U.S. Characters

  • Harriett Low
  • Dr. Peter Parker
  • Warren Delano

Harriett Low

The independent, self described spinster at 24, Harriett was a darling of the social set. She kept a secret diary of her observations.

Harriett Low Hillard (18 May 1809 – 1877) was an American woman of letters and diarist. From 1829 to 1833 she lived in the Portuguese colony of Macau on the South China coast, becoming one of the first young American women to live in China. During her stay from 1829 to 1833, she wrote a journal in the form of letters to her older sister Molly (Mary Ann, 1808 – 1851), and became acquainted with many of the influential individuals in the colony. After her return to the United States, she married and moved to London, returning to New York with her husband and five daughters in 1848.

Low had a strong desire to visit Canton, the only foreign trading enclave permitted in China at the time. However, under the regulations of the Thirteen Factory System, women were strictly forbidden from entering. Low dressed up like a boy, sailed to Canton, and went straight to the American Factory. When the Chinese discovered the women’s true identities, they threatened to stop all trade in Canton forthwith, forcing Low and her aunt to leave.

Low posed for a portrait by George Chinnery. She wore a low-cut dress in the latest fashion from Calcutta, with the sleeves stuffed with down pillows.