Kate Aylesford, or, The Heiress of Sweetwater

Written by Charles J. Peterson
Review by Mary L. Newton

Originally published in 1855 and out of print from 1873 until 2001, Kate Aylesford has attained legendary status among residents of New Jersey in recent decades. A new edition makes it available to a wide audience.

This historical romance is set in the New Jersey Pine Barrens during the American Revolution. Its heroine, Kate, is beautiful, kindhearted, and honorable — as expected. She is also well-educated, resourceful, and assertive — more unusual for a novel of this period and genre. Shipwrecked with her aunt at the beginning of the book, she is rescued by the hero, Major Gordon — a brave, quick-thinking patriot. This episode sets into motion their romance.

The imaginative plot mixes actual history, local myth, adventure, and romance. George Washington makes a cameo appearance, and secondary characters are vigorous and recognizable. Short chapters contribute to a quick pace. Peterson describes the natural setting of the eighteenth-century Pine Barrens vividly.

The novel is typically Victorian, with its wordy phrasing, insertion of the narrator’s opinions, females collapsing from stress, and stereotypical portrayals of African-Americans. Enjoyable, though dated, Kate will appeal most to readers interested in New Jersey history and the Revolutionary period.