Object of the Month

A Draft Copy of "Notes on the State of Connecticut"

Letter from Roger Sherman to François Marbois (draft), [18] November 1782

Letter from Roger Sherman to François Marbois (draft), [18] November 1782

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  • Nancy Heywood
    Digital Projects Coordinator

    In this draft of a letter written circa 1782, Roger Sherman describes the history, geography, natural resources, religious practices, social customs, public expenses, and other aspects of his home state of Connecticut in response to sixteen questions posed by François Marbois, the secretary to the minister from France, Anne-César, Chevalier de La Luzerne.

    Marbois Circulates Questionnaires

    In the fall of 1780, Marbois (later François de Barbé-Marbois, marquis de Barbé-Marbois) had requested information about each of the thirteen colonies, on behalf of the French government, from a representative of each state. While several representatives answered Marbois's questions, the most famous response to Marbois's queries was from Thomas Jefferson. Although Jefferson's original description of Virginia no longer exists, he continued his research and eventually published an expanded version of it as Notes on the State of Virginia, the only book he published during his lifetime.

    Marbois's queries ranged from requests for 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.

    Based on the manuscripts and texts that have survived, Marbois assembled two different versions of his list of questions. One consisted of sixteen questions and the other twenty two. There is not enough chronological evidence to know for certain whether Marbois started with a list of sixteen questions and expanded it to twenty two, or if he started with twenty two and reduced it. However, when the two lists are compared it seems plausible that he started with the longer questionnaire and then removed questions 1, 2, 5, 10, and 18 then listed the remaining questions in the original sequence to form the shorter list. The questions were renumbered on the shorter version, and questions 20 and 21 in the longer list appear combined as 15 on the shorter list.

    The Thomas Jefferson Papers at the Library of Congress include a manuscript list of Marbois's Queries on Virginia in the hand of Joseph Jones, Virginia's delegate to the Continental Congress. View online from the American Memory Library of Congress website. Jones later passed the questions along to Thomas Jefferson and the list of twenty two questions ended up in his papers. The Massachusetts Historical Society holds a manuscript copy of the sixteen questions Marbois asked about New Jersey. View online from the Massachusetts Historical Society website.

    Sherman Responds to Marbois

    Since Marbois was based in Philadelphia, he undoubtedly had occasion to meet many of the state representatives to the Continental Congress. Roger Sherman, who represented Connecticut in the Continental Congress from 1774-1781 and again from 1783-1784, drafted his reply to Marbois in November of 1782 and the first paragraph implies that Sherman had delayed his reply until he was able to consult all the sources he needed to assemble the answers. Some of Marbois's questions required research and investigation at a time when libraries were scarce and there were few published histories of the states. In fact, at the time of Sherman's writing, there was no published history of the state of Connecticut, although a history of Yale College by "President Clap"--The Annals or History of Yale-College--had been published in 1766. Sherman's draft letter also refers to an enclosed list of data about Connecticut's counties, towns, and population from three different years, which is not present in the Historical Society's collection.

    Roger Sherman Boardman's Roger Sherman, Signer and Statesman includes an intriguing description of a memorandum book kept by Sherman that was:

     

    a regular grab-bag of the wide range of matters that interested its owner. We find therein facts about the State of Connecticut--its history, geography, churches, educational institutions, shipping, manufactures, currency, mines, Indians.

     

    The biography, originally published in 1938, does not footnote this passage (from page 189), but most likely described a privately-owned memorandum book listed in an appendix. Was this the book Sherman used to assemble the information he sent to Marbois?

    Other Responses to Marbois

    In addition to Sherman's data about Connecticut, knowledgeable residents of New Jersey, New Hampshire, and, most famously, Virginia assembled information about their states. Reverend John Witherspoon of New Jersey assembled answers to sixteen questions from Marbois and eventually this text appeared as "A Description of the State of New-Jersey" in published compilations of his writings.

    On 10 December 1780, General John Sullivan of New Hampshire opened his letter to Marbois by writing, "I now give myself the Pleasure of answering your Queres so far as may be Done with the materials I am possessed of ...." The sequence of topics he covers in his letter corresponds to Marbois's longer list of twenty two questions. The Huntington Library holds an autographed draft copy of Sullivan's "Notes on the State of New Hampshire" that is published in volume 15 of the Collections of the New Hampshire Historical Society.

    The most famous response to Marbois was from Thomas Jefferson (to whom Joseph Jones forwarded Marbois's list of twenty two questions). Correspondence from Thomas Jefferson to several people indicates he was working on his answers about Virginia beginning in November 1780 and he finally sent them to Marbois in December 1781. Although this version of Jefferson's description of Virginia no longer exists, Jefferson continued his research and writing about his home state and eventually published an expanded version of his answers as the Notes on the State of Virginia, (printed for private distribution in 1785 and then published for general circulation in 1787).

    Jefferson closely examined Marbois's original twenty-two questions and reworked their sequence, as well as inserting an additional topic about climate (query 7 within Notes on the State of Virginia). Jefferson scholars have noted that Jefferson's reordering of the queries resulted in his text shifting from describing the natural and physical aspects of Virginia to the political and man-made elements of the state.

    Jefferson's text changed and expanded between his initial response to Marbois and the publication of the first edition of Notes in 1785. Jefferson's manuscript copy of Notes on the State of Virginia is part of the Coolidge Collection of Thomas Jefferson Papers at the Massachusetts Historical Society, and is now available online, http://www.masshist.org/thomasjeffersonpapers/notes/. View online from the Massachusetts Historical Society website. This remarkable document is comprised of full pages as well as partial-page additions and gives evidence of how the text evolved (the partial page additions were attached to the full pages with sealing wax and these partial pages either covered sections of text he wanted to change, or were attached between lines to allow him to expand the running text).

    Sources for Further Research and Reading

    Sources relating to specific states

    Connecticut

    Sherman, Roger. Letter from Roger Sherman to François Marbois (draft), [18] November 1782. From Miscellaneous Bound Manuscripts, Massachusetts Historical Society.

    Delaware

    Note: The Historical Society of Pennsylvania holds a Letter from François Marbois to Thomas McKean, 10 February 1781 referring to a list of queries about the state of Delaware. See The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, volume 4, Julian P. Boyd, editor, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University, 1957, editorial notes on page 167.

    New Hampshire

    Marbois, François. Letter from François Marbois to John Sullivan (copy), 6 December 1780. From Miscellaneous Bound Manuscripts, Massachusetts Historical Society.

    Marbois, François. List of topics about which Marbois requested Sullivan to provide information (copy), [no date, filed with 6 December 1780]. From Miscellaneous Bound Manuscripts, Massachusetts Historical Society.

    Sullivan, John. "Gen. Sullivan's Description of New Hampshire to the Marquis de Marbois, Dec. 10, 1780. Autograph Draft Signed." From Letters and Papers of Major-General John Sullivan, volume three, 1779-1795. Edited by Otis G. Hammond. Collections of the New Hampshire Historical Society, volume 15. Concord, NH: 1939
    Note: This published edition states that the original draft is in the collections of the Henry E. Huntington Library.

    Sullivan John. Letter from John Sullivan to Mr. Marbois (copy), [10 December 1780]. From Miscellaneous Bound Manuscripts, Massachusetts Historical Society.

    Sullivan, John. Letter with description about New Hampshire (copy) from John Sullivan to Mr. Marbois, 10 December 1780. From Miscellaneous Bound Manuscripts, Massachusetts Historical Society.

    New Jersey

    Marbois, François. François Marbois' queries concerning New Jersey (copy), undated [December 1780?] From the Robert Livingston papers II, Massachusetts Historical Society. View online from the Massachusetts Historical Society website.

    Witherspoon, John. "A Description of the State of New-Jersey" from The Works of the Rev. John Witherspoon..., volume 4. Philadelphia: William W. Woodward, 1801, pp. 303-312. View online from Google Books.

    Virginia

    Barbé-Marbois, François, Marquis de. Queries on Virginia from François Marbois, October 1780, copy in hand of Joseph Jones. From the Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress. View online from the American Memory Library of Congress website.

    Jefferson, Thomas. Notes on the State of Virginia [manuscript]. From the Coolidge Collection of Thomas Jefferson Manuscripts, Massachusetts Historical Society. View online from the Massachusetts Historical Society website.

    Jefferson, Thomas. Notes on the State of Virginia. [Paris, printed 1785.] View online from the Darlington Digital Library, University of Pittsburgh.

    Jefferson, Thomas. Notes on the State of Virginia. London: J. Stockdale, 1787. View online from Google Books.

    List of additional sources

    Boardman, Roger Sherman. Roger Sherman, Signer and Statesman. New York: Da Capo Press, 1971, reprint of 1938.

    Chase, Eugene Parker, editor. Our Revolutionary Forefathers: The Letters of François, Marquis de Barbé-Marbois. NY: Duffield & Co., 1929.

    Collier, Christopher. Roger Sherman's Connecticut: Yankee Politics and the American Revolution. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1971.

    Lyon, E. Wilson. The Man Who Sold Louisiana: The Career of Francois Barbé-Marbois. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1942.
    Note: Although he consulted both public records relating to Marbois's professional career as well as family papers of Marbois in private collections Lyon feared that many of these documents were lost or destroyed "in 1940 when fighting occurred in every important French city connected with Barbé-Marbois' career."


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