A New View of Shaker Life

October, 2004

Neither Plain Nor Simple, the most recent book by David R. Starbuck, assistant professor of archeology and anthropology, is the result of over 25 years of archeological research at Canterbury Shaker Village near Concord, N.H.

According to the publisher (New England University Press), “Because we know what the Shakers expected of themselves, we can use excavations to determine whether they actually lived up to their own ideals. … In the Second Family blacksmith shop foundation, for example, Starbuck discovered … 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.”

Starbuck has written numerous articles on New England archeology and directed countless digs in the area. For more on David Starbuck’s archeological work, see “My First Excavation” by Sabrina Blanco.—MLS

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