The Life of Elder Henry G. Green

"Neighbor Green." Photo by E.L. Merrow of Br. Henry Green, Bethlehem, NH. From the Hamilton College Library Digital Collections.

“Neighbor Green.” Photo by E.L. Merrow of Br. Henry Green, Bethlehem, NH.
From the Hamilton College Library Digital Collections.

George Henry Green was born on May 1, 1844 in St. John, New Brunswick. Shortly after Henry’s birth, his parents moved to Maine.

On July 8, 1858, Henry and his youngest brother, Frederick, came to live with the Alfred Shakers. Henry came under the care of Brother Joshua Bussell.

It was Brother Joshua who would be responsible for molding the young boy into a Shaker. It was also Brother Joshua who would have the greatest influence on and understanding of Henry.

In 1863, when Joshua was chosen to be the Elder of the Church Family, Brother Henry was chosen to be his associate. Brother Henry remained Second Elder under Elder Joshua until 1869, when Joshua was made the Trustee. Br. Merrill Bailey was chosen Elder in his stead. Br. Henry remained Second Elder under Elder Merrill. When Elder John Vance of the Second Family was brought up to be the Elder of the Church in 1872, Br. Henry was retained yet again as the Second Elder. Br. Henry would remain in this position until the unexpected death of Elder John in 1896.

On March 25, 1896, Br. Henry was appointed Elder and Trustee of the Church Family. Elder Henry would, in fact, be the last Elder Brother of Alfred; he served as Elder until the closing of Alfred in 1931.


When young Henry joined the Alfred Shakers in 1858, the Community was a very active, going concern. Most of the money realized from the sale of goods depended on the Brethren. At that time, Alfred had several mills to grind flour, saw timbers, and turn wood. As all of the young boys were, Henry was apprenticed to learn as many trades as possible.

At that time, the boys would have taken a lion’s share of the running of the farm, leaving the more skilled labor at the mills for the Brethren. As an adult, Br. Henry seems to have had very little to do with the farm, and one is led to believe that that was the way he wanted it.

Henry’s caretaker was Br. Joshua Bussell. Br. Joshua, among his many talents, was a woodworker. Henry learned his trade from his caretaker. The natural ability displayed by Henry led him to become the primary woodworker for his Community.

Elder Otis Sawyer wrote in the Alfred Church Family Journal on January 1, 1877 the following description of Br. Henry’s activities:

Brother Henry Green is assistant Elder. By occupation a mechanic which embraces all kinds of Joiner work. [He] assists in making repairs on buildings, repairs wagons and makes wagon bodies, carts, sleds and all kinds of farming tools. Makes very nice furniture, secretaries, tables, wash stands, work tables for Sisters filled with drawers. [He] prepares the boards and frames of boxes for Sisters’ sale work and in the season of sales disposes of the principle part of it at the mountains and sea-shore. A very ingenious, useful Brother.

At a time when there was generally little Shaker furniture being produced, Br. Henry was challenged to fill a great need. The Alfred Community had fallen on hard times following the Civil War. In the middle of these uncertain economic times, valuable timberlands in the neighboring town of Waterboro (called the “mastcamps”) were sold. The money realized from the sale was used to remake the Community. Within severn years almost every building was made over, Many of the buildings were actually moved to new sites, enlarged, and remade.

Under Br. Henry, the Community turned to producing new furniture for the newly remade buildings.

The 1870s also saw the end of most of the Brethren’s traditional occupations. The mills were leased, wagons and wheels ceased to be made, and the raising and selling of seeds were discontinued.

More and more of Br. Henry’s life was spent on assisting the Sisters in their industries. Br. Henry spent the major part of his summers peddling the Sisters’ fancy goods all over Maine and New Hampshire. In the early years of the 20th century, he also spent the month of January in each year selling the fancy goods in Florida.

When not selling the goods, he was often in his shop making the bases for the polarware boxes, turning spool stands, and making oval carriers, all things made for the Sisters’ trade.

In the month of November, Br. Henry would scour the countryside in search of turkeys. Between fifty and sixty gobblers, all white or light gray, would be purchased. The turkeys were kept for several weeks and then slaughtered. The feathers were all carefully plucked and used for the feather fan industry. Br. henry would then take the carcasses into Portland and peddle them for the Thanksgiving market.

Brother Henry, while out selling the goods, made the acquaintance of many wealthy and famous people. He became especially close to the authors Kate Douglas Wiggin and Sarah Orne Jewett as well as Margaret Deland and William Dean Howells. Mrs. Wiggin and Mrs. Deland both spent time at Alfred, writing their Shaker-inspired novels.

It is to these friends that we are indebted for Elder Henry’s nickname of “The Old Man of the Mountains.” For approximately sixty years, Elder Henry made sales trips to the White Mountains.

In his day, Br. Henry served as a caretaker for the boys, teacher, public preacher, orchardist, salesman, woodworker, and mechanic; yet first and foremost, he was a Shaker. Although his natural abilities would have provided him with a secure life elsewhere, he was fully drawn to the life and testimony of the Believers. One of Elder Henry’s favorite Shaker songs was “‘Tis a Power Comes by Consecration.” Elder Henry saw to it that this hymn was pitched at least once during every Meeting.

The relative prosperity of Alfred during the 1870s until the Fire of 1901 did not alter their commitment to the Gospel life, as it did in many other Shaker Communities.

Although Elder Henry was a good Trustee, he was by no means gifted enough to reverse the losses sustained when the Community’s investments went bad after a panic in the 1890s. The disastrous fire of 1901, which claimed the Dwelling House, Meeting House, and Ministry’s Shop, almost finished the Community financially. Add to this a general decline in membership, few industries, and another fire in 1912 wherein the Dwelling House was lost yet again, and the inevitable became reality. Alfred, reeling from its losses, could not also survive the great Depression.

In 1931, the Alfred Shakers had the very sad task of closing up and moving to Sabbathday Lake. Elder Henry, who had turned 87 on May 1st of that year, was so unwell and “wandering in his mind” that he never really comprehended the move. Most of the four months he spent at Sabbathday Lake were spent in bed. On September 5 at 8:20 AM, in the presence of three other Alfred Shakers, Elder Henry peacefully passed away. The funeral was held on September 8 with a great many of Elder Henry’s friends in attendance.

Thus ended the long and productive life of a very ingenious, useful Brother.

Seeking attribution! The text of this article came from a flyer found in the Alfred Public Library. If you are the author, or know who wrote the article, please contact us at the Museum so we can give proper author’s credit.