In 1774, a small group of English Shakers led by Mother Ann Lee arrived in New York City. Two years later, they settled in Albany County in an area known (by local Indians) as Niskayuna, called Watervliet by the descendants of the Dutch settlers and now known as the Town of Colonie. The group was known as the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing. They were commonly referred to as “Shakers,” a name the group itself also used.
A Christian religious sect, the Shakers believed in confession of sins, celibacy, separation from the outside world, and common ownership of property as the principal tenets of their faith. They also believed in the equality of the sexes, absence of racial discrimination, the devotion to industry, perfection and pacifism.
The Shaker’s first building, a log cabin built in the winter of 1775-76, was approximately 500 yards north of the Church Family site, which is now the grounds of the Ann Lee Home. There Ann Lee and her small band of followers began to change this swampy land into a farm which eventually grew into four communities or “families”: the Church, North, West, and South Families.
The Shaker community here numbered about 350 in the middle of the 19th century, but only a few remained when the last Shaker eldress of this community died in 1938 and the remaining Shakers moved to Hancock and Mount Lebanon.