Using Historical Laws to Dig More From Tax Records

by | 13 Apr 2024

Mining Tax Lists and the Laws That Created Them

Updated 19 March 2024

What Were They Taxed On?

Tax assessed in Martin County in 1779 was governed by a 1778 North Carolina act which outlined what property was to be deemed taxable. Examination of this law can be used to help us learn a little about the property owned by the individuals enumerated on that tax list.

In Martin County District 5 several men are enumerated as “married $100 pole” or “single $400 pole.” “Pole” in this context stands for “poll tax,” basically a “head tax,” so we can infer that married men were charged a poll tax of $100 and single men a poll tax of $400.

But what examination of the tax laws also tells us is that these were men of at least age 21 who possessed taxable property valued at less than $100 and $400, respectively.

every freeman in this State of the age of twenty-one years and upwards (other than soldiers in the service of the Continent or of this State) who shall not possess the value of four hundred pounds in taxable property shall pay annually, in lieu of assessment on property, a poll tax equal to the tax for that year on four hundred pounds taxable property….married men who are not possessed of one hundred pounds of taxable property shall pay annually in lieu of assessment a poll tax equal to the tax for that year on one hundred pounds.

The law also goes into great detail about exactly what property was taxed and in what amounts.

“…all cattle from one year old and upwards, shall be, and they are hereby rated at ten pounds per head, that all slaves under five years of age and all who are between the ages of fifty and sixty shall be rated at one hundred and fifty pounds each, all slaves of five years old and under ten years, and all between the age of forty and fifty shall be rated at four hundred pounds each, and all slaves of ten years old and upwards not exceeding the age of forty years shall be rated at seven hundred pounds each…”

And if you notice a few ancestors paying what seems to be an extraordinarily high amount of tax, you might consider this…

“…That the Moravians, Quakers, Minonists, and Dunkers shall pay a three fold tax and all others who shall refuse to take an oath of Allegiance as the Law directs, shall also pay a three fold tax…”


An Act for Ascertaining what Property in this State shall be deemed Taxable Property, the Method of Assessing the same, and Collecting the Public Taxes and other Purposes

©2024 Kimberly Powell. Use of this article elsewhere without permission violates copyright. Short excerpts and links are welcome, with credit and a link back to Learn Genealogy.

Keep the Learning Going!