Tax Lists (VA-NOTES)

At the October 1782 session of the Virginia General Assembly, the legislature revised its complicated tax laws and instituted a uniform system of taxing real estate and personal property. The archives of the commonwealth in the Library of Virginia contain a nearly complete run of the county and city personal property tax returns from 1782 to 1930; from that year to 1975, returns are available for those years ending in the numbers "0" and "5."

The early lists are manuscript booklets, one or more for each year, recording the names of property owners arranged by the initial letter of the surname. If the county was divided into districts, there may be more than one list for the county; districts might be identified by the name of the tax commissioner for the district, by a geographical designation, or by a local militia designation. By 1845 preprinted forms were in use.

The earlier lists contain the names of the person charged with the tax, the names of white male tithables over the age of 21, the number of white male tithables between the ages of 16 and 21, the number of slaves both above and below the age of 16, the number of various types of livestock, and such taxable items as carriage wheels, ordinary licenses, and billiard tables. Free Negroes are listed by name and are usually denoted as "free" or "FN." Additional descriptive information was sometimes added, usually in an effort to distinguish between two persons of the same name residing within the same county. Until 1810, amounts were reported in pounds, shillings, and pence; after that, in dollars and cents.

For the single year of 1815, the tax law was expanded to include certain valuable pieces of furniture, curtains, silver, mirrors, oil portraits, and icehouses. By the 1850s the enumerated items included, in addition to the information already noted, such items as pleasure carriages, pianos and harps, watches, clocks, gold and silver plate and jewelry, household and kitchen furniture, solvent bonds and securities.

Personal Property tax lists are available from 1782 (or the formation of the county, whichever is later) with the exception of the years 1808, when an act was passed ordering the commissioners not to compile lists of taxpayers or to collect taxes, and 1864, when the revenue act was suspended because there were adequate funds in the treasury. Records of those counties that are now part of Kentucky are available through 1792 or 1793 and of those counties that are now part of West Virginia through 1863.

Both the tax rate and the procedures for collecting taxes were set by the various revenue acts. The first law designated the justices of the county court as the tax collectors; by 1786, the county courts were directed to divide each locality into precincts and to appoint commissioners to collect the tax. Taxes were assessed between March and April of each year and were payable by the end of December. The commissioners prepared four "fair and correct" copies of the personal property tax books, one each for the commissioner, county clerk, sheriff, and Auditor of Public Accounts. It is this last copy that is available at the Library of Virginia as part of Record Group 48; after 1928, the records came from the Department of Taxation, Record Group 11.

The personal property tax lists for the period 1782-1850 are available on microfilm and circulate through the interlibrary loan system. Records after 1850 are presently available only in manuscript.

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.

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