Archive for the ‘Liston, Henrietta Marchant’ Category

“at one spot we found a small Ladder”

Henrietta Liston continued to describe the visit she and her husband made to Niagara Falls in 1799.

I have said that the noise & the spray are the first objects which strike the Spectators, & prepare their Senses for the magnificent scenes afterwards presented to thier [sic] view. Great part of that noise proceeds from what are called the rapids, which extends for two miles above the Falls. The River of Niagara, one of the most beautiful we had seen, is more than three times broad at Fort Erie, & as it gradually contracts, the rapidity of its course redoubles from the greater declivity of the ground over which it rolls, a chain of white rocks raise themselves on each side of the bed of the River, & forms at last a Table of Rocks . . . almost a half circle, over which the immense Mass of water falls into the Gulf beneath.

As early in the Evening as we could tear ourselves away from an object, for which we had travelled so far & suffered so much, We reseated ourselves in our Cart, which had been left half a mile distant on the high road, & we reached the Fort of Chippaway, two miles up the River, where we found a very good Inn. . . .

We reached the Inn wet & dirty, & fatigued, but a good fire & tolerable Supper recruited & enabled us, after a comfortable sleep, to set out next morning immediately after breakfast. . . . The men determined to go down to the Bed of the River below the Cataract but for this purpose a Guide became necessary; with a view to find one we wandered to a Farm House sweetly situated about a half a mile from the Falls, & commanding a perfect view of Slucher Falls.

Here we found a respectable Farmer & some handsome Daughters, the youngest, almost ten years old, readily agreed to conduct us to the Bed of the River. She led us through Corn-fields, meadow ground, & thick woods to the brink of a precipice, a little alarming to look at, but I had taken my resolution, & with the assistance of Mr. L. & the young Gentlemen I was enabled to get down this Steep, holding by the Rocks & Branches, in constant apprehension of both giving way; at one spot we found a small Ladder, of ten or twelve steps firmly fixed. It was erected for the Wife of Gen. [John] Simcoe, when he was Governor of Upper Canada, & I beleive I was the second Gentle woman who descended it. An Indian ladder appeared to have been thrown down to make way for this, (the Indian Ladder consists of the Body of a small Tree in which are notches cut at equal distances, sufficient to place the heel & toe); one very critical step having alarmed me considerably, I was seized with a trembling in my legs which obliged me, on reaching the Bottom, to sit down on the Stones near an hour & my little Conductress, who ran up & down the Hill like a Kid,—gathered & brought me Sorril & wild Rasberries—called in England Virginian—which refreshed me a good deal. We saw several Boys standing, on the Rocks & fishing with very long lines, regardless of the sublime objects around them.

Being now on a level with the River, We looked up to these immense Cataracts, instead of looking down upon them as on the preceding Evening, From the Curve which the Horse Shoe Fall makes, it is from below that the complete Coup d’oeuil [sic] is taken. Near the Slucher Fall, coming out of the corner of the little Island, is a small Fall, at least what would merit that term in any other situation, but placed so near to objects of such magnitude it appeared a beautiful white Feather, & is called the Horses tail.

While I rested, the Gentlemen of the Party walked with much difficulty over the Stones along the side of the River, near half a mile, & got behind the Wall of Water formed by the curve of the Horse Shoe Fall. They could advance but a very little way from want of air. They were however enabled to gather from the Rock a thin transparent Spar formed by the Water, though in doing this the number of water Snakes incommoded them a little; these are, though disgusting to look at, the most innocent of their Tribe.

I cannot say that the superior beauty of the scene sufficiently repaid the trouble of descending to the Bed of the River, as the Table Rock certainly affords a very enchanting view. From our present situation, however, we discovered the very strange appearance of this Table Rock, which struck us as a thin peice [sic] of stone projecting between 40 & 50 feet from the large Mass over which the Cataracts fell, & hanging over this tremendous Gulf in danger every moment of falling into it, & I was a little agitated on recollecting that the Evening before, we had lain down on our breasts upon this Bed of danger in order to look at the Horse Shoe Fall with safety. . . .

Finding myself sufficiently recovered, & our curiosity gratified I attempted the ascent, which I performed with much more ease than I had gone down. We drank milk with the Father & Sisters of our little Girl, took a long & last view of the Slucher Fall, & rewarded our Guide not only for the dexterity with which she had performed her task, but for the good humoured vivacity with which she had amused us.

As Robert and Henrietta Liston prepared to leave for England in 1800, Mrs. Liston wrote that she expected “there might be many moments when I should recollect with melancholy pleasure the happy & cheerful hours I had past in the United States & the thousand kindnesses we had experienced from the Inhabitants of every State we had visited.”

Louise North, The Travel Journals of Henrietta Marchant Liston (Lexington Books: Lanham, Maryland, 2014), pages 87-91.

posted November 23rd, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Liston, Henrietta Marchant,Niagara Falls,Travel

“sensations of astonishment & of delight”

In 2014 Louise North, a co-editor of In the Words of Women, published a delightful little book called The Travel Journals of Henrietta Marchant Liston from which this blog has excerpted several passages. Having featured Ann Powell’s description of Niagara Falls in the previous post I thought it would be interesting to read what Mrs. Liston thought of that marvel of nature. Mrs. Liston had accompanied her husband Robert to the United States in 1796 when he was named British minister to the new nation. During her stay she kept a journal and wrote letters to her uncle in England describing the country and the people they met. In August 1799, the Listons visited Niagara Falls.

We were now within eight or nine miles of this fanfarred Wonder without hearing any noise from the Waters, though it is said, that when the Wind is in certain quarters the roaring of the Falls is heard at the distance of twenty or thirty miles; no sound reached us till within three miles.

The first part of this truly sublime & interesting object visible to us, was a thick vapour which rose beautifully up & seemed to mix with the Clouds. We quitted our Cart, & seeking our way—for we found no one to guide us—through the Woods & Fields, were led by the noise & the Spray to the first opening amongst the trees. The Sun was just near setting, & no Spectacle in the World could have so impressed us. Never, indeed, can I forget the sensations of astonishment & of delight, which I experienced at the first glance of this stupendous object, for it was a glance only, dimly perceived through the mist which envelloped it. The beauty of the rain bow, formed by the departing rays of the Sun, & extending from one fall to the other, blending its vivid colours with the sparkling of the water cannot be described. We stood enchanted, & could scarcely recover ourselves sufficiently to descend a steep Bank & travelling by an Indian Path, (that is a track for one at a time), through the Bushes, reached the Table Rock, a projecting point so called, from whence you have the first complete view of the Cataracts, & which is a part of that chain of rocks over which the Water precipitates itself.

The Cataract of Niagara is divided into two Falls by a beautiful little wooded island, the centre of which forms a line of division betwixt the British & the American Possessions. The whole breadth of the falls, including the Island, measures nearly a mile, the Island not occupying quite a fourth of this. The height does not exceed a hundred & forty or one hundred & fifty feet. These Cataracts assume very different characters, a part of that on the British side, forms a curve & is called the Horse Shoe; the Water appears like a Wall, & projects with so great a force as to be perfectly distinct from the rock over which it falls, & allows of your penetrating betwixt them, when you descend to the Bed of the River. a Gentleman well accustomed to the measurement of water, conceived from the experiments he made, that this Wall of Water was not less than twenty feet thick, & from its thickness it assumes a deep tinge of green. The Cataract on the American side, called Slusher, presents a foaming brilliant white Sheet. Both the falls receive a thousand different modifications & beautiful tints from the manner in which the Sun happens to strike upon them, from the State of the atmosphere, or the force of the Winds.

The great sublimity of this Scene proceeds, chiefly, from the immense Body of Water which precipitates over the rock. It is in fact the Mass of Water flowing from all the upper Lakes, or interior Seas of Canada. The Lake of the Woods, & Lake Superior, Lake Huron, Lake Michigan, & Lake Erie, the North East end of which last, connects itself with Lake Ontario, by means of the river of Niagara, which is about thirty miles in length from Fort Erie to the Fort of Niagara, & forms a part of the boundary betwixt the United States of America & upper Canada.

Read on in the next post.

posted November 19th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Liston, Henrietta Marchant,Niagara Falls,Travel

A nice outing on a summer day

This is a reminder that my colleagues Louise North, Landa Freeman, and I will be giving a PowerPoint presentation at the National Historic Park in Morristown, New Jersey, on August 16 at 1 pm. It will focus on the lives of women during the Revolution and afterwards, using material from our book In the Words of Women. This site commemorates the encampment of George Washington and his troops during the winter of 1779-80, the coldest on record. Excerpts from Louise North’s latest book The Travel Journals of Henrietta Marchant Liston, the wife of the British ambassador to the United States from 1796 to 1800, will be included. The talk will be followed by Q & A and our book will be available for sale and signing. Do consider attending.

posted August 13th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Liston, Henrietta Marchant,Readings and Exhibitions

“the resignation of power over an immense country”

Henrietta Liston was keenly aware of George Washington’s importance as a key figure in America’s history. (See post.) When he voluntarily resigned his office, Mrs. Liston commented on what the reasons underlying that decision might have been.

On the third of March [1797], it being the last day of General Washington’s power as President, he gave a publick dinner to the officers of the State, Foreign Ministers principal Senators, & to their respective Ladies.

I had, as usual, the gratification of being handed to Table & of sitting by the President. Had I never before considered the character of Washington, I should certainly have joined the general voice, & pronounced him greater in this voluntary retreat, & in the resignation of power over an immense country, than when, having by his conduct as a Soldier, been the principal means of rendering his Country independent, he became, by the universal suffrage of the people, its ruler & director. I should have repeated with others—Washington is the first of Men, wise, great, & good, whereas as I now view him, he is in truth & reality, honest, prudent, & fortunate, & wonderful to say, almost without ambition; these words are less dignified but not less strong. . . .

The World gives General Washington more credit for his retirement from publick life than I am disposed to do. He has for eight years sacrificed his natural taste, first habits, & early propensities, I really believe we may truly say, solely to what he thought the good of his Country. But he was become tired of his situation, fretted by the opposition often made to his measures; & his pride revolted against the ingratitude he experienced, and he was also disgusted by the scurrilous abuse lavished upon him by his political enemies.

Later that year, the Listons visited Mount Vernon once again.

Washington still appears more amiable & happy since his retirement from a public life. He has had the good fortune to fill the three first situations in America—at the Head of the Army, during the Rebellion against England, The first Magistrate after the Independence of his Country, &, having voluntarily retired, after filling the office of President to the United States for eight years, He is now the first & most extensive Farmer, perhaps on the Continent. He possesses Lands in several different States, but at Mount Vernon He at present holds four thousand acres, in his own hands.

And, Liston added, “He has five hundred slaves.”

Quotations are from The Travel Journals of Henrietta Marchant Liston: North America and Lower Canada, 1796-1800 (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Press, 2014) pages 17-19. The map is from a drawing made by Washington himself and can be found HERE.

posted February 23rd, 2015 by Louise, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Liston, Henrietta Marchant,Mount Vernon,Slaves/slavery,Washington, George

“Guns were fired & Bells rung”

Louise North, a colleague and the author of The Travel Journals of Henrietta Marchant Liston, has provided observations by Mrs. Liston about George Washington for this post and the one following,

Shortly after arriving in New York City from England on May 1, 1796, Henrietta Marchant Liston and her husband Robert, the new British ambassador, hurried off to Philadelphia, then the capital of the United States. Mr. Liston was anxious to present his credentials to the Congress before it adjourned. Mrs. Liston was just eager to meet the nation’s President.

Washington has made to himself a name remarkable in Europe, but of peculiar [special] Magic in America. . . . Washingtons appearance & manners struck me extremely. Tall, Majestic & well proportioned, his face at the age of sixty three rather pleasing, particularly when he smiles. In his air & movements, there was a dignity which the general coldness of his address did not lessen; to me he was affable & kind & when we rose to take leave, requested to see us often without ceremony & reserve.

The Listons were in Philadelphia in 1797 for the celebration of President George Washington’s birthday and Mrs. Liston recorded her impressions.

[O]n Wednesday last, the 22nd of Feby. the Presidents Birth day was celebrated with all the splendour the Country could afford, Guns were fired & Bells rung—in the Morning the Gentlemen waited on the President, & the Ladies on Mrs. Washington, & were entertained with cake & wine. Ricketts Amphitheater was fitted up & in the Evening a Ball given to about a thousand Persons; the President appeared in the American Uniform, (blue & buff,) with the Cross of Cincinnatus at his breast in diamonds . . . . I went in about seven oClock to the Presidents Box, from which we had a very compleat view of the Company; the Country dances and cotillions were danced verging from the Centre, which admitted of ten, fifteen couples in each, so that three hundred Persons moved at the same time. The American Ladies dance better than any set of People I ever saw . . . .

This was not the first time that Washington’s birthday had been celebrated by Americans. Charlotte Chambers had attended a similar festivity on February 22, 1795 (see post here). Although held in the nation’s capital, neither occasion was an official federal holiday; that designation did not occur until 1885. However, the government did call for a “solemn Fast with Sermons Orations &c” to be held on February 22, 1800, two months after George Washington’s death.

Quotations are from The Travel Journals of Henrietta Marchant Liston: North America and Lower Canada, 1796-1800 (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Press, 2014) pages 7-8; and from a letter in late February 1797 in the Liston Papers, National Library of Scotland (also on microfilm at the Library of Congress). The unfinished portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart (known as the Athenaeum) is jointly owned by The National Portrait Gallery, the Smithsonian Institution, Washington. DC, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Done in 1796, it is one of the earliest portraits of Washington by Stuart.

posted February 19th, 2015 by Louise, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Liston, Henrietta Marchant,Philadelphia,Washington, George

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