Journal describing the Listons' trip to Niagara Falls, 1799

'No Spectacle in the World could have so impressed us'

Quill and handwritten journal page

Beset by swarms of mosquitos and the fear of getting 'Lake Fever', Henrietta Liston's trip to see Niagara Falls was a 'troublesome voyage'. But it was one that ultimately left her 'delighted at having beheld an Object which no time can ever erase from the Memory.'

This journey was part of the Listons' summer tour around New York State for which they used Platt's Inn, Albany as their base.

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Returning to Albany after an excursion to the mineral springs of New York, the Listons, their footman, friend David Erskine, and Robert's secretaries, Edward Thornton and Lord Henry Stuart, set off to see a 'truly sublime & interesting object' — the Falls of Niagara — on 5 August 1799.

Journey by boat

One of the party's first stops was Fort Stanwick to meet the well-stocked boat that would carry them up the Mohawk River and Wood Creek to Lake Ontario. The boat, leant to them by General Philip Schuyler, was manned by two rowers and a helmsman. All in all, Henrietta travelled with nine men.

Though occasionally staying in inns and taverns, the travellers often made camp for the night — the diplomat and his wife sleeping on board in a makeshift bed, and the gentlemen under a tent on shore. Henrietta describes their daily routine: their tablecloth was newspaper, their candlestick a bottle, fires were driftwood, and their provisions were rusks and hung beef, with eels and milk provided by locals.

While Mrs Liston notes the 'hardship' of this mode of travel, she is also, at times, humoured by its novelty.

From Henrietta's descriptions it is clear that the group sailed the length of Lake Ontario on its south side, harbouring in creeks overnight. Other parts of their journey are less clearly described in terms of the precise routes they took.

Henrietta's comments on indigenous people, fellow travellers, tavern keepers and other locals reveal her views on gender, class, race and ethnicity. Henrietta describes fear when she shares the same riverbank overnight as a group of native men — though in the morning she believes they were 'at least as much afraid of us as we had been of them'. Henrietta's descriptions indigenous people contain criticisms of their appearance and disapproval of the heavy drinking of the men.

'A Great and friendly nation'

In August 1799 the Listons were given an official pass into New York State signed by the Governor John Jay. The certificate is dated 5 August 1799, the very day on which the Listons' set off from Albany for Niagara Falls. Bearing the privy seal of the State at the city of Albany, and John Jay's signature, the document ensures the Listons enjoyed unimpeded movement through New York.

The wording of the document conveys the reconciliation between Britain and the United States, instructing that Robert Liston should 'experience all the Respect and attention which are due to the Minister of a Great and friendly nation.'

Manuscript page with quill pen and ink pot

States and provinces visited in this journal

New York, United States; Ontario, Canada.

See tour on map

Notes on using the 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.

John Bradstreet, 1714-1774 ('General Broadstreet')

Joseph Brant or Thayendanegea, 1742/43-1897 ('Chief of the Mohaws'/ 'Capt Brent')

Mohawk chief, statesman, Loyalist, translator. Joseph fought in the Seven Years' War and American Revolution. His wife, Catharine, was from a prominent Mohawk family. He was the brother of Mary Brandt (1736-1796), the Mohawk clan mother Konwatsi'tsiaienni, and wife of Sir John Johnson.

Peter Colt ('Mr Cutts')

Peter married Sarah Lyman in 1776. He was Connecticut State Treasurer between 1789 and 1794.

Peter Colt ('Mr Cutts')

Sarah married Peter Colt in 1776.

David Montagu Erskine, 2nd Baron Erskine, 1776-1855

Diplomatist. Having studied at Trinity College, Cambridge, David Erskine lived in the United States for four years and worked with Consul Phineas Bond. In 1799 he married Frances Cadwallader, daughter of General John Cadwallader of Philadelphia. In July 1806 he was appointed Minister-Plenipotentiary to the United States of America and was recalled in 1809. He was Minister-Plenipotentiary at Stuttgart, 1824-1828, and Minister to Bavaria from 1828-1843.

Henry Glen, 1739-1814

Military officer, merchant, politician. Born in Schenectady, New York, Henry was the brother of Johannes Glen.

Mary Herkimer McLean Hamilton ('Mrs Hamilton')

The widow of Neil McLean who died in 1795, Mary married Robert Hamilton in 1797 and they had four children.

Robert Hamilton, 1753-1809 ('Judge Hamilton')

Businessman, politician, judge. Robert was born in Scotland and emigrated to North America through connections in the fur trade. He was a member of the Legislative Council of Upper Canada. He married his second wife, Mary Herkimer, in 1797 and they had four children.

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.

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

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.

Sir Edward Thornton, 1766-1852 ('Mr Thornton')

Edward Thornton, like Robert Liston, was a self-made diplomat who entered the service through connections he made while he was tutor to the sons of a well-connected political family. Having served as secretary for George Hammond, Minister to the United States in 1791, he became secretary to Robert Liston in 1796 when he took over from Hammond. When Robert returned to Britain in 1800, Edward was Chargé d'Affaires until 1804. In 1812 he married Wilhelmina Koph and had seven children. After working on diplomatic missions in Sweden, he was appointed Minister to Portugal in 1817 and took up the position at the Portuguese Court in Brazil. In 1823 he went to Portugal as Envoy-Extraordinary and Minister-Plenipotentiary. He was made Count of Cassilhas by the King of Portugal and retired in a pension in 1824.

Charles Williamson, 1757-1808 (Capt Williamson)

Military officer, entrepreneur.

[Library reference for this journal: MS.5701]

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