The United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Coming originated in 1747 as a dissident Quaker sect in England. They were popularly known as the Shakers for their exaggerated physical movements during devotional services, which often incorporated music and dance. In 1774, Mother Ann Lee (1736–1784) emigrated from England and settled in Watervliet, New York, the first of 19 American Shaker communities. Converts embraced a celibate but communal social and spiritual life guided by the sect’s principle to “put your hands to work and your heart to God.”
The Shakers are best known today for the design and craftsmanship of their furniture, which reflected their belief that “simplicity is the embodiment of purity and unity.” In contrast to the elaborately embellished furniture favored by many 19th-century Americans, this simple sewing table is functional and unadorned. Textile work was the domain of Shaker women, many of whom worked on textiles six days a week, resting only on Sundays.