Monday, May 8, 2017

Kosciusko Kemper (1835-1910)

Portrait from the Souvenir Virginia Tercentennial of Historic Alexandria, 1907.

   The Strangest Names In American Political History continues its trek through Virginia, and a week following our write-up on Mottrom Dulany Ball we journey to Alexandria to highlight a prominent son of that city who would serve not only as its Superintendent of Schools, but also as its Mayor for three terms....Kosciusko Kemper! A lifelong Virginian, Kosciusko Kemper was born in Warrenton, Virginia on June 18, 1835, being the son of William and Sarah (Humphreys) Kemper
  The possessor of one of the most unique first names this author has yet found, Kemper was bestowed the name "Kosciusko" in honor of Tadeus Kosciuszko (1746-1817), the famed Polish military engineer and officer who during the Revolutionary War served as a Colonel with the Continental Army. A popular figure during the Colonial era, Kosciuszko was later promoted to Brigadier General by the Continental Congress and later removed back to Poland, where in 1794 he led the Kosciuszko Uprising against Imperial Russian and Prussian forces. This uprising was unsuccessful in its attempt to free Poland from Russian dominance, and after being captured in November 1794, Kosciuszko was imprisoned until 1796, when he was pardoned by Russian Czar Paul I. Kosciuszko would relocate back to the United States in 1798 for a short period and gained a firm friend in Thomas Jefferson, whom he later entrusted as his executor after completing his will
   Kosciusko Kemper's early education took place in private schools and his family would later reside in Charlottesville for a time. In 1851 he enrolled at the University of Virginia, where he would study until 1858. Here Kemper would meet the woman who would be his wife for nearly forty years, Iraetta (IraEtta) Garrett (1838-1896). The couple wed in February 1859 and their union would see the births of seven children, Edward Hudson (born 1866), William Garrett (born 1868), Charlotte (born 1871), Sarah Richards (born 1872), Eliza Garrett (born 1874), Lewis Magnus (born 1876) and Kosciusko Jr. (1877-1929). 
  Following his graduation from the University of Virginia, Kemper entered into a career in education, a theme that would be prominent throughout the remainder of his life. He and his elder brother Delaware are recorded as having "bought out a school" in Alexandria, and both later were affiliated with the Beaufort, South Carolina Female Seminary, with Delaware Kemper serving as its president. Kosciusko Kemper taught school and studied law until the outbreak of Civil War, and entered into Confederate Army, being commissioned as a Captain in the First Regiment, South Carolina Artillery. His service in that unit would see him at Fort Sumpter following its capture and he later saw action with General Joseph E. Johnston at Salisbury, South Carolina. Kemper would attain the rank of First Lieutenant and served until his discharge at the war's conclusion.

Kemper as he appeared in the Alexandria Gazette, January 26, 1910.

   At war's end Kemper removed back to Alexandria and for four years served as president of the Alexandria Academy, a school for women. He was admitted to the state bar in 1874 and in that same year took office as Mayor of Alexandria, filling out the unexpired term of William Norris Berkley, who had been named as U.S Postmaster at Alexandria. In 1875 Kemper was elected to a term of his own as Mayor and was defeated the following year by J.B. Johnson. Kemper won a third term as mayor in 1877 and served until 1879, when he was defeated by another oddly named man, Courtland Hawkins Smith. Following his last term as mayor Kemper continued to be politically active in Alexandria, serving as its City Attorney for a decade, as well as its Superintendent of Public Schools from 1893-1909. During the first Cleveland administration (1885-89), Kemper was selected by former Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston (then serving as U.S. Commissioner of Railroads) to serve on his staff.
    A Mason of prominent standing in Virginia, Kosciusko Kemper was initiated into the Washington-Alexandria Lodge No. 22 in March 1875 and in the succeeding years attained high rank in that fraterinity, serving as Grand Master of the Washington-Alexandria Lodge from 1888-1890 and a Grand Junior Deacon of the Grand Lodge of Virginia. In 1906 he became Grand Master of Masons in Virginia and was also active in Confederate veteran circles, being a past commander of the Robert E. Lee Camp.
    A longstanding member of the Second Presbyterian Church in Alexandria, Kemper was for many years a Sunday school superintendent and in 1883 became a church elder. After decades of prominence in Alexandria public life, Kosciusko Kemper died at age 74 on January 26, 1910 at the home of his daughter in Washington, D.C. He had been predeceased by his wife Iraetta in 1896 and both were interred at the Saint Paul's Cemetery in Alexandria. 
   On May 6, 2016 I was lucky to track down Kemper's gravesite at the aforementioned cemetery, and some photos from that excursion conclude his profile here. This author must state that the St. Paul's Cemetery (and the other cemeteries surrounding it) are some of the most picturesque I've yet seen, with some stones dating back to the early 1810s. Numerous instances of ivy covered trees and crypts abound, along with wrought-iron gated family plots and intriguing gravestone shapes and designs. Interred at the neighboring Presbyterian Cemetery (located a few hundred yards away from Kemper) is the man who defeated him for Mayor in 1879, Courtland Hawkins Smith (1850-1892), who will have his own article posted here in the coming days.

Kosciusko Kemper in Masonic dress, portrait courtesy of

Kemper's obituary from the Washington Herald, January 27, 1910.

A visit with Kosciusko Kemper at the St. Paul's Cemetery

  St. Paul's Episcopal Church Cemetery and the surrounding areas (located in the Wilkes Street Cemetery Complex) are home to some of the most impressive trees I've seen, as illustrated by the below photographs. Wrapped in century old vines and ivy, this particular tree has to be one of the oldest and largest in the Alexandria area!

I'm dwarfed by its size!!

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