Tryphena Bradford Carte de Visite
Carte de Visite, Sister Tryphena Bradford
C. E. Lewis, Photographer, Lebanon, NH, ca. 1880
Private Collection.

Sister Tryphena Bradford

Sarah Tryphena (Triphena) Bradford, Shaker tailoress, family deaconess, laundry and dairy matron, was born March 18, 1833 in Barnard, Vermont, the daughter of Thomas and Electa (Sargent) Bradford.

Tryphena Bradford probably heard the story of Mother Ann and the apple tree many times during her long Shaker life. According to the Testimonies of Mother Ann Lee and the Elders With Her (p. 259), “Hannah Kendall was once with Mother, on her journey from Ashfield to Petersham and they came to an apple tree in full blossom. Mother looked at it and said, ‘How beautiful this tree is now! But some of the apples will soon fall off; some will hold on longer; some will hold on till they are full half grown, and then fall off; and some will get ripe. So it is with souls who set out in the way of God. Many will set out very fair, and soon fall away; some will go further, and then fall off; some will go further still, and then fall; and some will go through.'”

Tryphena experienced the truth of this story in her own life. She was one of 12 children, ten of whom lived for significant periods of time with the Enfield Shakers. Tryphena was ten years old when she joined the community, and only she and her brother, John Bradford, remained Shakers for life.

Her brother John served for forty years as first Trustee of the Church Family, so he had many business associates in the outside world. Tryphena’s life was centered at home, where she faithfully carried out whatever domestic responsibilities were assigned her on behalf of the Church Family.

In 1858 she was appointed washhouse deaconess. As such she made sure that the laundry for a family of more than one hundred individuals was done each week. In 1864 she was named a family deaconess. In this role she was “entrusted with the care and oversight of the domestic concerns of the family.” Her responsibilities included “maintaining good order by watching over, counseling and directing the sisters in their various occupations related to daily communal life.” She worked closely with the office deaconesses who supplied the family with the materials they needed to accomplish their work. But her duties did not “extend to any immediate or direct correspondence with those without the bounds of the Church.” Tryphena served as a family deaconess until 1883. During those years she is also listed in the federal census as a tailoress (1870) and a seamstress (1880).

In 1899 she was put in charge of the Church family dairy. Milk produced daily by the family’s dairy herd was allocated to the kitchen sisters for family consumption, or processed at the dairy into cheese and butter for both home use and for sale “to the world.”

In all her duties, whether at the wash house, the dairy or as a family deaconess, Tryphena was responsible for mentoring young Shaker sisters who were assigned to help with the work at hand.

Although Tryphena never ventured far from Enfield, she was extended the privilege of week-long visits to Canterbury on four different occasions: in 1856, 1868, 1874 and 1901. And in 1897 she and her brother John made a short trip to Claremont, New Hampshire, perhaps to visit their brother and former Shaker, Rufus C. Bradford. She visited Rufus again in 1904, this time in Melrose, Massachussetts.

Back at home, Tryphena Bradford attended to her duties until a day before her death on February 23, 1907 at the Shaker community in Enfield, New Hampshire. She was only weeks away from her 74th birthday. She is buried in the Church Family Shaker Cemetery in Enfield.

Her Shaker family acknowledged their loss in the March 1, 1907 edition of the local paper, The Enfield Advocate:

“Sister was loved and respected by all who knew her, but in the home circle she will be greatly missed, where many so long depended on her faithful helpfulness in all the interests of the home. On such rests the benediction, ‘Well done good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.’”


Original author: Mary Ann Haagen

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