Sister Abigail F. Appleton
Abigail Frances Appleton, Shaker seamstress, and domestic worker, was born September 15, 1868, in Boston, Massachusetts, the daughter of Edward and Lucy (Wheeler) Appleton.
Abigail (Abbie) was the first of the Appleton girls to join the Shaker community in Enfield, New Hampshire. She came in July 1884 at the age of 16. After living at the gathering order for four months she was taken into the Church Family. Her sisters Margarett and Flora, ages 18 and 4, followed her to Enfield in 1885. All three Appleton sisters remained Shakers for life, relocating to Canterbury Shaker Village when the Enfield community closed.
Abbie lived in the Great Stone Dwelling where she rotated through housekeeping assignments, usually serving for one month in each domestic department. Small groups of young sisters managed the dining room, assisted in the bake room, or worked in the kitchen, dairy, or laundry. As they gained experience some of them were put in charge of individual departments and were given job titles such as dairy matron, laundry deaconess, or cook.
In the 1870 U.S. Census, Abbie’s occupation is listed as “seamstress” but there is no Shaker record of her ever being assigned to a particular office of care in the Church family. Instead, she was part of the workforce of sisters who helped to maintain a large household under the direction of the family deaconess.
In addition to daily housekeeping chores, Abbie and her Shaker sisters were needed for time-sensitive seasonal efforts like vegetable harvesting, canning, apple drying, corn husking, herb gathering, and berry picking. All hands were needed for Spring cleaning both indoors and out, and through the winter months, teams of Sisters operated knitting machines, sewed dress shirts, produced poplar ware, and helped to generate merchandise to fill wholesale and retail orders managed by Trustee sisters. For most of Abbie’s years at Enfield, there were enough women and teens on the sisters’ side to manage the workload without relying on hired help.
In addition to being a domestic worker in this household of faith, Abbie occasionally had opportunities for travel and visiting. In 1893 and again in 1901 she and “a company from Enfield” spent a week at their sister society, Canterbury Shaker Village. In 1898 Eldress Rosetta Cummings accompanied Abbie and her sibling Margarett to Boston for a two-week stay in their hometown. In 1899 she and Sister Mary Ann Joslyn spent four days selling Shaker merchandise at the Windsor County Fair in Woodstock, Vermont, and in 1902 she made a solo visit to Winthrop, Massachusetts.
Two accounts of Christmas celebrations at Enfield mention Abbie’s contributions to the festivities. The first, in 1897, recounts, “At ten o’clock our North family assembled with us, and we devoted an hour to singing hymns, giving testimonials of faith and the rendering of two pieces written for the occasion by Sisters Abbie Appleton and Agnes Parker.” In 1910 a young Shaker, Marian Peterson, made a memory book of that year’s holiday activities. On Christmas day she and her roommate Carol Wakely hosted an afternoon social for Abbie and fourteen other Shaker sisters in Room 11 of the Great Stone Dwelling. That evening a program was given in the Meeting Room that included “A Recitation, ‘Christmas Guests’ by Abigail Appleton.” Marian’s list of received gifts that year included a box of mixed candy from Sister Abbie.
In 1923, the last Enfield Shakers made the difficult decision to move to Canterbury Shaker Village. On November 2nd the belongings of Sister Rosetta Cummings, Margarett Appleton, and Abbie Appleton were loaded on a truck to be taken to Canterbury. The next day Canterbury Elder Irving Greenwood wrote in his diary, “Leave Enfield at 9 am. Bring home Rosetta Cummings & Abigail Appleton.” In her diary, Canterbury Elderess Josephine Wilson noted, “Nov. 3, 1923, Temp. 70. Fair. Sister Rosetta and Abigail Appleton come down from Enfield to live with us.” Abbie, along with ten other sisters who had moved from Enfield, took up residence in a renovated building in Canterbury’s Church Family that became known as “Enfield House.”
In 1931 Abbie’s failing health required that she be moved to the community’s infirmary. For the next eleven years she received nursing care there. At the end of September 1942 it became necessary to move her to the State Hospital in nearby Concord, New Hampshire. As it turned out, she lived only one week away from her Shaker family.
Abigail Frances Appleton died on October 2, 1942, in Concord, New Hampshire. She is buried in the Church Family Cemetery, Canterbury, New Hampshire.
Original author: Mary Ann Haagen