Yardley Warner – the Freedman’s Friend (March 2019)

Of all the Quakers who are buried at Springfield Friends Cemetery, one of the least-known and most interesting is a man named Yardley Warner. He was born in Pennsylvania in 1815, and he and his family were active on the Underground Railroad.

In his biography it says that “at 10 years of age, he seldom laid his head on the pillow at night, without breathing a prayer for the poor Negroes, and he was often sent with one of his brothers to drive his father’s team with a load of hay or stray, under which lay hidden one or more fugitives.”

His father died when Yardley was only 13 years old. His mother scraped together the funds to send him to study at Westtown School. He went to law school, but decided he was called to be a teacher. He and his wife Hannah started a small private school for Quaker girls and ran it together for 17 years. Both Hannah and Yardley became active Quaker ministers.

In 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation set slaves free in all areas under Union jurisdiction, expanding as battle after battle reduced the territory under Confederate control. Yardley Warner joined a small group of Quakers who worked near the battle lines to bring help and relief to the war-torn areas.

Immediately after the war, Warner purchased a tract of 35 acres near Greensboro and laid it out into small plots to sell to former slaves. The plots were priced low, according to their ability to pay, and land was also set aside for a church, a school and a self-help association. Yardley Warner was accused by many whites of being a “carpet-bagger” and a “Negro lover”, and shocked even some of his fellow Quakers by making his home in the new community, which was known for many years as Warnersville. Unable to read and write, the former slaves were easily victimized and cheated. Warner helped to establish 30 elementary schools for them, and recruited volunteer Quaker teachers from the North. He quickly saw that one of the greatest needs was for African-American teachers, and set up two teacher training programs as well.

His wife Hannah died in 1872, just as he was planning to leave for England to raise money for the schools. On a second trip he married an idealistic young English Quaker hospital nurse, Anna Horne. They started a small school in Wales and sent most of their salary to the U.S. to support the schools for former slaves.

In 1882 he moved back to the U.S. with Anna and their three young children, and ran a teacher training program in Jonesboro, TN. In 1884, they turned it over to Indiana Yearly Meeting, and moved to Bush Hill (now Archdale), where they joined Springfield Friends Meeting and started the Little Davie School for the children of former slaves.

Springfield Friends were not always at ease with the Warners. Once again, they not only taught African-Americans, but also made their home in the midst of the African-American community. A contemporary says that “They always walked and looked bedraggled, while the other Quakers always had carriages and rode to meeting, but not the Warners.”

Worn out from a lifetime of teaching, travel, fund raising and advocacy, he died of typhoid fever in 1884. His wife and children moved back to England, and all we have left to remember this amazing man is a Noah’s Ark with hand-carved animals which he made for his son, which is in the Museum of Old Domestic Life, and his grave stone, half-forgotten in the Springfield Friends Cemetery.
Additional details about Yardley Warner are in a NEW brochure available from the meeting office

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