Virgil Warder (d. 1782) was an African American slave who served for many years as gardener at Springettsbury, the Penn family estate on the outskirts of Philadelphia.
The country of origin of Virgil Warder is unknown. He was purchased as a slave by Thomas Penn in 1732 and initially worked as a laborer at Springettsbury. Warder succeeded Penn's gardener, James Alexander, who died in 1778, taking charge of the garden and greenhouse and receiving an annuity from the Penn family for maintaining the property. He became a well-known fixture of the place, conducting visitors through the gardens and greenhouse. Both Deborah Norris Logan and Elizabeth Drinker recalled the “curious aloe,” originally planted by James Alexander and subsequently cultivated by Warder. When it finally bloomed in August 1778, Warder was besieged by curious crowds from Philadelphia who came to see it (view text).
- *Logan, Deborah Norris, October 10, 1826, diary entry (quoted in White, 2008: 19)back up to history
- "The Gardens of Springetsbury [sic] were in full beauty in my youth, and were really very agreeable after the old fashion, with Parterres, Gravelled Walks, a Labyrinth of Horn-beam and a little wilderness — And the Green house, under the Superintendence of Old Virgil the Gardener, produced a flowering Aloe which almost half the town went to see, produced a comfortable Revenue to the old man — Soon after the house was burned down by accident; and now quantities of the yellow Blossoms of Broom in spring time mark the place...'where once the garden smiled'.”
- Robert C. Moon, The Morris Family of Philadelphia, Descendants of Anthony Morris, 1654-1721, 2 vols. (Robert C. Moon, M. D., 1898), 1: 287, view on Zotero; George A. Martin, "Biographical Notes from the 'Maryland Gazette,' 1800-1810," Maryland Historical Magazine, 42 (September 1947), 177, view on Zotero; G. M. Justice, "Wm. Penn--Not a Slaveholder at the Time of His Death," The Living Age (March 28, 1846): 617, view on Zotero; Watson, 1844, 2: 479, view on Zotero.
- Elizabeth Drinker, Extracts from the Journal of Elizabeth Drinker, from 1759 to 1807 A.D., ed. Henry D. Biddle (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company , 1889), 109, view on Zotero.
- Sharon White, Vanished Gardens: Finding Nature in Philadelphia (Athens, Ga.: University of Georgia Press, 2008), 19 view on Zotero