THE WARNER FAMILY
History of the Warner Family
The lovely old house on Constitution Island was the home of the Warner family from 1836 to 1915. Susan and Anna Warner were well-known writers in the nineteenth century. Susan wrote The Wide, Wide World in 1850 which became a best seller of its day. Anna is best known for writing the words to the hymn "Jesus Loves Me." The sisters taught Bible classes to West Point cadets for forty years.
The oldest part of the Warner House includes a thick stone wall existing from Revolutionary War days. The Victorian wing of eight rooms was built by Henry Warner in 1836 when he moved his family from New York City to the island. The house is furnished with original Warner family possessions. The Warner House is a living museum and is kept as nearly as possible as it was when Miss Anna Warner lived there until her death in 1915.
The Constitution Island Association is an historical society organized in 1916 to preserve the contents of the Warner House. A visit is a unique nineteenth century Hudson Valley experience.
The Wide, Wide World Digital Edition is a project that edits the 140+ versions of Susan Warner’s nineteenth-century bestselling American novel The Wide, Wide World. From its initial publication in 1850, the novel was a transatlantic success with sales of more than 225,000 copies in its first decade. By 1950, publishers in the United States and the United Kingdom had issued the novel using fifty-three different sets of plates with over forty-seven sets of illustrations. The enduring popularity of The Wide, Wide World, therefore, provides a rare opportunity for scholars and students to explore how representations of American culture at home and abroad changed over this hundred-year period.
Susan Warner wrote thirty novels under the name of "Elizabeth Wetherell," many of which went into multiple editions.
Authors Patricia Barry of Alturas, California and Philip Warner, Cousin of Captain Warner, tell the story of the life of Captain William Henry Warner. His military career spans the years 1831, when he entered the US Military Academy, West Point, to his untimely death in 1849 near what is today named the Warner Mountains/Wilderness in North-East California/South-Central Oregon. In 1838, artillery officer Warner was assigned to the first group of Army Topographical Engineers, to help map the “vast wildernesses” that became the United States of America. His many assignments during the 1830s and 1840s included: establishing the Northeastern US-Canadian border; Native American relocation in Central Florida and Georgia to Oklahoma; harbor improvements in the Great Lakes Region; assignment with General Stephen Kearny’s “Army of the West” as they trekked from Ft. Leavenworth, KS, to San Diego, CA, and his resulting involvement in the Battle of San Pasqual (after which he was promoted to Brevet Captain for “gallant and meritorious services in California”); association with western artist John Mix Stanley, who helped draw his maps; and association with subordinate/business partner Lt. William Tecumseh Sherman of Civil War fame. In 1849, he applied for a leave of absence to pursue business opportunities around Sutters Mill, but instead received an order to find a railroad pass through the Sierra Mountains. At the point when he nearly determined there was no such route, he met his untimely death when his small party, decimated by illness, was attacked by a band of Native Americans near what is today the corner of the California-Nevada-Oregon border. Many a locale in Northeastern California and Southern Oregon bear his name. His story is one of an intelligent, brave and courageous American soldier, who died in the service of his young country during an important time in American and California History.
The Founding Fathers
In the month of February 1764, a large family set out, probably by oxcart from South Canaan, Connecticut. Their destination was 30 miles to the northwest – this valley. They were to be the third white 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. They lived in South Canaan, Connecticut.
William and Rebecca had twelve children before they moved to Canaan and one more after they settled here. 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 the boys 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, 1776, that inhabitants of our King’s District held a special meeting at William Warner’s tavern. 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 our 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. 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” between here and the Lake. 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 went into law and established a good practice and reputation in New York City. His daughters, Susan and Anna, were popular novel and hymn writers in their day, drawing on Canaan memories for several of their books. It is interesting to note that 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 our forefathers. Jason’s brother Daniel married Olive, a daughter of Major Asa Douglass, an early settler of the northern part of town. The house they built 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. We had it modified and it now serves as the logo for The Canaan Historical Society and the Town of Canaan.
Daniel and Olive Warner had nine children – three sons and six daughters. The youngest son William Henry, was the most illustrious. He graduated from West Point in 1836, and was assigned to the newly formed Corps of Topographical Engineers. He was assigned to help map and settle the New England boundary dispute in 1842. In the Mexican War of 1846, he went to Santa Fe and California with Colonel Stephen Kearney’s force as part of a small detachment of topographical engineers. This group did the first accurate mapping and description of the trail and surrounding country. Their report to congress still makes fascinating reading. Brevet Captain William Henry Warner was severely wounded in the small but bloody battle of San Pascual in California. He survived and did extensive mapping in California. In 1849, just after discovering a pass suitable for railroad use in Northern California, Indians killed him. He was but thirty-seven.
The Warner family came to this valley two hundred and thirty-three years ago. The last Warner to reside in Canaan was a grandson of Lupton. Henry Lupton Warner departed this life in 1897. A century has passed but the significant and valuable contributions the Warner families shared in the life of this community and our country are not forgotten. They were a hardy lot and we cannot fail to appreciate the difficulties they went through to leave us such a heritage. We owe a great debt to these founding fathers and sons – and – their wives and daughters.
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. The next decade saw the little family reduced to desperation and faced with eviction; their beloved island property in the hands of a receiver.