Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Death and Taxes

In my research into the Greene's of Coventry, one of the most wonderful caches of materials that I found was an almost continuous collection of tax books beginning in about 1756. The town has tax records for every year until the 1810s (when I stopped looking!). Some of them have been transcribed by Catherine Hey in the Rhode Island Roots special edition of "Gleanings from Rhode Island Town Records: Early Coventry Record" (RI Roots, April 2010), but her coverage is from 1756 to 1769. There were more, and the ones that I was particularly fascinated by were the ones that covered the years from 1770 to 1800. For every year, you will find two different books, a town rate book, and a state rate book, since the town was responsible for sending money collected from landowners to pay its share of state expenses, and the town also needed a separate income source for its own expenses. For some years, you may also find an estate rate book. Some of the books contain poll counts (nice for a head count of adult males that may still be living at home) and how much each person owed in taxes. It's difficult to track how much a person's estate might have grown based on the taxes paid, since the rates changed, as did the currency value, but the thing I like best about tax books is that you can see men coming of age, dying off, moving into town and buying property.

Here's the first page of the State rate book for 1785
Coventry State Tax Rate book for 1785, Coventry Town Clerk's Office, Coventry, RI.
I love the coffee mug stain on this one.

Here is the Coventry Town Rate book for 1779.
Coventry Town Rate Book for 1779, Coventry Town Clerk's Office, Coventry, RI.
The earliest ones are grouped alphabetically by the first letter of the first name, and the later are grouped by the first letter of the last name, after that it's just a seemingly random list. By looking at a series of years, though, it looks as if they used previous years tax books to write the new ones, so the lists appear very similar from year to year, with the main changes being related to people who may have died during the year, and naming their widows in the place of the men who died. It also appears that the folks may have been grouped geographically by surname, but that's just a hunch on my part.

There's one other interesting type of Coventry tax books that shows "Value of Estates." I presume that this is really more of a list of landowners and an approximate value of the property that they own, but it also lists the heirs of particular estates, so you can see who inherited the property. This is an example from 1780.
Value of Estate Book for 1780, Coventry Town Clerk's Office, Coventry, RI.
I'm off to look for a similar series of tax books for some other Rhode Island towns including Tiverton and Portsmouth for another project, hoping to solve some more brick wall problems with tax list data. Wish me luck!