Henry Warner met and married his devoted wife, Anna Marsh Bartlett in New York City. They conceived five children, two of whom survived beyond infancy: Susan Bogert Warner (b. 1819) and Anna Bartlett Warner (b. 1824). Mrs. Warner died when Anna was a baby and Mr. Warner’s younger sister, Frances (Aunt Fanny) came to care for Anna and Susan. The girl's enjoyed comfortable early years. Henry even purchased a beautiful brownstone on St. Marks Avenue next to James Fenimore Cooper. During the summer months they often visited Uncle Thomas, Mr. Warner’s brother, who was the Chaplain at the United States Military Academy at West Point from 1828 until 1838. As a result of these visits, Henry became interested in Constitution Island, the property directly across the Hudson River from West Point. Susan Warner recorded the family’s first visit to the island in her journal for July 28,1834: “This morning we all look the boat and rowed over to Constitution Island. We wandered about looking at the prospect, and considering the ground, for Father actually had thought of buying it for a country place. It did not look very prepossessing, however; for nothing can be more rough and rude than the face of that island.”
Evidently Susan’s opinion did not influence her father, for he purchased the island property in 1836. Susan records this event in her journal for June 5th of that year: “Uncle Thomas was down from West Point last week and staid several days. He is delighted with the prospect of doings at Constitution Island which Father has bought. Father contemplates keeping the southern part of the island, and building a fine house, making a sort of little Paradise of the grounds, and residing there eight months of the year.”
Anna, recording this entry in her biography of her sister, goes on to say: "So comes in the first dim prospect of our future life-long home; as different from the later reality, as it well could be. Of that beautiful handful of plans, just one came true: we did go to the Island to live, and it was Paradise; though not of our making. But no visions born of town life and ease, and plenty, ever figured out anything so rich and rare as what – through straits and need and difficulty – the Lord vouchsafed to us, among our rocks.”
At about this time Anna began to write to earn money. Her first publication was “Robinson Crusoe’s Farmyard”, a natural history game for children. Shortly after, Susan began “The Wide, Wide World”, which was published in 1851. This book was a tremendous success and temporarily alleviated much of their financial distress. Launched in literary careers, the two sisters continued writing throughout their lives; having about one hundred and six publications to their credit, eighteen of which they co-authored. Among those they wrote together was “Say and Seal”, the book in which the Hymn “Jesus Loves Me”, written by Anna, first appeared. The successful publication of so many books still did not eliminate their financial difficulties because there were no copyright laws at this time. Many of their books were pirated and the Warners received no money for those editions. Then, too, they often sold their work outright, sometimes in serial form, for they needed immediate cash and could not wait for the slower publishing returns.
Somehow, although they were never completely free from debt, they managed to hold on to their historic island with its fortifications. One wall of the room where they did most of their writing was once a part of the barracks erected in the autumn of 1775. Hanging over the fireplace on this wall was an original portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart. This cherished possession was one they never parted with, no matter how destitute they became.
How did they manage? A friend tells this story of a conversation she once had with Miss Anna: “0ne day when sitting with Miss Anna in the old living room she took from one of the cases a shell so delicate that it looked like lace work and holding it in her hand, with eyes dimmed with tears”, she said, “There was a time when I was very perplexed, bills were unpaid, necessities must be had, and someone sent me this exquisite thing. As I held it I realized that if God could make this beautiful home for a little creature. He would take care of me.”
In 1875 the opportunity came for Susan and Anna Warner to communicate their faith to the cadets at West Point. At the request of several cadets, Susan began a Bible class for them on Sunday afternoons in the Cadet Chapel. Anna writes: “The first day, there was a very large gathering, curiosity helping on the numbers. After that, it varied from week to week, as must be always, I suppose; especially among Cadets, where guard duty sometimes interferes; and where Sunday is the free day for seeing friends. At home, in the summer, they met in our tent near the house, the forage caps tossed out upon the grass; the gray figures in all sorts of positions in and out of the tent”.
Following is a vivid account of these classes written by a former cadet and published in 1925 by Olivia Phelps Stokes in her biography of the sisters:
The visits to Constitution Island were regarded as a great privilege, for not only did they make a break in the severe routine of the daily life but they enabled the boys to roam further a field than was possible at the Academy, where the restrictions of the cadet limits were pretty irksome to boys accustomed to the free run of the town or country. So the privilege of going to Constitution Island as one of “Miss Warner’s boys” was eagerly sought and highly prized. Every Sunday afternoon during the summer encampment the sisters would send their elderly man of all work after the favored ones. He pulled the old flat-bottomed boat across the river to the West Point dock, where the boys with the coveted permits were wailing for him. Usually the trip back was accompanied with more or less excitement, for the boat was always loaded to the last inch of its carrying capacity.
Miss Susan Warner awaited her guests in the orchard. She always sat in the same big chair supported by many cushions. She was a frail little woman with a long face deeply lined with thought and care, lighted with large, dark very brilliant eyes. As she sat in her chair with the boys in a semi-circle around her on the grass she looked like a print from Godey’s Lady’s Book of half a century before. She always wore silk dresses of a small flowered pattern, made with voluminous skirts of wonderful stiffness, and rustle, and small close fitting bodices. A rich Paisley shawl was always around her shoulders and a broad black velvet ribbon was bound around her hair, which was only slightly gray.
After each of the boys had read a Bible verse. Miss Warner, choosing her subject from some New Testament text, talked to them for perhaps half an hour until her enthusiasm and interest had obviously almost exhausted her small strength. Her English was the best and purest I have ever heard, and as she went on and her interest grew her eyes shone, like stars and her voice became rich and warm. There was never any cant or sectarianism, and she always gave to the boys the brightest and most optimistic side of the faith she loved so well. When she had finished and lay back pale and weary against her cushions her sister. Miss Anna, came down from the house with the rare treat of the whole week, tea and homemade ginger-bread. After that the two sisters and the boys talked over the things of the world that seemed so far from that peaceful quiet orchard. The boys confided thier aims and ambitions, and the sisters in the simplest, most unostentatious way sought to implant right ideals and principles. Miss Warner never forgot any of her boys, and up to the time of her death kept up a correspondence with many of them. This correspondence must have been voluminous, for it embraced men in every branch of the service, and included alike distinguished officers and cadets who had failed.
After the death of Susan Warner in 1885, Anna continued the Bible classes for cadets. Each week Buckner, her “elderly man of all work” would row her over to West Point to teach her Cadet Bible Class. She always brought with her individual nosegays of flowers from her garden to brighten up their rooms. Even though she often remained on the island up through early December, she never failed to meet her class. One time, in late November, this intrepid lady records that she started out, with Buckner rowing the boat, but was forced to turn back midway in the river because of storm and wind. So the classes continued up until the time of Anna Warner’s death in 1915.
The gift of faith was not the only gift from Anna Warner to the Military Academy. In 1908, through the generosity of Mrs. Russell Sage, she was able to make the gift of her property, Constitution Island, to be added to the military reservation of West Point. The following correspondence between Mrs. Sage and President Theodore Roosevelt explains precisely the details of this transaction.
Lawrence, L. I.
September 4, 1908
I take pleasure in tendering as a gift to the United States from myself and Miss Anna Bartlett Warner, Constitution Island, opposite West Point, embracing about 230 acres of upland and 50 acres of meadow, the same to be an addition to the Military Reservation of West Point and to be for the use of the United States Military Academy. “My attention has been called by Captain Peter E. Traub, one of the professors at West Point, to the importance of adding this island to the West Point Reservation, and to the unsuccessful efforts of successive administrations of the Military Academy and Secretaries of War to secure the necessary appropriation to purchase it. In historic interest it is intimately connected with West Point. It formed during the Revolution a part of the defenses of the Hudson River. Upon it are now the remains of some ten breast-works commenced in 1775 by order of the Continental Congress, and completed later by Kosciusko. The guns mounted upon the Island then commanded the river channel as I rounded Gees Point, and to the island was attached one end of the iron chain intended to prevent the British warships from sailing up the Hudson. Washington’s Life Guard was mustered out on this island in 1783. It is distant only about three hundred yards from West Point, and in its present natural condition forms an essential part of the landscape as viewed from the West Point shore. The occupation of the Island as a Summer resort for profit, or its use for manufacturing purposes, would, in the opinion of the West Point authorities, be extremely detrimental to West Point, both from an aesthetic and from a practical standpoint. Moreover, its acquisition is desirable for the future development of the academy. Purchase of the Island by the Federal Government has been recommended both by the Hon. Elihu Root and Hon. William H. Taft, as Secretaries of War, as well as by the Board of Visitors of the present year. Bills appropriating $175,000 for the purchase of the island have been repeatedly before both houses of Congress, and I find that such a bill passed the Senate in 1902, but was never brought to a vote in the House.
“Miss Warner has received repeated offers from private parties, of a much larger sum than that for which she was willing to sell to the United States Government, but had steadily refused, from patriotic motives, to accept them in order that it might ultimately become a part of the West Point Reservation.
“Under these circumstances, after conference with friends officially connected with the Military Academy, and with Miss Warner, I have become the owner of the Island in consideration of the same amount for which Miss Warner has been willing to sell it to the United States, upon the understanding that I offer the Island to the Government for the use of the United States Military Academy at West Point, and so that it shall form a part of the Reservation there, and upon the further understanding that Miss Warner, who is well advanced in years, may continue to occupy the small part of the island now used by her for the remainder of her life, using her house, grounds, springs, pasture and firewood as heretofore. In view of the great pecuniary sacrifice to Miss Warner in parting with the Island at this price, she becomes with me a donor of the property to the United States Government.
I am prepared to execute a proper deed whenever I am assured that my gift will be accepted for this purpose, and that any necessary authority has been obtained from Congress or from the State of New York so as to vest in the United States the same jurisdiction over the Island which now exists over the military reservation at West Point. My deed will be accompanied by full abstract of title and will contain no conditions except:
“First’. That the Island be for the use forever of the United States Military Academy at West Point, N. Y., and form a part of the military reservation of West Point, and (pursuant to the covenant in Miss Warner’s deed to me, which runs with the land) ‘that no part of it shall ever be used as a public picnic, or excursion, or amusement ground, operated by private enterprise, individual or corporate, for profit; and
“Second: That Miss Anna Bartlett Warner have the right to reside as at present on Constitution island, in full possession of her house and the gardens appurtenant thereto during her natural life, and to the use of such spring or springs from which she now gets her water supply, together with the right to pasture her cows and horses, and to take such firewood as will be necessary while she resides on said Island, it being clearly understood that these reservations in her favor are restricted to her own life only.
“It is a great satisfaction to me to be thus able to carry out the great desire of Miss Warner’s life, and I am sure that her unselfish and high minded refusal to sell Constitution Island for other than Government purposes will be a tradition dear to the heart of every West Point graduate.
(Signed) Margaret Olivia Sage”
“Oyster Bay, N. Y.
September 5, 1908
My dear Mrs. Sage:
Through Mr. de Forest I have received your letter of September 4th. I wish to thank you for your very generous gift to the Nation, and I have written Miss Warner thanking her. I have sent your letter at once to the Secretary of War, directing him to see that whatever action may be necessary, if any such there be, whether by Congress or by the State authorities, in order to consummate the gift, may be taken. Permit me now, on behalf of the Nation, to thank you most heartily again for a really patriotic act.
(Signed) Theodore Roosevelt”