“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, CATEGORIES: Liston, Henrietta Marchant, Niagara Falls, Travel


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