Perhaps one of the most radical aspects of Shaker Society in it’s early history was the leadership structure. When Joseph Meacham emerged as the leader of the Shakers in 1787, one of his first administrative changes was to introduce the “principle of parallel female authority”, choosing Lucy Wright of Pittsfield, MA as his partner. Mother Lucy and Father Joseph led equally as First Eldress and First Elder at the Central Ministry at Mount Lebanon, a system which set an example for leadership structure for all Shaker Communities of the era.
Under the leadership of Father Joseph and Mother Lucy the Shakers were gathered in Spiritual Families, and those Families were then organized into a Community. Each Community was then organized into a Bishopric. The Hancock Bishopric, which consisted not only the Hancock Community cut also those in Tyringham, MA and Enfield, CT, was ministered by 2 Elders and 2 Eldress’.
The Hancock Community consisted of six Spiritual Families, all designated to a specific Order. Those from the outside world seeking to join the Hancock Community were placed in the Novitiate Order as members of either the East Family or the South Family, each Family was administered by two Elders and two Eldress’. Covenanted Shakers were placed in either the Junior Order, which consisted of the West Family and the Second Family and also each administered by two Elders and two Eldress’, or the Senior Order.
The Senior Order consisted of the North Family, which was administered just as the Novitiate and Junior Orders, and the Church Family. It was the Brothers and Sisters of the Church Family who most often found themselves in positions overseeing the Community, such as the Trustees Office. The Trustees at Hancock, made up of 2 Sisters and 2 Brothers, were responsible for all financial and legal matters concerning business with the outside world.