Sister Sarah E. Dean
Sarah Ellen Dean, Shaker tailoress, was born May 15, 1810 in Strafford, Vermont, the daughter of David S. and Jane Lora (Tucker) Barrett. At the time of the 1850 U.S. Census, she was married to John Dean and had two daughters, Lucia and Ellen. The family lived in Cherry Valley, New York on the farm of Solomon Sherman, where John was employed as a laborer. By the time of the 1855 New York State Census, Sarah was a widow, either by death or desertion, and was supporting herself and her daughter Lucia as a tailoress. The 1860 U.S. Census records Sarah and her daughter Lucia living in Thetford, Vermont. In 1861, they would move to the Shaker community at Enfield, New Hampshire–the beginning of the America’s Civil War and the start of a new life for Sarah Dean.
Mother and daughter lived for more than a year at the Shakers’ North Family, or gathering order. They then joined the Second or South Family, a placement considered appropriate when the adult convert had spent many years “in the World” as a married person.
Shaker membership records speak of Sarah and Lucia Dean as mother and daughter, but they make no reference to Sarah’s second child, Ellen. Interestingly, a girl born in New York State, Ellen M. Dean, was living at the Second Family when the 1860 U.S. Census was taken. We know from Enfield Shaker school registers, kept beginning in 1858, that this child attended school at the Second Family in 1858, 1859 and 1860. Unfortunately, her name is not listed in later school registers. In 1862, only Lucia Dean was attending school at the Shakers.
Lucia and her mother were together until 1864. Then Lucia was moved to the Church Family, where it was hoped she would bond with that family’s strong group of young Shaker sisters. She completed her formal education there, and remained with the Shakers until 1867, but then left for a life in the world. At the time of her mother’s death she was living in Lansingburgh, New York with her husband and nine children.
Sarah Dean was an accomplished tailoress. She was never appointed to a leadership position at the Second Family, but was considered a person “very efficient in all kinds of business.” Possessing refined needlework skills she was able to contribute significantly to the creation of both clothing for home use and fancy work to be sold to “the World.”
When the Second or South Family began the process of closing and relocating in the 1890’s, Sister Sarah Dean and Eldress Melinda Hubbard were the first two sisters to make the difficult transition to a new home. Sarah lived in the Church family from 1894 until her death. She was sick for only a week and “retained her faculties to the last.” Sarah Ellen Dean died on September 15, 1903 in Enfield, New Hampshire, at 90 days and 4 months–the oldest member of the Shaker community in Enfield. She is buried in the Second Family Shaker Cemetery in Enfield.
Although Sarah was 51 years old when she joined the Society, she lived for forty years as a productive, faithful Enfield Shaker sister. She was remembered by her Shaker family as “a most capable and conscientious worker in the fraternity. She will be greatly missed by her co-workers.”
Her obituary was published in the Vermont Journal in Windsor, Vermont on September 29, 1900.
Author’s Note: In Shaker documents and public records, her married name is spelled both “Dean” and “Deane.” Variations in spelling were fairly common in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Original author: Mary Ann Haagen