Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Lee, Ann

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LEE, ANN (1736–1784), foundress of the American Society of Shakers, daughter of John Lee, blacksmith, was born in Toad Lane (now Todd Street), Manchester, on 29 Feb. 1785-6. She never went to school, but as a child was employed as a factory-hand, and afterwards was in service as cook at the Manchester Infirmary. Labouring under a deep sense of sin, she joined about 1768 a little band of enthusiasts led by one Wardley, a tailor, and his wife, seceders from the Society of Friends, upon whom had fallen the mantle of the 'French prophets' [see Lacy, John, fl. 1737]. They believed in the imminence of the second advent of Christ, and at their meetings were subject to violent fits of trembling, which caused them to be nicknamed the Shaking Quakers, or Shakers. They were distinguished by the extreme strictness of their lives and the practice of confession of sin.

On 5 Jan. 1762 Ann Lee married Abraham Standerin—so the name appears in the register, though it is commonly spelt Standley or Stanley—a blacksmith. Both bride and bridegroom were unable to write, and made their marks in the register accordingly. Marriage brought Ann no relief from spiritual distress. Her health became seriously impaired, and four children to whom she gave birth died in infancy. At length she discovered that celibacy was the holy state, and in 1770 was sent to prison as a sabbath-breaker for preaching this new gospel. She was confined, according to the shaker tradition, in a dungeon, and kept for a fortnight with no food except milk and 'other liquids,' conveyed to her through the stem of a tobacco-pipe placed in the keyhole by one of her adherents. She was consoled, however, and confirmed in the faith by a marvellous vision of Jesus Christ, and on her release was acknowledged by the shakers as their spiritual head. She was always addressed as Mother or Mother Ann. She resumed preaching, and signs and wonders attended her ministry. To shaking were added dancing and the gift of tongues, of which Mother Ann alone spoke seventy-two with fluency. In July 1773 she was fined 20l. for creating a disturbance in Christ Church, Manchester, during morning prayers, and probably went to prison in default. After suffering more persecution, and experiencing some marvellous deliverances, she sailed for America in May 1774, accompanied by her husband and a few adherents, with whom she landed at New York on 6 Aug. In the spring of 1776 she parted from her husband, and founded at Niskenna (afterwards Watervliet), near Albany, the first American shaker society. Her gospel met with more favour in the New World than in the Old, yet she had to encounter some opposition. True to their quaker principles, the shakers refused to bear arms in the revolutionary war, and Mother Ann and her principal elders were sent to prison in July 1780 for refusing to promise obedience to the law of the land. The elders were soon set at liberty, but Mother Ann remained in confinement until the end of the year, when her release was procured by Governor George Clinton. In May 1781 she set out on a missionary tour, in the course of which she made many converts, whom she required to dance naked, men and women together, as a mortification of the flesh. She returned to Watervliet in August 1783, and there died on 8 Sept. 1784. The communism which is now one of the distinctive features of shakerism was not adopted until after her death. Mother Ann was a good-looking woman, of middle height, inclined to embonpoint, with blue eyes, brown hair, and a fair complexion. She was greatly loved and respected by her followers, by whom she came to be regarded as a female Christ. She claimed the power of discerning spirits and of working miracles.

[Wells's Testimonies concerning the Character and Ministry of Mother Ann Lee, 1827; Dwight's Travels in New England and New York, iii. 149 et seq.; Testimony of Christ's Second Appearing (United Soc. called Shakers), 4th ed. 1856, Appendix; Brown's Account of the People called Shakers, 1812; Evans's Shakers, 1869; Axon's Biog. Notice of Ann Lee, 1876.]

J. M. R.