Thomas Jefferson: Notes on the State of Virginia

(1784)

In 1781, while he was still governor of Virginia during the Revolutionary War, Thomas Jefferson was given a series of questions about his beloved state posed by a diplomat, François Barbé-Marbois, marquis de Barbé-Marbois, on behalf of the French government. Jefferson began writing on a series of twenty-three topics, supplementing his own knowledge with that of persons he considered more expert in fields such as the natural sciences. Jefferson’s responses to Barbé-Marbois’s questions were eventually published as the Notes on the State of Virginia.

The Notes are significant for a number of reasons. In addition to recording his and other experts’ knowledge of Virginia’s geography and natural resources, Jefferson also addresses social constructs such as manners and the organization of Virginia’s laws. The book consists of twenty-three chapters called “Queries,” which are, in effect, answers to the queries he received. Topics included such matters as rivers, seaports, climate,...

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Thomas Jefferson (Library of Congress)

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