Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from John Daly Burk, 2 February 1803

From John Daly Burk

Petersburg February 2d: 1803


I am employed in writing an history of Virginia. My contract is made; the subscription fills beyond my expectations and I shall doubtless receive the stipulated sum, whether the work be excellent or otherwise: but my pride and my principles instruct me that something more is expected from me; that it is my duty to make my book, as far as my opportunities will admit, correct and interesting. In the commencement of an undertaking so arduous and important, I naturally turn my eyes to you, for aid and advice: you must, Judging from the habits of your life & your particular pursuits, possess many valuable materials for such a work; and you, above all men, know how to appreciate a faithfull history of your own state. I ask, in full confidence of receiving it, the aid of your experience & information & solicit your permission to send you a copy of the work previous to its publication

I remain Sir With great respect your fellow Citizen

John D. Burk

RC (DLC); at foot of text: “Thomas Jefferson. President of the United States”; endorsed by TJ as received 9 Feb. and so recorded in SJL.

Burk needed 500 subscribers before he could publish his proposed two-volume history of virginia. An advertisement for the work pledged unbiased portrayals of wartime civil or military movements and impartial reflections on religious opinion in the state. In preparing the history, he relied heavily on TJ’s Notes on the State of Virginia as well as the president’s collections of newspapers and Virginia laws. In 1804, Burk dedicated the work to TJ, its “guardian and patron” and “the first and most useful citizen in the republic.” Although his history, extending to three volumes, covered through 1775, a fourth volume continuing to 1781 was begun by Skelton Jones and completed by Louis H. Girardin in 1816 (The History of Virginia, From Its First Settlement to the Present Day, 4 vols. [Petersburg, 1804–16], 1:i-ii; Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, Washington, D.C., 1952-59, 5 vols. description ends No. 464; Richmond Virginia Argus, 12 Dec. 1802; DVB description begins John T. Kneebone and others, eds., Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Richmond, 1998- , 3 vols. description ends , 2:400–2; Vol. 34:388–9n; Burk to TJ, 26 May 1805; TJ to Burk, 1 June 1805).

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