Foreign Visitors Interpret America 1800-1867


The books below were authored by foreign visitors to the U.S. They described what they saw, recorded their reactions, and collected information for friends or reading audiences back home. All the works cover, at least in part, travels in the region of the Great Lakes States. Books are grouped below in the decades in which the American travel began.


Links to all these books are on the Great Lakes Explorers and Travelers page, listed alphabetically by author.
For tips on reading online and downloading, see the note at the bottom of this page.


1800s

Ashe, Thomas, Travels in America Performed in 1806: For the Purpose of Exploring the Rivers… (1808)
A contemporary reviewer said that the author’s attitude, “… aroused so much bitterness that Americans began to resent all British travelers…”

1810s

Fearon, Henry B., Sketches of America: A Narrative of a Journey of Five Thousand Miles… (1819)
Fearon went to the U.S., as a representative of 39 English families who were considering emigrating to the U.S. His assignment was to visit potential destinations and report back on occupational outlook, cost of living, quality of schools, availability of goods and services, and anything else that might be important for new immigrants of his class in their new environment. This book was initially that report, rewritten for publication.

Flint, James, Letters from America: Containing Observations … (1822)
Flint was a Scottish economist who went to America to study prices, wages, land questions, and labor problems, but also found time to observe and report on many other subjects; economic and otherwise.

Fordham, Elias Pym, Personal Narrative of Travels in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky… (1906)
Fordham went to the U.S. with the intention of staying as a settler, but changed his mind after about 18 months. A young engineer from a prosperous family, he seems to have ‘gone native’ during his stay in Illinois, living the life of a rough frontiersman. This is a collection of his letters home, published many years later.

1820s

Trollope, Frances, Domestic Manners of the Americans (1832)
This was the author’s first of over 100 books. According to Wikipedia, this book “…created a sensation on both sides of the Atlantic, as Frances Trollope had a caustic view of the Americans and found America strongly lacking in manners and learning.” Like Ashe’s book many years before, Mrs. Trollope’s witty book made Americans suspicious of any British traveler seen taking notes.

1840s

Dickens, Charles, American Notes for General Circulation (1855)
The great English novelist who authored A Christmas Carol, A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations etc. traveled the U.S. early in his career and published this account shortly thereafter.

1850s

Beste, J. Richard, The Wabash, Adventures of an English Gentleman’s Family in the Interior of America (1855)
A member of the English gentry, traveling in the 1850s with “a large family of children” as a result of which they were “…brought into contact with much of which a single male traveler hears and sees nothing.” He, “… endeavored to represent in his pages what they saw and felt; consequently, they must contain much that is personal; much that is light, frivolous, anecdotical; much also that is dark and sorrowing; for such was the course of our travels.”

Bremer, Fredrika, America of the Fifties: Letters of Fredrika Bremer (1924)
Bremer was a popular Swedish novelist who was an intrepid traveler, describing her unusual observations and experiences in letters home.

Bird, Isabella Lucy, The Englishwoman in America (1856)
A young, well-to-do English lady traveled in the U.S. in 1854 with relatives. She wrote a steady stream of letters home to her friends, apparently without intending to make them public.

Shaw, James, Twelve Years in America: being observations on the Country … (1867)
Shaw was not exactly a traveler. He was an Irish minister who stayed in America for 12 years and got around a lot in his work with American churches. This book emphasizes American social issues with which he had become familiar.



Tips for Reading Online and Downloading

More than half the books on our website at History of the Great Lakes States are hosted by Internet Archive or Open Library. They are sister organizations and use the same online viewer application. In most cases this viewer will give you nearly perfect text if you;

1. switch from the double-page to the single-page view by using the icons in the bottom right corner, and;

2. Keep zooming in until the text snaps into a clear focus.

Using the single-page view allows you to scroll pages down with your mouse wheel.

You can download books from these two sites by clicking on the book name at the top-left corner of the page (in the viewer) to get to the download menu.