MUCH has been made of the “special relationship” between Britain and the United States, but few people know that its earliest version was forged by a Scottish diplomat and his wife.

The National Library of Scotland yesterday announced that to mark International Women’s Day they would be making available to the public online the remarkable writings of Henrietta Liston, the wife of Robert Liston, the first British Minister (ambassador) to the US.

In 1796, only 13 years after the two nations fought against each other in the War of Independence, the Listons arrived in Philadelphia, then the capital of the US.

By the end of their four-and-a-half year posting, the Listons had won the trust and admiration of leading figures in the new government, including the first American President George Washington.

“It was a triumph of personal charm and cultured diplomacy,” the National Libraries stated yesterday.

Henrietta’s handwritten North American journals are part of the Library’s Liston papers archive containing her acute observations of life in the early days of the United States which have long been studied by researchers, but will now be accessible to anyone online.

The Liston papers include invitations to the couple to dine with George Washington and his wife Martha and an invitation to the funeral oration of the former President after his sudden death in 1799.

The esteem in which the Listons were held is demonstrated by Henrietta when she writes about the celebratory dinner to mark Washington’s retirement: “I had, as usual, the gratification of being handed to table and of sitting by the President.”

Henrietta, or Hennie as she was known, was born in Antigua to a family of Scots descent. Orphaned by the age of 10, she and her brothers were sent to live with an uncle and aunt in Glasgow where she grew up. She was 44 when she married Robert Liston, departing for the United States almost immediately.

Her writings record observations on the major figures who established the United States including Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson, John Jay, Benjamin Rush, and Alexander Hamilton.

The Listons also travelled extensively throughout the Americas, including trips into Canada and the Caribbean.

Dora Petherbridge, the Library’s Curator of US and Commonwealth collections said: “Henrietta’s friendship with Washington reflects how successful the Listons were in repairing the relationship between Britain and the US at this very uncertain and unstable time.

“She writes about sitting between the rising sun, Adams, who was to be the second president, and the setting sun, Washington, and she says she feels perfectly easy and familiar with both great men. This is extraordinary for a woman at this time to feel that ease in front of such political power.”

“The journals have style and character. Henrietta’s writing is full of opinion and wonderment. Her inquisitive voice fills the pages with a sense of discovery; she takes us to the streets, suppers, and taverns of the early republic.”

The National Libraries added that the digitisation was made possible by a generous donation from Walter Grant Scott.