Aaron Jewett

A Short Biography: Aaron Jewett, Harvard Shaker  (1741-1816)

by Roben Campbell, Shaker researcher

 

Aaron Jewett and his wife Mary Cooper Jewett united with the Shaker gospel with their three young children soon after Mother Ann arrived in 1781. Both Aaron and Mary’s parents had been supporters of Shadrach Ireland, the New Light Baptist leader whose “Light of Redemption”[1] had many similarities to Mother Ann Lee’s gospel. For both groups spiritual purity demanded celibacy and renunciation from all followers, that is, giving up the common desires of the world, sexual desire, procreation, and material goods to know God.

Aaron began his service to the Mother Ann’s gospel as the agent in the acquisition of the Square House, built by Shadrach Ireland in 1769 as a refuge from his pursuers who accused him of blasphemy. [2] His mind gradually became deranged, and he died a year before Mother Ann arrived. Aaron continued his service in this capacity for the Shaker village, as a Trustee, or legal and financial agent from 1791until his death in 1816.

Br. Aaron contributed in innumerable ways to the formation of the Harvard village. He signed the petition in 1790 to construct the Meeting House for worship. Much of the timber for construction was cut from his land. With Jeremiah Willard he was appointed to the care of the building. They put all of  “their substance together, Cattle, Horses, and all their movables, and the improvement of all their lands, and set out to build the house, and received such things as the people brought to them as offerings towards the building of the House.”[3]

Before joining the Shakers Aaron Jewett served in the Revolutionary War, achieving a position of Captain, fighting at Bennington, Vermont, and Saratoga Springs, New York.[4] He was taken to task for his participation in the military in the following incident.

For the year following Mother Ann’s arrival in 1781 a rumor had been festering that the Shakers were enemies of the country, and had brought munitions.[5] On an appointed day in July of 1782 the matter came to a head when a mob incited by two barrels of cider gathered on the town common to drive the Shakers out of town. A group of four clergymen intervened, and requested the mob to wait until they had interviewed the Shakers regarding the rumor. The clergymen went to the Square House, and asked Father James Whittaker about storing arms. Fr. James gave them the liberty to search the house. They asked if he was a friend to America, to which Father James replied, ’Yea, we are friends to all souls of men.” The minister then asked if one of their people went to war, would he have to confess it as a sin; to which Father James replied,  ‘Yea, surely, if he himself believes it to be a sin, but we don’t bind men’s consciences.’ The minister then turned to Aaron Jewett, and asked, when he had confessed his sins, had he confessed going into the army as a sin; to which Aaron replied, “I was so far from confessing it as a sin that I never once thought of it.” The ministers were satisfied. Fr. James then began to sing, and the brethren united with him. The ministers reported back to the mob, that they’d better let the Shakers alone, and that Whittaker was a sharp man.[6]

Aaron Jewett’s impeccable character surfaced on another occasion. Father James was speaking to heads of families in the Harvard community who had considerable property, and said:

This is a dry barren land, and hard to get a living on; and there is Brother Aaron Jewett, he takes in all the needy, and how charitable he is to them; and you must be kind to him and help him; and God will bless you, and God will bless this place.”[7]

 

 

 

 

 

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[1] July 13, 1826, Biography of Abijah Worster, RHS.VI.A.5

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

[3] Harvard Shaker Record Book, Shaker Manuscript Collection, Museum and Library, Old Chatham, New York.

[4] Tomlinson, Kristine A. L., Unpublished paper, “The Abel Jewett Family: Baptist Perfectionists and Shakers.” Tomlinson’s documentation is from Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary War. A Compilation from the Archives, … HME-JYP (Boston: Wright & Potter Printing Company, 1901), 792.. pp. 86-87. Phineas Fairbanks

[5] Testimonies of the Life, Character, Revelations and Doctrines of Our Ever Blessed Mother Ann Lee, Hancock, [Mass.] Tallcot & Deming 1816, pp. 87, 110. In fact on page 87 the rumor was 70 waggons and 600 stands of arms.

[6] Testimonies of the Life, Character, Revelations and Doctrines of Our Ever Blessed Mother Ann Lee, Hancock, [Mass.] Tallcot & Deming 1816, pp. 108-111.

[7] Thomas Hammond Book, Shaker Manuscript Collection, WRHS.VII.B.22, pp. 105-106.

 

 

 

 

All rights reserved. © Roben Campbell, 2016.