Thomas Jefferson’s (1743-1826) avid interest in geography and cartography was evident in his lifelong quest for knowledge about Virginia and the western part of North America. Much of his knowledge of and enthusiasm for maps probably came from his associations with his father, his tutor Reverend James Maury, and other members of the Loyal Company. Like his elders, he was a practicing surveyor. More importantly, during his lifetime he amassed a collection of 350 atlases and books on geography and related topics and over one hundred printed and manuscript maps. Although he never traveled west of the Blue Ridge, he is generally believed to be the most knowledgeable person of his time on the geography of the western part of North America.
Despite the breadth of his knowledge and his talents as a writer, Thomas Jefferson published only one book—Notes on the State of Virginia. This work began as a response to a detailed questionnaire on the conditions of North America sent by the French Legation to all of the former British colonies in 1780. Jefferson expanded his response over the next several years into a compendium on the natural history and the geographical, social, political, and economic characteristics of Virginia and other parts of America. Apparently, Jefferson never intended to publish this material. He did, however, circulate a few privately printed copies to selected individuals, which led to an unauthorized and inaccurate French translation in 1785. Jefferson finally approved the official release of the book in French and English editions in 1787. He continued to revise his manuscript until 1814 but never published a revised version.
Jefferson prepared a map for his book based on the map co-authored by his father (republished in 1774), a map by Thomas Hutchins published in 1778, and a map of Pennsylvania by William Scull published in 1770. When he sent his map to the engraver in England, he included these maps and Henry Mouzon’s map of North Carolina as references. Jefferson added “A Map of the Country between Albemarle Sound” to Notes on the State of Virginia and also issued the map separately.