Ann the Word: The Story of Ann Lee, Female Messiah, Mother of the Shakers, the Woman Clothed with the Sun
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After the deaths of her four children, Ann was committed to an insane asylum. While committed she received the revelation that she was Ann the Word, the female embodiment of Christ. Upon her release, she assumed leadership of the Shaking Quakers, or Shakers, a local religious cult known for erratic fits of divine shaking, passionate song and dance, speaking in tongues, and a belief that the millennium heralding the end of the world had come. Escaping persecution, she emigrated with a small band of Shakers to America in 1774. Charges of witchcraft and spying followed Lee wherever she went as she began an ambitious mission of conversion, establishing communities across New England.
In the first serious biography about this spirited, captivating leader, Richard Francis provides “the best portrait to date of . . . [a] heroic, indomitable, mesmerizing woman” (Sunday Telegraph), a trail-blazer whose feminizing influence upon Christianity was marked progress for women of her time and long after. He also demonstrates the aura and strangeness of the radical Shakers during their militant years and in so doing, poignantly recreates a “remote prophetic world” (Evening Standard), bursting with mystery and intrigue.
occasion, but the case received publicity all the same, in the Manchester Mercury of 27 July 1773. This weekly paper was mainly devoted to news reports from London and abroad (except at times of local crisis, like the Shude Hill Fight of 1757), allowing just a half-column for Manchester news; but it did cover this court appearance and detailed the fines of the four Shakers cheek by jowl with news of other, severer sentences, like the seven years’ transportation passed on John Crowder for
John Townley, who had stood in the dock with Ann and her father at the July Quarter Sessions in Manchester, and whose house on Canon Street had provided living quarters and meeting rooms for some of the believers, was one of those who decided not to go. Others may already have been repelled or disillusioned as the result of the increasing stridency and radicalism of the sect under Ann’s leadership - it had never earned an entry in the constables’ records or the local newspapers before Ann took
make matters worse, Ann felt obliged to testify against the wickedness of the sailors. Predictably enough they responded by threatening to throw her overboard. There was probably an element of humorous exaggeration in this threat, but Shakers, like other fundamentalists, were not sensitive to irony, and in any case they had a tendency towards exaggeration themselves. What dispelled this tension was a sudden crisis. The ship ran into heavy seas and a plank was loosened, a not wholly surprising
celibacy - for over twenty years, she told one enquirer, she had ‘not so much as shook hands with any Mann’, her earthly husband included. The Rev. Prentice had died in 1773, but his widow was still living in Grafton when Ann Lee and her company arrived in mid-June 1781. We don’t know of any direct contact between the two women, though John Maynor, with whom Ann Lee and her elders stayed, had been a Perfectionist, and it is clear that the Shakers were homing in on the remnants of Ireland’s cult.
confirmed by the apostasies that soon took place. Ann’s niece, Nancy Lee, had become ill and asked James for help. He told her that her faith would save her, though he admitted that he didn’t know at how great a distance from God she was at that time. His suspicion was correct: Nancy left the sect along with another member of the English party, Richard Hocknell, and the two set the seal on their apostasy by getting married. Shepherd himself, the old England devil, left in 1788, a year after