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. Soon after, they sailed for New York, arriving in May and reaching Philadelphia in time for the rising of Congress.

Over the course of their 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.

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 knew Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson.

They stayed at George Washington's Mount Vernon, visited Jefferson at Monticello, and dined with Madison at Montpelier.

Friends the Listons made in the United States corresponded with them for years after their return to Scotland, Daniel McCormick of New York and Benjamin Rush being two particular examples.

A special feature of the Listons' life in the United States was travel.

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.

From their Philadelphia home the Listons journeyed hundreds of miles north to Quebec in Lower Canada and south to Charleston, South Carolina. They even concluded their American stay with an island-hopping trip to the West Indies before returning to England.

Henrietta embraced what was the then primarily male pursuit of travel, and even as she notes the hardships and dangers of travel, she reveals a desire to see new places.

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