Enfield Shaker Sister Caroline Briggs
Carte de visite, Sister Caroline E. Briggs
C. E. Lewis, Photographer, Lebanon, NH, ca. 1880
Collection of Hancock Shaker Village, Pittsfield, MA

Sister Caroline E. Briggs

Caroline Elizabeth Briggs, Shaker sister, was born August 22, 1831, in Boston, Massachusetts, the daughter of Ira and Mary Jane (Hayden) Ballou.

In 1851, Caroline (Carrie) Briggs, daughter of a Boston grocer, married a distant cousin, Horace B. Wing, an inspector in a Cambridge glass factory. If Carrie experienced happiness in her marriage to Horace Wing it was short-lived. The couple moved to Illinois soon after their wedding and there they had a daughter, Mary Ella (Ella), in September 1852. Horace deserted his family sometime after Ella’s birth. By 1855 Carrie and her daughter had returned to Boston and were living in her parents’ home. She married in 1856 Charles H. Briggs, a Boston native with the unusual occupation of goldbeater. Again, ill fortune stalked her marriage. In 1857, a newborn daughter lived for only twelve days. The next year Charles Briggs died of consumption and their second child, a boy born after his father’s death, lived only four months. Also in 1858, Horace Wing resurfaced long enough to obtain a divorce so that he could remarry. Now a widow and a divorcee, 28-year-old Carrie left her first-born daughter Ella with her parents in Boston while she boarded in Salem, Massachusetts, working as a tailoress.

About that time, Caroline’s father Ira Ballou suffered heavy reverses in his grocery business and decided to move his family to the Enfield Shakers. Though she had little personal knowledge of their way of life, Carrie made a decision that she hoped would bring some stability and security to her own life and that of her daughter. In June 1862, accompanied by his wife, daughter Carrie Briggs, granddaughter Ella Briggs, and youngest daughter Isabella Ballou, Ira Ballou and his family were reunited at the North Family Shakers in Enfield, New Hampshire. Carrie believed that God led her to the Shakers to fulfill the biblical promise, “Come unto me all ye who are heavy laden and I will give you rest.”

At Enfield mother and daughter did indeed find a safe haven, and Carrie willingly embraced the principles that defined her new community. She moved to the Church Family in December 1864 and signed the Covenant in February 1865.

In the January 1877 issue of the Shaker Manifesto, she wrote a heartfelt invitation entitled “A Shaker Experience” to those “in the world” who were enduring circumstances she had known (p. 8). She affirmed her faith in Shakerism and urged the world’s readers to examine its principles and promises. She offered herself as evidence that one could find spiritual rest in a Shaker life.

Carrie lived to the age of 83, though a fragile constitution rendered her an invalid for more than a decade.

Caroline E. Briggs died on October 27, 1914, at the Shaker community in Enfield, New Hampshire and is buried in the Enfield Shaker Church Family Cemetery next to her daughter Mary Ella, who had died fifteen months earlier.

Her obituary in the October 30, 1914 issue of The Enfield Advocate cited her years of poor health but noted, “Sister Carrie, though for many years unable to take part in the active duties of the home, has kept an intelligently interested spirit, alive to all that concerned the well-being of the Home.”

Original author: Mary Ann Haagen