Query VI: “Productions mineral, vegetable and animal”
A notice of the mines and other subterraneous riches; its trees, plants, fruits, &c.
At root, Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia is a carefully curated syllabus, a structured list of discussion topics. Throughout the document, and most heavily in Query VI, Jefferson uses lists to elaborate the landscape and productivity of the Commonwealth. His catalogs preserve a lasting record of his attention, but paying attention was no passive enterprise for Jefferson. When we consider his lists, we have to remember the archaic meaning buried within the contemporary definition of the word. “To list” also means to intend, to want, to incline.
If the act of listing is an act of will, then every list is both artifact and verb. This is also true of a poem, which William Carlos Williams described as “a small or large machine made out of words.”
Taking up about a third of Notes, Query VI concludes Jefferson’s catalog of Virginia’s natural resources and connects to his subsequent analyses of society, government, and economic production in the Commonwealth. Despite his observation that “a complete catalogue of the trees, plants, fruits, &c. is probably not desired,” Jefferson furnishes the names of dozens of native species. European-derived crops flourish (or, in Jefferson’s parlance, are “elaborated from the soil”) in the cultivated agrarian spaces of the New World:
The gardens yield musk melons, water melons, tomatas, okra, pomegranates, figs, and the esculent plants of Europe.
The orchards produce apples, pears, cherries, quinces, peaches, nectarines, apricots, almonds, and plumbs.