ideas not in unison with their own, and how extremely reluctant they were to have either their dogmas or practices tested by logic or common sense, I was very wary and careful as to what I said, and in the questions I propounded. But I was agreeably surprised and impressed by the air of candor and openness, the quiet self-repose, with which I was met. I remained here two or three days, but failed to find the touchy place where anathemas supply the place of reasoning, proof, and evidence; I have now been here some thirty-eight years, and have yet to find it. In fact, after about a week's inquiry, I pronounced them a society of infidels; which indeed was paying them the highest compliment of which I was capable.
My reason for so concluding was, that all that I, as a philosopher, had repudiated and denounce, in the past religious history of men, as false and abominable, and as having turned this earth into a real hell, while they were cutting each other's throats about imaginary heavens and hells, the Shakers also repudiated and denounced, only in stronger terms than I was master of; the power of a man or people for truth and good, being measured by their capacity for indignation, and for the "wrath of God revealed from heaven against" falsehood and evil, in all their multifarious forms.
I found here one brother, Abel Knight, who had been a Quaker, then a Socialist, and whose house in Philadelphia had been the head-quarters of Communists and infidels; a man of standing, in all the known relations of life; he was a brother indeed, and a father too.
I have stated that I was a Materialist; and to some it may be interesting [page 422] to know I was converted. Well, it was not by the might of reasoning, nor by the power of argument, but by Spiritualism in the right place, -- the Church of God; and put to the right use, -- the conversion of a soul from an earthly to a spiritual condition.
The Shakers prayed for me, and I was met in my own path just as the Apostle Paul ws met in his own path, by spiritual manifestations made to myself when quite alone, from time to time, during several weeks, until my reason was so entirely convinced by the evidence received of the existence of a spirit-world, as I am by evidence that is presented to my outward senses of the existence of our material earth. Not only so; but I came to a conception of the inner world as being the most substantial, and of the inner man as being the real man; the outward world being only the shadow of the invisible world of causation. I also saw a meaning in the words of Paul: "We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things that are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things that are not seen are eternal."
Some persons may be curious to know what particular kind of spiritual manifestation it was that could convince so confirmed an infidel and Materialist. It was so spiritual that, whilst it fully met my case, I never have seen how I could put it into words, and do justice to the heavenly visitants or myself. In fact, I have always felt much as did a tribe of negroes whom Livingston found in the interior of Africa, and whom he designates the "African Quakers," because they will not fight: when he began to act the missionary to them, by preaching his kind of religion, they replied to him, in a whisper, "Hush! hush!" It was too sacred a subject for them to clothe in audible words. Even the Jews would never utter the sacred word "Jehovah" --He-She--except in a whisper.
In one of the first meetings that I attended I saw a brother exercised in a slight way outwardly; and it gave me the first evidence that began to produce in me faith in the spiritual. For I held that no person could believe, or disbelieve, at his or her own option; belief being solely the result of evidence.
One night, soon after retiring, I heard a rustling sound, as of the wings of a flock of doves flying through the window (which was closed) towards my bed; and, that I believed it to be supernatural, and that the faith in the supernatural, which the servants had planted in my soul, by their oft told ghost stories, had not wholly died out, was evidenced by the fact that I was frightened, and hid my head beneath the bedclothes. For this faith was never planted by the priest whose text I used to learn; nor by the sexton who now and then gave me a rap on the head; because neither the priest nor his people (who informed me every time I met with them, that they had, during the past week, been doing "those things which they ought not to have done," that they were "miserable sinners" had succeeded in attracting my attention to, or in the least degree interesting me in, supernatural or spiritual existences of another world.
I soon recovered my self-possession, and found that a singular mental phenomenon was going on. I was positively illuminated. My reasoning powers were enhanced a hundred-fold. I could see a chain of problems or propositions, as in a book, all spread out before me at once, starting from a fact that I did admit and believe; and leading me, step by step, mathematically, to a given conclusion, which I had not hitherto believed. I then discovered that I had powers within me that I knew not of. I was multiplied and magnified, and intensely interested. I was reasoning as I never before reasoned. Doubting was at a discount; for here were facts, something of which my senses were cognizant,--my physical, mental, rational, and spiritual senses; and I knew that [page 423] intelligences not clothed in what I had called matter were present with me, reasoning with me more purely and logically than hitherto had any intelligences in the body ever done, or than any mere mortal man or woman has ever done since. This first visitation of angels to me continued till about one o'clock in the morning, having lasted several hours. I now had new material for thought.
The next night they came again. This time it was spirit acting upon matter. Something began at my feet, and operated as palpably as water, or fire, or electricity; but it was neither; to me it was a new force, or element or power; call it what you please. I reasoned upon it. There was no pain, but fact. It passed quite slowly upward throughout my whole body.
These visitations recurred nightly for three weeks, always different, always kind and pleasant; but were addressed directly to my rationality, showing me the facts of the existence of a spiritual world, of the immortality of the human soul, and of the possibility and reality of intercommunication between souls in and spirits out of the mortal body.
At about this time I had the following dream: I saw a great fire, and a nude man, perfect in his physical organism, standing by it; he stepped into its very midst, the flames completely encircling his whole body. The next thing I observed was, that while he was perfect in living beauty, he was so organically changed that no "fig-leaf" covering was required.
Although a Materialist, I had never presumed to deny what others might know or had experienced to be true. But I would not believe , or rather, profess to believe, things of which I did not know, or of which I had received no evidence. This was the extent of my infidelity; and I still hold fast to the same rock. "How can we reason but from what we know?"
At the end of the three weeks I was one day thinking of the wonderful condescension of my spirit friends, and how I had been met, to repletion, by evidence addressed to all my senses, powers, and faculties of body and mind; and I said to myself, "It is enough"; and from that moment the manifestations entirely ceased; thus adding, as a seal, still another proof, that intelligent beings, who perfectly understood all of my mental processes, had me in charge.
Among the people (Believers) themselves, I had, for the first time, found religionists who were also rationalists, ready to "render a reason for the faith and hope that was in them", and who were willing to have that reason tested by the strictest rules of logical ratiocination. And they could appeal to me, as a Materialist, as did the Nazarene to unbelievers, "If ye believe not my words" (and the validity of my arguments), yet "believe for the very works' sake."
I had objected to other religious people and preachers, that, whereas they professed to believe in God, in the immortality of the soul, in an eternal heaven and hell, their lives and actions, as logical sequences, were inconsistent with such premises. And I often said to them: "If I believed what you profess to believe, I would devote all my time to a preparation for eternity." Here, however, was a people, unknown by the world, doing that very thing. Their whole life was a religious one; all their temporal, no less than their spiritual, affairs being the exponent of their religion. Here was, first, faith in a Supreme Being, not as a dry unsympathizing Trinity of three male persons, but a Dual God, a Father, the Fountain of wisdom and power, and a Mother, the Fountain of goodness and love to humanity. Here was faith in Divine communication--revelation--from the Parents primarily of all souls not only to the man Jesus, as the "first-born" from humanity, in the male line, eighteen hundred years ago; but also to the woman Ann, the first-born of humanity in the female line, in modern times. "Why not?" I said. Theoretically, I was just as ready to believe the one as the other; especially when, [page 424] in the present, as in the former case, I found the principles identical, and the works similar.
Moses was a land reformer. The Jews held land as do the people of Vineland, by allotment, each one having his little family homestead. The early Christians, being all Jews, easily went one step further, and held their land "in common"; and thus did the Shakers, viewing them as a body politic complete in themselves. For all the principles of Materialistic Socialism were in practical operation,--their "works"; where is possessed and enjoyed "freedom of the public lands," and of all lands, and "land limitation," and "homesteads inalienable"; where is fully carried out "abolition of slavery, both chattel and wages," including poverty and riches; monopoly in all its forms, together with speculation, usury, and competition in business; where is abolished "imprisonment for debt," or for any other cause, for in this Community (or nation) not only are there no "laws for the collection of debts," but debt itself (as must be the case, in a perfect Community) is impossible; where "Woman's Rights" are fully recognized, by first giving her a Mother in Deity to explain and protect them; where equal suffrage for men and women, and equal participation in the government of an order founded by a woman, was an inevitable necessity.
These were the works for the sake of which I was compelled to believe that there really was a God, and that revelation, or communication, existed between that God and those whom I had supposed were the extremely ignorant and very fanatical Shakers.
As a Materialist, accustomed to be governed by common sense, the Shakers had to convince me by evidence, addressed to my own senses and reasoning faculties, that a God did exist; and that they received from him revelations upon which a rational man, in the most important business relations of life, might safely depend, before I could think of believing the Bible or any other record of what men and women (who possessed no more nor better faculties or senses than I did), in the dark ages of ignorance and superstition, in the early history of the human race, had seen, or heard, or felt, or smelt, or tasted, or said, --experienced.
If a God exists in our own time, then certainly men and women, as perfect as were those of olden times, also exist. Moreover, it is generally claimed that great progress has been made by mankind as a race; therefore, and as a natural consequence, this progress should in nothing be more palpable than in his religion (his relation to God), and the relation of man to his fellow-man. And why, therefore, should there not be (if there ever was) a living intercommunication between God and man to-day, as well as on long-ago bygone days? was the question to be answered; and the Shakers did answer it, in a sensible and rational manner, by words and facts not (by me) to be gainsaid.
I was not required to believe the imperfectly-recorded experiences of spiritual men and women, but to attain to an experience of my own. I had received a revelation as truly as ever did Peter, or Paul, or Jesus, or Ann; and I therefore believed, not from the words of others, but (like the people of Samaria) because I had seen and heard and felt for myself.
This rock of revelation to each individual is the true foundation of the Shaker Church. "Night calleth unto night, and day unto day." There is nothing that will so illumine the pages of a true record of a past revelation as will a present and superior revelation shining thereupon. For it separates the chaff from the wheat, the false from the true, darkness from light.
After three months' absence, I returned to New York, to face, for the first time, my astounded Materialistic friends, to whom a more incomprehensible change could not have happened than my apparent defection from their ranks.
As soon as my arrival in the city was known, there was a gathering at my [page 425] brother's office, when the room was well filled with many older men than myself, and those to whom I had looked up as my superiors in knowledge and experience. At first, there was a little disposition shown by a few to be querulous and bantering; while the greater part took it as a serious matter, to be righted by solid argument.
I called the attention of the company, and inquired whether any of them wished to give me any information concerning Materialism, its principles? All said, No! you do not need it. I then inquired if any one present was acquainted with Shakerism? and again the answer was, No! Then, gentlemen, I replied, it is for you to listen, and for me to speak. And I did speak; and gave them as simple an account of my experience thus far as I was able.
I also had a separate interview with Robert Dale Owen at the Hall of Science. At its close he remarked: "I will come up to New Lebanon and stay a month; and, if I find things as they now appear, I will become a Shaker."
In course of time all of them became Spiritualists. Who sowed the seed?
I joined myself to the order, and became a Shaker. I have now had thirty-eight years' experience, and feel "satisfied with the goodness of God" and his people to me. I have gained a degree of victory over self, which causes my peace to "flow as a river," and which fills me with sympathy for all "seekers of truth" and righteousness, whoever and wherever they may be. In Part II, I propose commencing my Autobiography as a Shaker. My address is F. W. Evans, Mt. Lebanon, Columbia County, N. Y.