North Carolina Tax Records

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This entry was originally written by Johni Cerny and Gareth L. Mark for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.

This article is part of
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the North Carolina Family History Research series.
History of North Carolina
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Census Records for North Carolina
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That all governments require money to operate was well known to those who established North Carolina's civil administration. They decided to follow existing methods of taxation by placing levies on people. Prior to 1777, people who were taxed were usually called taxables, tithables, or polls; in essence they were paying a head tax. A 1715 law enacted by the general assembly defined taxables as all free males sixteen years of age and over and all slaves, male and female, aged twelve and over. The law was revised in 1749 and included all white males aged sixteen and over, as well as 'negroes,' 'mulattoes,' 'mustees,' or 'octoroons' (offspring of a white and a 'quadroon'), and all persons of mixed blood to the fourth generation, both male and female, who were twelve years of age and older.

Tax rules remained fairly constant from 1749 until 1777 when the state began applying different criteria, such as restricting the poll tax to freemen who did not own a minimum amount of property, exempting soldiers, changing the minimum age to twenty-one, or taxing only unmarried men. By 1784 the legislature settled on taxing freemen and male servants twenty-one and over and all slaves (male and female) between twelve and fifty. In 1801 all free males over fifty were exempted from the poll tax, and then in 1817 the exemption age was lowered to forty-five. A constitutional amendment in 1835 set age limits at twenty-one to forty-five for free males and twelve to fifty for slaves. The constitution of 1868 included all males between the ages of twenty-one and fifty. Poll taxes were abolished in North Carolina in 1970. Property taxes were levied in North Carolina from 1715 through 1722 and then abolished. They were reinstated in 1777 and remain in effect today. See Raymond A. Winslow, Jr., 'Tax and Fiscal Records,' North Carolina Research (see Background Sources for North Carolina).

North Carolina tax lists have survived better than those for many states. The lists date from the first decade of the eighteenth century to the present. Microfilmed copies of some of the surviving lists are available at the North Carolina State Archives and the FHL. Many transcriptions are found in the pages of North Carolina's periodicals. See also Clarence E. Ratcliff, North Carolina Taxpayers, 1701'1786 (1987; rev. ed., Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2002) and North Carolina Taxpayers, 1679-1790 (1984; rev. ed., Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2003).