Thursday, December 24, 2015

“The More Easily to Kill Natural Affection” – Parental Alienation Syndrome Among the Shakers: A Formal System of Anti-Parent Brainwashing.

This post will not be of interest to the general reader. It has been put online in hopes of providing specialist and scholars information that will lead to further research.

The following text is taken from an abandoned book project. In portions it is nearly complete, apart from some dates and references that need checking. It was written as a chapter of a book on the history of parental alienation syndrome. It is published in its present form because the facts contained are crucially important and little known. It is hoped that others might make good use of some of this information.

Author: Richard K. Stephens


“Those ties of affection which bind parents and children, brothers and sisters, are by the Shakers called carnal affections, and must be wholly destroyed or eradicated from the mind, before a person, whether old or young, can be promoted to any degree of honor or enjoy any peculiar privilege amongst them as a disciple. …

Lured by the hope that their children would be well educated to good trades, and fitted to be useful in society, many poor parents have given their children up to the Shakers; little imagining that their children would soon be taught the sinfulness and criminality of thinking of their parents with affectionate concern, or ever caring for them more than for other individuals.”

[Mary Marshall Dyer, A Portraiture Of  Shakerism, “1822” (Jun. 1823), Preface, pp. vii-viii]


“The ultimate sign of devotion and loyalty of a cult leader entails renouncing all other sources of influence.”  -- Dr. Amy Baker, Adult Children of Parental Alienation Syndrome, 2006


A. The Cult of Shakerism

Ordinarily when we speak of induced Parental Alienation (“Parental Alienation Syndrome” or “Parental Alienation Disorder”) we are referring to a dynamic between a child and one of its parents in which the child is pressured to select to become loyal to one parent over and against the other and subsequently responds by adopting an irrational, unwarranted  hostility toward -- and resistance to -- the targeted parent. Such a loyalty conflict experienced by the child finds its resolution in acquiescing to an either/or choice posited by the alienating adult and adapts to the situation so that he can be assured the attention and loyalty of the parent who exerts the pressure. The parent (or, in some cases, another adult who controls the child) who forces such a scenario is often requiring a “renouncing of all other sources of influence,” a domination tactic resembling that of a cult leader. The similarity between PAS and cult indoctrination has been studied by Dr. Amy Baker (Amy J. L. Baker, Ph.D., The Cult of Parenthood: A Qualitative Study of Parental Alienation,” Cultic Studies Review Vol. 4, No. 1, 2005.)

In many cults – be they religious or political in tenor, familial loyalty is – specifically because it undermines cult loyalty and authority – the target of overt indoctrination programs which are implemented in order to “cure” the ideological ill of such forbidden loyalties so that the member, or child under the influence of a member, may then direct all loyalty to the cult leaders. The Children of God (“The Family”), whose methods and practices are well known to both professionals and a wide public, is a familiar recent example.

A much earlier American cult, the Shakers (formally The United Society of Believers), active in the late 18th century to late 19th centuries, were, like The Children Of God, adamantly opposed to natural family ties and required members to break all familial bonds, yet, unlike The Children Of God, who are known to have promoted promiscuity and pedophilia, the Shakers were opposed to procreation and, at least doctrinally, to any erotic contact.

There is a wealth of information available about the Shakers covering a wide variety of specialized subjects: craft and design, economics, agriculture, architecture, religion.

They are widely studied, yet it is exceedingly rare to find a critical word in writings dealing with their child-rearing practices, and when such critiques are found they are not fully developed examinations of the available documentary evidence. Indeed, historians who specialize in Shaker studies are uniformly sympathetic with utopian thinking and in some notable cases employ currently fashionable ideas of “social constructivism” to argue the Shaker position against those who opposed them. Yet, so far, the well-documented tactics used for the purpose of alienating children from parents employed by the celebrated Shaker cult have not yet been brought into discussions of parental alienation.

The richest source of early documentation of the phenomenon of induced parental alienation in America comes to us from the remarkable Anti-Shaker writers and activists of the 1810s. The Shakers are today generally remembered as quaint hard-working people admired for their fine craft and purity of design, and they are still frequently praised for their radical social organization. The Shakers were called by Frederick Engels in 1846, two years before the publication with co-author, Karl Marx of the Communist Manifesto “the world’s first successful communalistic society [exact wording?].” The Shakers were a self-contained strictly authoritarian organization, yet their formal codification of  regulations was not fully developed until after the death of the cult’s founder, Ann Lee (1736-1784).

“Mother Ann” was hard on her followers, but her heart was not utterly stony. In the early 1780s when she witnessed the despondency of recent convert Susannah Barret over having had her baby removed from her to be “farmed out to another household of believers in order to break the family bond” [Francis, Ann the Word, 2000, 223-4], after witnessing the bereft mother’s sorrow Mother Lee relented and permitted the distracted mother to reunite with her child.

After the death of Ann Lee in 1784 the group’s leadership was taken over by English immigrant James Whittaker, an man who harbored a pathological intolerance of the institution of the family. Evidence of the new leader’s intense devotion to the anti-procreation dictum of his sect, is provided in a Feb. 20, 1784 letter written by Whittaker to his parents in England, who had requested assistance from their son in immigrating to America, the son flatly refused them, condemning their carnality with burning admonitions: “I hate your fleshly lives, and your fleshly generations, as I hate the smoke of the bottomless pit; and your pleading the commands of God to increase and multiply to cover your beastly conduct and doleful corruption.”

It was only three years following his ascension to Shaker leadership that Elder Whittaker was succeeded as leader by a duo of elders, Joseph Meacham (1742–1796) and Lucy Wright (1760–1821). It was Elder Meacham who codified in writing a set of rigid rules governing all aspects of member’s lives requiring, according to apostate activist Mary Marshall Dyer – “the most complete subjection to the will of the Elders” including their very thoughts – that are the subject of a large catalog of publications by Apostates who came to reject them and leave, frequently without their property and their children whom the Shakers had acquired – through manipulation and deception many of them claimed – by legal binding instruments that the Shakers were all too ready to defend in the courts.”  [Dyer, Preface]


B. The Indocrination Method

The Shakers composed children’s song was to teach children to “despise” their “fleshy kindred.”

“Except a man hate his own life,
And all his sins forsake;
Hate father, mother, children wife,
Of Christ he can’t partake;
Oh the way, the narrow way, &c.”
[Dyer, Portraiture, p. 388]

Other documents describe how such teaching methods as this were systematically applied in order to influence children to relinquish their family ties and realign their loyalty to the cult.

The 1817 affidavit sworn out  by a boy of “the world” (ie: a non-Shaker) who at the age of 17 witnessed the indoctrination methods used by the Shakers to promote the dicta of familial hatred and two years later wrote down what he had observed.

Affidavit of Aug. 23, 1817: “Jacob Rude, aged 19 years, being duly sworn, saith, that in the year 1815, he went with his mother to the society of Shakers; that he with 7 other young persons attended an evening school in the winter of 1815 and 1816, that one evening after they had gone through the exercises of the school, John Woods, who taught the school, rose up & taught them, saying that they must hate their parents: and if their parent spoke to them, they must not answer them; or if they did, they must answer them in a scornful sneering manner, frown and look surly at them, &c. And then put the question to them in general, whether this was not their faith; they all answered Yea, except this deponent, who was silent – which Woods perceived, and immediately put the question to each one separately, beginning at this deponent, who stood first in the class, & who though conscious of the error, through fear, answered in the affirmative. – And, that Woods repeatedly endeavored to instill such principles into their minds.” [p. 94: Dyer, Mary M. (as Mary Marshall), A portraiture of Shakerism ..., Jun. 1823 (“1822”), Rude, Jacob, affidavit, Aug. 23, 1817]


C. Apostasy

Apostate publications containing anti-Shaker polemics began appearing in the 1780s(?) and produced a large body of writings on the Shaker belief system.  These texts usually took the form of theological polemics: interpretations of the Bible.  Our earliest sources on Shaker child custody / parental kidnapping cases and the Shaker practices of systematic anti-family indoctrination begin in 1810, with Col. James Smith’s pamphlet, Shakerism Developed.

The Smith case involved a Kentucky father who pledged his loyalty to the Shakers, but whose wife never joined the cult. In accordance with Shaker doctrine he took his children and turned them over to the authority of the Elders so that they might be raised in a collectivist manner—without the interference of any familial bonds. The father-in-law of the aggrieved mother, Col. James Smith, supported her in her efforts to recover her children from the cult. [MORE HERE on details of case involving community support]. Col. Smith published two pamphlets, the text of which appeared in newspapers as well in his campaign to reunite the mother and children. Ultimately he took the case to the legislatures of the two states which had jurisdiction, Kentucky and Ohio, lobbying for a law which would overturn, in cases of this particular type, the presumption of paternal custody which allowed a father to assign custody to the Shakers. On Jan. 11, 1811, Ohio passed a law specifically the naming the Shakers and forbidding a member from removing children from a non-member parent and assigning custody to the cult; a similar law in Kentucky failed to win approval. The 1811 Ohio law – although limited to cases involving the Shakers – was, in effect, the first law passed in any nation to combat parental kidnapping.

A similar law, dealing specifically with the Shakers was followed in New York in 1818?, and another was attempted in New Hampshire (1819? & later) but failed. As the presumption of paternal custody began to weaken in common law in the United States the incidence of divorce also increased. Laws specifically forbidding parental kidnapping – apart from the Shaker laws – did not appear until the last two decades of the 19th century, yet the absence of laws specifically denoting parental kidnapping did not prevent child disputed custody cases from being dealt with by law enforcement officers, who could in many states treat such cases under extant kidnapping laws or recover children from kidnapping parents under the guise of other charges: contempt of court, adultery, larceny, bigamy, spouse desertion, and in the case of the more rough-and-tumble cases, assault. In England, the issue of parental kidnapping was first addressed in legislation as the result of Carolyn Norton (1830s).

There are scores of recorded child custody disputes dating from the late 18th century and into the early 20th century involving the Shakers. Many of these are documented only in brief fragmentary snatches, yet others are described in lengthy texts published by separated parents of children that had been held by the Shakers with the assent of the Believer parent  – and subsequently abandoned, in terms of direct parental involvement, by that parent.

Two parents, both mothers, followed Smith’s example, in publishing (broadsides, newspaper appeals, pamphlets and books) texts on their cases in an effort to seek public and legislative support, Eunice Chapman of New York state and Mary Marshall Dyer of New Hampshire. These cases will be discussed below.


Apostate Shaker author Thomas Brown, who was not himself involved in a child custody imbroglio with the Shakers is one of the important sources on the Shaker anti-family doctrine and practice. Brown, writing in 1812, describes the Shaker rationale for the systematic destruction of all familial bonds: “According to their faith, natural affection must be eradicated; and they say they must love all equally alike as brothers and sisters in the gospel.” Brown’s book-length exposé, An account of the people called Shakers, offers a case from the Fall of  1786 in Wavierlet (Niskeuna), New York, to illustrate “the schemes they have contrived to destroy all natural affection and social attachment between man and wife, parent and child, brothers and sisters, especially towards such as left the society.”

A mother, who had renounced the faith, came to Niskeuna to see her daughter. Eldress Hannah Matterson told the daughter to go into the room to her carnal mother and say – “What do you come here for? I don’t want you to come and see me with your carnal affections.”

The mother being grieved, replied –“I did not expect that a daughter of mine would ever address me in that manner.”
The daughter in obedience to what she was taught, replied again – “You have come here with your carnal, fleshy desires, and I don’t want to see you,” and then left her mother.” (Brown, 1812, p. 339)

Dozens of similar cases are described in an the wide array of Apostate publications that were to reach the public from 1810 through 1847.

An 1817 newspaper account describes Elizabeth Davis’s experiences with the Shakers  in 1805 in which she dutifully followed the Shaker proscriptions against family life:

“Thus she was induced to take her infant, leave the house where her husband was, and go to her father’s house. The husband of this deponent wished to come and see his wife and child once a week: but she was forbidden to suffer to come to the house or even to speak to him. An injunction was also laid on the father and mother to prohibit her husband from coming into their house and from speaking to his wife.” [Elizabeth Davis deposition; Van Vleet, Oct. 29, 1817 (continued from Oct. 22)]

Events of 1811 involving the Riley family came to light with the publication of an 1818 booklet by Eunice Chapman, one of the most assertive of the numerous bereaved parents whose children had been removed by a Shaker spouse and turned over to the Shakers for communal child-rearing:

“[Mrs. Riley’s] husband tore the child from her arms by violence, just at the time she was preparing to return home; he kept himself and the child concealed” [Chapman, An Account, 1818, 32; p. 57?]

“They said Riley had a wife and an infant child; he was young, and flourishing in business. After the man had joined the Shakers, he and the Shakers sought to take the infant from the breast of its mother! The inhabitants in dead of night [to save the child] were forced to take it from the bed and arms of the mother, and hide it where the Shakers could not suspect it was and keep it in one place and the mother in another, until they could send for her father to come and take her and the child away!” [Chapman, An Account, 1818, 59-60]

In the McDowle child custody court case in New York of the same year, 1811, a court’s written opinion took note of  the charges that the Shakers had “induced” children to make declarations “not freely given” supporting the Shakers’ petition to hold them away from and their parents:

“The court reporter added the following note at the end of the opinion: Afterwards counsel for the father suggested to the court, that improper means and constraint had been used by the masters and others, belonging to the Shakers, to induce the children [aged 11 and 8] to declare their election to return [to Shaker custody], and that the answers were not freely given them in court.” [Schneider, Barbara Taback, “Prayers For Our Protection at Court: Shakers, Children and the Law,” Yale Journal of Law and The Humanities 4 (1992): 33-78, p. 49; In re McDowle, 8 Johns 328 (N.Y. Sup. Dt.) 1811).

A case dating from 1823 or earlier involving a couple by the name of Bowen involved, according to published reports, a case where the parents were so alarmed at their 3-year-old’s mortal fear of “the world,” that they were afraid to retrieve her from the cult.

A Mr. Bowen, with his wife, after living with the Shakers a short time, left them, but afterwards returned for his two children.  They took the eldest, and then came to our family for the other.  When her mother asked her to go with her, she exclaimed, as she had been tutored,”  I shall go to hell if I go to the wicked world,  and you will go to hell!" This expression from a child three years old, so astonished the mother, that she was afraid to take her away, and left her in the care of Hannah Ellis. Hannah was kind to the child, but severe in her work. Soon after, the elder said she was too indulgent, and the child was taken from her, and  placed in the care of Anna Wright, when four years old, Anna stinted her so hard in knitting on a large stocking, that she would get tired, and cry for leave to go and see Hannah. Anna would mock and sneer at her. The child would wipe away her tears with her hand, and being unable to move her needles, Anna would call her a lazy slut, and make her kneel in knitting. [Dyer, Rise, 1847, p. 63]


D. Eunice Chapman & Mary Marshall Dyer



Here is Eunice Chapman’s own account of her experience in reunited on DATE with the children she had been forcibly separated from:

A member accompanied me thither; we were seated in the Shaker’s office. After waiting some time George, my eldest child came into my sight. I stood and gazed at the little stranger, but could recognize no appearance of my son. He said, “Eunice how do ye do?” I wept over him, but he appeared inflexible, undutiful, and unnatural, though I imagined that I saw the stifled tear startle in his eye. I shewed him his little pocket book with a dollar in small specie, which he had collected before he was carried to the Shaker’s: and his last words were “I shall leave my money for my mother.”

I told him how carefully I had kept that to remember him by, he laughed at mew. I handed him a tablet to date the year in which he was taken from my protection; he wrote, “when I was kindly taken from my mother!!” My daughters, and some of Mrs. Dyer’s children were secured in one of their Bastiles, which contained a large number of Shakers. A town officer and a member of the Legislature of that State, with their wives, were admitted with me and Mrs. Dyer to see them. Susan (my next eldest, being now 12 years of age) came into the room: I gazed at her in silent amaze. She appeared like a shadow, with a countenance pale and depicted and features emaciated, while pining away under her confinement. She gently approached me and said “Eunice, how do ye do?”

I dropped my face upon her pale sallow cheek, and involuntarily exclaimed; Oh! Can this be my Susan, my dear Susan!!” I could discover none of that sprightly activity, and engaging sensibility, which once made her the pride of her mother. – Even her dialect had changed! I tore off her ghostly cap, hoping to recognize the features of my Susan: She was so much grieved that I hastened to put it on again; I saw the tear of filial affection started her eye. My Julia came next, which excited painful, though pleasing sensations,  the reflection of which now stops me to weep!

I gazed a moment upon my Julia in silence; she also said “Eunice how ye do!” I fell upon her face, and while bathing her with my tears, in my interval of sighs and groans, said, Oh! My dear Julia, my long lost babe! Have I once more clasped thee in these wishful arms! But she had become a stranger to those endearing caresses, which were once the joy of my heart. I seated her in my lap, but she fled from me and said, “It is against order to sit in lap!” I handed her a fine dressed doll, she said, “It is handsome, but I do not want it here,” though she eagerly gazed at it. Without my asking them any questions, they like two parrots, prattled over what shakers had previously told them to say to me, (how much better they were than with me.)

In the heights of my groans and tears, Mr. Chapman said, “Eunice, don’t make such a racket, you disturb the brethren and sisters.” When such a scene, called forth, and put to the test, every feeling of a parent, and even those gentlemen who accompanied me wept. At the same time, there stood a Shaker elder, (like an emblem of Satan) behind Mrs. Dyer’s two children, pushing them forward, to abuse their mother, until they tore her youngest child from her arms, and with it fled from her sight.

The ghastly visage of Mr. Chapman, indicated that his heart was the seat of remorse. I exclaimed, “James Chapman can you remain insensible through all this!” As I was returning to my lodgings, James Chapman said that I must not trouble them by coming the next day to see my children, for the brethren and sisters had been in a perfect hell all day and wanted some rest.

[Chapman excerpt] [A Portraiture Of  Shakerism, By Mary Marshall (Mary M. Dyer), June 1823, (Stated publication date: “1822”), Pages 291-305 section “Mrs. Chapman,” Written by Eunice Chapman, Albany, New York, February 1819]

Chapman’s account contains a number of notable similarities to present-day experiences of parents target for alienation. In the Shaker scenarios, however, there is, strictly speaking, no alienating parent. Instead the parent who has elected to break up the family has elected to empower outside agents of control, trained cult members who might be thought of as “professional alienators” who ply their trade, using well-honed indoctrination techniques and employing “supervised visitation” in order to control the child’s behavior and solidify the psychological rift by creating a controlled breakdown of parent-child communication and affect. The torturous episode that Eunice recounts ends with the father of the children forbidding a second visit due to the fact that the reunification of mother and children proved inconvenient for those who held authority over the children.


E. Mary Marshall Dyer: America’s First Anti-Parental Kidnapping Activist

Mary Marshall Dyer one of America’s most important, and perhaps the earliest, of many women’s rights activists. She is the earliest known example of an activist working to counter the practice of what today is commonly known as "parental kidnapping" or "parental child abduction." Unlike other early ant-Shaker writers who also published books on Shaker-related parental kidnappings and lobbied for laws against Shaker child constraint and indoctrination practices, such as Col. Joseph Smith (1810) and  Eunice Chapman (1819), Mary took an active part in assisting others involved in Shaker child custody cases and tirelessly devoted her resources to educating the public about the overtly anti-family ideology and activities of the Shakers. Her activism reached from 1815 until her death in 1867.


Excerpt from “Preface”:

Another error of the Shakers’, and one of no small magnitude, if measured by its consequences, is, that of censuring all natural affection as evil, and calling it the work of the Devil. − Those ties of affection which bind parents and children, brothers and sisters, are by the Shakers called carnal affections, and must be wholly destroyed or eradicated from the mind, before a person, whether old or young, can be promoted to any degree of honor or enjoy any peculiar privilege amongst them as a disciple.

If the statement should at first seem incredible to any one, let him attend to the facts as narrated in these pages and attested by credible witnesses, and he will be satisfied that this is a grand article of regulation among the Shakers. Whereas the rule of Heaven in reference to this subject, is, “Honor thy father and thy mother” − “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. − And ye fathers, bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord!!” One of the black catalogue of vices, states, the subjects of these crimes would be “without natural affection,” and “disobedient to parents.” …

When the tender emotions of natural affection are extinguished in children, or in persons of mature age, they are fitly prepared for the exercise of every sordid and selfish passion; duly qualified to be the slaves of corruption, and the instruments of cruelty. And all that is necessary in order to bring their pernicious principles into operation, when their minds have passed this ordeal, is, to put before them suitable temptations, or to excite their prejudices. This error of the Shakers mingles itself with all their doctrines, and with all their practical regulations in regard to those children who are placed under their care by guardians or overseers of those poor children, taken from the large cities and sea-port towns as well as to those whose parents are in fellowship with the brethren of in Society. Lured by the hope that their children would be well educated to good trades, and fitted to be useful in society, many poor parents have given their children up to the Shakers; little imagining that their children would soon be taught the sinfulness and criminality of thinking of their parents with affectionate concern, or ever caring for them more than for other individuals. In short, that they ought only to regard the Shakers, and tremble at the idea of disobeying the Holy Father and Mother, who live in the Church. …

It has uniformly been the practice of the Elders to instill into the minds of their young dicsiples and apprentices, the impossibility of their salvation, unless in full fellowship with the Church. To be in full fellowship implies the most complete subjection to the will of the Elders, and entire obedience to all their orders. Without the subjection and obedience to the Elders, they must be cut off from all hope of salvation, and deprived of all privileges among them.

When the ignorance and credulity of these young converts to Shakerism has effectually been wrought upon, so that they have implicit faith in the infallibility of the Father and Mother of the Church, then they are no longer to judge for themselves in any thing.  …

[The full text of the “Preface” is to be found in the appendix to this essay]

Unlike Eunice Chapman, Mary Marshall Dyer in 1812 voluntarily joined the Shakers along with her likewise converted husband. But once Mary discovered the virtually totalitarian actualities of the Shaker way of life in which she would be forced to relinquish her parenthood – a step her husband was able cheerfully to take – she protested and after failing to make her case in January 1813 left the cult attempting, unsuccessfully in this first effort, to take her youngest child with her.

HERE: Brief summary of Dyer’s long and complex career as an anti-Shaker activist and her experiences with her children:

1815 – Spring – Mary begins anti-PK activism within village (DW, 46)
1817 – Mar 20 – Shaker pamphlet, To the Legislature of the State of NY (DW, 199, n 10)
1818 – Assisting Eunice Chapman in effort to retrieve her children from Shakers


F. Shaker Epilogue

By the 20th century the Shakers membership had dwindled and continued to do so, yet the group’s adherents still continued to make the news from time to time in cases of child custody disputes. Since the Shakers continued to offer the non-Believer public services for the care of children, presented as a sort of boarding school / orphanage arrangement, they would from time to time attract  a parent who had parentally kidnapped a child and who wished to “erase” the other parent from the child’s experience and consciousness, a task which the Shakers, by virtue of their established doctrine requiring family dismemberment and their time-tested methods for indoctrinating those under their control, were well versed in executing.

In the 1903 Alley case, it seems that the parental kidnapping father, xxxx Alley, ….

Alley – Mar. 21, 1903 – F-K’er, d (6); Shakers; F arrested, refused to tell whereabouts; “Alley says that he has changed the name of the child and so fixed it that the mother will never see her daughter. Mr. Alley also says that he would rather the child would die than the mother would have it.” F is former deputy sheriff (New Hampshire); “Child Is With Shakers” (Mar. 25, 1903) [Abandon Following K; Deathwish Against Child; Deception]

The year 1923 marks the latest case known presently of a child custody dispute involving the Shakers, the Rhoads case.


[Rhoads case]

NOTE to self: (USE? : Drane – May 9, 1888; M-K’er, twin boys (2), s ( ); To judge: “I had joined a religious community and the members told me that God forbade me to live with a divorced man. I loved him dearly, sir, and I loved my boy …”; “God told me to leave him [husband].” [Twins])


In his 2000 biography of Ann Lee, founder of the American Shakers, author xxx Francis is one of the very few modern writers to condemn Shaker the Shaker doctrine of hatred and behavior modification: “The human cost of Shakerism, its assault upon some of the deepest relationships, those between husbands and wives and parents and children, is not always given full weight in modern nostalgia for the Shaker way of life. [Francis, Ann the Word, 2000, 223-4]

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