A Short Biography: Sarah Jewett, Harvard Shaker  (1755-1822)

by Roben Campbell, Shaker researcher


Sarah Jewett became a devout supporter of the Shakers when Mother Ann arrived in 1781. In the 1790’s, the decade of building construction, she lived at Jeremiah Willard’s, one of the out families that housed Believers.[1] Gifted with leadership like her brother Aaron, she became the first physician in the Shaker medical department serving from 1791 until 1810.[2]

Sarah, the daughter of Abel and Mary Jewett, grew up in a religious climate that questioned the orthodoxy of established religion. Her parents had found truth in the religious beliefs of Shadrach Ireland, the New Light Baptist preacher who took refuge in Harvard after being accused of blasphemy for ‘denouncing the dead state of religion.’[3] Ireland saw a similar ‘light to redemption’ as Mother Ann Lee[4], through renouncing the flesh and worldly goods.[5]

After Ireland died in 1780, Sarah became a disciple of Daniel Wood of Upton, Massachusetts, who had attended the religious revivals in eastern New York and united with Mother Ann’s gospel. Mother Ann sent Daniel back east to prepare her way, much like John the Baptist prepared the way for Christ.[6] Daniel Wood’s followers were said to be “very wild and strange in their gifts” but they had great power.[7]

Sarah was a participant in two incidents, which reflect the unusual religious climate of the times in the pivotal years when Mother Ann was still alive. The first dramatically demonstrates that Ireland’s lack of integrity condemned his sect to the same ‘dead state’ of which he had accused others. The story is told by Beulah Cooper, also the daughter of followers of Shadrach Ireland, who lived in the Square House:

Sarah came to their house one time under opperations [of God] in company with Deborah Williams. She went out into the door yard and picked up her apron full of all kinds of rubbish (leaves sticks &c) and brought it into the house then flung it on the floor and jumped and stamped upon it with great indignation. This she understood to be a sign to her of the worthlessness of her religion.[8]

Sarah, dumping her apron and all kinds of rubbish, calls to mind the words of the apostle Paul referring to the past as rubbish in Phillipians 3:8 of the Bible, with which she would have been familiar.

The second incident involves the power of God as demonstrated by Father William, Mother Ann’s natural brother, healing Sarah both physically and spiritually. The incident is also a cautionary tale of over-working, rare in Shaker recollections. Mother Ann and the Elders had stopped at the Jewett home in Littleton and found Sarah very ill. Sarah had taken

“a cold, lost her health, and for some time, was greatly afflicted with pain and distress, and much troubled with vomiting, so that she was scarcely able to keep either food or drink in her stomach….[She had also been] much crowded with business, and was not very careful with her health. Father William Lee, on taking his leave of her, admonished her, saying, “You do not do as well as you know.” She confessed to him what she had done. He said, “Go, and sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you.” From that time, Sarah began to regain her health, and in a short time, was in a better state of health than she had ever been before. [9]

She served as the first physician in the village from 1791 until 1810 with Tabitha Babbit, as an assistant, only thirteen years old girl when the village came to order.[10]


[1] April 28, 1791, Harvard Shaker Record Book, the Shaker Manuscript Collection, Fruitlands Museum, Microfilm Roll FM 1.7, p. 58.

[2] 1834-1843, Harvard Physicians’ Journal, the Shaker Manuscript Collection, WRHS.V.B.v.41.

[3] Thomas Hammond Book, p. 163, the Shaker Manuscript Collection, WRHS.VII.B.22.

[4] Biography of Abijah Worster, the Shaker Manuscript Collection, WRHS.VI.A.5.

[5] Testimonies of Mother Ann and the Elders, copied from collection by Eunice Bathrick in 1869, p. 226, the Shaker Manuscript Collection, WRHS.VI.B.v.10.

[6] Testimonies of Mother Ann and the Elders, by the Shakers, Chapter on Speeches to Individuals on Various Occasions, P. 244, first published in 1816, and republished in 1888.

[7] “Incidents Related by some of the Ancient Believers” The recollections were collected and written in chronological order, the last of which was dated 1851, by Roxelana Grosvenor, in the Shaker Manuscript Collection, WRHS.VI.B.v.9, un-numbered pages, sheet #28, Right side.

[8] Ibid.

[9] p. 201, Testimonies of Mother Ann and the Elders, by the Shakers, Chapter on Miraculous Gifts, first published in 1816, and republished by Weed & Parsons, Albany, New York, 1888. Almost identical in the 1816 testimonies, using vomiting for puking.

[10] WRHS.V.B.v.41. Physician’s Journal, first page.


All rights reserved. © Roben Campbell, 2019.