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A hidden history

— There’s something in Shaker history that not many people know about. It’s not a secret, per say; it’s more of an unusual societal quirk buried deep within personal journals and rarely documented.

But on Saturday, Feb. 25, Shaker Heritage Society Director Starlyn D’Angelo will share that hidden history in “All Souls Are Created Equal,” a lecture about African American Shakers coinciding with Black History Month.

“It’s a topic that nobody has really written about,” said D’Angelo.

The first Shaker Community was established in Albany in 1776, a group of people originally from Manchester, England who were unhappy with existing religious choices and sought to create their own communal religious society in which they could practice their faith freely.

The Shakers’ rigid lifestyle was unique enough, but what D’Angelo found when she began dissecting personal journals was another aspect of the community even more compelling, given the time period.

“We found six very specific references to the Shakers here in Albany sheltering fugitive slaves and helping them flee to freedom,” said D’Angelo, who has spent about 10 years researching the topic with interns from local colleges.

Shakers went against the grain in their lifestyle (they were often persecuted, beaten or thrown in jail for their beliefs) but were law abiding, so evidence pointing to Underground Railroad activity, possibly orchestrated on a larger level, surprised D’Angelo.

“They were in violation of the Fugitive Slave Act, which would have put them in jeopardy,” said D’Angelo. “We’re trying to see if we can piece together more of this story to determine how extensive this activity was.”

Putting together the puzzle isn’t easy. D’Angelo must watch out for quick references like “Brother F took a runaway slave to Schenectady to help them on to freedom in Canada,” which take a sharp eye to pick out.

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