Elias Smith CDV
Carte de Visite, Brother Elias Smith
C. E. Lewis, Photographer, Lebanon, NH, ca. 1880
Collection of Canterbury Shaker Village, Canterbury, NH

Brother Elias P. Smith

Elias P. Smith, Shaker musician and clarinetist, was born September 14, 1810 in Woodstock, Vermont, the son of Uriah and Susan (Peck) Smith.

Elias was the namesake of his then-famous uncle, Elias Smith (1769-1846), a physician, journalist, and clergyman who co-founded a religious denomination known as the Christian Connexion and published The Herald of Gospel Liberty in 1808, said to be the first religious newspaper published in the world.

In 1835 the Uriah Smith family moved from Woodstock, Vermont to Enfield, New Hampshire at which time Elias and three of his siblings, Amanda, Zelinda, and Philo, were placed with the Shakers. Uriah, his wife, and youngest child, Susan, settled on property at the head of Mascoma Lake and began to gather a small congregation of individuals who would ultimately identify themselves as Universalists. Elias’ sister Amanda and brother Philo left the Shakers as young adults, but Elias and his younger sister, Zelinda, remained lifelong Shakers.

In 1844, Enfield’s sister society at Canterbury, New Hampshire suffered a shocking rash of apostasies. Many who left the society had grown up there and were counted on to become its next generation of Shaker leaders. Perhaps to help replenish their ranks, Elias Smith and Orville Forbes were moved to that society. At Enfield Elias had already demonstrated his receptivity to spirit communication, and at Canterbury he entered fully into the spiritual revival called “The Period of Mother’s Work.” In particular he served as an instrument for native spirits. In 1851 a Shaker visitor to Canterbury noted, “when we got near the dwelling house Elias Smith had a real gift for the native spirits.” After dinner, at the office “Elias sung, drummed, and sung two or three very beautiful native songs.”

Brother Elias returned to Enfield Shaker Village in 1870. By that time the prohibition against playing actual musical instruments was being relaxed. Elias became an accomplished clarinetist. At the Second Family where he lived, socializing with “worldly” neighbors was also being tolerated. Elias was a welcome participant in summer gatherings at lakeside cottages, where he delighted assembled guests with his musical talents.

Elias Smith was a rank and file member of the Shaker Society. He was never called to a position of leadership either at Canterbury or at Enfield. But he was a Shaker brother who freely shared his “jolly” spirit with others while living a faithful Shaker life.

Brother Elias P. Smith he died on June 24, 1890 at the Shaker community in Enfield, New Hampshire. He is buried in the Church Family Cemetery in Enfield.


Original author: Mary Ann Haagen

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