Every day is an adventure at South Union. You never know what new piece of information might surface or who may appear with an object related to the village’s past. Recently while searching the Centre House attic with a flashlight, docent Barrett Rogers discovered what looked like a piece of cloth in a deep hole about five feet below the attic floor. (The Shakers installed low ceilings over their closets, thereby creating “dead air space” between them and the floor above.)
Thanks to his extensive knowledge of clothing history, operations manager Kaelin Vernon determined that Barrett had discovered the upper portion of a pair of “small fall” trousers, so called because of the narrow, buttoned flap at the front of the pants. Dating from as early as the 1830s, photographic evidence from our archive indicates that men were wearing this style of trousers at South Union as late as the 1880s. Shaker fashion was usually quite a bit behind “worldly” trends.
To whom did they belong? The 14-inch waist measurement indicates that the pants had been worn by a youth. Cross-stitched initials “W. S.” discovered inside the waistband provided another clue and prompted an investigation into South Union’s name index. Thanks to research by docent Cheryl Odenthal, we discovered that although there were over thirty men in the village with those initials, only one was a boy.
Twelve-year-old Whitfield Stevenson came to South Union with his parents and siblings in late 1865. Once he reached the age of 16, his life in the community was characterized by a consistent pattern of leaving the Shakers and being re-admitted. He still, however, managed to be assigned to the care of the boys in the Centre Family, to reach the level of assistant to the East Family elder, and was even trusted to go on seed-peddling trips. Finally, in October of 1881, Whitfield Stevenson left Shakers for good. One other interesting note . . . he worked in the Centre Family tailor’s shop.
Thanks to Barrett, Kaelin and Cheryl for this group effort!