Virginia Tax Records
This entry was originally written by Johni Cerny and Gareth L. Mark for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.
Virginia’s tax records are a rich—and largely untapped—resource. During the Colonial period, there were three basic forms of taxation: the quitrent, the parish levy, and the poll tax.
The quitrent was a land tax that had its roots in English manorial society where “the land obligations due the manor, such as plowing and haying the lord’s land, were computed to an annual money payment. Upon payment, the obligations were ‘quit’ for the year.” (See Loretto Dennis Szucs and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking, eds., The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy [Salt Lake City: Ancestry, 1997]). Those living south of the Rappahannock River paid a quitrent to the Crown. An original, incomplete list of landowners for the region in 1704 is in the Public Record Office in London and has been published several times, though not always reliably. Residents of the Northern Neck, between the Rappahannock and Potomac Rivers, paid quitrents to the agents of Lord Fairfax. Many original rent rolls of the Fairfax proprietary are housed at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California. Extant original rent rolls and facsimiles for Virginia are available at the Library of Virginia. Using Land Tax Records at the Archives of the Library of Virginia (Research Notes Number 1) can be accessed online at www.lva.lib.va.us/whatwehave/tax/index.htm along with other research notes dealing with taxation in Virginia.
The parish levy was an annual tax paid by all tithables (see below) for support of their ministers, maintenance of the parishes’ glebe lands (the parsonage and lands producing income for the parish), and support of the poor of the parish.
Except for a brief period from 1645 to 1648, the poll tax was the main source of revenue for the colony of Virginia. The annual poll tax was computed by dividing the total expenses of the colony and individual counties by the total number of tithables. The result was levied on each tithable.
Tithables were variously defined during the colonial period. The first definition, in 1624, was “every male head above sixteen years of age.” All agricultural workers were added in 1629. In 1643 all males and African-American females aged sixteen or over were tithables. Imported male servants of any age were added in 1649.
The definition of “tithable” was rewritten in 1658. Tithables included free males aged sixteen or over, imported African Americans of either sex, imported white male servants, and African Americans servants of either sex; white women employed in agriculture were added in 1662. Complaints from planters with increasing numbers of indentured servants and slaves led to a revision in 1680 that declared Virginia-born male slaves taxable at age twelve and imported male servants taxable at age fourteen; nonwhite women and free males remained taxable at age sixteen.
The laws of Virginia were revised in 1705. From then until 1782, all males and nonwhite females aged sixteen or over were tithables. Wives of free nonwhite males were added in 1723.
While there is no comprehensive list or collection of early tax lists, many fragments have been printed in Virginia genealogical literature. See also Virginia Tax Records: From the “Virginia Magazine of History and Biography,” “The William and Mary College Quarterly,” and “Tyler’s Quarterly” (1983; reprint, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2000). Tax lists frequently appear in Virginia periodicals (see Virginia Periodicals, Newspapers, and Manuscript Collections). Original lists and facsimiles are at the Library of Virginia, and the FHL has microfilmed copies of many lists.
Virginia’s tax system changed after the Revolutionary War to include taxing land and personal property in 1782, with further revision in 1787. The bulk of those tax lists prior to 1850 survive and are available on microfilm at the Library of Virginia and the FHL. The 1787 tax lists of Schreiner-Yantis and Love, The 1787 Census of Virginia (see Census Records for Virginia), save researchers considerable time when attempting to pinpoint the origins of a family that had migrated out of Virginia. See also Using Personal Property Tax Records at the Archives of the Library of Virginia (Research Notes Number 3) online at www.lva.lib.va.us/whatwehave/tax/index.htm along with other research notes dealing with taxation in Virginia.