Journal describing the Listons' tour of the eastern seaboard, 1798

'It is a circumstance worth observation, how suddenly a whole nation can change their Sentiments with their Politics'

Quill and handwritten journal page

This journal is remarkable for its concise, evocative descriptions of a United States on the brink of war with France, Philadelphia's yellow fever epidemic, and of inhabitants of New Jersey — a black woman reading aloud in an abandoned house, and a shoemaker's family living in a cottage in the woods.

The journal begins with an account of war preparations — soldiers enlisting, Washington appointed Commander-in-Chief by President Adams, and Robert Liston and his secretaries issuing 'passports' to French citizens wanting to leave America.

[Read more]

Read the journal See tour on map

The Quasi-War, 'Undeclared War with France', or 'Pirate Wars' — as the naval conflict is variously known — grew from tensions between the United States and France which escalated between 1798 and 1800.

Henrietta emphasises her astonishment at the rapid political changes in the United States, wondering whether a 'Magic-art must have worked it.'

Due to diplomatic business necessitated by changes in the United States' neutrality and allegiances, the Listons stayed, at least for a while, in Philadelphia, so that Robert could attend to his work. They remained despite the city emptying of 'inhabitants of all ranks' — yellow fever had broken out.

Eventually, on the 23 August the Listons left Philadelphia for New York, exploring the areas of Flatbush and Utrecht on Long Island in what is now Brooklyn. They then proceeded through Connecticut to Boston, passing members of the Mohegan Tribe of Connecticut. In this journal Henrietta often draws comparisons between the eastern and the southern states, but also between the 'old country' and this 'new' country

Yellow fever epidemics

In 1796 the Listons, like many people, had gone to Germantown, a village less than 10 miles from Philadelphia to escape the threat of the 'contageon'. In 1798, however, they stayed for a time in their house on Arch Street near Sixth Street, one of the 'principal streets in Town'. Yet no-one from the Listons household caught the disease.

Dr Benjamin Rush, a friend of the Listons, was a key figure in investigating the causes and treatments of yellow fever and published on the subject. During the first epidemic in Philadelphia in 1793, Rush had stayed in the city, treating a great many patients.

The quarantine imposed on visitors entering cities changed the route the Listons took to Boston. Henrietta mentions the panic attending the yellow fever epidemic in 1793.

Manuscript page with quill pen and ink pot

States visited in this journal

Pennsylvania; New York; Connecticut; Massachusetts; New Hampshire; Maine; Rhode Island; New Jersey.

See tour on map

Notes on using the interactive map

Selected people named in this journal

Names in brackets are how Henrietta Liston refers to that person or spells their name in her journal.

Charles II of England, 1630-1685

John Jeffries, 1744-1819 ('Mr Jeffrey')

Sir Robert Liston, 1742-1836 ('Mr Liston')

Diplomat. Born in Kirkliston, Scotland, Robert Liston became an influential diplomat and was the second person to serve as British Minister to the United States, 1796-1801. Robert's service coincided with a highly significant period in British-American relations. In 1796 he married Henrietta Marchant Liston.

Joseph Priestley, 1733-1804 ('Dr Priestley')

Lord Henry Stuart, 1777-1809 ('Lord Henry')

Henry Stuart was the fifth son of the politician and diplomat the 1st Marquess of Bute, John Stuart, who Robert Liston was secretary for in Italy. Henry's mother was the wealthy heiress Charlotte Jane Hickman Windsor (1746-1800) who died suddenly on 28 January 1800. From the summer of 1796 to December 1800, Henry was secretary to Robert Liston, British Minister to the United States in Philadelphia. In 1802 he married the wealthy Irish heiress Lady Gertrude Amelia Villiers. They had three sons and a daughter. Henry died aged 32 and was buried in the Bute Mausoleum in St Margaret's Church, Roath, Wales.

Constantin Fran├žois de Chasseboeuf, Comte de Volney, 1751-1820 ('Volney')

George Washington, 1732-1799

Virginia soldier, politician, surveyor, planter. From 1754-1758 he served as a Virginian officer alongside British forces during the French and Indian War. Commander-in-Chief of American Continental Army during War of Independence, 1775-83. Presided over debates resulting in US Constitution, 1787 and became first President of the United States, 1789-1797. In 1789 he was unanimously elected President by the Electoral College. He was elected for a second term in 1793. After two terms in office, President Washington gave his farewell address 'to the people of the United States' and retired to his beloved Virginia estate, Mount Vernon. He died suddenly in December 1799.

Peregrine White, 1620?-1704 ('Peregrene')

Related content

Long read

Read Dr Christopher Minty's essay on the decline of Franco-American relations, 1796-1798.


On YouTube: A reading of Henrietta's description of the Quasi War between France and the United States, from her 1798 journal

[Library reference for this journal: MS.5699]

Browse the journals