ASSESSMENT OF 1783: LEGAL REQUIREMENTS AND THEIR APPLICATION IN MONTGOMERY COUNTY
by Eleanor M.V. Cook
The 1783 Maryland tax assessment was made under "An Act to Raise Supplies for the Year 1783," passed by the General Assembly at the November 1782 session (Chap. 6). The tax was needed to raise money for supplies during the Revolutionary War, and was set at the rate of 25 shillings per 100 pounds of total worth of both real and personal property. There were 20 shillings to a pound, which means that 25 shillings equaled 1 pound, 5 shillings.
For purposes of the 1783 assessment Montgomery County was divided into five districts: Lower Newfoundland, Rock Creek and North West Hundreds; Upper Newfoundland and Seneca Hundreds; Linganore and Sugar Loaf Hundreds; Sugarland and Upper Potomac Hundreds; and Middle Potomac, Lower Potomac and Georgetown Hundreds. In each of the districts there was a listing of real property by tract name and a general assessment listing by name of taxpayer. There was also a list of single men and usually a list of paupers.
The general assessment listing contains the following column headings: Value of Real Property; Number of Slaves Male ages 14 to 45 and value; Number of Slaves Female ages 14 to 36 and value; Number of Slaves Male and Female ages 8 to 14 and value; Number of Slaves Male over age 45, Female over age 36 and value; Number of Slaves Male and Female under age 8 and value; Ounces of Silver Plate and value; Number of Horses, Number of Black Cattle and combined value; Value of Other Personal Property; Amount of Whole (value of all real and personal property); Amount of Assessment (amount to be paid); and Number of White Inhabitants. Some knowledge of relevant sections of the law is helpful in understanding the listings and the terms used.
Valuations. The legislative act stated (Sec. 18) that silver plate should be valued at 8 shillings, 4 pence per ounce. A male slave age 14 to 45 was to be given a valuation of 70 pounds; a female slave age 14 to 36 , 60 pounds; and a male or female slave age 8 to 14, 25 pounds. Assessors were authorized to determine the valuations for the other slave categories. In Montgomery County the values for male slaves over age 45 and females over age 36 ranged from 10 to 45 pounds and for children under age 8 from 3 to 18 pounds. Sometimes the records indicate a male slave as a tradesman which apparently meant he was skilled in a trade, or was a blacksmith or cooper. In these cases, he was given a value higher than 70 pounds, usually 100. In other instances, a slave might be noted as infirm, and assessed at a lower rate than given in the law.
Horses and Black Cattle. In answer to the question, "Why didn't they count the brown cattle?," it should be explained that "black cattle" was a term used in England and Scotland to mean meat cattle of any color, and to include oxen, as well as bulls and cows. A combined valuation was given for all horses and black cattle owned by a taxpayer, which averaged 2 to 4 pounds per animal. Occasionally a person owned horses only or cattle only, and from these valuations it can be seen that cattle tended to be worth less, from 2 to 3 pounds each. Horses were usually valued from 3 to 12 pounds each. One assessment, for Christian Custer, showed two horses valued at 45 pounds.
Other Personal Property. The law exempted (Sec. 2) certain items from assessment: wearing apparel, ready money, provisions (except livestock) necessary for the use of the family, plantation utensils, and working tools of mechanics and manufacturers. Tobacco in the barns of the owner was subject to assessment, but not tobacco stored in a warehouse (Sec. 26). As a result other personal property would have included, in addition to tobacco on the farm, items such as pots and pans, furniture, feather beds, saddles and wagons. For more wealthy people this category could have encompassed china, linens, clocks and watches, looking glasses, books, guns, carpets and even a carriage.
White Inhabitants. A situation where a value was given for land but the column for white inhabitants was blank usually meant that the landowner lived in another district in the county, or in another county or even out of state. There may have been exceptions, such as a widow owning land but living with her son and counted in his household. Land listed with slaves on it and no white inhabitants would indicate what in other records is referred to as a quarter, that is , land used a working plantation, separate from the home plantation of the owner.
Assessed by Commissioners. The law provided (Sec. 29) that the property of each assessor was to be valued by the commissioners of his county. An assessor could not determine the worth of his own property.
Interest in [tract name, such as Bradfords Rest] or Interest as Lessor or Lessee. The law specified (Sec. 24) that lessees were chargeable with the sum assessed to the lessors for their leased property, and were to deduct that amount from rent paid to their landlords.
Refused to Give in His Property. The law provided (Sec. 20) that "some of the people called quakers, menonists or tunkers are principled against bearing arms or contributing property for supporting any war ... and this General Assembly are willing to make allowance for the real weaknesses of men as far as the public good will permit .... The refusal or neglect of any quaker, menonist or tunker to give in his property" is to be reported to the commissioners and if they believe that such person is a "friend to the present government and that his refusal or neglect proceeds from scruples of conscience only, they shall not double the assessment of such person." Despite these provisions, notations at the end of district listings indicate that assessments were doubled.
Single Men. Based on the premise that contributions to government expenses should be inclusive, the law directed (Sec. 47) all able-bodied male inhabitants over age 21 and under age 50, not assessed 50 pounds or more, to pay 15 shillings in lieu of other taxes. Each such single man was required to have someone as security for the payment of the 15 shillings. Refusal to do so could result in confinement in the county jail. Nearly all single men in Montgomery County listed someone as security.
Paupers. Lists of paupers included persons not assessed or those exempt by law. A pauper was defined as someone whose property was valued at 10 pounds or less. Such an individual was not charged with any tax (Sec. 49). This category did not mean necessarily that a person was living in abject poverty. Some on the pauper list came from well-known, financially stable families, such as Moses Orme in the Lower Newfoundland district. A young married man, living on his father's plantation and working there, could easily own less than 10 pounds of personal property. A widow may have owned little, but been adequately provided for by her children. Usually the assessor made a separate list of paupers and persons not assessed and noted white inhabitants in each household. However, the assessor of the Sugarland and Upper Potomac Hundreds included them with all the other property owners, leaving all columns blank except for the white inhabitants one.
Persons Not Assessed/Persons Exempt by Law. The law provided (Sec. 2) that the personal property of any person who was driven from his home in "either of the southern states" by the enemy, had taken the oath of allegiance to that state of residence, and was settling in Maryland "with the approbation of the governor and council" was exempt from assessment. On the list of paupers for Middle Potomac, Lower Potomac and Georgetown Hundreds the assessor added the notation "7 years in the Service and discharged" before the names of four men, apparently exempting them from assessment.
by Kevin Swanson
DISTRICT COURT 10, CR (Civil Docket) 1983-1984 [MSA T1744]
DISTRICT COURT 11, WA (Civil Docket) 1991 [MSA T1088]
DISTRICT COURT 4, CH (Civil Docket) 1980-1991 [MSA T235]
DISTRICT COURT 4, CV (Civil Docket) 1976-1986 [MSA T1857]
GENERAL ASSEMBLY, HOUSE OF DELEGATES (Bill and Resolution File) 1996 [MSA T290]
GENERAL ASSEMBLY, HOUSE OF DELEGATES (Journal and Roll Calls) 1996 [MSA T291]
GENERAL ASSEMBLY, SENATE (Bill and Resolution File) 1996 [MSA T293]
GENERAL ASSEMBLY, SENATE (Journal and Roll Calls) 1996 [MSA T294]
GENERAL ASSEMBLY, SENATE (Committee Calendars, Reports, and Receipts) 1996 [MSA T2481]
FREDERICK COUNTY BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS (Tax Collection Record) 1884-1898 [MSA T2802]
FREDERICK COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT (Docket) 1868-1899 [MSA T175]
FREDERICK COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT (Releases and Assignments) 1909-1913 [MSA T2201]
FREDERICK COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT (Judgment Record) 1903-1930 [MSA T2804]
FREDERICK COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT (Test Book, Index) 1880-1884 [MSA T2805]