Marbois’ Queries concerning Virginia
[Before 30 November 1780]
MS (DLC); in hand of Joseph Jones, who transmitted these Queries to TJ after his return to Virginia from Congress in Sep. 1780, though perhaps not until Jones came to Richmond to attend the Assembly on 31 Oct. (see Burnett, v, p. lxiv; and especially Jones to Madison, 5 Nov. 1780, Letters of Joseph Jones, Washington, 1889, p. 40). At any rate TJ had had the Queries in hand some little time before he mentioned to D’Anmours in a letter of 30 Nov., following, that he was “at present busily employed for Monsr. Marbois without his knowing it,” which implies that Marbois had asked Jones to furnish answers and Jones had turned to TJ for help. The problem challenged TJ’s whole being, and his completed answers were to constitute one of the classic literary and scientific books of the eighteenth century—the Notes on the State of Virginia, first printed in an edition of 200 copies at Paris, 1785.
Marbois (François Marbois, secretary to the French minister, La Luzerne, and later Marquis de Barbé-Marbois) told Thomas McKean, in a letter of 10 Feb. 1781 enclosing a like set of queries for McKean to answer concerning Delaware, that he was preparing “un mémoire sur les treize Etats en générale” (MS: PHi; photostats in TJ Editorial Files). TJ in his Autobiography stated that Marbois “had been instructed by his government to obtain such statistical accounts of the different states of our Union, as might be useful for their information” (Ford, description begins Paul Leicester Ford, ed., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, “Letterpress Edition,” N.Y., 1892–1899 description ends i, 85). At about the same time that he asked Jones to obtain answers for Virginia, Marbois asked John Sullivan to do likewise for New Hampshire. Sullivan’s answers are in a letter to Marbois dated Philadelphia, 10 Dec. 1780 (Sullivan Papers, N.H. Hist. Soc., Colls., xv, 229–39). Sullivan also transmitted both questions and answers to Pres. Meshech Weare of New Hampshire, 25 Dec. 1780, observing that “This Gentleman [Marbois] is one of those usefull Geniuss who is Constantly in Search of knowledge he is about to write the History of America or rather to give a Geographical Description of it. As much advantage will arise from our Commerce & Constitutions being well known: As Mr Adams has wrote from Holland to Congress pressing upon them the necessity of Taking measures for this purpose I wish you to Lay these papers before the assembly & request a Committee to furnish Such answers as they may find I have omitted and to Correct Such mistakes as I may have made & I wish a sample of our Glass may be forwarded” (same, p. 249). For New Jersey John Witherspoon was appealed to, and he prepared a fragmentary set of answers posthumously printed in his Works, Phila., 2d edn., 1802, iv, 403–12. When Joseph Jones had returned to Congress at the end of Jan. 1781, he told Marbois that the Queries for Virginia had been turned over to TJ; Marbois wrote TJ on 5 Feb. (this letter is missing), and TJ replied on 4 Mch., saying that “Hitherto it has been in my power to collect a few materials only, which my present occupation disables me from compleating”; see the whole letter and the note thereon.