A. To fund a military buildup for a possible war with France, Congress enacted a $2 million direct tax in July 1798.
Each of the countrys 16 states had to come up with its share of the $2 million. A states quota was based on population, with slaves counting as three-fifths of a person. State officials created their own forms and valued property, enumerated slaves and collected the taxes.
- Houses valued at more than $100 were taxed on the value. Since many of these homes had expensive glass windows, this is also called the glass tax. Some homeowners went so far as to brick over windows to reduce their homes’ value.
- Slaveowners were taxed 50 cents for each able-bodied slave age 12 to 50
- All other real property, which included houses valued at $100 or less, was taxed at a fixed percentage of the value.
The controversial tax was repealed in 1799. Resulting records include valuations, enumerations and tax collection lists.
Because the law allowed responsibility for the tax to be transferred to other governmental departments, with no directive to forward records to Washington, many of these records have been lost. Existing records are scattered among various repositories, with Pennsylvania having a strong collection at the National Archives facility in College Park, Md.
Unfortunately, the records’ varied locations means you wont find a comprehensive online database for all types of direct tax records from all states.
NewEnglandAncestors.org, the Web site of the New England Historic Genealogical Society, has online databases for Massachusetts and Maine direct taxes in its subscription collection (membership starts at $75 annually). Not all towns are includedan 1800s Boston Customs House janitor was feeding the records into a fire when a clerk stopped him.
A Google search on 1798 direct tax or 1798 glass tax might net you an index to records for your ancestors area. Thats how we found this index for a list from Berkeley Parish, Spotsylvania County, Pa., a bloggers list of those taxed in Bethel, Mass., and this index to a list from Tyoga Township, Lycoming County, Pa.
Genealogical publishers such as Heritage Books might have indexes in book form.
If you know of an online direct tax index or tip for finding records, click Comments (below) and post the link.