Sister Caroline Slack
Caroline Cordelia Slack, Shaker nurse, North Family Eldress and Doctress, was born July 13, 1817, in Norwich, Vermont, the daughter of Joseph and Polly (Woodbury) Slack.
Caroline Slack came to the Enfield Shakers on February 17, 1826 with her parents, Joseph and Polly, and five sisters–Eunice, Calista, Mary, Dorinda, and Louisa. The date is commemorated in an unfinished needlework sampler (shown at left) executed by her older sister Calista. Caroline, the family’s fifth child, was nine years old when they arrived. The Shakers felt blessed when an entire family united with them, and their hopes for the Slack family’s faithfulness proved justified. The parents and their six daughters all lived and died as Shakers at Enfield.
The Slacks had come to try the life on the recommendation of Joseph’s brother, who had encountered the Shakers in Ohio. Many converts to Shakerism came empty handed, and were nonetheless welcomed into the family of faith. But it was important to the economy of the Society that some who joined were able to offer their personal wealth to the cause. Joseph Slack was one such convert. On coming to Enfield, he was sufficiently satisfied with what he learned of the communal life of Believers to make an inventory of his worldly goods, and dedicate them to the Society. His estate included:
2 spinning wheels $3.00
1 Brass Kettle and iron ware $8.00
Milk pans, knives & forks $2.50
1 Bed $10.50 1 D. $5. & bedding $12 27.50
Tables, chairs & chest $7.00
Dipper & crockery $3.00
Plow, chains & harrow $7.00
1 Horse $25. 3 cows $50. 12 Sheep $22 $97.00
Notes of hand $520.00
Total amount $675.00
Importantly, Joseph’s wife Polly affirmed the consecration of the family’s wealth in writing. “And I the said Polly Slack do hereby concur in the foregoing division. In presence of Joseph Dyer and Manser Dyer.” Consistent with contemporary rules of inheritance, Joseph divided his estate between the members of his family. His share was $300, his wife Polly’s was $150. Each of his five daughters, Caroline and Louisa received $37.50. Their portion was held by the Trustees of the society until they came of age. When they signed as covenant members of the Society each one formally dedicated her resources to the community.
As a girl Caroline Slack lived at the Church Family and attended its school. In 1836, at the age of 19 she received her first nursing assignment, replacing Martha Curtis at the Infirmary. For the rest of her life Caroline was engaged in caring for the sick at Enfield.
During the Shaker spiritual revival, known as “The Period of Mother’s Work,” that began in 1837, Caroline served as an instrument for spirit communication. The revival subsided and in 1850 she was moved to Enfield’s North Family, the gathering order for new members, where she served as an Office Deaconess and the Family’s “Doctress.”
In the Western Reserve Historical Society Shaker Collection there is an eight page Enfield, N.H. document titled, An Account of Medicins and other Articles for the Sick. Commencing Oct. 30, 1852, North Family that provides a valuable inventory of the equipment and medicinal ingredients purchased and used in caring for the sick. The first page notes, “Melinda H[ubbard] and C.C. Slack buy medincin of Dr. Wood.”
Caroline lived and worked at the North Family as a nurse and in the order of Elders for thirty-three years. In 1883, she returned to the Church family “to serve as first in the nursing department.”
Sister Caroline Slack died of heart disease on November 4, 1888 in Enfield, New Hampshire, at the age of 71. She was at her nursing station until shortly before her death. She is buried in the South Family Cemetery in Enfield.
Original author: Mary Ann Haagen