Compiled Personal Property Tax Lists, 1784-1870

Personal Property Tax Records are substantially complete, missing only the years 1782, 1783, 1786, 1863 and 1864

In 1782 the General Assembly of Virginia revised the tax laws of the Commonwealth. The act provided for statewide enumeration on the county level of certain personal property and land. It also created a permanent source of revenue for the operation of government in Virginia.

The personal property tax lists of Fredericksburg were transcribed by Gary Stanton and Jim Bailey, then a student at Mary Washington College. Access and invaluable proof-reading was undertaken by Barry McGhee. The accompanying lists were principally created from the microfilm of the State auditor copy of the books. The individual years of tax are available elsewhere on this site. Barry McGhee compiled the individual years to allow searching across the individual years. Because the taxable items multiplied and changed over time the complete listing of the taxable goods is not represented in the compiled index, but a researcher can identify citizens who were chargeable for the personal property tax, and compare their tax liability over time. African Americans are identified in this compiled list although they may not have owned real estate.

To go to the compiled personal property index mash this button:

The taxation for the support of the government was divided into three categories: a tax on land, a tax on certain forms of moveable or personal property, and a tax on certain licenses granted for activities regulated by the General Assembly. The personal property included a tax on adult males, slaves, horses, and carriages from 1782 to 1815.

Copies of annual lists of personal property owners submitted to the State Auditor, for each county and city survive from 1782 to 1925.

Fredericksburg City Council minutes mention property subject to personal property tax, but there is not a separate listing the individuals subject to the tax until 1784.

Although the original legislation charged that one of the justices would be in charge of obtaining the listing and the amount of the tax, the task of creating the listing quickly was shifted to the Commissioner of the Revenue. The law required the clerk of court to record in "a fair alphabetical list" the names of the persons charged with the tax. In practice, the Commissioner moved from property to property and made a record of the chargeable items in each household. The head of the household then signed or made his/her mark in the small notebook. If the citizen refused to give information about his property subject to tax, the commissioner was required to make a fair estimate of the possessions for the purposes of the tax. Having obtained the listing of the personal property of the citizens, the Commissioner made out three "fair copies" one for the Sheriff, a copy for the collector of taxes, and a copy for the State auditor's office.

The initial law creating the tax in 1782 valued the tax in pounds, shillings, and pence, but allowed the tax to be paid in goods, script, and currency. Although tobacco had virtually been the currency of realm during the colonial era, the collector was allowed to take tobacco, hemp, and flour.

The amount of tax due was reported in pounds, shillings, and pence on the early tax lists. In Fredericksburg the tax began to be listed in dollars and cents in 1797.

Information recorded in Virginia personal property tax records changed gradually from 1782 to 1869. The early laws required the tax commissioner in each district to record in "a fair alphabetical list" the names of the person chargeable with the tax, the names of white male tithables over the age of twenty-one, the number of white male tithables between ages sixteen and twenty-one, the number of slaves both above and below age sixteen, various types of animals (principally horses), carriage wheels, ordinary licenses, and some items considered idle or luxury items, such as billiard tables.

Free Negroes are listed by name and often denoted in the list as "free" or "FN."

Later laws required additional descriptive information and taxed other classes of personal property. Capitation taxes on White males apparently ended in 1818.

With the exception of 1815, when a federal direct tax was apportioned to the State and fixed on luxury items, the taxable personal property was relatively stable until 1841 when a number of new taxable items were included. By the 1850s, the personal property tax records contained the following entries arranged in columns and here given with the year the tax was introduced:

1. Names of persons chargeable with tax (1782)
2. Number of free white males twenty-one years of age and upwards (1782-1818)
3. Number of male free Negroes twenty-one years of age and upwards (1813-1865)
4. Number of slaves above sixteen years of age (1782)
5. Number of slaves twelve years of age and upwards (1814-1865)
6. Horses (1782)
7. Pleasure carriages, stage coaches, jersey wagons, carryalls, buggies, and gigs (1782)
8. Ordinary Licenses (1800)
9. Watches and clocks (1842)
10. Pianos and harps (1842)
11. Gold and silver plate and jewelry (1842)
12. Household and kitchen furniture (1850)
13. Amounts of solvent bonds (1843)
14. Amount of capital (1843)
15. Interest (1843)
16. Income (1843)
17. toll bridges and ferries. (1843)
18. Attorney, physician, dentist licenses (1843)

All male African Americans, age twenty-one and above, were taxed by name for the first time in 1866. Between 1891 and 1965, African Americans were listed in a separate part of each tax book.

Descriptions of tax districts are recorded in the county court order books or in City Council minutes, but quickly were removed to books specifically arranged for this purpose. In 1814 printed summary papers were printed. In 1848, preprinted forms were first used in Fredericksburg for recording personal property tax information.

[The above information is abstracted from the information within the personal property books, of Fredericksburg and Virginia Library Research Notes Number 3, "Using Personal Property Tax Records in the Archives at the Library of Virginia" []. The first property tax law of the Commonwealth after the Revolution is found in Henings Statutes, Laws of Virginia, October 1782--7th [Year] of Commonwealth. Chap. VIII. Titled "An act to amend and reduce the several acts of assembly for ascertaining certain taxes and duties, and for establishing a permanent revenue, into one act."]

Last Update: 17 November 2013

Name: Gary Stanton, Dept of Historic Preservation

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