Enfield Shaker Eldress Melissa Chase
Eldress Melissa Chase
Carte de visite
C. E. Lewis, Photographer, Lebanon, NH, ca. 1880
Collection of Hancock Shaker Village, Pittsfield, MA

Eldress Melissa Chase

Melissa Chase, Shaker deaconess and eldress, was born February 20, 1828 in Stanstead, Quebec, Canada, the daughter of Seth and Sarah (Williams) Chase.

In 1834 Melissa Chase came to the Enfield Shakers from Quebec, Canada. She was seven years old. Her younger brother Nelson, age 5, and baby sister, Maryette, came with her. Melissa and Nelson grew up in the Church family but Maryette was “taken away” in 1839 when she was 6 years old.

Following completion of her Shaker schooling, Melissa shared in the daily round of domestic work carried on by the sisters. In 1867 she received her first titled position – that of family deaconess. Few formal records of Enfield sisters’ work have survived, but an 1875 letter that Melissa wrote to Elder Henry Greene of Alfred, Maine details some of her daily activity:

Now dear brother you asked me to write you when I had finished canning my fruit, and inform you how many bottles I filled. I have seven hundred stored away in the cellar, some are quite small, the largest hold but 2 quarts, not a great abundance but enough I think to make us quite comfortable until the harvest time comes again…. “One point I forgot to mention which may prove to you that my time is fully occupied thro’ each successive day. Since I have been in the kitchen which is six weeks tomorrow I have made 100 and 50 gallons of sour cider sauce to sell besides giving my attention to the kitchen duties as a care sister.

In 1876 Melissa was put in charge of the dairy, replacing Sister Marinda Keniston. That year there were many shortfalls in Enfield’s agricultural production because of a prolonged drought. Fortunately work at the dairy was largely unaffected and she was able to report, “The dairy good. From the average of 30 cows, seventy cheeses have been produced, besides 65 or 70 lbs of butter weekly.”

Melissa served as Dairy Matron for seven years before returning to the duties of family deaconess. But her days of cheese and butter making were not completely behind her. In 1891 she again took charge of the Church Family dairy, with Emma Spooner as her assistant. She remained at that post until 1899, when she was called to serve as First Eldress of the North Family, or Gathering Order. As she faced the challenges of guiding young believers into a Shaker life, perhaps she remembered a Christmas meeting she had described years before: “The Savior manifested himself thro’ Elder Timothy but his words were brief; He said he had come to gather every little one into his fold, his mission was love, and all should know this if they would come to the work of the gospel, and love one another.”

Three years after moving to the North Family Melissa Chase died unexpectedly on September 21, 1902, at the Shaker community in Enfield, New Hampshire. She is buried in Enfield’s Church Family Shaker Cemetery in Enfield.

Her death, but more importantly her well-lived life, was memorialized in her obituary in The Enfield Advocate on October 3, 1902 by a member of her Shaker family:

Eldress Melissa was a woman of unusual kindness and goodness of heart. She has lived in the Shaker community in this town from a child and all the years of her active life have been devoted to the interests of the home and cause she loved so well. She was universally loved and respected and we shall sorely miss the loving spirit, the kind work and the ever helpful hand always ready to do for others, to help lift a burden or lighten a care wherever it was possible to do so. But she is gone, to enjoy the fullness of the treasure she has secured, where moth and rust doth not corrupt and where thieves do not break thro’ nor steal.

Original author: Mary Ann Haagen