History of the Warner Family
The lovely old house on Constitution Island was the home of the Warner family from 1836 to 1915. At that time, as is often the case today, visitors would arrive by boat. Just 50 miles north of New York City and in the crook of a deep “S” turn in the Hudson River, the Constitution Island and marsh are directly east of the United States Military Academy at West Point and just south of Cold Spring, NY.
When you arrive at the dock and step onto this 280-acre island, you’ll first see a replica of the Great Chain that stretched from this spot to a cove across the river during the Revolutionary War. You’ll then traverse a long, walkway garden that has been tended by dedicated volunteers since Anna Warner first began this charming path. Old French lavender pokes out from the borders and still perfumes the air as you brush by. Heirloom herbs and flowers grace the walk with the same pastel-coloured plants that she tended. At the top of the rise sits the newly-renovated Warner home. The north side with its thick walls and fireplaces were here when the Warners came. The (southern) Victorian wing of eight rooms was built by workman that Henry Warner hired to complete a summer lodge to accommodate his family - seasonally.
Writing for a Living
Susan Warner (above) often published under the psuedonym Elizabeth Wetherall and Anna Warner (right) used the family name Amy Lothrop.
The year following the purchase of the island, Mr. Warner suffered severe financial losses in the “Panic of 1837″. The next year he had to sell their beautiful New York City town home and move his sister and two daughters to the 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. From fancy dresses, pet ponies, servants and ‘high society’ to calicos, cows and isolation, the two sister’s lives changed almost overnight. Young Anna writes that she roamed the island, picking wildflowers, exploring the sites of old Revolutionary forts and rowing on the river, barely realizing the financial difficulties of her father. Susan, however, was not suited to farm life and she writes in her journals the travails the family experienced.
Shortly after their move to the 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. The next decade saw the little family reduced to desperation and faced with eviction; their beloved island property in the hands of a receiver.
It was their Aunt Fanny, who had come to live with Henry and the girls when Mrs. Anna Warner died just a year after little Anna’s birth, who first suggested that Susan try writing a book. That original manuscript of ‘The Wide, Wide World’ was picked up by George P. Putnam and became one of the best-selling books of 1851. A classic Victorian story, WWW was reputedly the first book by an American author to sell one million copies.
Patriots from Canaan
In February 1764, a large family set out -probably by oxcart - from South Canaan, Connecticut. Their destination was a valley 30 miles to the northwest. They were to be the third family to settle in this section, which was to become Canaan in New York state. The head of this family, William Warner was born in Wethersfield, Connecticut in 1717. His great-great-grandfather had come to Ipswich, Massachusetts in 1637. William married Rebecca Lupton of Boston in 1739.
William and Rebecca moved with their twelve children and had one more after they settled in New York. The nine boys: William, Josiah, Jonathan, John, Thomas, Lupton, Jason, Daniel, and James – averaged six feet in height. The girls: Rebecca, Hannah, Sarah and Abigail were not far behind. Theirs was a hard-working family. William and his sons built a house and tavern, which stood about a hundred feet west of the present Canaan Historical Society Meeting House. Rebecca is described as a “woman of extreme energy, faculty, and executive force”. Of the daughters, it is said that one could knit a pair of long socks in a day and another could make a fine linen shirt and hem a cravat in the same period of time.
The Warner family, like most of the families in this area, strongly supported the colonial fight for independence. It was on June 24, 17. They chose delegates to the Provincial Congress and then as the minutes of the meeting read, “The question being put, whether the said District chooses to have the United American Colonies independent of Great Britain, voted unanimously in the affirmative.” These were the instructions’ sent to their delegates. The 17th Regiment of Albany County Militia was soon formed. William Whiting of King’s District was chosen its Colonel. William Warner and seven of his sons enlisted. The father probably never saw action, for he died in October 1776. However, the seven sons were with the regiment at the decisive Battle of Saratoga. Nor were the women any less vigorous in championing the cause. While the men were away, Tories burned Col. Whiting’s gristmill and caused other depredations in the vicinity. Several Tories were apparently caught and the story is told that when the men wanted feathers to add to the tar, Rebecca Warner sent out her best pillows and said she had more – if necessary.
After William’s death, Jonathan took over the tavern. He and his brothers were active in local affairs and held many town meetings in the tavern. The meetings in 1777 and 1778 dealt with the new State Constitution. The people of King’s District were reluctant to adopt it, primarily because they felt it didn’t deal sternly enough with those loyal to the King.
William's son Jason was in the habit of taking a shower under the falls of the brook on his place at 3:00 A.M. – winter and summer. This alone says much for the hardiness of the Warners. Jason came back from the war to marry his colonel’s daughter. He and Abigail Whiting were married in February 1783. They built and lived in what is known as the “Queechy House” (that was depicted in many of Susan and Anna’s books).
Jason and “Nabby” had twelve children, but only six survived to adulthood. Thomas and Henry, the oldest two, graduated from Union College, Schenectady in 1808 and 1809 respectively. Thomas went into the ministry and became Chaplain and Professor of Ethics at West Point. Henry Warner (father to Susan and Anna) went into law and established a good practice and reputation in New York City.
William's son Daniel married Olive, a daughter of Major Asa Douglass, an early settler of the northern part of town. Their house is still standing. The design on the wafer iron that was given to them as a housewarming gift in 1814 has all the symbols of the Great Seal. The Canaan Historical Society and the Town of Canaan had it modified and it now serves as their logo.