Elder Abraham Perkins
Abraham Perkins, son of Jonathon and Anna (Taylor) Perkins, was born October 13, 1807 in Sanbornton, New Hampshire.
Abraham Perkins was all that the Shakers hoped for in a convert. He was young, healthy, well educated, single, and in search of a meaningful spiritual life. His family and friends decried his inclinations and tried valiantly to dissuade him from joining the Shakers. But once he began visiting the Enfield community in 1827, Abraham Perkins never looked back.
As a young believer he served as schoolteacher and caretaker of the boys.
His capacity for leadership was recognized early on, and in 1845 he was appointed an associate Elder of the Church family. Soon thereafter he was made associate to Elder Joseph Johnson in the New Hampshire Ministry.
Perkins was not part of Enfield’s founding generation. He never knew the first parents in the faith. But he enthusiastically embraced the “Period of Mother’s Work” (1837-1850) during which his visionary experiences gave him access to the spirit world and those early Believers. He received communications from deceased Shakers, from Jesus, Mother Ann, biblical prophets and African American spirits. Throughout his life he maintained a deep faith in the power and purpose of the revival.
Perkins saw the nurturing of young Believers as one of his most important jobs. In 1865 he wrote:
“One of the great concerns of my life is so to operate, as to gender a seed in the present generation as will bring forth gospel fruits. I want an inheritance in the present race. I want to know that I have a spiritual offspring, who will both possess, and keep and minister the gospel for and to an unborn generation, in the proper season.”
Over the years Perkins experienced the anguish of losing many promising Believers to “The World.” In a letter to a young Enfield sister, Flora Appleton, he acknowledged those disappointments, but also celebrated her faithfulness.
“Your resolves to be loyal to conviction represent good sense. Ah, Flora, so many weak minded senseless souls whose lower passions control and lead to the broad way and to shame, my heart has been many times broken. I rejoice that you have chosen the good part; may it never be taken from you.”
Perkins had many opportunities to write, preach, and travel. His extensive correspondence reflects the friendships he maintained with other Shaker leaders throughout the country. Together they wrestled with issues facing all Shaker communities; particularly the challenge of attracting and retaining converts. Unlike some more conservative Shaker theologians he was sympathetic to the progressive initiatives of Mt. Lebanon’s North Family. And he supported social reform movements in society at large, particularly temperance, women’s suffrage, and the work of the Salvation Army.
Perkins considered the gift of song to be one of his greatest blessings. He wrote:
“Songs innumerable have been put into my mouth and their sentiments engraven in my soul; for which I claim no credit. How I received them or where they came from I am unable to represent. The words and music were generally combined, and accompanied in their ministration with a spirited pathetic sensation. Sometimes when one piece was finished another would follow, until six or seven would be produced all different in key and character.”
Abraham Perkins was First Elder of Enfield’s Church family when, in 1894, it was decided to close the 2nd or South Family. Perkins was now 87 years old, and had borne the weight of leadership for almost half a century. He was tired, and ready to pass the torch. He considered the second family’s elder, William Wilson, a capable leader. He requested that Wilson be made first elder of the Church, and that he be allowed to retire to Canterbury. He wrote to Eldress Anna White at Mt. Lebanon: “In the Elders’ Order, my successor is William Wilson with George Henry Kirkley as an associate, who is a young man of about twenty-seven years. May you in your prayers remember Enfield, which has been to me a precious and much loved home.”
Abraham Perkins died August 12, 1900 at the Shaker community in Canterbury, New Hampshire and is buried in the Shaker Cemetery in Canterbury.
His long life was summed up in this benediction:
“At the age of ninety-two, with form still erect, step quick and face radiant with the innate goodness that had marked his life, he passed to the Home Land. He had lived largely in the realm of inspiration, and as Elder and Bishop, he was unsurpassed in faithfulness, self-sacrifice and devotion.”
Original author: Mary Ann Haagen