History of the Book

Notes on the State of Virginia is a written document over Thomas Jefferson’s home state of Virginia and everything within it. Joseph Jones, who was a delegate at the time in the Continental Congress sent the questionnaire to Jefferson to answer.He jumped on the opportunity to write a detailed account of Virginia. The book holds details concerning the state’s natural resources, geography, and the economy, as well as the commerce, natural history, people, and the political and legal institutions within. He argues about the nature of the good society, his beliefs in the separation of church and state, constitutional government, checks and balances, and individual liberty. Without a doubt, there are his comments on slavery and miscegenation within the book also.

The first copies of the book were passed around in manuscript copies among Jefferson’s closest friends. He also sent François Marbois, who had conducted the previously mentioned questionnaire, a copy in 1781. Up until 1784, Jefferson revised and added new information to his text through other contributors and through his own research. The book was Thomas Jefferson’s only full-length book and was first published anonymously in 1785 in Paris. John Stockdale published it two years later in London, which became the first English edition of the book.

Jefferson found that the information in his book was a, “ceaselessly evolving subject.” With every changing moment, he found himself needing to revise his work. Needless to say, Notes on the State of Virginia was a revolutionary book.1


1. Encyclopedia Virginia