Skip to main content

John Pendleton Kennedy papers

Identifier: PIMS-0058

Scope and Contents

The John Pendleton Kennedy papers, 1812-1890, contain personal papers and other materials related to Kennedy's multifaceted career, including documents related to the founding of the Peabody Institute.

The papers have been organized into five series. Series 1 contains 34 volumes of manuscript correspondence between Kennedy and his wife, his publishers, and many prominent people in American life. Series 2 contains an extensive collection of Kennedy's journals, notes, and speeches. Series 3 includes clippings and scrapbooks that relate to politics, history, and literature. Series 4 contains manuscripts of Kennedy's books, including the two-volume manuscript of Swallow Barn. Series 5 includes miscellaneous business documents and legal papers collected by Kennedy over his career.

As an author, statesman, and attorney, Kennedy was well connected to other important figures in American cultural and political life in the 19th century. Included in his voluminous correspondence are letters by John Quincy Adams, George William Brown, Henry Clay, Charles Dickens, C.J.M. Eaton, Millard Fillmore, Washington Irving, Andrew Jackson, Elisha Kane, Robert E. Lee, George Peabody, Matthew C. Perry, Edgar Allan Poe, W.M. Thackeray, Daniel Webster, Robert C. Winthrop, and many more.


  • Creation: 1812-1890


Language of Materials

The bulk of the materials are in English. Some clippings are in French.

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for use at the Peabody Archives. Contact for more information.

Conditions Governing Use

Single copies may be made for research purposes. Researchers are responsible for determining any copyright questions. It is not necessary to seek our permission as the owner of the physical work to publish or otherwise use public domain materials that we have made available for use, unless Johns Hopkins University holds the copyright. All requests for permission to publish or perform materials in this collection must be submitted in writing to the archivist of the Arthur Friedheim Library.

Biographical / Historical

John Pendleton Kennedy was a key figure in politics, literature, and education in the 19th century. Born in Baltimore in 1795, Kennedy attended Baltimore College, graduating in 1812. In 1814, Kennedy joined the Army and fought in the War of 1812 in the United Company of the 5th Baltimore Light Dragoons, known as the "Baltimore 5th." Shortly after the war, Kennedy was admitted to the bar, but was more interested in literature than law. He wrote several novels, his best known books being Swallow Barn, or A Sojourn in the Old Dominion, published in 1832. Some acquaintances and friends of his included George Henry Calvert, James Fenimore Cooper, Charles Dickens, Washington Irving, Edgar Allan Poe, William Gilmore Simms, and William Thackeray.

Kennedy was also very involved in politics. He was an active Whig party member, elected to the Maryland House of Delegates in 1820 and later to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1838. As a congressman, he engineered the appropriation that underwrote Samuel Morse's successful experiment with the magnetic telegraph between Baltimore and Washington in 1844. In 1852, President Millard Fillmore appointed Kennedy to the post of Secretary of the Navy. During his time serving as Secretary, Kennedy organized several important naval expeditions, including Commodore Matthew Perry's voyage to Japan. Kennedy supported the Union during the Civil War and urged passage of the Emancipation Proclamation. He used his influence to create legislation in Maryland that would ultimately end slavery in the state in 1864.

Kennedy was close friends with George Peabody, supporting him in his mission to bring education in the arts and humanities to Baltimore. Kennedy worked with Charles James Madison Eaton and other trustees to outline a formal plan for building the Peabody Library and Peabody Conservatory of Music. Kennedy served on the Board of Trustees for the Peabody Institute, serving as the second President of the Board of Trustees. He was also influential in establishing St. Mary’s College of Maryland and the U.S. Naval Academy Band, and protecting the historic city of St. Mary’s City, Maryland.


4.75 Cubic Feet (1 half-size legal box, 1 full-size letter box, 116 bound volumes)


John Pendleton Kennedy was an influential writer, politician, and businessman in the Baltimore area who was instrumental in the establishment of the Peabody Institute. His papers include correspondence with many notable American cultural and political figures of the 19th century, as well as manuscripts, scrapbooks, and miscellaneous business documents.


This collection is predominantly made up of bound volumes, including books, manuscripts, and collections of correspondence. Each individual volume is categorized as an item within a series and listed in the finding aid according to a unique call number on the spine or housing.

The documents within items 9 and 10 in Series 5 (call numbers 77a and 77b) have been taken out of their original housing. Each of the accordion files were filled with documents organized under specific months. These documents have been taken out of the files, but left in original order. Each folder corresponds with the month those documents were filed within.

Other Finding Aids

A detailed index to correspondence in the Kennedy papers exists offline. Please contact the Peabody Archives for more information.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of the estate of John Pendleton Kennedy, probably in the 1870s.

Existence and Location of Copies

A microfilm set of the collection produced in 1972 is available at multiple libraries:

Processing Information

Information on binding and processing of most materials is unknown. Correspondence indexed by J.V. Ridgely in 1992. Arrangement by Kerri Sheehan in 2017.

Guide to the John Pendleton Kennedy papers
Kerri Sheehan
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Peabody Archives Repository

Peabody Institute
1 E. Mount Vernon Place
Baltimore MD 21202 USA