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HomeRESEARCH2 - 1798 Federal Direct Tax

The Federal Direct Tax of 1798
Scroll down to read how the assessment & tax was implemented.

General Lists ( Includes Entire County)  
     Dwellings           Land              Slave       
   St. Mary's Total Assessment (summary) View  View View 
   St. Mary's Total Assessment (detailed) View View View
Particular Lists (Parts of Various Hundreds) 
    List #      Assessment Areas (Hundreds) Dwellings Land Slaves
1 Upper Resurrection & Chaptico View   View  View
 2  Upper & Lower St. Clement's View  Pt 1     Pt 2  Pt 1     Pt 2
 3      Upper New Town & Lower Resurrection       Missing Missing Missing
 4 Harvey & Lower New Town Missing Missing  View
 5 Poplar Hill & St. Georges Missing Missing Missing
 6 Upper & Lower St. Mary's  View View  Missing
 7 St. Michael's & St. Inigoe's Missing Missing Missing
Total Assessment and Taxes (Entire County)
  St. Mary's Tax List
(roll-up of all assessments and taxes) 
 View Tax List

Images are from the Maryland State Archives - Volume 729

Links To Legislation and Articles About the Direct Tax

In 1798, tensions between the United States and France had risen to such a level that many thought war was imminent. To fund America's military buildup, Congress enacted a $2 million direct tax in July 1798. In each state, officials created forms and set out to value real property, enumerate slaves, and collect their assigned portion of the tax.

The voluminous records created for the 1798 federal direct tax—valuation, enumeration, and tax collection lists—have long been a treasure trove for researchers in a wide variety of fields. Historians, economists, geographers, and genealogists as well as those interested in historic preservation, material culture, slavery, and women's studies all have gleaned valuable information about 18th-century life. Unfortunately, relatively few are known to exist today.

How the Tax Operated.  Each of the 16 states was allocated its share of the national levy of $2 million.  [Maryland's share was "one hundred and fifty-two thousand five hundred and ninety-nine dollars, ninety-five cents, and four mills."]  This quota was based upon population, with slaves counting as three-fifths of a person for allocation purposes. Only real property and slaves were taxed, and no property was taxed if it was permanently exempt from taxation by state law.

The 1798 tax had three parts:

  • Dwelling houses valued at more than $100 were taxed based upon the value, with highly progressive tax rates that ranged from two-tenths of 1 percent of the value up to 1 percent of the value.
  • Slaveowners were taxed 50 cents for each slave between the ages of 12 and 50 who was not precluded from working as a result of permanent illness or disability.
  • All other real property—called simply "land"—which included dwelling houses valued at $100 or less, was taxed at a fixed percentage of the value. Each state's land tax rate was computed separately, as a residual after the amount of tax derived from the first two categories was subtracted from the quota.

Eleven new forms were created specifically to implement the tax. The administration of the tax was divided into valuation and enumeration versus collection. In each state, a presidentially appointed Board of Commissioners (U.S. Commission for the Valuation of Lands and Dwelling Houses, and the Enumeration of Slaves) was responsible for the valuation of real property and the enumeration of slaves. Officials of the United States Treasury collected the tax.

The Value of the Records: According to architectural historian Robert W. Craig of the New Jersey State Historic Preservation Office, "the records of the 1798 direct tax comprise the best enumeration we will ever have of 18th-century America. They are at once broad and microscopically focused. The particular lists especially allow us a telescopic look at architecture up and down the socio-economic spectrum that we cannot obtain from other sources."


Jack Larkin, chief historian and museum scholar at Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts, indicates that this "comprehensive national census of housing" has enabled historians "to understand that early American houses were substantially smaller than earlier imagined." This use of the Particular Lists for two communities near Sturbridge "inspired the search for evidence about New England's smallest houses"—houses that had previously been overlooked because so few have survived.

Historical geographer Peter O. Wacker indicates that "these lists are marvelous repositories of information on patterns of wealth, house types, and materials of construction, allowing us to make regional comparisons—a natural source for historical geographers and others." Using the complete set of Particular Lists for a town, one can easily determine the distribution of wealth. In towns with slaves, researchers can use the Particular Lists to distinguish between slaveowners and slaveholders and to determine the economic status of slaveowners versus non-slaveowners. When combined with census population schedules, scholars can determine crowding, that is, the number of people who lived in each house and which individuals were landless. Because the Connecticut forms separately identify instances in which married women owned property in their own right, the information can be used to study women's property ownership.

Of course, the records are valuable because the details offer tremendous insight into living conditions in 1798. As Larkin points out, houses were smaller and a great deal of space was taken by the fireplace and hearth. The families of that period were generally larger, and it was not uncommon to have more than one family living in the same house. The houses were dark and cramped; there was little personal space and less privacy.

-- Excerpted from National Archives Prologue Magazine, Spring 2007, Vol 39, No. 1 (visit here)