The Gift of Sarah Barker
by Jane Yolen
Viking Press, 1981.
The Gift of Sarah Barker is one of Jane Yolen’s earlier books. The young adult novel explores the growing romance of Sarah and Abel, who live in a Shaker community. The novel kept me reading, carried along in part by my curiosity about how the Shakers lived. It must have been a challenging situation, especially for teens, to be so disciplined. The men and boys, and the women and girls, worked near each other every day, but strict rules guided how they interacted.
Yolen’s description of daily life in this religious community pushed me to do a little research after I finished the book.
The Shaker’s main tenets are Celibacy, Community, and Confession of sin. The Mother Ann Lee, the founder, arrived in America in 1774 with eight followers. At its peak, the Shaker community numbered 4000 to 5000 Believers. “Hands to work, hearts to God” are the words they lived by.
Today the last active Shaker community is found in Maine, at Sabbathday Lake. The website below provides comprehensive information about the Shaker sect.