Description

    First American Edition of Thomas Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia, a Gift from a Revolutionary War Colonel Willett to a John Henry, and Signed by Benjamin Franklin's Grandson, Louis Bache

    Thomas Jefferson. Notes on the State of Virginia. Philadelphia: Printed and Sold by Prichard and Hall, 1788. Scarce first American edition of the only full-length book by Jefferson published during his lifetime. Small octavo in fours (7.375 x 4.625 inches; 188 x 118 mm.). [4], 244, [4, publisher's advertisements] pages. Complete with the folding letterpress table of the Indian Tribes of Virginia between pages 100 and 101 (with no splits or tears), and several other tables, including "A Comparative View of the Quadrupeds of Europe and of America" (pages 49-52), "Birds of Virginia" (pages 72-76), as well as tables of prevailing wind speeds, the number of settlers and census of inhabitants, the number and condition of the militia, commercial productions, crimes, and weights and measures of currency. Full-page woodcut "Eye-Draught of Madison's Cave" on page [20].

    Contemporary mottled sheep. Smooth spine ruled in gilt with burgundy morocco gilt lettering label. Binding rubbed and worn, with some surface loss; front board detached, but held by a single thread; rear joint cracking; spine with horizontal crack and slight loss to label. Considerable foxing and browning; dark stain in lower gutter margin throughout, becoming larger toward the end of the volume; a few additional small spots or stains. Slight creasing to outer margin of T4-U3 (pages 143-150). A good copy of this scarce and fragile book, especially notable for its provenance: early ink inscription on title-page: "John Henry / the Gift of / Colonel Willett;" early ink signature on front pastedown: "Louis Bache," with ink offsetting onto front free endpaper; early ink inscription on verso of front free endpaper: "Brookfield / Aunt / Mary Paxsen [sic] / gave me this book / saying-'you will care for / this more than anyone / I know of' / Katharine [T?] Paxsen [sic] / 1877-;" early pencil drawing on front free endpaper of a "Side View of a Chimney." The date "1788" is written in arabic numerals beneath the printed date of publication on the title-page.

    Notes on the State of Virginia was originally written in response to a series of twenty-three questions about Virginia sent, in 1781, to various members of the Continental Congress by François de Barbé Marbois, secretary of the French legation to the United States. Becoming fascinated with the questions, Jefferson converted the task-one of instructing America's revolutionary ally-into an intellectual self-discovery of his native land. In December 1781, Jefferson sent his answers to Marbois, and over the next few years continued to expand and revise the information he had compiled. In 1785, in Paris as Minister to France, Jefferson paid to have 200 copies of his revised text printed for private distribution as Notes on the State of Virginia, with the date 1782 on the title-page. The 200 copies Jefferson had printed did not begin to meet the demand for the book, and pirated editions forced him to authorize a French translation in 1786, and in 1787, he authorized his London bookseller, John Stockdale, to publish for general sale a somewhat expanded edition of the work.

    Both the 1786 French edition and the 1787 English edition contained a folding map (in two different states) prepared by Jefferson and engraved by Samuel J. Neele. This 1788 first American edition was issued with neither a map, nor the plate of the "Natural Bridge," both of which appeared in later American editions.

    "A digest of information and opinion on many subjects, Notes on Virginia is uniquely interesting as a guide to Jefferson's mind as well as to his country. It exhibits his insatiable curiosity, his manifold interests, painstaking detail, and speculative bent. It reveals the man of science disciplined to empirical fact and eager to possess nature for the mind, yet also the man of almost romantic sensibility enraptured by the wonders of the American continent even as he quested for useful knowledge. Of special importance was Jefferson's vindication of American nature against current European theories of biological impotence and decay in the New World. The book was a virtual manual of Jefferson's political opinions, and some of its passages-on slavery, on the virtues of husbandry, on religious freedom, on the errors of the Virginia constitution-became so well known that they were said to be 'stereotyped in the public voice'" (American National Biography Online).

    Evans 21176. Howes J78 "aa." Sabin 35897 (erroneously calling for 204 pages). Verner 1788. See Sowerby, Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 4167 (IV, pages 301-330).


    More Information:

    It is not clear whether the "Colonel Willett" on the title-page is Colonel Marinus Willett or Colonel Augustine Willett, both of whom were Revolutionary War officers.

    Brown's Philadelphia Gazette. He joined the United States Army in 1798 and served as Captain of the Second Regiment of Artillerists and Engineers stationed at Bedlows Island, in New York, Fort Wolcott and Fort Adams, in Rhode Island, and Fort Sumner in Portland, Maine, resigning from the Army at the end of 1801. In 1809 Sir James Craig, Governor-General of Canada, employed him as a spy for Canada, and on February 2, 1812, Henry sold the fraudulent "Henry Letters" to President James Madison suggesting treason by Federalists on the eve of the War of 1812.

    Notes on the State of Virginia of the James Logan family murder by Captain Cresap was challenged by Luther Martin, a son-in-law of Cresap, in a Baltimore newspaper. Governor John Henry wrote a letter to Henry Tazewell, which was passed on to Thomas Jefferson, on 24 December 1797, calling attention to this. The result was a letter from Jefferson to John Henry, 31 December 1797, in which he defends his description of the massacre of the Logan family by Cresap. This letter was published as a pamphlet in 1800 with the title An Appendix to the Notes on Virginia relative to the Murder of Logans Family, and added as an Appendix to the 1800 Baltimore edition (and all subsequent editions) of Notes on the State of Virginia.

     





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