Abigail Cooper

A Short Biography: Abigail Cooper, Harvard Shaker  (1726-1816)

by Roben Campbell, Shaker researcher


Abigail Whipple Cooper and her husband Samuel Cooper from Grafton, Massachusetts, united with the New Light Baptists under Shadrach Ireland many years before Mother Ann’s arrival in 1781. The Great Awakening reenergized religion in colonial America, but the ensuing changes separated the faithful into two groups, the New Lights, who supported change and attended revival meetings, and the “Old Lights,” who preferred tradition and feared change.[1] Aggressively pursued for blasphemy in his hometown of Charlestown, Ireland took refuge in Harvard, Massachusetts.[2] In 1769, he secretly built the Square House with the help of Abigail’s husband Samuel. Under persecution, Ireland’s mind gradually became deranged. He died around 1780 under the delusion that he would rise again, leaving his followers forlorn.

Many of his followers returned to the world. Abigail and Samuel Cooper did not, “maintaining their integrity” along with Abel and Mary Jewett and a few others.[3] The Coopers lived in the Square House with their “holy children … born under the sanction of their spiritual marriage after they had found that they could not bear a full cross against the flesh.…”[4] The Coopers felt “deceived by Ireland and were cautious about receiving any thing which they could not see was on a sure foundation.”[5] All of the Coopers were reluctant to follow Daniel Wood the year before.

Then Mother Ann and the Elders appeared at the Square House one day in late June of 1781. The story is that they came to the stoop or piazza on the south side of the house. Father William asked Abigail if she was willing to let them come in. She replied, “No, I don’t know as I am.” She had received a hint that they were coming, and she did not feel ‘favorable’ to the English. But her sense of hospitality cancelled out her reservations, and she let them in.[6] They sat down and talked of religion, the pure gospel of Christ, and their opposition to the ‘flesh’. Mother Ann said, “ All were want is to help souls to God.” Abigail replied that she had seen a great deal of false religion, and did not want theirs. Then Mother Ann looking at Abigail said that she had seen them all before, referring to a vision she had had in England. They tarried awhile and talked of love. Father William gave Abigail an apple, which she did not want but put on the mantelpiece. Mother Ann and her group had not been gone long before her attention was riveted on the apple, and she felt in truth that she did love them. She said,

“I never felt such love to any people on earth as I did to them I loved the Apple they gave me for their sakes. When I was about my work I would now and then look at the apple and take it in my hands; I knew they had something good because I loved them so. I wanted they should come back; and when they came, I was thankful to take them in and glad to do any thing for them that I could do. I found Mother’s words to be true. In the conversation Father William frequently said, Dont you love us? Dont you love us, Dont you love us some &c?”[7]

 After the Harvard Shakers united as a village in 1791, Abigail lived at the Dwinels for a time, an out-family who housed early Believers before the construction of the village.[8] In 1806 She moved back to the Square House.[9]



[1] Page on ‘Old and New Light’, in Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_and_New_Light

[2] WRHS.VII:A-2., and Thomas Hammond Book, pp. 162-172. WRHS.VII.B.22

[3] RG, 27L

[4] Ibid., 28R

[5] Ibid, 27L-28R

[6] Sketches of Shadrach Ireland, WRHS.VI.B.4, pp. 94-110., p. 106

[7] Ibid, p. 107.

[8] November 7th, 1792, Harvard Shaker Record Book, p. 64, Shaker Manuscript Collection at Fruitlands Museum, FM 1.7, Harvard, MA.

[9] November 26, 1806, Harvard Shaker Record Book, Shaker Manuscript Collection at Old Chatham.



All rights reserved. © Roben Campbell, 2016.