Robert Louis Stevenson began writing Kidnapped in March of 1885. In February, he had finished writing The Black Arrow and was working on The Great North Road when he read Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. A month later, he put aside the The Great North Road and began writing Kidnapped. Shortly after, the project was laid aside while Stevenson focused on Jekyll and Hyde. He returned to Kidnapped in early 1886. During that year however, Stevenson had constantly thought of his character, David Balfour. In one of the letters Stevenson sent to his father, Stevenson wrote, "I am at David again, and have just murdered James Stewart semi-historically?"
The idea for the novel was partially claimed by Stevenson's wife, Fanny. Stevenson had considered writing a play entitled, The Hanging Judge, but had recently discarded the notion. His wife, however, decided to write the play herself. She was encouraged by her husband's offer to help her along the way. She chose to set the play in the period of 1700 but knew very little about this time. To aid her research, Fanny put in an order at a London Bookstore to send her anything that pertained to the Old Bailey trials. When the material arrived, she and her husband pored over it. They were both intrigued. Soon, books on other trials followed. One book ignited the flame in Stevenson that led to his creation of David Balfour, the plot of Kidnapped, and the sequel to follow. The fuel for these stories came from the statement: "The Trial of James Stewart in Aucharn in Duror of Appin For the Murder of Colin Campbell of Glenure, Esq., Factor for His Majesty on the forfeited Estate of Ardshiel."
The Stevensons were living at Skerryvore in Bournemouth, England. While writing Kidnapped, Stevenson suffered from great physical illness and a wearied homesickness. He found living in England monotonous in comparison to his beloved Scotland. As McFarlan writes, "Like many a Scot he always appeared to be far happier when indisputedly in exile or traveling oversees rather than merely slightly out of place in the intellectual and emotional suburbia which England seemed." Thus, much of his writing centered on Scotland and the Scottish character, an idea which had always intrigued him. The duality of the character and the heathery landscape of Scotland drew him to a novel where he could explore the physical and personal geography of Scotland.
When Stevenson finished the work in the spring of 1886, he sold it first as a serial to Young Folks magazine. Editor James Henderson accepted the work for serialization but warned Stevenson not to have "much broad Scotch in it." The magazine first published the story on May 1, 1886. The novel was published in book form in July of 1886. The story of adventure fiction was a large success at home and abroad. During the next couple of years, large royalties came in for Treasure Island and Kidnapped, alleviating Stevenson's past money worries. His fame was esteemed highly in the United States, where he accepted a well paying contract from Scribners to write twelve articles a year. However, Kidnapped's approval fell sharply in the years following Stevenson's death. Many viewed the work skeptically, thinking it was solely a fiction adventure story for boys. Critics began to explore alternate, more in-depth readings of Kidnapped about midway through the Twentieth Century and it has since regained critical approval.