Maine: An Encyclopedia

Roberts, Kenneth L.

Selected Works

Arundel : A Chronicle of the Province of Maine and of the Secret Expedition led by Benedict Arnold against Quebec (1930)
The Battle of Cowpens: The Great Morale-Builder (1957)
Black Magic : an account of its beneficial use in Italy, of its perversion in Bavaria, and of certain tendencies which might necessitate its study in America (1924)
Boon Island (1955)
Captain Caution : a chronicle of Arundel (1934)
Concentrated New England : a sketch of Calvin Coolidge (1924)
Don’t Say that About Maine! (1948)
Europe’s Morning After (1921)
Florida (1926)
Florida Loafing: an investigation into the peculiar state of affairs which leads residents of 47 states to encourage Spanish architecture in the 48th (1925)
Foods of old New England. (1957) Introduction and notes
For Authors Only: and other gloomy essays (1935)
Good Maine Food (1939) Introduction and notes
Henry Gross and his Dowsing Rod (1951)
I Wanted to Write (1949)
It Must be Your Tonsils (1936)
The Kenneth Roberts Reader of the American Revolution (1976)
The Lively lady: a chronicle of Arundel, of privateering, and of the circular prison on Dartmoor (1931)
Lydia Bailey (1947)
March to Quebec: journals of the members of Arnold’s expedition (1940)
Northwest Passage (1937)
Oliver Wiswell (1940)
Rabble in Arms: a chronicle of Arundel and the Burgoyne invasion (1933)
The Seventh Sense (1953)
Sun Hunting: adventures and observations among the native and migratory tribes of Florida (1922)
Trending into Maine (1938)
Water Unlimited (1957)

Kenneth Lewis Roberts was born in Kennebunk in 1885, graduated from Cornell University, and remained a resident of Maine for most of his life. He was a popular novelist with best sellers such as Northwest Passage, Oliver Wiswell, and Lydia Bailey. His friendship with his neighbor Booth Tarkington, beginning in 1919, provided a supportive and constructively critical impetus to his writing.

Kenneth Roberts’ historical novel Arundel (1930) recounts the early life of the York County area and influenced the reemergence of the name Arundel for a Maine town.

Roberts served in World War I with the rank of Captain as a Military Intelligence Officer. In 1928 he left his position as a staff correspondent at the Saturday Evening Post to write historical fiction. His early work, while extensively researched, did not generate popular excitement. Nevertheless, Roberts’ March to Quebec; Journals of the Members of Arnold’s Expedition (1940), compiled and annotated during the writing of Arundel, is an excellent source for the history of that event.

Roberts career turned the corner after receiving an honorary doctorate from Dartmouth in 1934. By 1937 his Northwest Passage was a best seller and a year later both Middlebury and Bowdoin colleges awarded him honorary degrees.

He became fascinated with the traditional practice of dowsing — allegedly being able to find water under the ground by sensing a downward pull on wood held in ones hands. Considered quite unscientific, he was ridiculed for his belief in the “art.”

Two months before he died in 1957, Roberts received a Pulitzer Prize for “his historical novels which have long contributed to the creation of greater interest in our early American history.” His papers are at the Dartmouth College Library in Hanover, New Hampshire.

Kenneth L. Roberts is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Additional resources

Bales, Jack. “At the Nadir of Discouragement: The Story of Dartmouth’s Kenneth Roberts Collection.” Dartmouth College Library, April, 1990; reproduced at

Cournos, John. Famous Modern American Novelists. New York: Dodd, Mead. 1952.

Leonard, Chilson H. Kenneth Roberts: A Biographical Sketch, an informal study, his books and critical opinions. Garden City, N.Y. Doubleday, Doran. c1936. [University of Maine, Raymond H. Fogler Library, Special Collections; Maine State Library]

Roberts, Kenneth Lewis. I Wanted to Write. Camden, Me. Down East. 1977. [University of Maine at Presque Isle. Library and Learning Resource Center; Maine State Library]

Roberts, Kenneth Lewis. Papers, 1935-1955. [University of Maine, Raymond H. Fogler Library, Special Collections]

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