John Pendleton Kennedy is principally remembered as a patron of Edgar Allan Poe and for two of his own books—SWALLOW BARN (1832), a loosely linked series of sketches of plantation life in Virginia written in the manner of Washington Irving’s BRACEBRIDGE HALL; and Horse-shoe ROBINSON: A TALE OF THE TORY ASCENDENCY, with a plot reminiscent of James Fenimore Cooper’s THE SPY and a hero who resembles Cooper’s Leatherstocking.
Just as Cooper had built THE SPY upon the theme of divided loyalties of the Tories and the American rebels in New York during the Revolution, so Kennedy pictures a division of loyalties in the Carolinas at a time when any stranger one met might be either a friend or an enemy. Kennedy is unoriginal in his plot development, using both characters and incidents that seem to have been borrowed from Cooper. Major Butler and Mildred Lindsay are conventional romantic lovers such as may be found in many earlier English and American novels. Also as in Cooper’s frontier romances, the lower-class characters are more appealing than the genteel upper-class ones.
Horse-shoe ROBINSON has survived mainly because of Horse-shoe himself—Kennedy said he modeled him upon a real Galbraith Robinson—and though the modern reader may object to the slow pace and the contrived plot of the novel, he can still enjoy, as did Kennedy’s contemporaries, the character of the stalwart soldier whose good heart and stout body were dedicated to the service of the Revolution and the safety of his friends. In addition, the novel offers, to some readers at least, the pleasure of relishing Kennedy’s polished narrative and descriptive style marked by touches of genial humor, directed sometimes at Horse-shoe himself. William Gilmore Simms, a South Carolina author of later historical romances, complained in 1852 about faults in Kennedy’s dialect, history, and geography; but Kennedy has otherwise been praised for the accuracy of his period detail in this, the first novel to deal with the Revolution in the South.