The Listons

'Since our arrival here we have been harrass’d with attentions, and, it is impossible for me to tell of the crowds that surround us'

Robert Liston Portrait

Robert Liston

Henrietta Liston Portrait

Henrietta Liston

In Glasgow, February 1796, Henrietta Marchant married influential Scottish diplomat Robert Liston, newly appointed British Minister to the United States.

From that time on, Henrietta's life was characterised by travel. She embraced what was then the primarily male pursuit of travel and, even as she notes the hardships and dangers of travel, she reveals a desire to see new places.

North America

Over the course of her four-and-a-half-year stay in the U.S., Henrietta wrote letters and kept journals recording her observations on America's society, politics, landscapes and people.

In the United States the Listons were surrounded by the principal figures of early national America.

They became friends with the Washingtons, Benjamin Rush, John Jay, Phineas Bond, and the Binghams. They stayed at George Washington's Mount Vernon, visited Jefferson at Monticello, and dined with Madison at Montpelier.

A special feature of the Listons' life in the United States was travel. From their Philadelphia home the Listons journeyed hundreds of miles north to Quebec in Lower Canada and south to Charleston, South Carolina.

Listons' New York State pass

Governor John Jay's official pass into New York State for the Listons, 1799. Read more on our page about the 'Lebanon Springs' journal.

The Ottoman Empire

In 1812 Robert Liston was posted to the Sublime Porte as British Ambassador. He and Henrietta sailed through the Mediterranean and Aegean to the Dardanelles. They took up residence at the British Embassy in Constantinople, and, just as she did in the United States, Henrietta wrote letters and kept journals about her experiences. These documents give us a unique view of Turkey in the early years of the 19th century.

Between 1812 and 1820, the Listons explored Constantinople and its environs. They visited Bursa, Smyrna, Belgrade Forest, Büyükdere, and Mudanya. They also travelled to Cádiz, Gibraltar, Sicily, and Malta visiting British and European diplomats, naval officers, governors and friends stationed around the Mediterranean.

Robert Liston's conciliatory character and professionalism alongside Henrietta's soft power — her ability make friends, to arrange just the right kind of social occasion, to endear the Americans — ensured that his term as British Minister was a success.

The Listons established a bond with the 'new' country that greatly approved the relationship between the United Kingdom and United States.

When Robert retired, the Listons built Millburn Tower near Edinburgh, and as a memorial to their difficult and distinguished diplomatic mission, Henrietta established an American garden there.

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

Passport document and the words'Long reads'

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

Long reads

Explore the map

A map interface showing the journeys taken by the Listons.

Explore the map

Robert Liston Portrait

Robert Liston

Henrietta Liston Portrait

Henrietta Liston