Caleb Crouch

A Short Biography: Caleb Crouch, Harvard Shaker  ( 1768-1841)

by Roben Campbell, Shaker researcher

 

Caleb Crouch joined the Harvard Shakers with his natural family at age thirteen in 1781, and so was among the small number of early Believers to be raised Shaker, at least in part.  he was raised jointly by his elders including Mother Ann, Father James and Father William. Caleb has this recollection on being chastised as a young Believer:

When we were young believers, we should have thought that our Elders did not notice, nor love us, if they did not chastise us. I have heard people chastised more powerfully in that day than I have since, but it was soul in love to souls, to bring them to God. We have good Parents in this place; they brought me up; they were good Father & Mother to me.[1]

As a young brother in the 1790’s he was part of vitality that planned and physically built the community. His name, along with his natural father and brothers David, David Jr., and Jonathan, appeared on the list of twenty nine Harvard believers who petitioned New Lebanon for approval and support in building a place of worship in 1790.[2] He and his brother Jonathan were also on the list of twenty five brothers who worked on the cemetery, They laid out and cleared a square acre of land, and built a stone wall to enclose it, finishing in 1799. At the end of his life he provided a vivid a recollection of building the first house:

The timber was got together in the winter, they hewed it, dug the cellar, and took the clay and made bricks for the chimneys; finished the house plastered and painted it inside, and the 9th of November following they moved into it. 

The brethren lived like soldiers all summer, they slept in the barn for 3 or 4 months, got up mornings at 4 o,clock and had meetings. The brethren lived at the Square House, also Father Eleazer and Mother Hannah & 3 sisters, the rest of the Sisters lived at the South House, and frequently came to the Square House mornings to attend meeting. The brethren carried their clothes to the South House to be washed &c.[3]

He added that he “made all the mortar for the house, and carried part of it to the workmen. They had their farming to do at the same time. Some time in the course of that year they made the road that runs north & south between the buildings, worked in it evenings.”[4]

Fourteen years later in 1806 he was appointed first elder of the Church family, and moved into the first house with other leaders.[5]  He was released from his duties in 1835[6], and moved to the second house. His work broadly speaking was to keeping union among Believers and took him to the other Harvard families and Shirley frequently.

As Elder Caleb Crouch had to weather the ups and downs of the entire village. He was brought to court in the town of Harvard with a number of other Harvard Shakers under the accusation of  restraining and abusing trustee and deacon Seth Babbit who had become mentally deranged. The case took a year to resolve, and the Shakers were not held guilty.[7] Demoralization was part of the aftermath, and a dozen or so young Shakers left the village.[8]

Records occasionally mention his day-to-day work. In 1806 he delivered a load of fish to Canaan, New York, a trip which took eighteen days.[9] He collected fresh herbs to be dried for the herb industry, in Westminster after elder flowers in 1829,[10] and three sheets full of wintergreen and a bushel of elder berries in 1838.[11] During the summer of 1832 he revamped the cellar of the first house, digging new drain ditches.[12]

Through thick and thin his devotion to Mother Ann and his faith in the Shaker gospel never wavered. At he end of his life he was much adored by all the young Believers. He expressed much gratitude for the life he had lead, and commented that Mother Ann’s gospel was the “anchor to his soul.”[13] One of the sisters asked him what he thought the reason was of his being taken sick so suddenly.  He answered, “It was Mother, Mother came after me.” Some one present asked him if he wanted to go, he said, Yea, I want to go to Mother.” He told the young brethren and sisters he love them all as if he were their own Father, and told them they were a great comfort to him. Observing that some around him looked sorrowful and were weeping Br. Caleb told them: “Don’t look sad, I shall not go far off, I cant go far from those I love so well.” [14]

 

 

 

 

 

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[1] May 23rd 1841 from a small book of recollections from the Manuscript Collection at the Western Reserve Historical Society, WRHS.VI.B.8.

[2] Harvard Church Record Book, from the Shaker Manuscript Collection at the Museum and Library, Old Chatham, New York.

[3] March 23rd 1841, WRHS.VI.B.8, The date the planning for the the first house Caleb recalled as 1790, the year is probably incorrect as the raising of the first house taking place in 1792.

[4] Ibid.

[5] June 29, 1806, Harvard Record Book, Shaker Manuscript Collection, Old Chatham, New York.

[6] November, 1, 1835, Harvard Record Book, Shaker Manuscript Collection, Fruitlands Museum, Harvard, Mass.

[7] July 25 and 26, and September 24, 1825, Joseph Hammond Book, FM 1.10, Shaker Manuscript Collection, Fruitlands Museum, Harvard, Mass.

[8] The actual number of those who left is difficult to determine, but close to a dozen or more, including Believers established Harvard Shaker families, the Hammonds, the Winchesters, and other Babbits. Unpublished Population Study, Fay, David, Mike Volmar, and Roben Campbell, 2003.

[9] Ibid., February 10, 1806, p. 100.

[10] July 6, 1829, Sisters Day Book (1828-1838), FM 4.2, Shaker Manuscript Collection, Fruitlands Museum, Harvard, Mass.

[11] Ibid., September 7, 1838.

[12] Ibid., May 29 and September 22, 1832.

[13] Ibid., March 28, 1841.

[14] Ibid., “Some of the Sayings of Br Caleb while in his last sickness,” not dated but close to the day of death, June 2, 1841.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All rights reserved. © Roben Campbell, 2016.