Frank Washburn Carte de Visite
Elder Abraham Perkins and Frank Washburn
Carte de Visite
Photographer unknown, ca. 1880
Private Collection.

Frank W. Washburn

Frank Weston Washburn, Shaker youth, was born November 4, 1870 in Chateaugay, New York, the son of John M. and Ella (McIlvain) Washburn.

According to family tradition, the house he was born in was located half in Canada and half in New York State, so his mother moved to another bedroom to ensure that he would be born in the USA.

During Frank’s youth, his father, a Civil War veteran, held a variety of jobs as a storekeeper, a carpenter, and a barber. Frank was 8 years old when his mother sent him to the Enfield Shakers. Shaker records indicate that he was admitted to the Church Family on April 25, 1879. His older brother, Morris Eugene Washburn had been admitted to the Church Family on December 12, 1878 at the age of 10, and his younger brother, Leland Horton Washburn was later admitted to the Church Family on October 2, 1883, also at 10 years old. Their parents do not appear to have lived together after the boys came to Enfield.

As is the case with most children who spent only a portion of their childhood or teen years in the Enfield Shaker community, there are few written Shaker records about the three Washburn brothers.

At the time of the 1880 U.S. Census, Frank Washburn is listed as “At School” in the Shaker community in Enfield; his brother Morris had left the Shakers and was living with his father and step-mother in New York State.

During his five years at Enfield, Frank lived and went to school with six other boys. Of his class, only one–George Kirkley–would remain long enough to sign the Church covenant at the age of 21, and he left the Shakers when he was 29.

It is amazing, then, that an image of Frank Washburn, probably taken soon after his arrival, has come down to us. He was photographed standing beside Elder Abraham Perkins. His hand is held gently by Abraham, perhaps to help the boy remain still while the photographer worked. But their physical closeness also reflects Elder Abraham’s love of children, and the duty he felt to lead them in the Shaker way. Perkins was an important mentor to many young people during his long life, and continually exhorted his fellow Believers to encourage and support those young in the faith.

In 1883, when Frank was 12 years old, his younger brother Leland joined the Boys Order at Enfield. Whatever hope the community may have had that Leland’s coming would anchor the Washburn boys to the Shakers was not realized.

Nine months after Leland’s arrival, both children were sent back to their mother and the life among the “World’s people” they had known before coming to Enfield. Enfield Shaker records state, “June 9th, 1884, Frank and Leland Washburn returned to their mother.”

The April 1910 U.S. Census located Frank Washburn as a widower living in Westbrook, Connecticut with his mother, brother Leland, and his own 12 year-old son Clarence. He was employed as a railroad station agent. He later married Olive J. Chapman of Westbrook; they had a new family with three daughters.

Frank Weston Washburn died on May 22, 1945 in Palmer, Massachusetts at the age of 74. He is buried with his mother Ella, brother Leland, son Clarence, second wife Olive, and their daughters Eva and Charlotte in Cypress Cemetery in Westbrook, Connecticut.

Original author: Mary Ann Haagen