Joseph Chaplin obtained a tavern license in Washington, Massachusetts, for every year from 1781 to 1792, except for 1786 the year of Shays’ Rebellion disrupted normal business. During that year, tavern/liquor licenses were not issued because gathering and drinking might ignite the treasonous threats associated with Shays’ Rebellion. After 1792, Chaplin disappeared from the town records and did not obtain another tavern license. It was because he had left the town for good.
Why should this scenario concern you? Because it shows that sometimes it’s the change in a pattern that provides the clues you need!
Service people were often required to obtain a license. These included doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, and those who operated a tavern.
Another change in pattern may be found in tax records. Taxes were often assessed on land.
Tax records are useful in many ways. Using these records you may be able to determine:
- when a man became of age to be taxed
- when he moved into a new area
- when he left an area
- a possible date of death when he dropped off the rolls
Do you think the tax burden is something new? It’s not.
You may be surprised to learn that in the post Revolutionary era, residents were especially burdened with heavy taxes to repay the large war debt. In addition, the Continental dollar rapidly lost its value leaving many farmers penniless and burdened by their own heavy debts. Suppliers pressured local merchants for cash. The merchants in turn demanded buyers to pay in cash rather than payment in goods as was previously accepted.
Cash was not available for the payment of taxes or debts. Western Massachusetts residents were divided over whether to pay the taxes or resist. Shays’ Rebellion spawned from those who resisted.
When a tax was not paid, the sheriff was often authorized to place the delinquent into prison until the debt was paid! It was hard enough to have one’s property seized and sold, but when in prison, the debtor had no way to earn money to satisfy the debt. Sometimes the land was seized and sold to pay the taxes, and when the proceeds fell short, the debtor was placed in prison and left with no home for his family. These were hard times!
Ironically, the tax collector himself could be placed in prison if he failed to collect all the taxes due!
Those taxed will vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction based on the laws of the locality. Some localities taxed on personal property such as animals, furniture, etc.
Beyond a tax of money or goods, some were required to pay with their labor or time on keeping the roads maintained, military or jury duty.
Some tax records may be at the town, county, or state level. Some are available on microfilm by locality through the Family History Library.
If you’d like to read more about tax records you should consult the work by Carol Cook Darrow and Susan Winchester, The Genealogists Guide to Researching Tax Records.
Two things are certain in life: death and taxes. Because of what the records may reveal, you just may be happy to discover your ancestor paid taxes!