Sister Flora Appleton
Flora Almira Appleton, Shaker poplarware weaver, was born November 13, 1881 in Boston, Massachusetts, the daughter of Edward and Lucy (Wheeler) Appleton.
Flora was the baby of the Appleton Family. Middle sister Abigail (age 16) was already living with the Enfield Shakers when Margarett (age 18) and four-year-old Flora joined her in 1886. In no time Flora and another 4-year-old, Tillie Rimback, became the Church Family’s adored “Shaker Twins.”
Flora and Tillie grew up in the girls’ house and were educated in the Shaker school. Fannie Fallon was their caregiver and teacher. From an early age Flora also craved the company and attention of Elder Abraham Perkins. She revered him as her spiritual father and maintained a close relationship with him until his death.
Perhaps with Elder Abraham’s guidance, Flora submitted a wonderful “Acrostic From Proverbs” that spelled out the words “I WILL BE TRUE” for publication in the August 1895 issue of The Manifesto (p. 193). She was 14 years old at the time.
When the girls were 17, Flora’s “twin” left the Shakers. Elder Abraham addressed her deep sorrow in a letter, “Companions near and dear may, and doubtless have fallen at your side, crushing the tenderest cords of the human heart; but this should never, by your sympathies, prove a weakness to you.”
Flora accepted his bracing counsel and recommitted herself to a Shaker life. Along the way she became an accomplished seamstress and learned to weave poplar for the community’s fancy goods trade.
In 1918, as Shaker leaders contemplated closing Enfield, Flora was chosen to go with three elderly Enfield sisters to live at Canterbury Shaker Village in Canterbury, New Hampshire. Being a comparatively young sister, she was thought to be the person best able to help with their care. Canterbury’s nurse sister, Jessie Evans, became her mentor and offered her this advice, “The New Year will bring us all, doubtless, many opportunities for the display of love to God and love to our neighbor. Be on the watch for them, and as you see them try to measure up to the highest ideal you have.” Flora was admitted as a member at Canterbury Shaker Village on November 7, 1918.
While living in Canterbury, Flora Appleton wove poplar, ash, palm leaf, and sweet grass for the fancy goods business. She kept detailed records of her weaving in an account book that she entitled Record of Weaving Business done by Flora Appleton from Aug. 16, 1919 to Aug. 22, 1956. In a typical year, 1921, she wove 182 yards 22 inches on a wide loom and 48 yards 15 1/2 inches on a narrow loom, which she listed in her record (shown at left).
After Jessie Evans’ death in 1937 Flora continued to live and work at the infirmary as companion and helper to Sister Marguerite Frost. And throughout her long-life Flora’s hands were always busy creating merchandise for the Shaker store.
Flora Almira Appleton died on March 7, 1962 at a nursing home in Concord, New Hampshire. She was 80 years old and the last surviving Enfield Shaker. She is buried in the Shaker Cemetery in Canterbury, New Hampshire.
In the “nurses’ record book” Marguerite Frost memorialized her friend and companion:
When I sit me down at the twilight
And consider how long we together
Have journeyed along the highway of life
In storm or in pleasantest weather
I cannot but feel life’s been royal
In a world filled with beauty and cheer,
To give me that rarest of blessings
A friendship to count on, sincere.
My heart, you must know, it is yours, friend
I can give it no better abode
And with joy look on toward the future
For together we’ll fare down the road.
Original author: Mary Ann Haagen