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Colonial Tithables

Guide to colonial-era tithable lists in Virginia

Overview

"A List of Tithables Taken by John Wise for the Year 1743"Accomack County Tithable List, 1743

In seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Virginia, the term “tithable” referred to a person who paid (or for whom someone else paid) one of the taxes imposed by the General Assembly for the support of civil government in the colony. In colonial Virginia, a poll tax or capitation tax was assessed on free white males, enslaved people, and Indigenous servants, all age sixteen or older. Enslavers paid the taxes levied on their enslaved workers and servants. Few tithable lists are extant. The Library of Virginia holds full or partial lists for about three dozen counties. A detailed guide to manuscript, microfilmed, and printed tithables is available at the Library.

Tithable lists do not enumerate anyone under the age of sixteen or any adult white woman (unless she was the head of household). Laws published in Hening’s Statutes at Large may assist the researcher in understanding who was considered tithable and how tithable lists were taken. In an attempt to stop fraud concerning the “yearly importation of people into the collonie,” an act was passed in the House of Burgesses in 1649 requiring that all male servants imported into Virginia (“of what age soever”) be placed on the tithable lists. Indigenous peoples of the colony and those imported free who were under the age of sixteen were exempt. (William W. Hening, ed. The Statutes at Large: Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619…[1809–1823], 1:361–362.)

Content Warning: Materials in the Library of Virginia’s collections contain historical terms, phrases, and images that are offensive to modern readers. These include demeaning and dehumanizing references to race, ethnicity, and nationality; enslaved or free status; physical and mental ability; and gender and sexual orientation.