Helen Maria Williams was the daughter of a British army officer. She was brought up in Berwick-on-Tweed and moved in 1781 to London, where she became part of a wide intellectual and political circle. She also became a religious dissenter, an opponent of slavery, and a supporter of the ideals of the French Revolution. She traveled alone to France in the summer of 1790 and settled in Paris in 1792. There she befriended writers, political activists, and philosophers such as Mary Wollstonecraft, Madame Roland, and Thomas Paine. She was a first-hand witness to the Revolution as a "war journalist in a petticoat." She was imprisoned during the Reign of Terror, but was released and fled to Switzerland. After the fall of Robespierre in 1794, she returned to Paris and spent much of the rest of her life there. She was originally a supporter of Napoleon but later denounced him as a tyrant. She wrote poetry, novels, travel journals, and a voluminous correspondence, and did translations from French to English, including Paul et Virginie by Bernardin de Saint Pierre.