Sister Jane E. S. Blanchard
Jane Elizabeth Snow Blanchard, Shaker knitter, nurse, and office deaconess, was born March 12, 1825, in Norwich, Vermont, the daughter of Jacob and Rebecca (Gove) Blanchard.
Jane Blanchard came to the Shakers in 1843 without the knowledge of her family, and against the advice of everyone who knew her intentions. She was following her own inner voices, hoping they would lead her to a religious community where she could live a sinless life.
Jane credited her mother with teaching her to pray fervently, to be kind and truthful, to seek forgiveness when she did wrong, and to fear hell. Armed with a strong sense of right and wrong, she was “put out to live” as a nine-year-old servant. She was promised schooling but instead was required to work constantly. Eventually, her parents learned of their daughter’s mistreatment and they brought her home to regain her health. When she was strong enough, she was sent to another family to work.
When Jane was 16, she began to have powerful visionary experiences that awakened her desire for a more perfect life. For two years she searched for a church community that would address her spiritual aspirations, but was disappointed in what she found:
I tried to be very religious, & attended meetings at every opportunity I could get, but could find nothing which satisfied me–I could not find any who lived a more sinless life than I did. I attended Adventist [Millerite] meetings every night for a week…. I could not find anything there to satisfy me. I had a great desire to find a way out of sin, that I might realize true happiness here on earth.
At age 18 she went to stay with the wife and children of a nearby farmer, George Adams, who had lived with the Enfield, New Hampshire Shakers as a young boy. From him, she first heard stories about the Shakers. She wrote later:
I tried to find out how they lived & what they believed in, so he went on to tell me , & made out a very nice story. At last he said, they are a very strange people; they do not believe in a married life. I exclaimed Well! that is just the life I want to live & I mean to go there & see them. Said he, ‘o you silly woman! You would not be willing to live as the Shakers do.’ I thot to myself, I would like to see them at any rate, but said no more that night.
Jane kept her own counsel but believed this might be the community she had seen in her dreams and visions.
When it was time for her to return to her parents’ home Jane instead decided to go to Enfield, a distance of 25 miles. In her own words, “The next morning, the 3rd of May 1843, I started on my journey with a small bundle in my hand. I cannot describe my feelings, except that I felt determined to go on, let come what might.” On her long, lonely walk she had plenty of time to doubt her resolve. She felt threatened by people she met, by physical obstacles that blocked her path, and by fears that she was not even on the right road. Anxiety literally paralyzed her, but her inner voices urged her to continue her journey.
Jane arrived at Enfield Shaker Village exhausted and uncertain. Her fears began to dissipate as she was taken into the Trustees’ office and welcomed as a spiritual seeker. With the help of a young Believer, Amanda Curtis, Jane adjusted to the routines of Shaker life. She slowly gained confidence that she had indeed reached the religious community foretold in her dreams. She recalled that experience:
Amanda opened the testimony to me, & made it plain as a.b.c. But I thot I could not confess my life. It was two or three days before I made up my mind; but after I had begun, I could find no stopping place short of opening my whole life before the witness of God. Ah! thot I–this is the people I saw in my vision. I was convinced of this beyond a doubt.
During her long life as a Shaker, Jane lived at both the Church and North families serving wherever needed – as a knitter, seamstress, nurse, or office deaconess.
Jane also wanted to strengthen the faith of those just starting out as Believers. In 1868, she wrote a sketch describing her decision to become a Shaker to encourage them in their spiritual travel. She concluded her narrative with the words: “My treasure is here – my home, and all my interest. Here are my gospel relations whom I love above every other…. For here I find an hundred fold of the blessings of life, with the assurance of life Eternal in the world to come.”
Jane Elizabeth Snow Blanchard died July 9, 1908, at the age of 82 at the Shaker community in Enfield, New Hampshire. She is buried in the Church Family Shaker Cemetery in Enfield.
Original author: Mary Ann Haagen