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Robert Sarver was born in 1864 and according to the 1880 census was one of 11 children born to Wesley and Fanny Sarver. Wesley was born in Tennessee and eventually settled down in Kentucky. He married Kentucky-born Fanny who was nine years younger. Fanny stayed home and “kept the house” and Wesley worked as a laborer on a farm. The Sarver family lived at 155 Rich Pond, Warren, Kentucky. No one in the family could read or write, which explains why most of the family performed labor or service-based jobs.  Robert is their third child and their second son. At the age of 16 in 1880, Robert worked on the same farm as his father, his older brother William, and his younger brothers Charles and Frank. Robert’s younger sister, Hellen stayed home with their mother and helped keep the house. There were also twins born after Hellen. Unfortunately, Robert’s youngest brother, who was not yet named, died from the flux (dysentery) in March of 1880.

Newspaper accounts of the late 19th century used racially biased language to describe the victim and Sarver in terms presupposing his guilt, when there was no evidence presented that an attack occurred. News accounts did not agree on the alleged victim’s first name, calling her Sina, Tina, and Tennie, but agreeing that her last name was “Ruley.” Yet, the same account described the alleged victim as “young,” “wholesome,” “beautiful,” “pure,” and “untarnished. Sarver, an African American teenager, was described as a “brute,” “fiend,” and “ravisher.”  The account reported that Sarver was lynched due to an alleged attack on Ruley. Sarver was 18 years-old at the time of his death.

In early March 1882, Ruley accused Sarver of an attack.  Ruley claimed that he allegedly threw her to the ground and attempted to rape her. He did not go through with the act and ran off. Ruley fled to her aunt’s home. There, Ruley detailed her account of the attack. Rumors of the alleged attack spread quickly, and a group of men found Sarver and brought him to Ruley for identification. Ruley’s aunt reportedly begged Miss Ruley to not identify Sarver because they men would likely kill him at her home. Ruley claimed that Sarver tried to rape her, and a mob assembled near the aunt’s house.

Sarver escaped the men and fled to Warren County. He was captured and jailed in Franklin.  Sarver allegedly confessed, but the newspapers did not detail the circumstances under which Sarver confessed, given how forced confessions were common at the time. Fearing the mob, the sheriff planned to transport Sarver to Bowling Green by train for safety.

As Sarver and the sheriff approached the train, two men with revolvers threatened the train engineer forcing him to turn off the train’s lights. Then a mob of about 100 men surrounded the train at 8:00 pm on March 6, 1882. The mob kidnapped Sarver and brought him to Simpson county. They tied his hands and feet together and hung him from a tree off the side of the road, leaving his body there for the entire community to see. This served as a warning to other African American men in the community who are engaged in any type of interracial relationship. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, this was “swift and just retribution,” even though there was no trial or proof that Sarver actually confessed or was forced to confess. The next day at 1 o’clock the corner came to the scene with a jury and they concluded an unknown mob murdered him. The coroner’s report stated that the knot was said to be done by an expert.

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