Ann Lee was born in Manchester, England on February 29, 1736. She wasn’t sent to school, and could neither read nor write. Instead, as a young girl she worked in a Manchester textile factory. She later worked as a cutter for fur hats, and then as a cook at a hospital. In 1762 she married Abraham Standerin, an apprentice to her blacksmith father, John Lee. Together they had four children, none of which lived past infancy.
In 1758 Lee joined a sect of Quakers, known as the Shakers, that had been heavily influenced by Camisard preachers. In 1770 she was imprisoned in Manchester for her religious views. During her brief imprisonment, she received several visions from God. Upon her release she became known as “Mother Ann.”
In 1772 Mother Ann received another vision from God in the form of a tree. It communicated that a place had been prepared for she and her followers in America. So, in 1774, Mother Ann and eight followers set sail for New York. Their goal was to establish Shaker communities based on the tenants of community, equality, simplicity, and charity.
They arrived in New York City on August 6, 1774 and found employment until they could buy land to establish a Shaker community. They found land in upstate New York, outside of Albany, and established America’s first Shaker community, Niskeyuna (now Watervliet).
Mother Ann died on September 8, 1784. As the Shaker leader, she was able to spread the message of the Shaker religion and gather converts. At their peak in the mid-19th century, the Shakers had about 6,000 followers in 19 communities.