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Tax Records in North Carolina: NC Tax Records

introductory information on tax records in North Carolina during the 1700s-1800s

History of Tax Records in North Carolina

The use of tax records goes back to colonial times. The majority of counties have existent tax records, but some counties have suffered many court house fires and as a result do not have records before a certain date. Taxes were usually done annually or every other year. Taxes were done by the county rather than the state so the availability of taxes in North Carolina varies.

Original tax records before 1900 that still exist are filed in the North Carolina State Archives. The Archives also have microfilm for many tax records after 1900. Tax Records after 1900 are predominately filed in the county courthouses. Microfilm of tax records that were created by the Archives are also available for Interlibrary Loan (ILL) to North Carolina residents by the Government & Heritage Library. If you live in North Carolina and would like microfilm on loan, contact your local public librarian. If you reside outside of North Carolina, check with your local Family History Center. The main Family History Library in Salt Lake City has copies of many microfilms from the State Archives of North Carolina.

Poll Taxes

Poll taxes are the most common type of taxes researched for genealogy. Poll taxes, by definition, were taxes on individuals.Since 1715, North Carolina has passed several laws regarding poll taxes and who is to be taxes. Generally, the head of the household and any free men living in the household over age 21 were taxable. In 1970, poll taxes in North Carolina were abolished.

Laws Regulating Poll Taxes

In 1715, the law stated that all males that were not enslaved age 16 or older an all slaves age 12 or older were taxable. A law was passed in 1723 stipulated that any free person of color who intermarried with a white person be taxed as well as a tax on any white person who married a free person of color. In addition, all free people of color, male and female, age 12 and older were taxable. This caused several petitions to the Lords Proprietor that were rejected. In 1784, The law changed for all free males and servants age 21 or older and slaves age 12-50. In 1801, the law was amended that free men over age 50 to be exempt. In 1817, the age of 50 was lowered to 45. From 1835 through 1868, the law established the ages as follows: All free men age 21-45, all slaves 12-50. In 1868, after slavery ended, the state constitution required all men age 21-50 to pay tax. Poll tax was finally abolished in 1970 in favor of income-based taxes. This list of laws is not all inclusive, there may have been other laws affecting poll taxes.

Information in Tax Lists

Poll taxes generally include the following information:

  • Date - date format varies from year to year and county to county. It may include the full date of when the list was taken, it may be just the year it was taken, it may be the full date of when the list was formally written down, or it may include only the year of when the list was formally written down.
  • Districts - as with date, districts vary year to year. Districts can be named after justices, constables, militia captains or even geographical features such as the name of nearby waterways
  • Taxpayer's name - The taxpayer was the head of the household. Although white women were not taxable, widows and single women who served as the head of the household could be the taxpayer.
  • Polls - polls were the taxables in the household. In the very early tax lists, those taxable in the house may all be listed by name. Later though, polls were usually just a number: the number of white polls and the number of black polls.  Although black polls were often slaves, there were many households in NC that were made entirely of free African Americans before the Civil War.  By 1860 census there were over 30,000 free African Americans and the heads of those households paid taxes as well.
  • Real property (land, acres) - Often there were 2 columns for real property: acreage owned and value of the land owned. Land was taxable from 1715-1720 and from 1777-1970.
  • Personal Property - although what personal property was listed here, it usually included animals. Slaves were not included here as they were included as black polls. It is common to see categories for cattle, studs (horses), or mules. From 1777 until after the Civil War, usually only "luxury" items were included, such as: gold, silver, and vehicles (such as carriages).  It can also include stocks and bonds, cash on hand and saving. As with real property, this category often lists a description of the personal property and a value.
  • Amount of Tax - This is usually listed, but sometimes the list is on a separate sheet. Colonial lists often are hard to understand. The monetary system in colonial North Carolina did not use dollars and cents, but in pounds, shillings, and pence often displayed in groups of 3 numbers (i.e., 1.25.3 which would read 1 pound, 25 shillings, 3 pence).

Information in tax records can vary from year to year and even between districts in the same year. Generally there was no specific format to use and especially in the early tax lists format and even questions varied. An example of this is the Wake County, North Carolina 1802 tax list. In Capt. Cole's district, all taxables were listed in two columns giving in order names, land (acreage), and polls (total). In the same year, Capt. Gose's district used a single column format and listed name, land, white polls, black polls, and horses. Capt. Massey's district in the same year lists name, land, white polls, black polls, sheds, and taverns. All of these are for a specific county in the same year, but you may find some big differences between the districts.