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January 11, 1893: Senator John Kenna Dies

Senator John Kenna
WV Humanities Council

U.S. Senator John Kenna died in Washington, D.C., on January 11, 1893, at age 44. He was born in Kanawha County. When he was just a child, his father was shot and killed in Charleston. Afterward, his mother moved the family to Missouri, where Kenna served in the Confederate Army for about a year during the Civil War.

After the war, the family returned to Kanawha County, and Kenna became a lawyer. Elected Kanawha County prosecuting attorney when he was 24, he rose quickly through the political ranks. Along with future Governor William MacCorkle, future U.S. Senator W. E. Chilton, and others, Kenna was part of the influential “Kanawha Ring” of Democrats.

He served four terms in the U.S. House of Representatives before turning 38. In 1883, he was elected to the U.S. Senate, unseating rival democrat Henry Gassaway Davis. While in Congress, Kenna pushed to improve navigation on the Kanawha River.

His death at age 44 was attributed to pleurisy, complicated by heart trouble. Along with Francis Pierpont, John Kenna is one of two West Virginians memorialized by a statue in the U.S. Capitol.

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