Botetourt County, Virginia Tithables, 1770-1782
Botetourt County, Virginia Tithables, 1770-1782.
Karen Wagner Treacy. During the period just prior to the outbreak of the American Revolution and throughout the conflict, a transformation was taking place in the western counties of Virginia, as thousands of settlers moved into and through the area in search of new lands. The records of this period document the very earliest settlers to the area. The author has examined and transcribed the tithables lists for the first dozen years of the county’s existence. From the author’s introduction:
“A tithable was a person who was liable to pay a tax or a tithe, one that was calculated per person, or a ‘head’ tax. A later name for it was poll tax, again meaning per head. The County Court set the amount of the tax to meet the anticipated budget, and authorized the Sheriff to collect the money. This, and not law enforcement, was the most important role of the Sheriff.
Colonial officeholder posted performance bonds for their due and faithful performance. The higher the office, the higher the bond. Most offices required a 500 or 1000 pound bond; the sheriff could be required to post up to 20,000 pounds, enough to cover the tax liability for the entire county.
Who paid the tithe? White males age sixteen to fifty or sixty, and negroes of both sexes and all ages were counted in this head tax. The person ‘taking in’ the lists of tithables also listed number of horses (including stud horses), neat cattle, wheels for riding carriages, and billiards tables, for which the owners also paid a set amount. (Land was taxed separately, although it could be enumerated with the tithables for convenience.). To be removed from the taxable roll, the levy, required an act of the court to acknowledge that a person was aged, infirm, or indigent and ought to be excused.
A county was subdivided into militia districts, headed by captains, and ideally each also had a constable to carry out court-appointed functions. Once a year the court would appoint a person of substance and reputation, often the militia captain, to enumerate the tithables in each district. These lists, turned in to the Botetourt Court on individual slips of paper, served as a yearly census for the heads of households of the county. Often additional tithes in the household were named as well. In cases where a woman was listed as head of household she was not taxed, although sons of age and slaves were. By comparing the documents year to year, we can see sons reaching taxable age, or moving out into their own households. We can see individuals moving from one district to another. People who did not own property and could easily be omitted from other court records (jury duty for example) can be found in the tithable rolls.
Enumerators traveled the county as efficiently as possible. If the list was not reorganized into alphabetical order (often by the first name) we can presume that people listed in proximity lived in proximity. Nicknames, occupations, and parentage were occasionally given to distinguish individuals. Senior and Junior at this period indicated relative age, not necessarily a father and son relationship.
In additon to tax liability, the tithable lists were also featured in an important county service: road maintanence. Each road overseer was empowered to call upon the tithables living in his district to clear and maintain the roads.
These lists from Botetourt County cover the period from 1770 to 1782. Unfortunately, they are only accessible on microfilm, due to the serious fire and water damage suffered by many of that county’s records. Many of the pages are nearly illegible. I have indicated the best readings I could decipher, but I do not pretend to have succeeded in all cases. Because these are copied from microfilm and the originals have been damaged in addition to the degradation of age, some of these readings are very tentative. If I was reasonably sure of a reading (all pages were proofed against the images) I listed the letters I saw. If the name resembled another name existing in these records, I examined the questioned copy to see if the known name would fit the legible penstrokes. If it could be read as the known name that’s how I copied it. Many times I thought a name ‘ought’ to be a known name but I could not see the penstrokes that way; in those cases I listed what I saw. I often noted the original image as being smudged, dark, faded, poor, blotched, or generally bad. In some cases all that could be determined was whether or not individual letters extended above or below the line. Question marks indicate a partially illegible reading that fit the letter pattern of the word. Square brackets indicate an unreadable entry (often these are on creases in the paper) and square brackets within a word indicate one or more letters illegible. The reader should go to the microfilm for any questions about my reading. I have been working with SW VA court records from this period for several years and some of these pages are the most difficult I have encountered." 10 1/2 x 8 1/2, vi, 170 pages.