John Bradford Carte de Visite
Carte de Visite, Brother John Bradford
Photographer unknown, ca. 1880
Collection of Hancock Shaker Village, Pittsfield, MA.

Brother John Bradford

John Bradford, Shaker trustee, was born December 19, 1823 in Pomfret, Vermont, the son of Thomas and Electa (Sargent) Bradford.

John Bradford’s family was living in Enfield, New Hampshire when he joined the Shakers in 1833. He was not alone in his decision to try the life. In all, nine of his siblings, and several cousins spent some portion of their lives as members of the Society. John and his sister Triphena were the two Bradford children who remained Shakers for life.

As a young man John served the community as a blacksmith and mechanic. In 1854 he was appointed family deacon, beginning what would be a half-century of responsibility for the physical well being of the society. Although Caleb Dyer was at that time the unquestioned mastermind of all family business dealings, John’s responsibilities slowly increased. Soon after Caleb’s murder he was appointed Trustee of the Church Family.

Bradford successfully oversaw Shaker business interests, but always in the shadow of an opportunistic lawsuit that was initiated at the time of Caleb’s death. Bradford also needed to constantly adjust his economic aspirations to the realities of dwindling membership, particularly on the brothers’ side. Recruiting hired help was an ongoing challenge. And holding on to market share of important industries became an ever-intensifying battle. Still, the community continued to manufacture and sell highly regarded products including brooms, wooden tubs, pails and measures, garden seeds, medicines and agricultural products.

In 1882 the “dreaded and interminable Conant lawsuit” was finally decided, and the verdict was against the Shakers. Faced with a financial obligation of more than $20,000, Bradford saw liquidation of property as the best means of raising money. Thus began the slow but unremitting work of selling off the land, buildings and commercial properties that could be spared.

As Bradford aged so did other Shaker men who had shared responsibility for the community. Increasingly John was left to manage not only business interests, but to provide spiritual guidance and support to younger members. A touching letter to a young believer entitled “Kind Sister Edith” appeared in the February 1890 issue of The Manifesto (p. 58) that reflects not only Bradford’s strong faith in Shakerism, but also his desire to support others in that life.

John Bradford continued his active, faithful service as Enfield’s First Trustee until four weeks before his death on June 15, 1904 at the Shaker community in Enfield, New Hampshire. He is buried at the Church Family Shaker Cemetery in Enfield.

His extensive obituary in the The Enfield Advocate on July 22, 1904 testifies to the respect accorded him by both his Shaker family and the locals who had interacted with him for half a century:

“E.B Huse. Esq. of this village spoke of his…inflexible honesty in all his dealings with the ‘world’s people’, that he was modest, unassuming, a man of few words, but those words were always to the point, and from which there was no wavering, in fact he was a strong minded, capable, unselfish citizen and business man, and his record of a long and well-spent life will stand high in the community where he was best known, in the years to come.”

An obituary was also published in the Vermont Journal, Windsor, Vermont on July 30, 1904, p. 5.


Original author: Mary Ann Haagen

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