Joseph Meacham was born on February 11, 1742 in Enfield, Connecticut. Around the time of the Revolutionary War he moved to New Lebanon, New York, where he worked as a preacher. In 1780 several of Meacham’s followers visited Watervliet and were intrigued by Shaker beliefs. After hearing about the community, Meacham traveled to meet Mother Ann and learn about their practices. He, and several of his followers, soon joined the Shakers.
Following the deaths of Mother Ann Lee (1784) and her successor James Whittaker (1787), Joseph Meacham became Shaker leader. He was the the first American-born Shaker leader, and he selected Lucy Wright to serve as his co-leader. They served together until Meacham’s death on August 16, 1796, at which time Wright carried on a sole leader.
Meacham is best known for creating uniformity throughout the Shakers in America. He established rules around community organization, architecture, behavior, and worship. By creating this level of uniformity, it opened the doors to the large expansion that Shakerism saw under Lucy Wright.