Sister Nancy Ann Morse
Nancy Ann Morse, Shaker dairy woman, deaconess, and eldress, was born January 10, 1838, in Plainfield, New Hampshire, the daughter of Moses and Ann (Kincaid) Morse.
On two separate occasions, Ann (Kincaid) Morse turned to the Enfield Shakers for assistance in raising her children. In 1843, eight year old Lemeul, six year old Nancy, and four year old Margaret were brought to the Second (South) Family at the Shaker community. It is stated in Shaker records that all of the children came because the mother was widowed and unable to care for her large family. In fact, her husband Moses Morse lived long enough to father Wyman and Hiram who were born in 1850 and 1851. Several years later, both boys were also brought to the Second Family. Clearly, other stresses contributed to the decision to place the children with the Shakers.
The Morse children lived at the Second Family. Lemeul was part of the Shaker community for about 20 years. There is no surviving record of Margaret’s history with the Shakers. The younger boys remained in the family until they were 16, when they moved back to Plainfield. Nancy chose the life of a faithful Shaker sister. Though she maintained contact with her brothers “in the world,” her commitment to Shakerism was unwavering.
For the first 42 years of her Shaker life, Nancy Ann lived at the Second Family. Because she was never appointed to a leadership position there, the few surviving Second Family records are silent about her life. We can assume that Nancy Ann was educated in the Shaker school located at the Second Family, and on November 29, 1860, at the age of 22 Nancy Ann became a covenant member of the Society. The 1860 U.S. Census lists her occupation as cook, and in 1870 and 1880 she is identified as a dairy woman. Though we do not know her specific duties, a Shaker dairy woman had year round responsibility for providing cheese, butter and milk for the family, and dairy products for wholesale and retail customers as far away as Boston.
An 1880 entry in Canterbury’s “Record of Events” tells us that Nancy was given a short rest from her labors. “November 10, Nancy A. Morse of Enfield, N.H. comes to tarry a while.” When Nancy returned to Enfield, it is unclear whether she continued at the Second family, or immediately relocated to the North Family. In any case, she is listed as part of the North Family on an 1886 membership list.
A town historian, sharing her “Memories of Shaker Village” for the local paper wrote, “The laundry and dairy [at the North Family] were housed in the large stone building, still standing. In the rear on the right side, Sister Nancy Ann Morse, with young members assisting, had full charge of the dairy. Many of the leading hotels in Boston were supplied with cheese and butter from the North Family.”
We do not know the date of Nancy Ann Morse’s appointment as first Eldress at the North Family. But in 1893 there is a notation that Marinda Keniston is appointed associate to Eldress Nancy. In addition to her responsibilities as a spiritual leader, Eldress Nancy became a well-known sales woman for Sisters’ fancy work. Often traveling alone, she peddled the family’s wares locally and at more distant seasonal agricultural fairs. At home she welcomed guests for tours, meals and shopping at the family’s gift shop. She developed friendships with local business people who in turn brought paying customers to the village.
As local newspapers proliferated, Nancy became enough of a Shaker “personality” to receive a mention in several, including the “Vermont Journal”, published in Windsor, Vermont on May 4, 1907: “Nancy Ann Morse recently celebrated her 70th birthday at the North family of Shakers, Enfield. She has been with the South and North families for 64 years, and has a large acquaintance in all this section of New Hampshire and Vermont, being a popular saleswoman among residents, and the summer visitors at Mascoma Lake.”
Nancy faithfully served her community until her death on January 22, 1911 in Enfield, New Hampshire at the Shakers’ North Family. She was buried in the Church Family Cemetery in Enfield.
Her passing was widely reported in newspapers. Her obituary published in The Boston Globe on January 29, 1911 (p. 5) adds to our sense of her warm personality, her energy, and her commitment to the well-being of her Shaker family:
“The death of Nancy A. Morse at the north family of Shakers Monday removes one of the oldest members of the society and one of their active business heads. She was known to all the country round by her pleasant, genial manner with those with whom she came in contact. She traveled extensively, selling the wares made by her society, as well as being an important factor in the business life of the Shaker community. She was 73 years of age and so well preserved mentally and physically that one would take her to be less than 50. She could walk miles without being fatigued and in fair weather and foul she could be seen going from house to house in all the surrounding villages selling fancy articles, many of them made by her own fingers.”
Original author: Mary Ann Haagen