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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Lee, Ann

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the founder of the sect of Shakers, was born in Manchester, England, Feb. 29, 1736. She was the daughter of a poor mechanic, a blacksmith by trade, and a sister of general Charles Lee of Revolutionary fame. When yet a young girl she married Abraham Standley, of like trade as her father, and she became the mother of four children, who all died in infancy. When about twenty-two years of age Jane came under the influence of James Wardley, at this time the great exponent of the Millenarian doctrines of the Camisards and French Prophets. These religious fanatics, after enduring much persecution and great suffering in their native country, had sought a refuge in England in 1705. Gradually they spread their views communicating inspiration, as they thought finding ready followers, particularly among the Quakers, and one of this number James Wardle in 1747 actually formed a separate society, consisting mainly of Quakers, claiming to be led by the Spirit of God, and indulging in all manner of religious excesses, similar to those of the Canmisards (q.v.) and French Prophets (q.v.). Wardley claimed to have supernatural visions and revelations, and as both he and his adherents were noted for their bodily agitations. they came to be known as Shaking Quakers. Of this sect Ann Lee, now Mrs. Standley, became one of the leading spirits. From the time of her admission she seems to have been particularly inspired for leadership and action. Naturally of an excitable temper, her experience in the performance of the peculiar religious antics of this society by them termed "religious exercises" was most singular and painful. Of a pious nature, she hesitated not to subject herself to all the torments of the flesh. Often in her fits or paroxysms, as she clinched her hands, it is said, the blood would flow through the pores of her skin in a kind of sanguinary perspiration. This her followers believe was a miraculous phenomenon, and they liken it to the "bloody sweat" of our Savior in the garden. Her flesh wasted away under these exercises, and she became so weak that her friends were obliged to feed her like an infant. Then, again, according to the account given by her followers, she would have "intervals of releasement, in which her bodily strength and vigor were sometimes miraculously renewed, and her soul filled with heavenly visions and divine revelations." All these mortifications of the flesh were by her sect accepted not only as evidences of great spiritual fervor, but as proofs of the indwelling of the divine spirit in Ann in an uncommon measure.

She rose rapidly in the favor and confidence of her brethren, and we need not wonder that soon she came to have visions and revelations, and that they frequently and gladly "attested" them as manifestations of God to the believers. By the year 1770 she had grown so much in favor among her people that her revelations and visions were looked upon with more than ordinary interest; and when in this year she was subjected to persecution and imprisonment by the secular authorities, her followers claim that the Lord Jesus manifested himself to her in an especial manner, and from this time dates the beginning of that "latter day of glory" in which they are now rejoicing. Immediately after her release from prison she professed supernatural powers in the midst of the little society gathered about her, and she was acknowledged as their spiritual mother in Christ. Ann was thereafter accepted as the only true leader of the Church of Christ not in the common acceptation of that term, but as the incarnation of infinite wisdom and the "second appearing of Christ," as really and fully as Jesus of Nazareth was the incarnition of infinite power, or Christ's first appearing, and she now hesitated not to style herself "Ann, the Word," signifying that in her dwelt the Word. Among other things revealed to her at this time was the displeasure of the Almighty against the matrimonial state, and she opened her testimony on the wickedness of marriage.

If nothing else could have provoked the secular powers to put a stop to her fanatic excesses in the garb of religion, her attack on one of the most sacred institutions of the civilized state demanded immediate action, and she was again imprisoned, this time for misdemeanor. Set free once more, she began to spread her revelations more generally, and actually entered upon an open warfare against "the root of human depravity," as she called the matrimonial act, and the people of Manchester were so enraged that she was shut up in a madhouse, and was kept there several weeks. Thus harassed and persecuted on English soil, she finally decided to seek quiet and peace on this side of the Atlantic, and in 1773 professed to have a "special revelation" to emigrate to America. Several of her congregation asserted that they also had had revelations of a like nature, and she accordingly set out for this country. She came to America in the ship Maria, Captain Smith, and arrived at New York in May, 1774, having as her companions her brother, William Lee, James Whitaker, John Hocknell, called elders, and others. In the spring of 1776 she went to Albany, and thence to Niskayuna, now Watervliet, eight miles from Albany. Here she successfully established a congregation, which she called "the Church of Christ's second appearing," formally dissolved her connection with the man to whom she had in her youth given her hand and heart, and became their recognized head. It was not, however, until 1780 that Ann Lee succeeded in gathering about her a very large flock. At the beginning of this year an unusually great religious revival occurred at New Lebanon, and, improving this opportunity, she went prominently before the people, taking an active part in the religious commotion. This proved to her cause a fine harvest indeed. and the number of her deluded followers greatly increased, and resulted in the establishment of the now flourishing society of New Lebanon. (See SHAKERS).

One of these New Lebanon converts, Valentine Rathbun, previously a Baptist minister, who, however, after the short period of about three months, recovered his senses, and published a pamphlet against the imposture, says that "there attended this infatuation an inexplicable agency upon the body, to which he himself was subjected, that affected the nerves suddenly and forcibly like the electric fluid, and was followed by tremblings and the complete deprivation of strength. When the good mother had somewhat established her authority with her new disciples, she warned them of the great sin of following the vain customs of the world, and, having fleeced them of their ear-rings, necklaces, buckles, and everything which might nourish pride, and having cut off their hair close by their ears, she admitted them into her Church. Thus metamorphosed, they were ashamed to be seen by their old acquaintances, and would be induced to continue Shakers to save themselves from further humiliation." But whether it was the success of their unworthy cause, or their religious excesses, or their unwillingness to take the oath of allegiance to the State of New York, they made themselves obnoxious here also to the secular authorities, and, as in her native country, Ann Lee was subjected to imprisonment, and escaped trial and punishment only by the kind offices of the governor, George Clinton. In 1781 she set out, in company with her elders, on a quite extended preaching tour through the News England States, in the course of which societies were founded at Harvard, Mass., and sundry other places. She had always asserted that she was not liable to the assaults of death, and that, when she left this world, she should ascend in the twinkling of an eye to heaven; but, unhappily for her claims, "the mighty power of God, the second heir of the covenant of promise" and "the Lamb's bride," or, as she styled herself, "the spiritual mother of the new creation, the queen of Mount Zion, the second appearing of Christ," died a natural death at Watervliet, September 8,1784.

Strange as must ever appear the fanatical excesses of Ann Lee, and her willingness to lead men to acts of depravity, to blasphemous religious pretensions, it must be conceded that she was certainly a wonderful woman. Deprived of all the advantages of education, she nevertheless, by the power of a will wholly unyielding and a mind of no common order, succeeded in establishing a religious sect, by which, at present consisting of more than four thousand people, some of them of marked intelligence and superior talents, possessing, in the aggregate, wealth to the amount of more than ten millions of dollars, she is considered as the very Christ standing in the Church as God himself, and at whose tribunal the world is to be judged. Over this society her influence is spoken of as complete. Her word was a law from which there was no appeal. Obedience then, as now, was the one lesson that a Shaker was required to learn perfectly an obedience unquestioned and entire; and all this when the very foundation upon which they rested their faith, namely, her divine mission, was notoriously antagonized by a life accused, and not without some show of truthfulness, as openly and shamefully impure. See H. P. Andrews in the Ladies' Repository, 1858, p. 646 sq.; Marsden (Rev. J. B.), Hist. of Christian Churches and Sects, 2:320 sq.; Galaxy, 1872 (Jan. and April). (See SHAKERS).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Lee, Ann'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/l/lee-ann.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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