Sister Emma Spooner
Emeline Angelina Josephine Spooner, Shaker dressmaker, song writer, and spiritualist, was born October 10, 1850, in New Bedford, Massachusetts, the daughter of Seth C. and Mary Ann (Knight) Spooner.
Four-year-old Emma Spooner came to the Enfield, New Hampshire Shakers in 1853 with her siblings Henry, age 7, and Henrietta, age 9, after the death of their mother. Henry ran away when he was a teenager and went west to Kansas, but Emma and Henrietta grew to adulthood in the community and remained faithful members of the Enfield Church Family until death.
Emma was never named to a particular position of responsibility, but contributed, as did all the sisters, to the daily work of maintaining a community. In the 1860 census, Emma is designated a dressmaker.
In 1869 the Enfield community felt very much in need of spiritual revival, having suffered several years of membership loss through apostasy. Many young people who had been raised by the Shakers had chosen life in “the world” over the demands and restrictions of communal living.
The spiritual inspiration that Believers sought came through the gift of song. Particularly in the Church Family there was a great outpouring of music that they called harp songs, received from the harp of the Old Testament’s King David. Like the heart- and leaf-shaped paper tokens presented to individuals during the “Period of Mother’s Work,” these songs were given to or for particular community members. The songs’ texts encouraged their spiritual labors, praised past effort, and called for renewed faithfulness. Many were collected in a manuscript hymnal by Rosetta Cummings (now at the Shaker Museum and Library, Old Chatham, New York) in which she carefully recorded the names of song recipients. One song in the manuscript, written by Emma Spooner for Sister Judth Bartholomew, is entitled “Lord Send Holy Fire.”
Emma Spooner actively shared in the gift, receiving songs for many members of her Shaker family. They came not only from King David, but also from the spirit of Brother Sylvester Russell, and from Elder Abraham Perkins’ guardian spirit. She delivered song communications to Sisters Sarah Dean, Betsey Atwood, Betsy Hartford, Judith Bartholomew, Almira Allard, Chloe Chaffin, Eldress Caroline Whitcher, and Brother Joseph Joslin.
In addition to her songs, Emma’s surviving written testimony includes a piece submitted for publication in the April 1883 issue of The Manifesto (p.84) that she had prepared for the community’s weekly bible class. Her reflection was based on the Seventh Beatitude from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.”
Emma’s daily work kept her at Enfield most of the time, but she had a few opportunities to venture beyond the village on behalf of her community. In 1881 she and Trustee Caroline Whitcher spent almost two weeks canvassing New Hampshire towns and cities for subscriptions to the Shaker monthly publication, The Manifesto. And in 1883 she helped sell Shaker merchandise at the Windsor County Fair in Woodstock, Vermont. Emma was also included in a visiting trip to Canterbury Shaker village in 1872 and 1883, and had the special privilege of a longer tour to Shaker communities in Harvard, Massachusetts, as well as Sabbathday Lake and Alfred, Maine, in 1895.
These travel opportunities helped Believers to feel connected to the larger Shaker movement and created opportunities for interaction between the travelers not necessarily available at home. They became ambassadors rather than simply rank and file members of their family. Their Harvard hosts wrote in the “Home Notes” of the October 1895 edition of The Manifesto, “We have been blest with the presence of five respected and worthy Sisters from Enfield, N.H. who were the bearers of love and blessing from their Society. Such visits tend to harmonize and draw us into closer union of spirit.”
Emma died on October 28, 1906, at the Shaker community in Enfield, New Hampshire, at the age of 57. She is buried in the Shaker Church Family Cemetery in Enfield.
According to the obituary written by her Shaker family, she had been in failing health for several years, “and at the last a great sufferer. The release comes to her as a welcome summons, and we can well say, ‘Rest dear sister in peace.’ ”
Original author: Mary Ann Haagen