The Shakers are a quintessentially American religion or, at least, they are often portrayed as such when they are discussed. One recent essay, for example, has suggested that the Shakers are emblematic of 'the American Soul'.
However, as with so much American culture the Shakers, or the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing to give them their proper name are (for there are a few Shakers still surviving) an English export with Ann Lee the leader of the Shakers having led a small number of believers across the Atlantic to settle first in New York in 1776. But that is to move ahead too quickly. From whence did the Shakers come? The sleeve of Ann the Word: The Story of Ann Lee, Female Messiah, Mother of the Shakers, The Woman Clothed with the Sun explains that it tells the story from “blacksmith's daughter to female messiah, the true story of Ann Lee, founder of the Shaker movement.” Whether these are the words of author Richard Francis or of a publicist they concur with one of the central themes of the book, namely that Shakerism cannot be understood without reference to the complicated personality and leadership of Ann Lee.
I am no expert on the Shakers but I can already see that such an argument is a theologically loaded one. Like the argument as to whether Charles Parham or William Seymour is rightly the founder of Pentecostalism the choice to label Ann Lee as Shakerism's founder represents a statement on the theological and ritual core of the faith. It seems to me that at least two other contenders have a legitimate argument to be the Shaker's founding mother or father.
First we have the James and Jane Wardley. Both were Quakers who were disenchanted with the apostasy of Quakerism seen, by them, in the cessation of shaking in meetings for worship (the term Quaker comes from the tendency of early Friends to quake in the presence of God; that is, they literally shook). Hence this Wardley group which met predominately in Bolton but grew to include Manchester although the number of 'shakers' was never large. In these meetings which,the like many other religious movements of the time were strongly millennial, the presence and judgement of God was felt as believer shook in their bodies. Analogous to the argument for Parham and 'tongues speech' is the question: if shaking was the sine qua non of the Shaker movement, must the Wardleys be surely seen as the founder of Shakerism?
After all, Ann Lee was herself a congregant of the Wardley group and directly received the gift (to use Shaker parlance) from the Wardley's innovation. An interesting question which the Wardley question poses is to what extent Quakerism influenced the development of Quakerism. They may in their early days have been called The Shaking Quakers but there is little in in Francis' characterisation of the Shakers that leads me to think that there was a significant incubation of Quakerism in the nascent Shaker movement.