Saturday, May 23, 2015

Robah Bascom Kerner (1859-1893)

From the Memorial of Robah Bascom Kerner, published 1894.
   The life of Winston, North Carolina lawyer Robah Bascom Kerner shone briefly and brightly in the late 19th century, climaxing with his election as Mayor of Winston, North Carolina in 1892. A lawyer and prominent Odd-Fellow in his native city, Kerner's untimely death from typhoid fever in the year following his election robbed the city of one of its enterprising young citizens. Born in Kernersville, North Carolina on June 3, 1859, Robah Bascom Kerner was the son of Elias and Parthenia Dicks Kerner. He attended schools local to the Kernersville area and also worked on the family farm. He was confirmed as a member of the Moravian Church in Kernersville at age fifteen and at that same age began to teach school in the village of Germanton.
    During his adolescence Kerner continued to teach, eventually moving on to the Boy's Male Academy at Salem, North Carolina. Age sixteen at the time of his entering that school, Kerner taught here until age twenty, afterward beginning study at the University of North Carolina. Around this time he decided upon a career as a lawyer and after returning to the Boy's Academy at Salem would study law under Greensboro Judges Robert P. Dick and John Dillard. Kerner was admitted to practice law in 1882 and two years later married to Jennie F. Donnell (1863-1928). The couple would have two children, Donnell Elias (1888-1889) and Frances Lanier (1891-1893), both of whom died before age two.
    A year prior to his marriage Robah B. Kerner was elected as the solicitor for the Inferior Court and in 1885 he took office as a member of the Winston Board of Aldermen. Around this same period, he was named as Secretary of the Board and City Treasurer, as well as attaining high rank in the local Odd-Fellows chapter. A member of the Salem Lodge  No. 36 of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, Kerner's decade-long affiliation with this chapter saw him reach the ranks of Deputy Grand Master, Junior Warden (1886), Grand High Priest (1887) and Grand Patriarch (1888).
Portrait courtesy of

   While still incumbent city treasurer, Robah B. Kerner was elected as Mayor of Winston in February 1892, winning by a "flattering vote." The youngest man elected as Mayor of Winston up to that time, the 32 year old Kerner's administration lasted only a year and half, but made several improvements to the city, including: the construction of the first city stables; the "curbing and macadamizing" of Winston's most traveled streets; the implementation of new fire ordinances (in the wake of  a series of fires that had plagued the city) and the completion of the Winston City Hall. Kerner proved to be a popular mayor with both his constituents and fellow politicians and was even honored by the Board of Aldermen by having his name engraved on a fire engine that had recently been purchased for the city's use.
    The onset of typhoid fever marred the last months of Mayor Kerner's life, although the Memorial on his life (published several months following his death) notes that he continued in his mayoral duties when his health showed improvement. A few weeks before his passing he returned to his parent's home in Kernersville where his health continued to fail, and on September 3, 1893 he and his wife suffered the loss of their daughter Frances Lanier, who was two months short of her second birthday. A little over two weeks later, Robah Bascom Kerner died at age 34, his administration coming to a sudden end after just seventeen months (the shortest in Winston's history.)
   The outpouring of grief for Kerner was immediate. From Winston citizens to members of the Odd-Fellows lodge, Mayor Kerner was memorialized as an "ambitious" and "zealous" public figure, and that
"In his death the city loses a loyal and enterprising citizen, the democratic party a faithful and active worker, his personal friends a staunch and congenial companion, and his home a fond and devoted husband and father."
   Following his death, Kerner was interred at the Kernersville Moravian God's Acre Cemetery, which is also the resting place of both of his children. His wife Jennie survived her husband by over three decades, dying in 1928 at age 65, later being buried at the same cemetery as her husband.

                                                      From the Richmond, Virginia Times, September 26, 1893.

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