Authors: John Pendleton Kennedy

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American novelist and politician

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Swallow Barn, 1832

Horse-Shoe Robinson, 1835

Rob of the Bowl, 1838


A Defense of the Whigs, 1843

Memoirs of the Life of William Wirt, 1849

The Border States, 1861

Mr. Ambrose’s Letters on the Rebellion, 1865

Political and Official Papers, 1872

At Home and Abroad, 1872


John Pendleton Kennedy, the son of a distinguished and well-to-do Baltimore family, spent his early years studying the classics, attending the theater, participating in debating societies, and, later, preparing himself for a career in the law. Shortly after his graduation from Baltimore College, Kennedy served in the War of 1812. After his return from active duty, he began to practice law, realized he found its details boring, and devoted every free moment to reading and writing.{$I[AN]9810000119}{$I[A]Kennedy, John Pendleton}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Kennedy, John Pendleton}{$I[tim]1795;Kennedy, John Pendleton}

By 1820, elected to the Maryland legislature, he had taken a firm stand in opposition to slavery. In the years that preceded the Civil War, he did his utmost to placate the extremists of both North and South, carrying on an extensive correspondence with men of influence in both sections in an effort to solve some of the problems and hostilities. A member of Congress from Maryland, 1838-1839 and 1841-1845, he fought for a congressional appropriation to test Samuel F. B. Morse’s telegraph; it was largely as a result of Kennedy’s persistence that the appropriation was made. During 1852-1853, he also served as secretary of the Navy.

Politically, Kennedy was a Unionist. He believed that the South had no right to secede, that the states “did not exist before the union of the Revolution but [were] derived from that union.” When the conflict broke out, he did everything he could of a humanitarian nature to ease the miseries of those affected by it.

In 1829, Kennedy married Elizabeth Gary, the daughter of a wealthy cotton mill owner, and his own resources and those of his wife’s family enabled him to lead an untroubled life. Kennedy gave generous support to artists, and for a time he was the patron of Edgar Allan Poe. Kennedy also had a strong interest in education, and he was a supporter of the University of Maryland and the Peabody Institute.

Kennedy wrote his first novel, Swallow Barn, in 1832. This work, subtitled A Sojourn in the Old Dominion, was influential as one of the earliest, if highly unrealistic, representations of plantation life; its images of Southern gentlemen and belles and loyal, contented slaves reappeared in some later fictional treatments of the South. This novel was followed by Horse-Shoe Robinson, a historical tale set during the American Revolution.

Some critics hold that Kennedy’s marriage into wealth was a turning point in his career, and that he became conservative and undemocratic as a result of it. The support he gave to literary figures, his political humanitarianism, and the tone of genial gentility that characterizes his novels and personal correspondence seem, however, to indicate that Kennedy’s wealth did little more than to permit him to broaden his sympathies and to pursue them with material support.

BibliographyBohner, Charles H. John Pendleton Kennedy: Gentleman from Baltimore. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1961. Biographical information.Gwathmey, Edward M. John Pendleton Kennedy. New York: T. Nelson and Sons, 1931. Biographical information.Hare, John L. Will the Circle Be Unbroken? Family and Sectionalism in the Virginia Novels of Kennedy, Caruthers, and Tucker, 1830-1845. New York: Routledge, 2002. An analysis of Kennedy, William Alexander Caruthers, and Nathaniel Beverley Tucker. Discusses such novels as Swallow Barn, Horse-Shoe Robinson, and Rob of the Bowl.Ridgely, J. V. John Pendleton Kennedy. New York: Twayne, 1966. A thorough introduction to both Kennedy’s life and his work.Romine, Scott. The Narrative Forms of Southern Community. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1999. Discusses the works of southern writers Kennedy, Augustus Baldwin Longstreet, Thomas Nelson Page, William Alexander Percy, and William Faulkner. Focuses on Swallow Barn.Rubin, Louis D., et al., eds. The History of Southern Literature. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1985. Offers general information.Tomlinson, David O. “John Pendleton Kennedy: An Essay in Bibliography.” Resources for American Literary Study 9 (1979). An essential starting point for studying Kennedy is Tomlinson’s extensive bibliography of primary sources and criticism.Tuckerman, Henry T. The Life of John Pendleton Kennedy. New York: G. P. Putnam & Sons, 1871. A comprehensive biography.
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