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Neither Plain nor Simple: New Perspectives on the Canterbury Shakers

Neither Plain nor Simple: New Perspectives on the Canterbury Shakers (Paperback)

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Canterbury Shaker Village, located in Canterbury, New Hampshire, just northeast of Concord, has seen more archeological research than any other Shaker community. David R. Starbuck has been digging there for over a quarter of a century. Beginning in 1978, Starbuck and his team mapped some 600 acres of the village, preparing sixty-one base maps, as well as dozens of drawings of foundations and mill features. Accompanying the maps were several hundred archeological site reports describing the history and present condition of every field, dump, foundation, wall, path, and orchard within the community. These documents offered the first comprehensive look at both the built and natural environment of any Shaker village. This above-ground study-with much updating-forms the second part of this volume.

Through the 1980s, grant funding was available chiefly for above-ground recording and only rarely for excavating. Still, from the beginning Starbuck and his team speculated about what types of unexpected artifacts might be found if excavations were conducted in the Shaker dumps or in the nicely-manicured lawns behind the village's communal dwellings. With the 1992 death of Sister Ethel Hudson, the community's last surviving member, it seemed clear that Canterbury Shaker Village represented an unparalleled opportunity to use archeology as a cross-check on surviving nineteenth-century historical records and visitors' accounts.

The Canterbury Shakers constitute one of the very best test cases for historical archeology precisely because they were a society that tightly controlled their internal descriptions of themselves. Because we know what the Shakers expected of themselves, we can use excavations to determine whether they actually lived up to their own ideals. Excavations into various dumps began in 1994. In the Second Family blacksmith shop foundation, for example, Starbuck discovered thousands of pipe wasters-evidence that the Canterbury Shakers manufactured red earthenware tobacco pipes for sale to the World's People. The Shakers' hog house contained numerous ceramics and glass bottles; at another dump almost a hundred stoneware bottles for beer or ginger beer were unearthed along with whisky flasks, perfume bottles, and false teeth.

These new artifacts contradict the popular image of the Shakers as plain, simple, and otherworldly, thereby challenging existing paradigms about the nature of Shaker society. Starbuck's findings suggest that Shaker consumption practices were highly complex and that Shakers were perhaps more "human" than previously imagined. Neither Plain nor Simple, which brings together the original site maps with his most recent findings, will serve as the definitive archeological investigation of the Canterbury Shakers and their lifeways, and function as a model for similar archeological studies of communal societies.

DAVID R. STARBUCK's books include The Great War Path: British Military Sites from Albany to Crown Point (UPNE, 1999) and Massacre at Ft. William Henry (UPNE, 2002). He is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Plymouth State College.

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