In addition to leading to virtue and self-restraint, the country life also leads to the formation of the distinctive character of the Virginia cavalier. As the patriarch of Swallow Barn, Frank Meriwether exemplifies the “cavalier” tradition of plantation owner as regent of his estate. By that tradition, a cavalier benignly rules over a hierarchy that descends from family to associates–such as a parson or overseer–to the slaves at the bottom. Meriwether explains that even though slavery is not an ideal institution, his own slaves benefit from kindness and the security of their lives on his estate. The cavalier figure directly stems from the isolation of the plantation and the nature of its labor-intensive economy. Further, the isolation of the plantation intensifies the authority of the patriarch, who is not apt to be contradicted. In one amusing illustration, a visiting cousin, Mark Littleton, describes the “under-talkers” who pick up on the “crumbs of wisdom” falling from a rich man’s table and repeat everything Frank says. Generally, Littleton praises the conviviality, spaciousness, and regularity of life at Swallow Barn.
The Brakes. Estate adjoining Swallow Barn that belongs to the Tracys, who are close neighbors and friends of the Meriwethers and the Hazards. Swallow Barn partly focuses on the courtship of Ned Hazard and Bel Tracy, but the most significant event involving land concerns a forty-year-old dispute over the property bordering the Apple-Pie Creek. The thirty-acre tract is worthless swampland; however, Isaac Tracy spends considerable time and money fighting to reclaim part of it for the sake of his family’s honor, as well as for the sheer sport of it. The dispute does little to tarnish the friendship of the families, but land is land and rights cannot be undermined. Land stands so firmly at the center of a family’s honor that even the loss of swampland is important.
Woods. Forested area near Swallow Barn that provides a site for the imagination in Kennedy’s exploration of other aspects of Virginia life through an intriguing mix of realism, romance, and folk legend. When Bel Tracy accidentally finds Ned and Mark acting and singing in the woods, the incident embarrasses Ned greatly. The woods also provide the setting for Bel’s elaborate medieval fantasy centering on training her hawk to hunt. Ned pursues her escaped hawk throughout the countryside, retrieving the bird and presenting it to Bel as an act of chivalry.
The areas surrounding Swallow Barn also give rise to folk legend. Littleton records the story of blacksmith Mike Brown’s encounter with the devil in the Goblin Swamp. In addition to fictional characters, the area seems to be peopled by ghosts of the past, particularly by past generations of family and retainers who have lived at Swallow Barn. These stories preserve the legends and history of tidewater Virginia.
The Quarter. Slave quarters of Swallow Barn. Kennedy’s description of the slave hovels as “picturesque” leads into a lengthy discussion of the role of slavery in the South. The extended description of the cottage of elderly slave Lucy and the connected story of her son Abe sentimentalize slave life.