“My Kinsman, Major Molineux” takes place during a single night, as an 18-year-old, country-bred man named Robin arrives by ferry in Massachusetts Bay, where he hopes to “begin in the world” with the help of his wealthy and eminent cousin, Major Molineux. Little does Robin know that the colonies have turned hostile toward public servants who represent the Crown, having already driven out a number of governors. Robin is prepared for warmth and respect from the locals due to his association with the Major, but is only treated with distrust and indifference from the townspeople.
Unable to find a house befitting the imagined grandeur of his “kinsman,” Molineux, Robin encounters an old man, who loudly rebukes and threatens him, much to the amusement of the patrons and employees of a nearby barber shop. He then visits a tavern full of mariners and craftsmen, all of whom he considers to be lowly drunks. Here, Robin notices a horned man whispering to a group of ill-dressed associates. Robin asks this innkeeper where he can find Molineux, but he erroneously suspects that Robin is a runaway servant named Hezekiah Mudge, whose description superficially resembles Robin’s clothing (a gray cloak, leather breeches, and a tri-corner hat). When he finds out that Robin has no money with which to afford supper, the innkeeper throws him out.
Surprised at his cold reception in Massachusetts, Robin continues to roam the streets and back alleys of the town, hungry and dazed. He hopes to run into Molineux as he wanders, but only encounters crowds of young people dressed in elaborate, European-inspired clothing. He inspects the faces of every older gentleman he passes, hoping one of them will be his kinsman, to no avail. Robin hears the old man who threatened him earlier approaching once again, and crosses the street to a series of ramshackle houses on the bay. The door to one of these is open, with a woman in scarlet petticoats standing in the foyer. Opting to try his luck once again, Robin asks the woman where he can find Molineux. She claims that this is Molineux’s house, that she is his “housekeeper,” and that he is asleep inside after a strong draught of liquor. Robin believes her, and tells her that he’ll deliver a message from Molineux’s friends in the country and then retire to his room at the inn for the night. But the woman tries to pull Robin indoors, only retreating when the night watchman passes by. The watchman calls Robin a vagabond and tells him to go home, lest he be put in the stocks.
Robin resumes his wandering, noticing more groups of outlandishly dressed people who seem to be speaking foreign languages as they hurry along the road. He randomly stops a man wearing a bulky cloak and asks where he can find his kinsman, only to discover that it is the horned man from the tavern, now with his face painted half-red and half-black. The stranger tells Robin to wait an hour in the same location if he wants to see Molineux pass by. Disconsolate, Robin looks in through the window of a nearby church and sees the moonlight shining down on a Bible, a sight that evokes homesickness and loneliness, as it reminds him of his father, a New England clergyman, and the rest of his beloved family. At his wit’s end, Robin returns to the spot where he met the horned man and is soon joined by a kind gentleman who steps out from the shadow of the steeple and inquires sincerely after Robin’s business in the city and general wellbeing. The gentleman claims to be familiar with the horned man, and warns Robin of the riotous mood of the townspeople.
Eventually, a parade led by the horned man comes by, full of merriment, music, and costumes. What’s more, all of the individual townsfolk Robin has met that night appear on the scene. At the center of the procession, pulled along in a cart, is Major Molineux, having been tarred and feathered. He makes humiliated eye contact with Robin, causing Robin to shake violently with “a mixture of pity and terror.” After the revelers and their captive have passed, Robin asks the kind gentleman for the way back to the ferry, having concluded that his ventures in the town are a failure. But the gentleman tells him that if he stays, he may yet “rise in the world without the help of your kinsman, Major Molineux.”