by Barbara Passmore
Serena McDonald Kennedy was born in 1850 on the fourth of July. She was the fifth of seven daughters and the ninth child of James and Serena Swain McDonald in Thomas County, Georgia. She was descended from Alexander McDonald, a Scottish Highlander, who fought with General James Oglethorpe at the Battle of Bloody Marsh, which saved Florida from the Spanish. His son was our Revolutionary hero. Her father and mother settled on a farm between the McDonald and Swain plantations, later occupying the Reese plantation and finally the Swain plantation where they lived until their deaths. A town grew up around their home site named McDonald, Georgia, now known as Pavo, making James one of the first real estate developers of the area. Serena, although far down the list of girls, had her mother’s name, one, it was said, that fit her personality. Only a few years after her birth, her father would go to war as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Confederacy and she would lose a brother in the War Between the States. We have in our possession a long letter written in beautiful Spencerian script from her brother, Kenneth, a Captain, dated April 20, 1863 (when she was 13 and he was 23), from “near Fredricksburg, Virgina.” He wrote of the beauty of Spring in Virginia, and as a postscript, he said: “You will excuse this miserable bad written thing of a letter; for God’s sake don’t show it.” Only two weeks later, he was wounded at Chancellorsville and died three weeks later. Serena was 30 years old before McDonald, Georgia, became Pavo, because of a conflict with the larger town named McDonough. At that time, a Mr. Peacock was Postmaster, and wanted the town to have his name, so in forwarding a group of names for selection to the U.S. Postal Service, he included Pavo (Latin for “peacock”) and this was the one chosen.” My grandmother was a great believer in education, and to our ultimate benefit, she saw that my father went to prep school and college, unusual in the rural area in which our family lived. His education influenced our family in many ways, and I attribute my love of literature to that heritage. Although Serena died before I was born, my mother, Adeline Kennedy, was so devoted to her mother-in-law that she quoted her often and patterned our development after what she learned from her mother-in-law. My sister, Martha Stephenson, my brother, William Kennedy, and I are her only grandchildren living today. It is a great honor for us to have the Serena McDonald Kennedy Award named for her.