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John P. Kennedy
21st United States Secretary of the Navy

In office
July 26, 1852 – March 4, 1853
Preceded by William A. Graham
Succeeded by James C. Dobbin
Personal details
Born John Pendleton Kennedy
(1795-10-25)October 25, 1795
Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.
Died August 18, 1870(1870-08-18) (aged 74)
Newport, Rhode Island, U.S.
Political party Whig
Spouse(s) Elizabeth Gray Kennedy
Margaret Hughes Kennedy
Profession Politician, Lawyer, Writer
Religion Episcopalian
Military service
Service/branch United States Army
Battles/wars War of 1812

John Pendleton Kennedy (October 25, 1795 – August 18, 1870) was an American novelist and Whig politician who served as United States Secretary of the Navy from July 26, 1852 to March 4, 1853, during the administration of President Millard Fillmore, and as a U.S. Representative from the Maryland's 4th congressional district. He was the brother of U.S. Senator Anthony Kennedy.


John Pendleton Kennedy born in Baltimore, Maryland, on October 25, 1795,[1] the son of merchant John Kennedy and Nancy Pendleton. Poor investments resulted in his father declaring bankruptcy in 1809.[2] He graduated from Baltimore College in 1812 and fought in the Battles of Bladensburg and North Point in the War of 1812. Although admitted to the bar in 1816, he was much more interested in literature and politics than law.

Literary life

Kennedy's first literary attempt was a fortnightly periodical called the Red Book, publishing anonymously with his roommate Peter Hoffman Cruse from 1819–1820.[3] Kennedy published Swallow Barn, or A Sojourn in the Old Dominion in 1832, which would become his best-known work.[4] Horse-Shoe Robinson was published in 1835 to win a permanent place of respect in the history of American fiction. While sitting round a back parlor table at the home of noted Baltimore literarist,civic leader and friend John H. B. Latrobe at 11 West Mulberry Street, across from the old Baltimore Cathedral in the Mount Vernon-Belvedere Mount Vernon, Baltimore neighborhood in October 1833, imbibing in some spirits and genial conversation with other friend James H. Miller, they together judged the draft of "MS. Found in a Bottle" from a then unknown aspiring writer Edgar Allan Poe to be worthy of publishing in the Baltimore Sunday Visitor because of its dark and macabre atmosphere and awarded a prize giving the young future author/poet his first publication. Also in 1835, he helped later introduce Edgar Allan Poe to Thomas Willis White, editor of the Southern Literary Messenger.[5]

While abroad Kennedy became a friend of William Makepeace Thackeray and wrote or outlined the fourth chapter of the second volume of The Virginians, a fact which accounts for the great accuracy of its scenic descriptions. Of his works Horse-Shoe Robinson is the best and ranks high in antebellum fiction. Washington Irving read an advance copy of it and reported he was "so tickled with some parts of it" that he read it aloud to his friends.[6] Kennedy sometimes wrote under the pen name Mark Littleton, especially in his political satires.[1]

Political life

Kennedy was an active Whig. He was appointed Secretary of the Legation in Chile on January 27, 1823, but did not proceed to his post and resigned on June 23 of the same year. He was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates in 1820 and in 1838, he succeeded Isaac McKim in the U.S. House of Representatives, but was defeated in his bid for reelection in November of that year. He was re-elected to Congress in 1840 and 1842; but, because of his strong opposition to the annexation of Texas, he was defeated in 1844. His influence in Congress was largely responsible for the appropriation of $30,000 to test Samuel Morse's telegraph.

President Millard Fillmore appointed Kennedy to the post of Secretary of the Navy in July 1852. During Kennedy's tenure in office, the Navy organized four important naval expeditions including that which sent Commodore Matthew C. Perry to Japan and Lieutenant William Lewis Herndon and Lieutenant Lardner Gibbon to explore the Amazon .

Retirement and death

John P. Kennedy

Kennedy retired from public life in March 1853 when President Fillmore left office, but he retained an active interest in politics, supporting Fillmore in 1856, when Fillmore won Maryland's electoral votes and Kennedy's brother Anthony won a U.S. Senate seat. His name was mentioned as one of the vice-presidential prospects on the Republican ticket in 1860[7] (meaning that Abraham Lincoln might have been paired with a man named "John Kennedy"). At the end of the American Civil War — during which he forcefully supported the Union — he advocated amnesty for the South. He died at Newport, Rhode Island on August 18, 1870,[8] and is buried in Greenmount Cemetery in Baltimore, Maryland. The USS John P. Kennedy and USS Kennedy (DD-306) were named for him. He lived in a summer home overlooking the south branch of the Patapsco River upstream near Orange Grove-Avalon-Ilchester off the main western line of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad now in the area of Patapsco Valley State Park which was devastated by a disastrous flood in 1868. In his will, Kennedy wrote the following:

It is my wish that the manuscript volumes containing my journals, my note or common-place books, and the several volumes of my own letters in press copy, as also all my other letters, such as may possess any interest or value (which I desire to be bound in volumes) that are now in lose sheets, shall be returned to my executors, who are requested to have the same packed away in a strong walnut box, closed and locked, and then delivered to the Peabody Institute, to be preserved by them unopened until the year 1900, when the same shall become the property of the Institute, to be kept among its books and records.[1]


  • The Red Book (1818–19, two volumes)
  • Swallow Barn (1832) §
  • Horse-Shoe Robinson (1835)
  • Rob of the Bowl (1838) §
  • Annals of Quodlibet (1840)
  • Memoirs of the Life of William Wirt (1849, two volumes)
  • The Border States (1861)
  • Mr. Ambrose's Letters on the Rebellion (1865)
  • Collected Works of John Pendleton Kennedy (1870–72, ten volumes)
  • At Home and Abroad: A Series of Essays: With a Journal in Europe in 1867-68 (1872, essays)

§ Under the name Mark Littleton.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Ehrlich, Eugene and Gorton Carruth. The Oxford Illustrated Literary Guide to the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982: 218. ISBN 0-19-503186-5
  2. Hubbell, Jay B. The South in American Literature: 1607-1900. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1954: 483.
  3. Hubbell, Jay B. The South in American Literature: 1607-1900. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1954: 484.
  4. Hubbell, Jay B. The South in American Literature: 1607-1900. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1954: 485.
  5. Meyers, Jeffrey. Edgar Allan Poe: His Life and Legacy. New York: Cooper Square Press, 1992: 70. ISBN 0-8154-1038-7
  6. Burstein, Andrew. Original Knickerbocker: The Life of Washington Irving. New York: Basic Books, 2007: 280. ISBN 978-0-465-00853-7
  7. The Magazine of American History, Vol. 29, 1893, 282-283
  8. Ehrlich, Eugene and Gorton Carruth. The Oxford Illustrated Literary Guide to the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982: 71. ISBN 0-19-503186-5

Further reading

  • Collected works of Henry Theodore Tuckerman, tenth volume, (New York, 1870–72)
  • Tuckerman, Henry Theodore, The Life of John Pendleton Kennedy, (1871)
  • Gwathmey, Edward, John Pendleton Kennedy, (1931)
  • Bohner, Charles H., John Pendleton Kennedy, Gentleman from Baltimore, (1961)
  • Ridgely, J.V., John Pendleton Kennedy, (1966)

External links

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Isaac McKim
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Maryland's 4th congressional district

April 25, 1838 – March 3, 1839
Succeeded by
James Carroll, Solomon Hillen, Jr.
Preceded by
James Carroll, Solomon Hillen, Jr.
and Alexander Randall
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Maryland's 4th congressional district

March 4, 1841 – March 3, 1845
Succeeded by
William F. Giles
Political offices
Preceded by
William S. Waters
Speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates
Succeeded by
William J. Blakistone
Government offices
Preceded by
William A. Graham
United States Secretary of the Navy
July 26, 1852 – March 4, 1853
Succeeded by
James C. Dobbin

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