An introduction to Henrietta Liston's journals

'You shall see this and everything else that has been new to me I thought worth putting down more particularly detailed in a kind of journal I sometimes write.'

Henrietta Marchant Liston was a traveller, diarist and botanist, and an informed, but unofficial observer and commentator on early national America and on the Ottoman Empire in the early 19th century.

Henrietta married the Scottish diplomat Robert Liston, who was British Minister to the United States only 13 years after the end of the American War of Independence and reached the highest diplomatic rank of Ambassador when he was appointed to the Ottoman Empire in 1812.

Between 1796 and 1801 the Listons journeyed through the United States, Lower Canada and West Indies. In 1812, when Robert was posted to the Sublime Porte after a period of retirement, they then voyaged to Turkey where they lived for almost eight years. Henrietta wrote 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 our video about
Henrietta Liston's life in Turkey

The Listons' time in the United States coincided with a significant and unstable period in British-American relations. Henrietta's journals yield insights into this relationship. They also illuminate America's post-war political climate and society, and the fascinating individuals who operated within it.

Liston's eight North American journals and her one West Indies 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 in 1799, and the British invasion of the Danish West Indies in 1801.

Liston's writing on Turkey was composed against a backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars, the Congress of Vienna, the early years of Sultan Mahmud II's reign, plague epidemic in the Ottoman Empire, and assassination and fire in the city of Constantinople.

As the wife of the British Ambassador to the Sublime Porte, Henrietta had privileged access to the Ottoman elite and diplomatic corps. Her 1812-1814 Turkish journal and other shorter writings relating to her time in Turkey reflect on British-Ottoman relations and on the Greek, Jewish and Armenian communities of Constantinople. [More about the archive]

A critical edition of Henrietta Liston's Turkish journals, intended for use with this resource, was published in October 2020.

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, financial papers, journals, passports.