My Mom first told me about the Shakers–well, their furniture and crafts, years ago. I’ve wanted to visit Pleasant Hill in Kentucky for years. Over the years I have watched a few documentaries and read the novel linked at the bottom of this post, as well. So, when I saw this story on Kindle Unlimited’s offerings, I grabbed it.
In the last year of the Civil War, to accompany husband, Gideon, a Union soldier, Heather Worth works as one of his company of soldiers’ washerwomen. When she becomes pregnant, though, Gideon sends Heather home to her parents to await the baby’s birth. Unfortunately, being from Kentucky, a boarder state (and home of the then First Lady, Mary Todd Lincoln’s equally divided family) Heather’s father’s sympathies lie with the Confederates. Arriving home to a very different family life [No Spoilers!] Heather instead goes to stay with her mother’s Aunt Sophrena at Harmony Hill, a Shaker community not far from her family’s home.
Heather is not interested in being a Shaker, who disavow marriage and children for the life of “brothers and sisters,” but she is welcomed by them as they minister to those in need. She discovers her Aunt is enduring a crisis of faith–faith in the Shaker’s beliefs. Meanwhile, on the battlefield, Gideon, is discovering faith thanks to his dearly missed wife and thanks to his comrade in arms, Jake.
I rarely read Christian fiction for a variety of reasons–most related to the quality of the writing. I was happily surprised at how good this book was. The story was interesting and told a good deal about Shaker life–all of which matched what I knew of it. The crisis Sophrena is enduring was made more real to me because she was 50 and I could relate much more to it than to such a situation in a younger (or even newer) Shaker.
This book does talk a lot about Christian faith, but it does not preach and it does not take Bible verses out of context–two pet peeves of mine. The faith is presented with a light touch and in keeping with the nature of the story.
Christmas at Harmony Hill by Ann H. Gabhart
For the other Shaker novels by Ann H.Gabhart see her author page.
For another fictional look at Kentucky Shaker life see:
The Believers by Janice Holt Giles. Sadly, this book is not available in Kindle format. Older editions have a different cover.
For a documentary on The Shakers see this:
The Shakers [Ken Burns]