Journal describing arrival in North America, 1796

'I felt a great anxiety to see the President'

Quill and handwritten journal page

Covering the summer of 1796, this journal describes the Listons' arrival in the United States, from their first sight of New York harbour to their introduction into Philadelphian society.

Mrs Liston describes the friendly reception her husband received and her first impressions of America — its society, 'entertainments' and politicians.

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Henrietta recalls meeting Founding Fathers John Jay and Alexander Hamilton in New York and George Washington in Philadelphia, then the capital city. The women she encounters also draw her attention. Mrs Sarah Jay and Mrs Martha Washington impress, while the 'extreme coldness' of other ladies strikes her 'extremely'.

Henrietta's pithy, vivid word portraits of important figures are one of the most captivating aspects of her writing.

The journal also contains descriptions of the city of Philadelphia, the banks of the Schuylkill, Martha Washington's weekly levees, the Listons' first visit to Mount Vernon, and their first sight of the 'Federal City' — Washington, DC — which was then under construction.

New York

After a six-week Atlantic crossing on the HMS Assistance, the Listons found lodgings for their fortnight in New York at the Belvedere Tavern, which stood between Clinton and Cherry streets overlooking the Hudson.

The Listons were thrown in at the diplomatic deep-end as their arrival not only coincided with the 'execution' of the 'British Treaty', but with celebrations on 1 May for Saint Tammany, a patron saint adopted during the Revolutionary War.

The highly contested 'British Treaty', Jay Treaty, or Treaty of Amity Commerce and Navigation, had been ratified by George Washington in 1795, but opposition to it continued into 1796.

Despite the anti-treaty protests and the Tammany festival crowds, Henrietta felt that their arrival was 'propitious', and indeed the Listons received a proper diplomatic welcome and more invitations than could 'accepted in a month's residence'.

The goodwill toward them continued. Following a visit to the theatre, Liston noted that 'the popular & offensive French Music' usually played there was omitted due to the presence of a 'New British-Minister'.

Philadelphia and the President

From New York, the Listons went to Philadelphia and took 'a very handsome' house in Arch Street, near Sixth Street, which had been occupied by the Spanish Minister to the United States, Joseph de Jaudenes y Nebot, who was leaving the United States.

With help from British Consul Phineas Bond, they also rented a 'Country-House' for the summer in Germantown, to escape the 'extreme heat of the city' and the threat of yellow fever.

In Philadelphia Henrietta first met President George Washington, and this journal includes a description of Henrietta's first experience of presidential dinning. The invitation card to this dinner at four o'clock on Wednesday 18 May 1796 is preserved in the Liston Papers at the National Library of Scotland.

To Henrietta the occasion seemed 'sombre & formal' though with an 'air of magnificence'. As wife of the British Minister, Mrs Liston sat next to President Washington. They ate 'two courses of French cookery served up in the American style'.

This combination of the culture and politics France, the United States and Great Britain is a hallmark of many of Henrietta's experiences in North America.

Manuscript page with quill pen and ink pot

States visited in this journal

New York; New Jersey; Pennsylvania; Maryland; Washington, DC; Virginia; West Virginia.

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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.

William Bingham, 1752-1804

Merchant, businessman, politician. After studying at the University of Pennsylvania, William joined the highly successful Philadelphia trading firm Willing, Morris, and Company established by Thomas Willing and Robert Morris. In 1776 he was sent to the island of Martinique by Continental Congress to secure produce and munitions for the American army. In 1780 he married the accomplished and admired eldest daughter of Thomas Willing, Anne (1764-1801), and for much of the 1780s they toured Europe. After their return to Philadelphia, Bingham was elected Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in 1790. He served as a U.S. Senator from 1795 to 1801. At their impressive Philadelphia home, Mansion House, William and Anne were important hosts in elite Philadelphian society. After his wife's death William moved to England with his son where he died in 1804.

Phineas Bond, 1749-1815

Diplomat Phineas Bond was the son of Dr Phineas Bond and Williamina Moore of Philadelphia. He had five siblings. Consul-General at Philadelphia between 1786 and 1812, Phineas worked closely with Robert Liston. Correspondence between Phineas and Robert Liston survives in the Sir Robert Liston Papers at the National Library of Scotland.

Benjamin Franklin, 1706-1790

Pennsylvania politician, diplomat, philosopher, scientist, journalist, printer and opponent of slavery. Agent of Pennsylvania in London, 1757-1762 and 1764-1775, he helped Thomas Jefferson refine the draft of the Declaration of Independence. The United States' representative in France, 1776-1785, he persuaded the French to support American Revolution.

Ciprão Ribeiro, Chevalier de Freire, 1749-182 ('Chevalier')

Diplomat. Having been Chargé d'Affaires in Britain, Ciprão Ribeiro was appointed first Portuguese Minister to the United States in 1790, yet didn't arrive in Philadelphia until 1794. He served until 1799.

Agnes Frances Lockyer Freire, 1761-1817 ('Madame de Freire')

Agnes, widow of Richard Lockyer, married Portuguese diplomat Ciprão Ribeiro in 1791 and lived in Philadelphia from 1794 to 1799.

Alexander Hamilton, 1757-1804 ('Colonel Hamilton')

Politician, economist, lawyer, and soldier. Born in the West Indies on Saint Kitts and Nevis, of Scottish descent. A key supporter of the U.S. Constitution, he co-authored 'The Federalist' to support ratification of the new Constitution. He married Elizabeth Schyuler in 1780 and had seven children. He served as Secretary of the Treasury, 1789-1795. In 1804 he was killed in duel by political rival Aaron Burr.

William Hamilton, 1745-1813

Landscape designer, botanist. Born in Philadelphia to a wealthy family of lawyers, William inherited land on the west side of the Schuylkill River while he was still a student. Here he built his mansion-house, The Woodlands, in the Federalist style. William travelled to England where he visited grand gardens and country estates. The mansion had neo-classical interiors and the landscape was based on the English style. The Listons were invited to The Woodlands by William. The Liston Papers at the National Library of Scotland contains a letter from him to Robert Liston.

John Jay, 1745-1829

Revolutionary, politician, diplomat, and outspoken opponent of slavery, Jay was Governor of New York from 1795 to 1801. Appointed Commissioner to Spain in 1779. He was President of Continental Congress, 1788-1779, and became first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, and special Envoy from America to Britain in 1794. He negotiated the 1794 'Jay Treaty' which helped improve U.S. relations with Britain.

Sarah Livingston Jay, 1756-1802 ('Mrs Jay')

Born in New Jersey to a wealthy landowning family, Sarah 'Sally' Livingston married John Jay in 1774 aged 18. She accompanied her husband to Spain in 1779 and then to France in 1782 where, living in Paris, she visited the French Court. The Jays returned to New York after the signing of the Treaty of Paris — the Peace Treaty between the United States and Great Britain ending the War of Independence — Mrs Jay became one an important figure in the élite society of New York.

Thomas Jefferson, 1743-1826

Lawyer and political thinker. Born in Virginia, Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence and American Minister to France between 1785-1789. He became the first U.S. Secretary of State in 1790, Vice-President in 1797, and the third President of the United States in 1801. He served two terms.

Tobias Lear, 1762-1816 ('Private Secretary')

Born in New Hampshire, Tobias attended Harvard University from 1779 to 1783. In 1786 he was employed as personal secretary by George Washington, in addition he was tutor to Martha Washington’s grandchildren and so became part of the Washingtons' household. In 1790 he married Mary 'Polly' Long and they had a son. Mary died in Philadelphia in the yellow fever epidemic of 1793. In 1795 he married the Washingtons' niece Frances 'Fanny' Bassett Washington, but she too died — in 1796. Close to Washington, Tobias was present at his deathbed.

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.

William Penn, 1644-1718 ('Penn' / 'the Founder')

Quaker leader, founder of Pennsylvania. Born in London, William was the son of Sir William Penn and Margaret Jasper, who was Dutch. In 1660 he attended Christ Church, Oxford University, but left at the end of 1661 and travelled in Europe. He also spent time in Ireland and became increasingly interested in Quakerism, converting in the late 1670s. In 1672 William married the Quaker writer Gulielma Maria Springett (died 1694). In 1681 King Charles II granted a large area of land in North America to William, which became Pennsylvania. William arrived in 1682 and upheld good relations with the Lenni Lenape (Delaware) tribe. William married Hannah Callowhill (1670-1726) in 1696. Financial difficulties sent them back to England in 1701. After suffering strokes in 1712, William died in 1718 and was buried at the Quaker burial-ground at Jordans in Buckinghamshire.

Timothy Pickering, 1745-1829 ('Secretary of State' / 'Mr Pickering')

Army officer, diplomat, politician. Born in Salem, Massachusetts to Deacon Timothy and Mary Wingate Pickering, Timothy was educated at Harvard College and received an AB degree in 1763. He entered the Revolutionary Army in 1776 and served as Quarter-Master General from 1780 until 1784. He was appointed Postmaster General in 1791 and in 1795, President George Washington appointed him Secretary of State. President John Adams dismissed Timothy from the post in May 1800.

John Hoskins Stone, 1750-1804 ('Governor Stone')

Lawyer, army officer, governor. Born in Charles County, Maryland, John was elected seventh Governor of Maryland in 1794. He served three terms, leaving office in November 1797.

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.

Tammany, or Tamanend, 1625?-1701? ('St Taminy')

Tammany was the chief of the Lenni Lenape (Delaware) tribe at the time Philadelphia was founded. He played an important role in the early treaties negotiated with the founder of Philadelphia, William Penn.

Elizabeth Bowdoin Temple, 1750-1809 ('Lady Temple')

Elizabeth was the daughter of Massachusetts Governor James Bowdoin and his wife Elizabeth Erving Bowdoin. In 1767 she married the diplomat John Temple, British Consul-General in the United States. John inherited a baronetcy in 1786 that made him Sir John Temple and Elizabeth became Lady Temple.

Anthony Wane, 1745-1796 ('General Wane')

Statesman, U.S. Army General and member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Wane married Mary Penrose. He became known as 'Mad Anthony'. He led an expedition in the Northwest Indian War, and died in 1796 from complications with gout.

George Washington, 1732-1799 ('the President')

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.

Martha Dandridge Custis Washington, 1731-1802 ('Mrs Washington')

Born at Chestnut Grove plantation in New Kent County, Virginia, Martha married Daniel Parke Custis in 1750. She had four children with him, all of whom she outlived. Custis was 20 years older than Martha and died in 1757. Martha married George Washington in 1759.

Elizabeth Bowdoin Temple Winthrop, 1769-1825 ('Daughter')

Daughter of Elizabeth Bowdoin and diplomat Sir John Temple, British Consul-General in the United States. In 1786, she married Thomas Lindall Winthrop (1760-1841), a merchant and Harvard graduate.

William White, 1748-1836 ('Bishop White')

Revolutionary, bishop, trustee of the University of Pennsylvania. Born in Philadelphia in April 1748, William White was ordained at St James's Palace, London in 1770. He was assistant rector at Christ Church and St Peter's Church in Philadelphia during the American Revolution. William became Chaplain of the United States Senate and was appointed the first Presiding Bishop of the American Episcopalian Church for the General Convention of 1789.

John Witherspoon, 1723-1794 ('Dr Witherspoon')

Scottish-born Presbyterian Minister, college president. John Witherspoon was born in Gifford in the parish of Yester and educated at the University of Edinburgh. He was invited to become president of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University). In 1768 he and his wife, Elizabeth Montgomery Witherspoon, were persuaded to emigrate to America by the young Benjamin Rush. John became a political leader, and was a signatory of the Declaration of Independence.

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Long read

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


On YouTube: A reading of Henrietta Liston's description of people and parties in New York City from her 1796 journal

On YouTube: A reading of Henrietta's description of Founding Fathers John Jay and Alexander Hamilton

[Library reference for this journal: MS.5696]

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