Mary Ann Joslin Carte de Visite
Eldress Mary Ann Joslin
Carte de Visite
C. E. Lewis, Photographer, Lebanon, NH, ca. 1880
Private Collection.
Postcard of Eldress Mary Ann Joslin at the Great Stone Dwelling in Enfield, New Hampshire
Eldress Mary Ann Joslin at the Great Stone Dwelling
Photographer unknown, circa 1905
Private Collection

Eldress Mary Ann Joslin

Mary Ann Joslin, Shaker seamstress, dairy matron, office deaconess, and eldress was born October 3, 1843 in Johnson, Vermont to Joseph O. and Marian (Hastings) Joslin.

After losing his wife, widower Joseph Joslin needed to make a new life for himself and his two children. He decided to try the Shakers. The three Joslins arrived in Enfield from northern Vermont in March 1847. Ten year-old Oliver and three year-old Mary Ann were placed in the Children’s Orders of the Church Family and Joseph remained in the North Family, the gathering order, working on their farm.

The Shakers had learned from experience that children were more likely to make a successful transition into Shaker life if their parents also joined the community. Over the years, Oliver and Mary Ann matured under the watchful eye of their caregivers, and both signed the Church covenant when they came of age. In 1866, their father joined them in the Church Family having given years of faithful service as head farmer in the gathering order.

The June 1860 U.S. Census listed Mary Ann as a “housekeeper” in the Church Family; she was 16 years old. At the time of the June 1870 U.S. Census, Mary Ann’s occupation was listed as a “seamstress”.

When May Ann’s natural brother Oliver was in his middle 30’s, he and a Shaker sister, Abigail Curtis, fell in love. In 1871, they left the Shakers to marry. Two years later, having settled in Walpole, New Hampshire, the couple invited Oliver’s father, Joseph Joslin, to join them on their farm “in the World.” An Enfield Shaker journal records, “Sept. 17, 1873 Joseph Joslin secedes from Chh [Church Family]. He refuses to sign receipt and leaves with the amount he brought here with much clothing.” Both men had been highly valued members of the Enfield community so the Shakers experienced their apostacies as both a loss and a bitter disappointment.

On the other hand, Enfield Shaker leadership could take comfort in the faithfulness of their Shaker sister, Mary Ann. The practical and spiritual education she had received during her youth in the Shaker community fitted her for unstinting service to her Shaker family. During her long life, her work assignments included being appointed caretaker of the girls in 1871, manager of the “shirt sales” business in 1883, and serving as an office deaconess in 1893. Mary Ann did travel to Walpole, New Hampshire to visit her father and brother in 1885, but unlike them she never wavered in her commitment to Shakerism.

When Trustee Caroline Whitcher died in 1902, it was decided that Eldress Rosetta Cummings and Mary Ann Joslyn would change their offices of care, with Rosetta becoming 1st Trustee and Mary Ann assuming Rosetta’s position as 1st Eldress of the Church family. Instead of looking to the community’s physical needs, as she had done for many years, she would devote herself to its spiritual well-being.

At the time of the May 1910 U.S. Census, Mary Ann was a “dairy matron,” along with Sister Mary Basford, which meant that they were overseeing operations at the dairy in the 1854 Cow Barn.

Mary Ann was a great sufferer from crippling arthritis, and it was because of her deteriorating health that in 1918 she was one of first Enfield sisters to be moved to Canterbury Shaker Village after the decision was made to close the Enfield community. It took five years for the Enfield Shakers to fully relocate to their new home. Mary Ann lived just long enough to see all of her Enfield sisters re-gathered at Canterbury.

Mary Ann Joslin died on September 12, 1924 at the Shaker community in Canterbury, New Hampshire, nine days before her 81st birthday. She is buried in the Shaker Cemetery in Canterbury.

Author’s Note: In Shaker documents and public records, Mary Ann’s surname is spelled both “Joslin” and “Joslyn.” Variations in spelling were fairly common in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Original author: Mary Ann Haagen