The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Notes of the State of ... Connecticut??

You've probably heard of Thomas Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia (and if you haven't, just wait until next week, and watch this space!), but you may not have heard that Jefferson's text was an expanded version of answers to a set of questions posed by François Marbois, the secretary to the minister from France, Anne-César, Chevalier de La Luzerne. In late 1780 and early 1781, Marbois sent lists of queries to representatives of each state (some with 16 questions, some with 22), requesting information ranging from "descriptions of the state boundaries and natural resources to the religion and social customs of its people. He asked for information about state history, population (including Native American peoples), manufacturing, and colleges, as well as specific information about how each state handled estates taken from Tories."

Our April Object of the Month is a draft of Roger Sherman's reply to Marbois, which he wrote in November 1782. Sherman, a Connecticut representative to the Continental Congress from 1774-81 and again in 1783-84, notes in his letter that he has delayed answering until he was "able to obtain an account of all the articles about which you desire to be informed." He goes on to provide answers to Marbois' questions, and enclosing several additional lists and texts. Of the principal manufactures, he writes: "Coarse linens & Woolens. Potash. Salt Petre, of which more than 100 Tons has been made in Connecticut Since the present war. & a Sufficient quantity of G. powder. Most kinds of Iron ware is also manufactured here, such as Cannon, & Cast Iron of all kinds & Edge Tools Such as Axes Sythes &c." Of Tory property: "The Estates of the Rebels who have joined the Enemy or voluntarily taken probation under them are forfeited to the State, & disposed of for the expence of the war." You can see images of the full draft letter, or read a transcription, here.

In her Object of the Month essay, Digital Projects Coordinator Nancy Heywood also touches on the other known responses to Marbois. John Witherspoon penned "A Description of the State of New-Jersey" (viewable here via Google Books), and we have a copy of Marbois' queries regarding that state in the William Livingston papers II (viewable online here). And General John Sullivan answered Marbois in December 1780 regarding the state of New Hampshire, of which the original is at the Huntington Library (we have copies of both Marbois' queries and Sullivan's reply in our Miscellaneous Bound collection). The Historical Society of Pennsylvania holds Marbois' letter to Thomas McKean with queries about Delaware, although we don't know if any response exists. Of course the most famous reply, which was what grew into Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia (the original manuscript copy of which is part of the Coolidge Collection of Thomas Jefferson manuscripts at MHS, and is now viewable online here).

Are there other "Notes on the state of ___" still out there? We suspect it's entirely possible, and welcome news on any of them!


permalink | Published: Thursday, 8 April, 2010, 7:04 AM


Apr 8, 2010, 8:10 am


A few other works spring to mind-

Gilbert Imlay's "A Topographical Description of the Western Territory of North America" discusses the Northwest Territories (1791)

Henry Marie Brackenridge's "Views of Louisiana" (1814)

Apr 8, 2010, 8:48 am


Colleen - thanks for those suggestions! Those works are certainly early descriptions of American locales (and fascinating ones, at that), but they're not - so far as we know - direct responses to Marbois' queries from the early 1780s.

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