Vermont Women: Sister Jane Blanchard

03/28/08 9:07AM Galen Beale
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(HOST) Today, we conclude this week's series on notable Vermont women, with the story of Sister Jane Blanchard - a Vermont Shaker - as told by author and Shaker scholar Galen Beale.

(BEALE) A frequent question at The Shaker Museum in Enfield NH is: why were there no Shaker Villages in Vermont? This April a new exhibit about the men and women from Vermont who joined the Shakers will address that question.

In the 18th century, Northern New England hill towns were alive with religious upheaval and the Shakers were one of several groups recruiting new members. By 1850, 196 men and women - or 35% of the Enfield Shakers - were from Vermont. Sister Jane Blanchard was among them, and she is one of nine individuals profiled in this new exhibit. Her story provides insight into the lives of early Vermont women who were making non-traditional choices.

Jane Elizabeth Snow Blanchard was born in Norwich in March of 1825. Some time before 1868 she wrote down the story of her quest for a life of peace - without greed, violence and lust - and a more personal relationship with God.

Jane was born into a family of meager means. At the age of nine she went to live with a family as a hired hand and servant until she was 16. The work was hard and she became ill. Eventually, she returned to her family, and there she remained until age 18. While living at home she began to - quote - "think more about my soul". She began to experience visions and heard voices - which she attributed to a religious awakening. Then she went to work for the family of George Adams, who had lived with the Shaker missionary, John Lyon, as a boy. Adams told Jane about "the Shaker People", their beliefs and how they lived. He told her they were a very strange people who did not believe in marriage. Jane decided that was the life that she wanted.

Without telling her family, she left Norwich to attempt the 25-mile-walk to Enfield. The weather was severe and it was a grueling, harrowing trip, but when she finally arrived, she was warmly welcomed. Unbeknownst to Jane, an old friend from Hanover had come to live at Enfield, and she helped Jane settle in. Before long Jane had decided to commit herself to the Shaker way of life. Jane's family traveled from Norwich to plead with her to return home. But Jane tearfully refused and remained with the Shakers. For a while she worked in the office and in the 1860 census, Jane was listed as a knitter.

When she died, Jane Blanchard's Shaker family remembered her as having a "loving heart and cheerful spirit." And they concluded, "We would gladly have had her tarry with us longer, for she was bright and active almost to the last."

 

PHOTO: Canterbury Shaker Village Collection

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