An introduction to Henrietta Liston's journals

'Though the American character is in general cold & phlegmatic — Political changes are like Electrical Shocks.'

Henrietta Marchant Liston was a diarist and botanist, and an informed but unofficial observer and commentator on early national America.

Henrietta married the diplomat, Robert Liston, who was appointed British Minister to the United States only 13 years after the end of the War of Independence. Between 1796 and 1801 the Listons journeyed through the United States, Lower Canada and West Indies, and Henrietta wrote travel journals about her experiences.

The journals have style and character: Henrietta's writing is full of opinion, bias, and wonderment. [Read more]

Watch our video about
Henrietta Liston's life in the United States

Watch a recorded talk about
Henrietta Liston by Frank Cogliano

Robert Liston's appointment coincided with a significant and volatile period in British-American relations. Henrietta Liston's journals yield insights into this relationship. They also give insight to America's post-war political climate and society and into the fascinating individuals who operated within it.

Henrietta's eight North American journals and her one West Indian journal were written against a background of the 1796 and 1800 U.S. presidential elections, yellow fever outbreaks in Philadelphia, the Quasi War of 1798-1800, the death of George Washington, and the British invasion of the Danish West Indies.
[More about the archive]

On this site you will find

Detail from handwritten journal page

Images of Henrietta Liston's manuscript journals along with transcriptions of the journals.

Browse the journals

Robert and Henrietta Liston

Biographies of Henrietta Marchant Liston and Sir Robert Liston.

About the Listons

Detail from United States map

A map interface showing the journeys taken by the Listons.

Explore the map

Passport document and the words'Long reads'

Essays from scholars placing Liston's journals in their historical context.

Long reads

Geneviève and Pierre Fabre

Interview with a modern day diplomat's wife revealing what has and has not changed since Henrietta Liston's experience.

Read Geneviève Fabre's interview

Susan Wilson

A message from Susan Wilson, Principal Officer U.S. Consulate General.

Read Susan Wilson's message

The Liston Papers archive

The Liston Papers archive at the National Library of Scotland comprises the official and personal correspondence of diplomat Robert Liston and his wife, Henrietta. Most of the archive relates to Robert Liston and covers his long diplomatic career.

The archive gives us a wealth of documentation recording the Listons' lives — letters, certificates, instructions, dispatches, invitations, receipts, journals, passports.