This article was written by SHS volunteer Jim Maczek.
Many visitors to the Shaker Heritage Society’s exhibit room in the Meeting House have asked some rather profound questions. One in particular concerns the large photograph of twelve Church Family Shakers. The question invoked is, “Who were these people?” This is an excellent question and will be addressed here using both journal and photographic research. An article concerning the photographer James Irving, his life, and interaction with the Watervliet Shakers will be forthcoming in the next issue of this newsletter.
All but two of these people lived out their lives as Shakers after joining the community. The brother on the far left in the second is Mathew (Mathias) Radiker. He was born in Germany in 1835. The earliest account of his life as a Shaker is found in David Austin Buckingham’s journal, dated October 1, 1863; he records the brethren that were drafted into the military: “Drafted from Watervliet were: Charles Pretsch and Mathew Radiker of the Second Family and James Longridge and William Johnson of the South Family.” This helps to give us an idea when his early years at Watervliet were as he was not listed on the 1860 national census. From the same journal there was an account dated April 23, 1870, stating that Mathew was gored by a bull, but with the help of one of the brethren and he was able to crawl under a loose partition of the fencing and escape. The final account of his life as a Shaker was on December 4, 1871. Buckingham’s journal states, “Mathew Radiker decided to leave the Shakers. C[hauncy] M[iller] gave Elder DAB [David Austin Buckingham] $50.00 for him and all of his clothes. After dinner, George took him to Albany.”
Next to Mathew is Caty Ferguson. She was born on March 3, 1836 in Scotland. Caty was first admitted on August 24, 1846 to the South Family, but moved to the Church Family two years later. She visited the Philadelphia Shakers in 1870, along with three other sisters. This was a predominantly, but not exclusively, black Shaker family that operated under the auspices of the Watervliet ministry. Caty served as an eldress at the North Family several times, as well as helping to make “Mohawk sauce,” or catsup, at the West Family. The broom industry was financially successful for the community and Caty played her part by travelling locally, selling the brooms. On November 18, 1891, she died suddenly after a sales trip to Cohoes Harmony Mills. While on her way home she paid a visit to her friend, Annie Smith, and died at the front gate.
John Philip Smith, standing in the middle, was born in 1837 and died April 17, 1905. Philip was brought to the Shakers , along with his sister Lucretia, on October 27, 1841 by their father Simon. Lucretia left at age 18 on September 6, 1856. Philip worked as a herdsman, botanist, and took care of the poultry. In May 1875, Philip was appointed as Trustee to care for the seed business. Two years later, he replaced Chauncey Miller as Trustee, along with Henry George. Philip continued his duties until his death.
Ruth Green was born on September 28, 1815 and died September 23, 1877. Ruth was brought to the Shakers with one brother and sister by her parents on July 7, 1823. She lived many years in the Office with three other sisters. Ruth was active in the shop and was noted for her work in making emery balls.
George Price was admitted to the South Family on August 9, 1831, at age 13; he moved to the Church Family two weeks later. George was very active as an “instrument” during the Era of Manifestations, a spiritual revival that swept the community in the 1840s. George was an indispensible repairman and inventor. He created a pea sheller, printer, and saw miller. He also helped in selling seeds. George took on a leadership role in June 1874, where he remained until his death in 1890.
Sitting the furthest left in the front row is Lydia Annas. Born on September 12, 1816, Lydia was brought to the Shakers when she was seven years old. She spent many years living in the Office. In 1842 she became a Trustee. There is strong possibility that she authored the “Ann Buckingham journals” from 1837-1858 while Ann was occupied elsewhere. Lydia spent a lot of time making baskets, splint fans, and bottoming chairs. During this time she also served as First Deaconess until 1875. Lydia died in 1897.
Lucy Fuller was born September 5, 1813 and was brought to the Shakers on October 31, 1822 with her brother Waldo. Lucy had a busy Shaker life. She took on the role of physician in 1841 and was active in the mechanical branch of the medicinal herb business. The herb industry was very successful and an important source of income for the Shakers, who stressed the importance of good health and well-being. Lucy served in various leadership roles before she succumbed to typhoid fever on April 16, 1875.
Eliza Harrison was born on September 23, 1812 in London, England died January 12, 1885. She was brought to the Shakers in 1825. Throughout her time in the community she served in various leadership positions, and visits the Philadelphia Shakers in July 1873.
Julia McNallen lived from September 13, 1846 until 1931. No record of her arrival date has come to light. In 1862 she is a “school girl” and by May of 1873 is in charge of the dairy. Julia left the Shakers for three weeks in August of 1878. In 1926, she was one of the four members refusing to move to the South Family when the Church Family land was sold. Three other members moved in 1923 to the South Family. By 1928 Julia had left the Shakers. Her whereabouts from this date until her death in 1931 is unknown. The last South Family journal was kept by Lucy Bowers only from 1919 until 1931.
Samantha Bowie arrived at the Shakers October 30, 1842, when she was only three years old. Samantha spent most of her years here making straw bonnets, baskets of poplar chip, and needle books. She also spent much time doing kitchen work in the Office during her rather brief life. She died on May 30, 1862.
Orange Mariah Treadway came to the Shakers on March 4, 1823. She was born August 26, 1810. During the 1840s, Mariah was very active in working with silkworms. Many communities experimented with raising silkworms and harvesting silk, but the climate in the northeast was not suitable for this pursuit. Western communities in Kentucky did raise silkworms and sent silk to Watervliet and elsewhere. Mariah held various leadership roles. She became troubled and on July 17, 1869, she drowned herself.
Adelaide Ingham was born December 18, 1834 and died in January 1927. She came to the South Family with her family on June 24, 1844, but moved to the Church Family in July. Her mother Harriet remained in the community, but her father left the Shakers and moved to Watertown. Adelaide kept in close contact with various family members throughout the years. She was one of the three sisters that moved to the South Family in 1923 when the Church Family was sold.