The terms "tithe" and "tithable" had ancient roots in English law and referred to the tax of the tenth portion of the livestock and certain other agricultural products for the support of the church. The term "tithable" developed a different and restricted meaning in seventeenth-century Virginia, where it came to apply to persons on whom the colony's tax laws assessed a poll tax or capitation tax, literally a tax on each "head."
By 1658, when the assembly passed a law defining "What Persons are Tithable," a "tithable" was a member of the potentially productive labor force: free caucasian males age sixteen or older plus "all negroes imported whether male or female, and Indian servants male or female however procured, being sixteen years of age" (Hening, Statutes at Large, 1:454-455). Subsequent laws made the immigrants' descendants tithable, too. Slaves and servants did not pay their own taxes; their owners or masters were therefore "tithable" for themselves and for the taxes on their servants and slaves.
Lists of tithables for a county or a household, then, do not enumerate anyone under the age of sixteen or any adult white woman unless they were heads of households. Relatively few tithables lists are extant.
A detailed in-house guide to tithables, rent rolls, and poll lists is available at the West Reference Desk and in the Archives Research Room. Please consult the Archives Reference Services staff for information on holdings at 804-692-3888.
Counties for which tithables, rent rolls, or poll lists survive include:
- Charles City
- Elizabeth City
- James City
- King and Queen
- King George
- King William
- New Kent
- Prince Edward
- Prince George
- Prince William
- Princess Anne
- Richmond County
- Richmond City
An online series on Research in Virginia Documents.
Prepared by Daphne Gentry, Publications and Education Services Division.
Copyright by The Library of Virginia; this note may be reproduced in full if proper credit is given and no changes are made.