Throughout the bitterly cold month of January 1805, John Meacham (1770-1854), Issachar Bates (1758-1837), and Benjamin Youngs (1774- 1855), struggled through mud and ice, biting winds, blinding snow, and drenching rains, on a 1,200-mile “Long Walk” to the settlements of the trans-Appalachian West. Traveling south toward Cumberland Gap, the three Shaker missionaries from New Lebanon, New York, were tracking a strange new convulsive religious phenomenon that had gripped Scots-Irish Presbyterians during the frontier religious awakening known as the Great Revival (1799-1805). Observers called the puzzling somatic fits “the Jerks.” Ardent supporters of the revivals believed the jerks were a sign of the presence of God’s indwelling Holy Spirit; others derided them as a nervous disorder or evidence of demonic possession. Meacham and his colleagues, by contrast, understood the jerks as a “preparatory work,” the fulcrum by which revival converts were pried from their foundations in mainstream Protestant denominations and inspired to accept Shakers’ distinctive religious beliefs and practices, including dancing, celibacy, and communal social organization. These small pockets of radical evangelical “Jerkers” emerged as prime targets for their proselytizing efforts during their Long Walk.

Document Type


Publication Date


Publisher Statement

Copyright © 2018 East Tennessee Historical Society. This article first appeared in Journal of East Tennessee History 90 (2018), 84-105.

Please note that downloads of the article are for private/personal use only.

Citation Example for Article (Chicago):

Winiarski, Douglas L. "Shakers and Jerkers: Letters from the 'Long Walk,' 1805, Part 2." Journal of East Tennessee History 90 (2018): 84-105.