Continuing our look at the ever-changing laws concerning taxing the Kentucky residents; we move up to February 12, 1798. As you have likely noted, every year the tax collection laws were modified as the Legislature fine tuned them.
This law stated that no title would be impaired if the landowner had not registered with the auditor and the tax collectors. Refunds were to be issued to non-residents of the State if their lands had been classified incorrectly (the 1st, 2nd or 3 rate classification) if they had over-paid. We will remember that in the early days of our Commonwealth many had bought land here but never moved here. Taxes for the previous year of 1797 which were due in 1798 were reduced by 1/3rd – except for taxes on billiard tables. I assume billiard tables were considered a luxury item possibly. Instead of considering this a tax, the owner of a billiard table had to pay a flat rate of 20 pounds. “If the owners of a billiard table who shall set up the same, and suffer it to be used or played on, without having entered the same agreeable to this act, shall forfeit and pay the sum of $100 for every such offense … one half (of the $100) to go to the informer and the other half to be applied towards lessening the county levy & accounted for by the sheriff as other levies are directed by law to be accounted for.” I’m sure there were informers!
December 21, 1799 saw more changes. A Permanent Revenue was established which included: an adjustment to the tax rates, confirmation of the land rating system, and revision of the form for identifying taxable properties. Every slave, except those exempted by the county court from paying taxes because of infirmity, was to be taxed at 12.5 cents. The “Entered, Surveyed & Patented to” columns remained on the form. An option of paying ones taxes with “cut silver money” was added. Finally, anyone owning property in another county (other than their resident county) who did not pay the required tax was reported by the local tax commissioner to the state auditor. The auditor then notified the appropriate county sheriff that the tax was delinquent and they started the collection process.
December 20, 1800 covered the payment of tax commissioners. These were your county tax collectors appointed by the County Clerk. The tax commission was to obtain a certificate from the county court listing their expenses in compiling the tax list. This included even the cost of the paper furnished to make the lists. The tax collector/commissioner would not be paid by the state auditor until he received a certified copy in his office.
One year later on December 19, 1801 the tax rate was again adjusted and a one-year waiting period was granted before the tax commissioner could serve as sheriff or deputy sheriff. In other words, if a man had been a tax collector and wanted to be a county sheriff or deputy sheriff, he had to wait a year before he would be eligible.
An act granting a two-year grace period for the payment of delinquent taxes was established on December 15, 1804. This was the longest period thus far for changes in the tax system.
Flemingsburg, Washington (Mason Co), Cynthiana, Paris, Mount Sterling, Winchester, Lexington, Georgetown, Versailles, Nicholasville, Richmond, Lancaster, Stanford, Danville and Bearagrass land was re-classified as 1st rate land on December 26, 1805.
Five years passed before the next change was enacted on January 30, 1810. The Legislature altered the way tax commissioners were selected. Perhaps your ancestor’s name appears as the tax collector during this time period. The new law required county courts to appoint “some fit person in the bounds of each militia company to receive and take in all lists of taxable property within the same.” If the reader has seen a copy of the original tax records, he will note that normally a name is entered to the left of the columns. This was the collector for that district. The counties maintained militia companies in each county; we were not that far from the Revolutionary War. The tax collector/commissioner did not jump on his horse or in his wagon and come to the home of the taxpayer. The taxpayer had to go to him. This was unlike the census taker who did go to each residence. The taxpayer had to go to where musters for that district were held and file their property lists between April and June of the year. This in itself is a small clue. If you’re looking for the death dates of an ancestor and his name appears on the tax list for the year – you know he was alive between April-June.
Another modification was made in 1811 which stated: “taxpayers not bound to attend muster” did not have to participate in muster when they filed their lists. NOTE: Only certain men were required to attend the monthly muster; in other words, men too old, women, etc. didn’t muster! So, if you see your ancestor’s name paying taxes in a certain military district, this did NOT mean they were in the military!! They just had to pay their taxes there.
We are closing in on the major changes. Another column on the tax form was added on December 14, 1821. One of the changes was the addition of a field on the form identifying “the number of all children within each school district as established by the county courts between the ages of four and fourteen.” This was a BIG help to researchers; it made the form more like a mini-census. Still no names but we now can tell beginning in 1821 how many younger children were in the home. This list was sent to the school commissioners for each district. BUT, a problem. Not all counties must have liked this and did not enter this new information on the Commissioner’s Tax Book. It was not until 1840 when the state generated an “official” printed tax form where a field was added to identify the number of children between 7 & 17 years old in each household. That helps the researcher further!
The revision of December 13, 1824 dealt primarily with evaluating property in gold & silver. Some tax commissioner were using Commonwealth Bank Paper. With this law, everyone was to use the latter. This was changed again in 1828 when property could be valued in gold or silver.
On December 23, 1831 the law was again amended by the deletion of the “bound to a military company.” This dealt with the commissioners themselves – now the Court could appoint one or more fit persons to receive the tax lists. The County Clerk would enter the commissioner’s lists in TWO books. One went to the state auditor and the other held by the county sheriff. I’m sure the County Clerk loved doing this and this was a place where errors could be made in transcribing from the tax collector’s list.
A major step was taken by the law of February 23, 1837. This is called the Equalized taxation act. All persons, when giving in their lists of taxable property were required to “fix, on oath, a sum sufficient to cover what they shall be worth, from all sources, on the day to which said lists relate, exclusive of the property required by law to be listed for taxation (not computing therein the first $300 in value, nor lands not within Kentucky, nor other property out of Kentucky, subject to taxation by the laws of the country where situated), upon which the same tax shall be paid, and the same proceedings in all respects had, as upon other property subject to the ad valorem tax. Provided, that nothing herein contained shall be so construed as to include the growing crop on land listed for taxation, or one year’s drop then on hand, or articles manufactured in the family for family consumption.” Poor land owners, it seems to be quite complicated.
The only change we’ll cover now is the one of January 4, 1840. This changed the form of the tax commissioners’ books of taxable property. The “Entered, Surveyed, Patented to” columns were deleted.
All of these laws and modifications are abstracted from the Acts of the Kentucky General Assembly and prepared by Kandie Adkinson, formerly of the Land Office of the Secretary of State.
To end the series next week, we’ll do a quick recap of things we need to remember about the tax collection process.