When Kaylea Ann Donaghy, age 3, walked into Wilmington Friends Lower School in January, 2021, she was not aware that she may well be the ninth generation and 38th member of her family to attend or be involved with the oldest school in Delaware.
She is shown above with her family: her mother Sara, her father Charles and her uncle Rob, who graduated from Friends in 1995 and 1992 respectively; and her grandmother Alice. Her grandfather Bob––whom, sadly, she never knew––graduated in 1945. They are pictured at the dedication of a bench at Friends in his honor in 2022.
Grandmother Alice Warner Donaghy, a huge part of Kaylea’s life, graduated not from Friends but from that other, very fine (but very youthful) institution across Brandywine River from Friends, Tower Hill. Many of Alice’s forebears, however, attended and/or graduated from Friends, far back when it was simply Friends’ School (with an apostrophe). What follows is the story of when the relationship between this family and that school began, well back into the 18th century.
The earliest part of the story––at least, that the current generations know about––is that of Joseph Warner, who was born in 1742 in Wilmington. He grew up to be a silversmith and married Mary Yarnall when he was 25 years old; they were members of Wilmington Monthly Meeting. Joseph became a member of the School Committee, those meeting members who were charged with overseeing the education that happened in the little school across West Street and several others which they supported. He was one of six signers of a document dated 2nd mo. 1779, regarding the management of the various schools under their supervision.
Joseph’s name also appears on a 1793 parchment document that lists persons who were “subscribing,” or pledging, certain sums on behalf of the school, for the “Education of such Children, as now do, or may hereafter belong to said Monthly Meeting whose parents are not or shall not be of ability to pay for the same, or such other poor children... as a Majority of the Committee shall from time to time direct, consistant [sic]with the Design of this Institution.” Joseph was one of the more generous subscribers, having pledged and already paid ten pounds.
Joseph Warner eventually became First Burgess, i.e., mayor, of Wilmington. He also advocated for the abolition of slavery in the Delaware General Assembly in the last years of the 18th century. These efforts, led by Governor Richard Bassett, came very close to passing, but did not. It is worth noting that the Warners had been known during the 18th and 19th centuries as staunch abolitionists, as had most Quakers.
Another Wilmington Monthly Meeting member who contributed to that School fund was Joseph Tatnall (1740-1813), one of the comparatively wealthy Quaker millers who produced wheat flour along the lower Brandywine River and made Wilmington, for only a few decades, the center of flour production and exporting in the United States. When George Washington, along with the bulk of the American army, resided in Wilmington in the summer of 1777, Tatnall famously told him, “George, I cannot fight for thee, but I can and will feed thee,” supplying that army with flour before the Battle of Brandywine. Tatnall also supplied the 1793 School Committee with £20, one of the larger donations at that time.
Joseph Tatnall, like many folks in those days, had numerous children. One daughter, Esther (1779-1860), became the wife of William Warner IV (1774-1845) son of silversmith Joseph Warner, who was five years older than his bride when they wed on April 19, 1798. William had been an apprentice to his father’s other business activities and joined the Warner business about 1790. Had either of these two newlyweds attended Friends School? Esther grew up in Brandywine Village (now part of Wilmington), and we know from recorded recollections that some of the children of the Quaker millers along the Brandywine attended Friends across from the Meeting House, so Esther and William may have. They were married at Fourth and West, and they are buried in the cemetery there, so it is not too much of a stretch to imagine they had some of their basic education, reading, writing, and ‘ciphering’, in the small building that had been a school for about forty years by the time they were growing up.
The story continues--read more
about the Warners and other WFS families of the early years.