The purpose of this blog post is twofold: To put a spotlight on how tax lists are helpful for genealogical research and to encourage researchers to take full advantage of the North Carolina Wills and Probate collection made available on Ancestry. Recently while browsing through these records, I stumbled across a list of ‘Insolvent Taxpayers’ from 1810 mixed into a folder of wills. I immediately recognized the names of several Native/FPOC residents of Granville Co whom I research regularly, including my own direct and indirect ancestors.
North Carolina Tax Laws
In order to read and interpret North Carolina tax lists, it is vital to understand how the law determined who was taxable. This is a link which provides an overview of North Carolina tax laws as well as instructions on how to access original tax lists. The North Carolina State Archives houses tax lists prior to 1900, so it requires an in-person visit. Tax lists have not been digitized and are not available online through popular genealogy sites such as Ancestry and FamilySearch. (This is why the list of Granville County Insolvent Taxpayers from 1810 mixed into the Wills folders is a remarkable find).
Before the implementation of the modern income based tax system that we are all familiar with, North Carolina used to have a ‘Poll Tax’ system that was initiated in 1715. Free white males, 16 years of age and older were considered taxable. And all “free people of color”, both males and females, 12 years of age and older were considered taxable. This meant that FPOC had to pay more poll taxes than whites. In Granville County, there were petitions signed by FPOC and sympathetic whites, requesting that this unfair tax system be abolished. Consequently, some “free colored” men protested and refused to pay taxes on their wives and you will see notations in the tax lists which reflect that.
In 1784, North Carolina passed a new tax law which more or less, stayed in place with minor amendments until 1970. Here are the key features of the tax law:
- All free men (both white men and men of color), ages 21 and over were required to pay a poll tax.
- In 1801, the law was amended so that all free men, ages 21-50 were required to pay a poll tax. This meant that when a man turned 51, he was no longer taxable.
- All slaves, ages 12-50 were taxable. Slave owners were responsible for paying taxes on their slaves. Slaves were also referred to as “black polls”.
- In 1817, the law was further amended so that all free men, ages 21-45 were required to pay a poll tax. This meant that when a man turned 46, he was no longer taxable.
- No matter the age, all men were required to pay taxes on their land. Therefore you will see tax lists which show men who are not assessed with a poll tax, and are only assessed with a property tax.
- If you did not pay your poll tax, your name was added to the Insolvent Taxpayer List.
Though tax lists don’t specify the age of the individual listed, you can at least determine an age range if they were assessed with a poll tax. Therefore tax lists are helpful when you are trying to estimate the age of an individual you are researching. Another advantage is that tax lists are created yearly, whereas census records are created only every ten years. Much can happen in the span of ten years, so tax lists help fill in those gaps.
Mixed into Granville County Wills, Vol 7, 1808-1816 folder on Ancestry is where I found the list of insolvent taxpayers from 1810. In a previous blog post here, I provided detailed instructions on how to access this collection on Ancestry. The Wills and Probate Collection on Ancestry not only contains estate records but for some counties, this collection also includes apprenticeships, “Poor House” lists, some court orders and other official court documents. The availability of these records online varies considerably from one county to the next and these records are not at all consistently available for all years. Luckily for Granville, some of these miscellaneous files were mixed into the estate records. The problem is that none of these records are indexed which means they are not searchable, so you quite literally have to browse page by page in folders that contain thousands of pages. Joy!
However, when you do find these miscellaneous records, it is worth the time spent. After hours and hours of reading wills containing barely decipherable handwriting, I came across the following list of “Insolvent Taxpayers” from 1810:
An insolvent taxpayer refers to someone who failed to pay their taxes. So this is NOT a full list of taxpayers but rather a list of residents of Granville County who were supposed to pay taxes in 1810 but failed to do so. You can see from the second page that this document was produced and recorded in the August 1811 session of the Granville County court. There is also an additional note at the top of the page which indicates that some of these persons may have moved out of county which is why they did not pay taxes to the county that year.
There are two columns next to each individual name listed. The first column is “Free Poll” which refers to the unpaid poll tax of the individual named. The second column is “Slaves” and refers to individuals who failed to pay taxes on their slaves. What is omitted from these lists is additional biographical information such as age, race, occupation, marital status, etc. So though tax lists and insolvent tax lists are excellent primary source records, it can be tricky to identify exactly who is named on the list (especially if multiple people living in the same county share the same name).
Fortunately, I recognize the names of all the FPOC who are listed and I have transcribed their names below. And to ensure there is little confusion about the identities of the individuals listed, I have included a brief bio on each person.
Racey Bass – Born circa 1790 (though probably a year or two older because to be taxable he had to be 21 years of age). Son of Jesse Chavis and Milly Bass. Resided in the Abrams Plains area. You can read more about Racey’s father Jesse Chavis here and read more Racey’s brother Willis Bass here. Due to conflicting information, I was unclear about the gender of Racey Bass. However I now know Racey Bass was a male because he is named as a free poll in this tax list. (There are some examples where widowed women who act as head of household are taxable, but this is not the case for Racey Bass).
Isaac Chavis – Born circa 1766, died before 1831. Son of James Chavis and Elizabeth Evans. Married and divorced Elizabeth Evans. Owned 150 acres of land in Abrams Plains district.
Sherwood Harris – Born circa 1761, died in 1831. Son of Edward Harris and Sarah Chavis. A Revolutionary War veteran and you can read about him here. Resided in the Beaverdam district. (He is my 5th great-grandfather).
Daniel Harris – Born circa 1785. Son of Sherwood Harris listed above him. He was likely living on Sherwood Harris’ land in Beaverdam district. (He is my 4th great-grandfather).
James Chavis “Shavers” – Born circa 1786. Son of Anthony Chavis and Betsy Evans. There was an older James Chavis (born circa 1744) living in Granville in the early 1800s. However, in 1810 that older James Chavis was exempt from paying taxes. James Chavis (born circa 1786) and several of his siblings moved to Chatham Co. where he married Nancy Bird. He later relocated to the “Lost Creek Community” in Vigo Co, IN. “Shavers” is an alternative spelling of “Chavis”, and James Chavis is documented in other census records with this alternative spelling.
Thomas Chavis – This is the same Thomas Chavis who was enumerated in the 1810 census in Granville Co, head of a household of 10 “free people of color” and 1 slave. I don’t have solid information that helps to identify more about his life and who his parents may have been. He resided next to Charles Chavis (below) who resided in Abrams Plains. The Chavises living in this area came from across the state border in Mecklenburg Co VA.
Charles Chavis – This is the same Charles Chavis who was taxed in the Abrams Plains district in 1788 and enumerated in the Granville Co census in 1800 and 1810. He was married to Nancy Taborn and was the bondsman for the 1802 Granville Co marriage of Evans Chavis and Lucy Smith. Genealogist Paul Heinegg theorizes with no supporting documentation that he may be the “illegitimate” son of Hannah Francis and Philip Chavis. I do not concur and instead believe he is from the Mecklenburg Co, VA Chavises.
James Pettiford – He does not appear in any Granville Co census or marriage records, so I’m unsure of his age and who his parents were. He may have died shortly after this tax list or moved out of the county or state.
Elijah Valentine – Born circa 1770. I do not have parents identified for him. He was married to Polly Bass and lived in the Fishing Creek district.
William Anderson – Perhaps born circa 1789. Enumerated in the 1810 census of Granville, head of household of 7 “free people of color”. He was married to Elizabeth Pettiford. I have not identified his parents but he may have been a grandson of Lewis Anderson Jr (1743-before 1810).
Reuben Day – Born circa 1788. He was the son of Jesse Day and Prissy Bass. He later moved to Orange Co, NC.
Jacob Hawley – Not to be confused with the older Jacob Hawley listed below. I’m unsure of the age and parents of this Jacob Hawley. It’s possible he could be a son or closely related to Jacob Hawley Sr.
John Day – Born circa 1785. He was also enumerated in the 1810 census in Granville, head of a household of 2 “free people of color”. He may be a son of Jesse Day and Prissy Bass.
Jacob Hawley Sr – Born circa 1751, but if he was still considered a tithable in 1810, then he may actually be a few years younger. Died in 1817. Son of Joseph Hawley and Martha Harris. You can read more about the Hawley family here.
Lewis Mitchell – This is probably the same Lewis Mitchell who was enumerated in the 1830 census in Granville, head of a household consisting of himself. I have found no marriage records for him and unable to identify his parents.
William Mitchell – Born circa 1775. Son of Archibald Mitchell and Selah Bass. He was married to Bythea Hedgepeth.
Dempsey Bass – Born circa 1781, died by 1828. Son of Edward Bass and Tamer Anderson. He was married to Phoebe Day. In 1810, he resided in the Oxford district and in the 1820 census was in the Ledge of Rock district. You can read more about the Bass family here.
Edward Mitchell – Born circa 1775. Son of Archibald Mitchell and Selah Bass. He was married to Mary Ann/Mariah Bass. He resided in the Tar River district.