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Rare collection of 19th-century Shaker "not-so-pure" household objects acquired by NYSM Historical Archaeology collection

19th-century wine bottle fragment excavated at the Shaker Settlement, Watervliet, NY
19th-century wine bottle fragment excavated at the Shaker Settlement, Watervliet, NY

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. One important component of the collection are the many clay tobacco pipe fragments made by the Shakers in Watervliet. Most pipes, like the ones shown here, 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. At their inception, as with most early American religious movements, the Shakers experimented with temperance. 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 community.

19th-century wine bottle fragment excavated at the Shaker Settlement, Watervliet, NY
19th-century wine bottle fragment excavated at the Shaker Settlement, Watervliet, NY
Undecorated pipe bowls recovered at the West Family portion of the Shaker settlement in Watervliet, NY
Undecorated pipe bowls recovered at the West Family portion of the Shaker settlement in Watervliet, NY