Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Latter-Day Shakers Volume 52 Number 1, January/February 1999
by David R. Starbuck

[image] Stoneware beer and ale bottles (Courtesy David R. Starbuck) [LARGER IMAGE]

Investigations at the Canterbury Shaker Village in central New Hampshire are providing evidence that late nineteenth-century Shakers were not the ascetics historians once believed them to be. Dozens of whiskey flasks and beer bottles, excavated by a team from Plymouth State College, reveal that the latter-day Shakers were apparently no longer maintaining their distinctive life-style and that converts were bringing with them heretofore forbidden worldly goods such as alcohol, tobacco, and pork, as well as fancy commercial products.

Such items must have been acquired in violation of the millennial laws which the sect believed had come to them through divine revelation. Because most communities rigidly enforced these laws, "worldly" artifacts are rare among Shaker remains.

Since 1996, however, excavators at Canterbury have unearthed some strikingly nontraditional artifacts. Found alongside utilitarian items such as pots, earthenware plates, and pickle jars were whiskey flasks, wine and beer bottles, perfume bottles and vials, pig bones, bone napkin rings, and bottles of Saratoga Vichy water. Pottery vessels decorated with bold transfer prints have been found, as well as black manganese-glazed redware and pomade jars. Also prominent were items to enhance personal appearance, including combs, shoe blacking, hooks from foundation garments, bottles of Hood's Tooth Powder, fine bone toothbrushes (including one from Paris), and a bottle of "Mrs. A. Allen's World's Hair Restorer."

Although hired men and other outsiders may be responsible for some of the contents of the dump, the archaeological record shows that the Canterbury Shakers were gradually becoming consumers of mass culture.

© 1999 by the Archaeological Institute of America