Jefferson wrote Notes on the State of Virginia in response to a series of questions sent in 1781 to various members of the Continental Congress by François Barbé-Marbois, then secretary to the French legation at Philadelphia. Joseph Jones forwarded the questionnaire received by the Virginia delegation to Jefferson, who was then completing his term as Governor of Virginia.
By the time the book was first published Jefferson was serving as U.S. trade representative in Paris, having been sent there in 1784. Jefferson issued the first edition of this work privately, and anonymously, in Paris in 1785, in an edition limited to 200 copies. The first edition begins with an unconventional first page that combines a statement of the title with a table of contents, and no place, publisher or publication date specified. A conventionally printed French translation by the Abbé André Morellet appeared in 1786. The first conventionally published English-language edition was issued by John Stockdale in London in 1787. In her catalogue of The Library of Thomas Jefferson Sowerby devoted 30 pages to her description and annotations of this work (Vol. 4, no. 4167; pp. 301-330).
Jefferson divided the text into 23 chapters called "Queries," each describing a different aspect of the state of Virginia. They are:
- Boundaries of Virginia
- Sea Ports
- Productions mineral, vegetable and animal
- Military force
- Marine force
- Counties and towns
- Colleges, buildings, and roads
- Proceedings as to Tories
- Subjects of commerce
- Weights, Measures and Money
- Public revenue and expenses
- Histories, memorials, and state-papers
When I wrote this entry in January 2020 I did not find a digital facsimile of the first edition online; however the Massachusetts Historical Society preserves and has digitized Jefferson's autograph manuscript for the work. It is available from masshist.org at this link.