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A matter of native legislation


Keep in mind the mantra!

Okay, followers of The Authorized Genealogist, right here’s your pop quiz for at this time.

What’s the mantra round these components?

Yep, you recognize it. You possibly can in all probability recite it in your sleep:

If we need to perceive the data, now we have to know the legislation — on the time and within the place the place every report was created.

Living proof: at this time’s reader query, elevating yet one more “how previous did he need to be” challenge.

Reader Nancy Kabat was puzzled by what appeared to be a change on some Virginia private property tax lists within the waning years of the 18th century.

She needed to attempt to calculate ages of sure ancestors primarily based on once they did, or didn’t, seem on these tax lists.

However she ran right into a snag.

“I’m researching my ancestors in Franklin County, Virginia from 1782 to 1823 and have collected their private property tax data,” she wrote. “Nonetheless, I’m confused as initially the tithables are listed as white males over 21 after which in 1788 it switched to white males over 16. I believed it was at all times white males over 21. Am I lacking one thing?”

So… first up, what’s a tithable? In line with the Library of Virginia, “In seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Virginia, the time period ‘tithable’ referred to an individual who paid (or for whom another person paid) one of many taxes imposed by the Common Meeting for the assist of civil authorities within the colony.”

And these taxpayers had been referred to as tithables as a result of the tax went, partially, to the assist of the Anglican parishes — that being the established church of Virginia on the time.

That very same legislation gave the primary particular definition in Virginia legislation as to who was thought-about tithable: “all youths of sixteen years of age as upwards, as additionally for all negro girls on the age of sixteen years.”

That age of 16 for tithables, often targeted on white males, continued within the Virginia colonial statutes for greater than a century.

After which got here the Revolution, and statehood, and a complete new system of taxation.

With a brand new legislation enacted in November 1781, Virginia converted to a brand new state private property tax system which required a state ballot tax to be paid by free males over the age of 21 (“a tax of ten shillings by each free male individual, above the age of twenty-one years”). And that age of 21 for the ballot tax was repeated in 1782 when Virginia refined its tax legal guidelines to convey varied provisions below one authorized roof.


It didn’t keep that means.

That age provision was clarified by an act handed on Could 1783 that stated: “nothing within the stated act contained, shall be construed to stop the a number of county courts from inflicting lists to be taken of all free male tithables, between the ages of sixteen and twenty-one years, and of imposing taxes upon all such, for the needs of county or parish levies, This act shall start and be in power from and after the primary day of July subsequent.”

Which, after all, a bunch of Virginia counties did.

Together with Franklin, which was counting white males aged 16-21 on its tax lists by 1788.

Someplace within the order books of the Franklin County Courtroom between its formation in 1785 and the gathering of that tax, there ought to be an order permitting it to be collected. I’ve to say “ought to be” as a result of — sigh — courtroom data are solely pretty much as good because the clerks that created them and, after all, Franklin could have relied on earlier practices in its father or mother counties of Bedford and Henry.

So the underside line right here?

You already realize it.

If we need to perceive the data, now we have to know the legislation — on the time and within the place the place every report was created.

And, very particularly, how previous you needed to be to pay a head tax in Virginia after 1783 was a matter of native legislation, proper down within the weeds of the county stage.

Cite/hyperlink to this publish: Judy G. Russell, “A matter of native legislation,” The Authorized Genealogist ( : posted 12 Could 2022).


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