Shaketown - aka: West Union - Busseron Township, IN
Posted by: Groundspeak Premium Member YoSam.
N 38° 53.520 W 087° 26.538
16S E 461642 N 4304884
Quick Description: While the Shakers' unique ideas about communal ownership of property, sexual equality, celibacy, and economic cooperation appealed to many new settlers driven by religious fervor and the harshness of life on the frontier
Location: Indiana, United States
Date Posted: 12/30/2014 7:24:18 AM
Waymark Code: WMN5JY
Published By: Groundspeak Premium Member silverquill
Views: 0

Long Description:

County of marker: Knox County
Location of marker: US-41 & Guager Rd. (CR-110N), 1 mile N. of Oaktown
Marker erected by: Indiana Sesquicentennial Commission
Date marker erected: 1966

Marker text: First settlement, 1808-1812, of a religious society of celibates known as Shakers. The four hundred members of this communal group occupied 1,300 acres seven miles west of Carlisle.


"West Union (Busro) is an abandoned Shaker community in Busseron Township, northwestern Knox County, Indiana, about fifteen miles (24 km) north of Vincennes. The settlement was inhabited by the Shakers (United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing) from 1811 to 1827. Though short-lived, West Union was the westernmost Shaker settlement.

Founding and early history
"By 1808, the Shaker communities in New England and New York were on a firm foundation. Seeking to take advantage of the rising tide of religious fervor on the trans-Appalachian frontier, particularly the Cane Ridge Revival in Kentucky, the Shaker lead ministry at Watervliet and Mount Lebanon in New York sent Issachar Bates, John Dunlavy, and other missionaries west to spread knowledge about the Shaker faith. These early Shaker missionaries walked 1,200 miles (1,900 km) on foot into the "West" to "open the Gospel" in the Ohio Valley. The new faith soon attracted enough converts to open fresh communities in Kentucky and Ohio, including Pleasant Hill in Mercer County, Kentucky, South Union in Logan County, Kentucky, and Union Village, near Dayton, Ohio.

"While the Shakers' unique ideas about communal ownership of property, sexual equality, celibacy, and economic cooperation appealed to many new settlers driven by religious fervor and the harshness of life on the frontier, their initial reception by some frontiersmen was not auspicious. Fearing that celibate utopians would break up families and compete with established churches, when Issachar Bates and fellow Shaker missionaries came to Indiana around 1809, a few settlers there resorted to violence to keep them away. Bates recalled that on his second trip to the Wabash Valley:

  a mob of 12 men on horseback came upon us with ropes to bind us, headed by [one] John Thompson. He stepped
  up to me and said, come prepare yourselves to move. -- Move where? said I -- Out of this country, said he,
  for you have ruined a fine neighborhood and now we intend to fix you -- Your hats are too big, and we shall take
  off part of them, and your coats are too long, we shall take off part of them, and seeing you will have nothing
  to do with women, we shall fix you so that you cannot perform.

"The pacifist Bates (a former Revolutionary soldier and "merry singer of ballad tales") exchanged witty banter with Thompson, but barely avoided being tied to a horse and thrown out of the area, although Thompson rode off with a death threat against the Shakers. According the some sources, Bates eventually walked 38,000 miles (61,000 km) in eleven years and converted 1100 people across Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana to the Shaker faith.[3] Bates wrote a lengthy ballad hymn about his trip to Busro in 1809 and also wrote the following in his autobiography:

  "I have now literally run, a long crooked road - from the year 1801 till the year 1811. I traveled most of it
  on foot...In all this time I have had a good conscience for I know that I never have wronged any of my
  persecutors and that has been my comfort & peace. I have been filled with joy & comfort whenever I visited the
  different Societies where they had honestly taken up their crosses; to see them filled with the power & gifts
  of God. This made ample amends for all my persecution.

"In 1809, a large group of recent converts from Union Village, near Dayton, Ohio, many of them free African Americans, loaded their property onto keel boats and pirogues and headed down the Ohio River, bound for a new settlement at "Big Prairy," on Busseron Creek, fifteen miles (24 km) north of Fort Knox at Vincennes, Indiana Territory. French boatmen helped them navigate the river. Their livestock was driven overland from the Falls of the Ohio at Clarksville. By the summer of 1811, around 300 Shakers were established at the settlement they called Busro (after Busseron Creek). Officially, it was identified as "West Union." Shakers had also come to Indiana from Red Banks, Kentucky, and the failed Shaker communities at Eagle Creek and Straight Creek in Ohio.

"Shaker diarist Samuel Swan McClelland, whose account runs until 1827, notes that among the first buildings constructed was "One hewed-log house... with 4 rooms, and all things seemed to be going well for the present." A map by the Shaker cartographer Richard McNemar, drawn in the 1820s, shows that at its height, West Union contained 1,300 acres (5.3 km2) of land, "400 well improved." A two-story brick house "50 by 45," with "14 rooms and cellar" served as the Center Family House. Surrounding the house sat a "kitchen, doctor shop, skin shop, weave shop, wash house [and] smoke house." A "great frame meetinghouse two story 50 by 40" sat across from it. The North Family House stood nearby, "30 by 21 two story and a cellar." Several barns and two apple orchards were on the property (one orchard had 400 trees, the other had 700.) A sawmill, grist mill, and fulling mill stood along Busseron Creek, with another mill seven miles (11 km) distant, across the Wabash River in Illinois. In the barnyard could be found "threshing and flax machines."

McClelland's diary entries show the surprising ethnic diversity of Busro, where many of the Shakers were free blacks. In the summer of 1811, he wrote: "About the first week in June some few were taken sick with fevers, and on the 19th, Anthony Fann a colored man departed this life, having Peggy his wife a white woman and 6 children among the believers. This was the first death that occurred after the Eagle Creek people were settled on Prairy."

"A number of the Shakers who settled here had also been Revolutionary War veterans

Decline and Abandonment
Foreshadowing the dilemma that would face all Shaker communities in the decades to come, the first generation of adult converts at West Union (who had often brought their own biological families into the celibate Shaker society) was now faced with the dilemma of seeing their children leave the faith. Shaker practice encouraged but did not require children raised in the community to become "covenanting" members at age 18.

"A tornado struck the community in May 1819 and did significant structural damage to some buildings. It also destroyed much of the Shakers' orchard. Fevers (probably a combination of cholera and yellow fever) continued to plague the settlement, situated as it was along the wetlands fringing the Wabash River. An arsonist was thought to have attempted to burn down one of the dwelling houses in February 1820. Spring floods in 1820 damaged the Shaker's mills.

"By September 1826, the unanimous decision of the Shaker Elders at West Union and throughout the wider community of Shakers was that the settlement should be closed. The community was finally abandoned in spring 1827. Farmland and buildings were sold, and portable property was loaded onto wagons and boats for transport to the same communities in Kentucky and Ohio where Shakers had taken refuge during the War of 1812. The new Whitewater Shaker Settlement near Cincinnati, Ohio (founded in 1824) was strengthened by the influx of Shakers from Indiana.

"As historian Stephen J. Stein notes, West Union's closing was a major defeat for Shakerism. An immense amount of effort had been put into ensuring its success, as it represented the Society's best chance of expanding farther west, where the nation's future lay. The community's symbolic importance to the Shakers as their westernmost community perhaps explains why it was not abandoned immediately after the War of 1812.

"There seems to have been some relationship between the West Union Shakers and the German Rappite utopian community that settled around New Harmony, Indiana, also on the Wabash River. On February 24, 1817, writes McClelland, "Father David with all the Elders" visited the Rappites.[16] In 1824, only a few years before West Union itself was abandoned, the Rappites moved back to Pennsylvania, selling their land to the Welsh utopian thinker and reformer Robert Owen, who renamed the site New Harmony. Inspired in part by the utopian ideals of his Rappite and Shaker predecessors in the Wabash Valley, the secular Owen began the most famous socialist experiment in American history. Owen’s colony, too, also failed in time.

Remains of the site
"The land once occupied by the Shakers is now active farmland and owned privately. The site is along an unmarked county road a few miles northwest of Oaktown, Indiana, in the far northwestern corner of Knox County, almost on the Sullivan County line. An Indiana historical marker on U.S. 41 near Oaktown actually stands a few miles from the site. The only Shaker structure that survived into the twentieth century was used as a private home before being demolished.

"Archaeological remains of other buildings in the area have been unearthed by local historian John Martin Smith, but are unmarked and difficult to find. The mill was located on the Illinois side of the Wabash, just south of the iron bridge, though no remains are visible." ~ Wikipedia

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