Sister Mary Falls
Mary Falls, long-serving Shaker trustee, was born July 30, 1810, in Thornton, New Hampshire, the daughter of Moses and Sarah (Meacham) Falls.
Nine-year-old Mary Falls came to the Enfield Shakers in 1817. Her older sister, Tamar joined her five years later. They both lived at the Church Family for the rest of their lives.
Mary Falls’ biography is another compelling story of unwavering commitment to her Shaker community. After a short stint as an infirmary nurse, her place of work was the Trustees Office. She served there for 42 years.
Until 1886 women in Mary’s position were not given the title of Trustee because New Hampshire denied women legal standing to sign documents on behalf of the society. However, Mary, like her male counterparts, signed and witnessed internal legal contracts including indenture documents and covenant signatures. She was responsible for all expenditures and income specifically related to the sisterhood. On a daily basis, she extended hospitality to all who came to the Office as visitors or on business.
The position of Office Trustee afforded Mary many more opportunities for travel than most of her Shaker sisters enjoyed. Often her trips were for business, but once she had a two-week trip to the ocean to improve her health. It was an unusual privilege extended to very few Believers, particularly in the mid-19th century.
Years later Sister Caroline Whitcher wrote to a Groveland Shaker sister, “I should dearly love to visit you as you suggested as I have never had the opportunity of seeing your lovely home. As we in Enfield could all say, Sister Mary Falls is all the sister in our family who ever had the privilege of visiting there. Hope I may do so some time.”
Mary Falls was a deeply religious person who actively participated in the Shaker’s religious revival, “The Period of Mother’s Work” (1837-1850). She had complete faith in the messages she received from the spirit world, and she wrote a compelling testimony for publication in A Holy, Sacred and Divine Roll and Book in 1843 (pp. 357-359). Under very different circumstances she was called to testify in the 1864 murder trial of Thomas Wier, and her cross-examination provides the only record as yet discovered of Enfield indenture documents in use at the time.
She was beloved by her Shaker sisters and appreciated by innumerable guests, religious inquirers, and businesspersons who interacted with her over almost half a century. As one visiting Mt. Lebanon sister noted, “Here we met sister Mary Falls at the Office, and we can say with many others who have visited this place, truly she is a Mother in Israel in very deed.”
Mary Falls died May 4, 1884 at the Shaker community in Enfield, New Hampshire. She is buried in the Church Family Shaker Cemetery in Enfield.
Original author: Mary Ann Haagen
Editor’s Note: During her lifetime, Mary Falls surname appears as both “Falls” and “Fall,” most commonly as “Falls.” However, we believe that her actual surname was “Fall,” based on her father’s War of 1812 Enlistment Record, dated February 12, 1813, in the 11th U.S. Infantry, and his War of 1812 Military Bounty Land Warrant, dated March 13, 1816.