Elder Timothy Randlett
Timothy J. Randlett, Shaker mechanic, inventor, musician, and elder, was born December 10, 1806, in Meredith, New Hampshire, the son of Jacob and Hannah (Thompson) Randlett.
Timothy Randlett’s Shaker life began at Canterbury’s North Family where he “was brought among this people by my parents, when a child.” His mother and sister became life-long members at Canterbury but in 1809, when he was not yet three years old, Timothy was carried by Enfield trustee Nathaniel Draper to the Society at Enfield, New Hampshire. He was placed in the Second (South) Family where he grew up in the faith. During his long Shaker life, Timothy considered the Second Family his spiritual home.
In 1831, at the age of 25, Timothy was named the associate of Elder Abraham Blodgett, Jr., one of the founding members of the Society. Elder Abraham was an important role model, “peculiar for the maintenance of good order from his youth, ever zealous and faithful in his calling, stimulating all to the observance of every gospel virtue which he taught both by precept and example.” Under his tutelage, Timothy embraced the spiritual revival called “The Period of Mother’s Work” (1837-1850). He provided testimony for A Holy, Sacred and Divine Roll and Book (1843) as an “inspired witness” (pp. 354-355) and he steadfastly believed that the book contained God’s further instruction to all nations for their salvation. He also served as an instrument to convey messages from the spirit world and was a recipient of sacred songs.
Timothy was companion to Elder Abraham until his mentor’s death in 1847. He then assumed the mantle of First Elder of the Second Family. A Shaker visitor to Enfield that year recorded the spiritual energy he witnessed when worshiping with the family: “The singers pitched a quick song. All were in motion. I never saw such dancing before. The Brethren and Sisters took in Spirits freely; and they brot many precious gifts for the visitors.”
Even after the fervor of the revival had subsided, Elder Timothy saw in vision a song labored by good spirits on Christmas Eve, 1853. The melody and the dance pattern were subsequently notated so that they would not be lost.
In 1851 Elder Timothy suffered a debilitating illness that was diagnosed as inflammation of the liver. He was confined for eleven weeks during which time “life hung by a slender thread.” Particularly because the family had many “young believers,” the ministry elders did what they could to support good order during his prolonged illness. But there was loss. In January 1852 they wrote, “At the 2nd family in this place 15 or 16 children and adults have gone out the past year and it makes the family none the worse. Disorderly members bring no blessing.”
Shaker leaders, like all believers, were expected to contribute to their community’s work life. Timothy was a gifted mechanic and he frequently turned his hand to building machines that supported the economic endeavors of the family. In 1853, he invented and patented a Mop Holder (Patent No. US10,237). Henry Cumings wrote in his 1905 article for The Enfield Advocate, “Early Industries and Inventions of the Shakers,”
The Shaker sisters quite early began to knit hose and mittens and under flannels, not only for family use but also for sale. A machine was invented and made by Elder Timothy Randlett of the South family, to knit under flannels, knitting back and forth; and the garments would then be sewed up the same as garments made from woven flannels. These machines were turned by a crank and they were used until the Aiken circular knitter was invented.
Being a lover of Shaker spirituals, Elder Timothy also employed his mechanical skills to develop aids to good singing. In 1852 he sent Shaker brother Mathew Van Deusen a collection of Shaker songs and a Tone-ometre that he had made. By way of instruction he wrote,
Perhaps the wire may not be raised enough when it gets there if so you can strain them to your liking by turning the little pin at the end. When you use it, set it upon some hollow thing such as a chest or a box, or even upon a table will sound very well. Place the little square block to the line of the letter you wish the sound of, with finger on the wire press it down snugly, with the other hand you can touch the wire giving it a quick motion and it will give you the correct sound.
In the summer of 1863, Elder Timothy’s life was changed dramatically by the murder of Enfield’s Trustee Caleb Dyer. As the extent of the Society’s entanglements with outside businessmen became known, New Hampshire’s ministry was judged wanting for having neglected adequate oversight of his record-keeping and his economic ambitions. Abraham Perkins was removed from his position in the Ministry at Canterbury and returned to Enfield to assume eldership of the Church Family. Brother James Kaime was appointed to replace him and Elder Timothy Randlett became second in the Ministry. His new responsibilities afforded him little contact with his beloved Second Family; instead, his time was divided between the Enfield and Canterbury Church families. In addition to performing his spiritual duties, he applied himself to dentistry.
Timothy was released from the order of Ministry in 1868 and returned to his former role as First Elder at the Second Family. In 1871 he was needed at the Church Family to serve as their first elder, but in 1874 he happily rejoined the Second Family as their spiritual leader.
Timothy Randlett was a gentle man with a kind and winning countenance. Although he never served as a trustee, or engaged in trade with the world, it was his portrait that was chosen to advertise the family’s best-selling medicinal product-–Brown’s Shaker Fluid Extract of English Valerian. Appearing on broadsides, and in print media, his dignified but engaging image seemed to guarantee the product’s worth.
Elder Timothy esteemed his Shaker life and his relationships with fellow travelers in the faith. His love for Believers was one of simplicity and joy. In a letter to Mt. Lebanon’s Elder Giles Avery he included his song, “Love, Love, Love, Love” and asked,
Will you be so kind as to receive this little notice of love and remembrance which flows without measure from one who has never forgotten you? O that I could just take hold of your hand, and enjoy a sweet smack upon that lovely cheek of yours, what could describe the feeling that would arise. I want you to receive a ten fold portion of my never-ceasing but ever increasing gospel love. Here it goes.
Timothy Randlett died November 11, 1892, in Enfield, New Hampshire, at the age of 85 and is buried in the Second Family Enfield Shaker cemetery.
Elder Henry Blinn wrote of him, “Everybody loved Elder Timothy. He was true to the faith, a loving peacemaker and was possessed of that beautiful quality of mind that made friends and held them through love.”
Original author: Mary Ann Haagen