Icon Understanding Maryland Records: Tax Lists & Early Assessments

Understanding Maryland Records
Tax Lists & Early Assessments

Tax lists document people required to pay a head tax; they are not assessments on real or personal property.  In Colonial Maryland there was a tax on all free white males 16 years and older except clergymen and paupers, male servants 16 years and older, and male and female slaves 16 years and older. Tax lists give the name of the person paying the tax and the total number of taxables in the household.  Female heads of household are listed in the tax list, but they are not counted as part of the taxable household size.  Some tax lists include the names of the taxable persons in the household or on the plantation.  On some tax lists, the enslaved  household members are listed by name while other lists give only the total number of enslaved people.

Tax assessments were based on the value of real and/or personal property.  Most tax assessments are found in county records.  Maryland did, however, assess state real and personal property to help defray the costs of the Revolutionary War.  Extant records include the 1777 assessment for Upper Newfoundland Hundred in Montgomery County,  the 1782 assessment for Calvert County and the Upper Potomac Hundred in Montgomery County, and the 1783 assessment for several counties.

The act of 1777 (Feb. Term 1777, Ch. 21) set the tax rate on real and personal property for 1777 and 1778 at 10 shillings per 100 pounds value.  Laws passed by the General Assembly for the year 1782 (Nov. Term 1781, Ch. 4) and 1783 (Nov. Term 1782, Ch. 6) set the tax rate and allowed assessors to value real property and some personal property, but specified the values of certain items of personal property, such as silver plate and some slaves. In 1782 the tax rate was set at 45 shillings per 100 pounds current money, later reduced to 20 shillings. In 1783 the  tax rate was set at 25 shillings per 100 pounds current money. Values enumerated by law in 1782 and 1783 included male slaves ages 14 to 45 worth 70 pounds each unless they were craftsmen or infirm,  female slaves ages 14 to 36 worth 60 pounds each, male and female slaves ages 8 to 14 worth 25 pounds each, and silver plate worth 8 shillings 4 pence per ounce. In 1782  male and female slaves under 8 years were valued at 10 pounds each.

These early assessment records used terms that had specific meanings at the time. "Paupers" were not assessed, nor were some persons specifically exempted by law. A pauper was defined as someone whose total property was valued at 10 pounds or less. Such a person was not necessarily living in abject poverty. A widow could own little but be well provided for by her family. A single man living and working on his father's plantation might himself own little. Several men on one list of paupers were marked "4 years in the Service and discharged," which apparently exempted them from assessment. "Black cattle," a column heading in some assessments, was a term used in England and Scotland meaning meat cattle of any color and included oxen, bulls, and cows. "Other personal property" pertained to items not otherwise assessed, except for exempted properties which included wearing apparel, ready money, provisions for the use of the family, plantation utensils, and working tools of mechanics and manufacturers.

When the column for "White Inhabitants" was left blank, it usually meant that although the owner was assessed for property in that hundred or district, he did not live there. He may have lived in another area of the county, another Maryland county, or even another state. Sometimes the land was vacant; sometimes it was used as a quarter. Some assessment entries were noted as "Refused to give in his property." The law provided that "some of the people Quakers, Menonists or Tunkers are principled against bearing arms or contributing property for supporting any war" and their refusal was to be reported to the tax commissioners. If the commissioners believed that such person was a "friend to the present government and his refusal or neglect proceeds from scruples of conscience only, they shall not double the assessment of such person." Despite this, records show that the assessments of even well-known Quakers were sometimes doubled.

Tax Lists at the Maryland State Archives

The references listed below are to available card catalog and online indexes. 

(Tax Lists, SO), 1723-1759.  MSA C1812  Volume 696 of the Archives of Maryland Online.

(Assessment of 1783, Index), 1783.  Index 65--by Owner's Name. MSA S1437;  Index 66 -- by Tract Name MSA S1438.  Both series link to Volume 81 of the Archives of Maryland Online, the alphabetized list of owners by county.

(Tax List, AA, Index), 1764-1766. Index 67. MSA S1439

(Federal Direct Tax), 1798. MSA SM56  Volume 729 of the Archives of Maryland Online.

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