The Life of Anna Warner

In 1944, John Hersey wrote an article for The New Yorker entitled “Survival.” This was the story, told to him by John F. Kennedy, concerning the rescue of Kennedy and his crew after their PT boat was destroyed in the Solomons. After being stranded several days on an island, Kennedy and his men were discovered by two natives Through the efforts of these natives, who led a rescue boat to the island, the men were saved. Hersey concludes his dramatic account with this anecdote: “Johnston (one of the rescued men) retired topside and sat with his arms around a couple of roly poly, mission-trained natives. And in the fresh breeze on the way home they sang together a hymn all three happened to know:

“Jesus loves me, this I know,
For the Bible tells me so:
Little ones to Him belong.
They are weak,
but He is strong.
Yes, Jesus loves me;
yes, Jesus loves me . . . . ”

To Hersey’s readers, in the midst of World War II, these well-known words with their simple expression of faith must have had a special meaning. This familiar hymn, carried all over the world by nineteenth century missionaries, has long been a part of the Christian education of many children. The simple words and lilting tune are easily learned and thus make it a great favorite in Sunday school classes for young children. No doubt, it was this same simplicity that made it so popular with the missionaries for, apparently, once learned, it is never forgotten. Therefore, it is not so surprising that it should pop up as a common bond between the American sailors and the Solomon Island natives.

Jesus Loves Me first appeared in a novel, Say and Seal, published in 1860.

The book was co-authored by Susan and Anna Warner, and the hymn itself was written by Anna. In Say and Seal the hymn was sung to a little boy who was very ill by his beloved school teacher and friend. The child-like faith expressed in the words were inspired by Anna’s own profound faith in God. The two Warner sisters were writers who enjoyed great popularity during the latter half of the nineteenth century. Today their books are unread and out of print, but the two women, themselves, are not forgotten.

Susan and Anna Warner are the only civilians buried in the military cemetery at West Point. Their life long home on Constitution Island, directly across the river from West Point is maintained as a museum. The story of how this all came about is a charming vignette in the long history of the United States Military Academy.

The year following the purchase of the island, Mr. Warner suffered severe financial losses in the “Panic of 1837″. In 1838 the beautiful town house was sold and the family moved to Constitution Island. Here, Anna wrote, they would “live out our lives, fighting the fight, wrestling with sorrow, gathering up the joy—”. She concluded: “How little discernment a buyer has at first as to the capabilities of his new purchase! For what “palace” could ever have been as dear to us as our old Revolutionary nondescript house?”

Anna was thirteen years old and Susan eighteen when they came to the island to live. Young Anna, as she roamed the island, picking wild flowers, exploring the sites of old Revolutionary forts and rowing on the river, barely realized the financial difficulties of her father. Shortly after their move to Constitution Island, Mr. Warner became involved in lengthy litigation with his neighbors on the east bank over his property rights; a litigation which he finally lost. he next decade saw the little family reduced to desperation and faced with eviction; their beloved island property in the hands of a receiver.