Ann Lee founded the first communal settlement of the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, commonly known as the Shakers, in Watervliet New York in 1776. Lee died in 1784, but the community she established continued until 1915. Archaeological excavations at the West family portion of the settlement by Hartgen Archeological Associates, Inc., recovered a rare collection of early 19th century household objects that is now part of the permanent Historical Archaeology collection at the New York State Museum. This is the first archaeological collection of Shaker material culture acquired by the New York State Museum and is a significant complement to the chairs and other pieces in the museum’s Shaker history collection.
One important component of the archaeological collection are the many clay tobacco pipe fragments made by the Shakers in Watervliet. Most Shaker pipes were designed to be used with a wooden stem and are undecorated. Tobacco pipes were produced at most Shaker settlements and are one of the everyday homemade objects used by the community. Alcohol bottles were also recovered from the excavations. Alcohol consumption is not often associated with the Shakers, yet wine and spirits bottles in the collection suggest at least moderate consumption of liquid intoxicants. Together this collection of artifacts offers an opportunity to reexamine what we think we know about a supposedly pure and utopian 19th century community.