By Marilyn Turk
|West Point Cadets - 1800's|
Susan Warner and her younger sister Anna were teenagers when their widowed father Henry Warner bought Constitution Island across the Hudson River from West Point. The year was 1836, and their uncle, Thomas Warner, was the West Point chaplain. While visiting him, Henry first saw the island, which still contained remnants of fortifications from the Revolutionary War. At the time, Henry Warner was a successful New York City lawyer and planned to build a mansion on the desolate island.
|Original Cadet Chapel|
However, after a series of financial setbacks, Henry Warner was forced to give up his city town home and move his family to the island where he built a farmhouse instead of a mansion. Life changed dramatically for the sisters, who not only had to adapt to country living, but also learn how to work the land to grow food for their survival.
In 1875, the sisters were asked by some West Point cadets to teach a Sunday School class. Initially, Susan taught the class in the Cadet Chapel on campus. During the summer months, cadets who had earned the special privilege were rowed across the river to attend the class in the Warner orchard. These cadets became known as “Miss Warner’s boys.”
In a biography of the sisters published in 1925 by Olivia Phelps Stokes, one of the cadets tells this story about the experience. “Miss 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…
|Miss Susan and her "boys"|
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…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 rarest treat of the whole week, tea and homemade gingerbread.” In 1885, Susan Warner died and Anna took over teaching the class.
Despite economic hardship, Anna refused many offers to sell the island. But shortly before Anna’s death in 1915, Mrs. Russell Sage, a generous benefactor bought the island, and together, she and Anna deeded the property to West Point to be maintained for its historic preservation.
Perhaps you never heard of Susan or Anna Warner. Yet you may have sung a song they wrote. You see, in 1860, Susan penned the novel “Say and Sea,” which contained a poem written by Anna, called “Jesus Loves Me.” Two years later, musician William Bradbury found the poem and set it to music.
Jesus loves me, this I know.
For the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to Him belong,
They are weak, but He is strong.