Book History

Author: Thomas Jefferson
Notes on the State of Virginia was a relatively minor addition to the catalog of Thomas Jefferson's achievements. Born on April 13, 1743, Jefferson began his intellectual life at a young age. He began attending the College of William and Mary at the age of 16 and later went to work in the law office of George Wythe. As a statesman, Jefferson crafted the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom. Holding various government posts within the new American government, Jefferson became the third President in 1801. After his presidency he went on to establish the University of Virginia in 1819. Jefferson was originally unsure of his Notes on the State of Virginia, as it was not intended for a wide publishing but as a response to twenty questions posed by Francois de Barbe-Marbois in 1780.
Bibliographic Information
Notes on the State of Virginia, published in 1801 by Furman and Loudon of New York ( "opposite the city hall" as noted in the publishing information in the book), is 392 pages long with two inserts: a 1794 map of Virginia done by Samuel Lewis attached before the first page, and table of various Indian tribes between pages 138 and 139. Jefferson issued the original publishing of Notes on the State of Virginia in 1785, and this specific volume is part of the third American edition. It was printed by M.L. and W.A Davis and rebound by Whitman Bennett, all of New York. This issue also includes an appendix consisting of various letters and testimonies by Jefferson and others.
Physical Description
This copy of Notes on the State of Virginia measures eight and five-eighths inches long and five and one-eighths inches wide. Published in 1801, it likely consisted of handmade paper (from rags) since paper manufactured from machine presses did not take hold even in Europe until the 1820s. The color of the paper reflects a lack of bleaching, due to the scarcity of chlorine bleach and bleaching processes in the early 19th century.
Illustrator: Samuel Lewis
Engraved by Samuel Lewis in 1794, the map was for the most part an improved copy of Jefferson’s original which was the accepted practice among most publishers of Notes on the State of Virginia. Samuel Lewis’s map, however, was significant as the first map of Virginia drawn, engraved, and printed in the United States. Unlike subsequent editions that included maps created specifically for Notes, Lewis’s map was originally published by Matthew Carey for his edition of Guthrie’s Geography and appeared in atlases and other publisher’s copies of the work.
Publisher: Furman and Loudon
Little information is available on the backgrounds of printers M.L. and W.A. Davis and publishers Furman and Loudon. Based in New York City, John Furman and Samuel C. Lewis both ran successful bookstores before their professional involvement. They had the capital to purchase the stock of a rival bookseller and maintained a large establishment on "the corner of Wall and Broad streets" in New York City.
Since its original publication in 1785, and this Third American edition in 1801, Notes on the State of Virginia has been republished dozens of times and translated into at least eight different languages. William Harwood Peden provided in-depth annotations to a 1955 edition, and the work has consistently appeared in various compilations of Jefferson's works up until the most recent edition in 2009.
Brodie, Fawn M. Thomas Jefferson, an Intimate History. New York: W.W. Norton Press, Inc. 1974. Brown, Richard D. Knowledge is Power: The Difffusion of Information in Early America, 1700-1865. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989. Gaskell, Phillip. A Short Introduction to Bibliography. New York: Oxford University Press, 1972. "Matthew Carey (1760-1839)." Geographicus. c?Screen=CAD&Product_Code=mcarey (accessed October 13, 2011). Verner, Coolie. “The Maps and Plates Appearing with the Several Editions of Mr. Jefferson’s ‘Notes on the State of Virginia’.” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 59, no. 1 (Jan. 1951): 21-33. Zboray, Richard. A Fictive People: Antebellum Economic Development and the American Reading Public. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

As one of the United States’ early statesmen and presidents, Thomas Jefferson helped to shape the political discourse of a new and developing nation. At the core of this political career was a skill for writing and rhetoric, penning both political works (most famously the Declaration of Independence) and informative pieces. One of these informative works, Notes on the State of Virginia, was originally written in response to the questions of a French dignitary and provides insight into Jefferson’s opinions and observations on the state in which he lived and worked.(1) As a physical artifact, Notes also offers a glimpse into the publishing business of early America and the changes that a book can go through during its lifetime.

The Special Collections at the University of Mary Washington owns the third American edition of Notes on the State of Virginia, published in 1801. It measures roughly nine inches long and five inches across, and spans 392 pages. Amongst these pages are two inserts, a chart of Native American tribes and their locations and a 1794 print of early Virginia. This map, drawn by Samuel Lewis for Matthew Carey’s publication of Geography and based on Jefferson’s own sketches, is significant as the first map of Virginia engraved and printed in the United States.(2) It is in relatively good condition considering its age, with some deterioration of the pages most likely due to the acids present in the inks of the time period.

At first glance, Notes on the State of Virginia appears to be a product of the nineteenth century. It was published by Furman and Loudon, a publishing firm based “on the corner of Wall and Broad Streets” in New York City that gained prominence after buying the inventory of their competitor.(3) Though sending out printed materials for binding was an accepted practice in the nineteenth century, the way this particular copy of Notes was bound makes it an interesting addition to the study of books over time. While the printed material itself was published in 1801, the book had been rebound as recently as the late 1920s. Whitman Bennett of New York, who spent time as an author and film producer, mostly likely had the volume rebound at his Bennett Book Studios.(4) According to a note added to the front cover, the book was then sold as part of a five volume set by the Anderson Galleries of New York in 1932, with what seems to be a twenty dollar price tag. Today, copies of this same edition are priced at almost five thousand dollars. With these changes throughout its lifespan, the copy of Notes on the State of Virginia held in the Rare Book Room is a valuable physical artifact for those interested in both early American printing and the evolution of the book business in the United States.

1. Brodie Fawn, Thomas Jefferson, an Intimate History, (New York: W.W. Norton, Inc., 1974), 152.

2. Coolie Verner, “The Maps and Plates Appearing with the Several Editions of Mr. Jefferson’s ‘Notes on the State of Virginia’”, The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 59, no. 1 (Jan. 1951): 21-22.

3. "Booksellers in New York One Hundred Years Ago." The Publisher's Weekly 64, no. 1652 (July-December 1903): 600.

4. “Alice in Wonderland.” David Brass Rare Books. (accessed December 10, 2011).

Submitted by Aubrey Elliott
Published: 1801
Call Number: F230.J45