Colonial and Early National Court Cases Involving Free African American Taxpayers

Colonial Taxation Cases

Residents of Northampton County, Virginia, petitioned the county court on 26 November 1722, complaining, "That the great number of Free Negros Inhabiting within this County are great Grievances most particularly because the Negro Women pay no Taxes" [Orders 1719-22, 192-3]. Virginia passed a law in May 1723, "That all free negros, mulattos, or indians, (except tributary indians to this government) male and female, above the age of sixteen, and all wives of such negroes, mulattos, or indians shall be accounted tithables [Hening IV:133].

Northampton County implemented this law the following year. Women listed in 1724 were Peg Carter (wife of Ned Carter), Betty Carter (wife of Thomas Carter), Ester Mongon (by John Smaw), Jane Webb, Elizabeth, Frances, and Abigail Jacob (wife and (daughters of Daniel Jacobs), Johannah, Ann and Elizabeth George (wife and daughters of Anthony George), Beck Beckett (by Jonathan Stott), Betty Drighouse (by John Drighouse), Sarah Morris (by Arthur Robins), Betty Hellen/ Allen (by William Stakes), Ann Frisco/ Francisco/ Sisco (by Tom Frisco), Margaret Drighouse (wife of Azaricum Drighouse), Jean Beckett (by William Cowdry), Mary Mongon and Daniel and Dinah Webb (by Thomas Savage) [Bell, Northampton County Tithables, 51-4, 63-67].

Norfolk did not implement the new law until 1735. Those listed that year were Betty Anderson "Free," Free Betty, Peg Hall (wife of Joseph), Diana (wife of Gabriel Manly, both from Northampton County), Mary and Ann Archer (wife and daughter of Thomas Archer), Mary Archer (by John Pinkertun), and the unnamed wife of William Price, Eliza Price (wife of Richard). William Bass, who had been married since April 1729, listed his unnamed wife (Sarah) for the first time in 1736 [Wingo, Norfolk County Tithables, 1730-1750, 144-5, 163, 167-8, 172, 183, 190]. On 16 November 1744 the Norfolk County court indicted the following for not giving in their lists: Bristol and his wife, Betty Anderson, Rachel at Blackburn's, Patt, Nanny, Janney White and Nan Smith [Orders 1742-6, 108].

The Amelia County tax lists include Beck Chivers in 1740 and Judith Howell in 1753 [Tax Lists 1740, 1753 at county courthouse]. The grand jury of Amelia County presented Nathaniel Robertson on 24 November 1763 for not listing Patty Rowe, and they presented Margaret Freeman on 22 May 1766 for not listing herself [Orders 1763, fol. 232; 1765-7, 90].

Only a few colonial lists for Chesterfield have survived. They identify as "Mulatto" Joshua and Edward Stewart in 1747, Frank in 1752, and Frank Morris in 1756: all charged with only their own tithe [Tax List 1747-1821, pp.4, 11, 26].

The colonial tax lists for most other Virginia counties did not survive. However, there were a series of indictments for failure to list women as tithables in several counties about 1750. Some of the lists appear to include all the free African American householders in the county at the time, so it is likely that the county had not enforced the law before that time.

Lancaster County

Robert and William Nicken (18 May 1763), John Nicken (18 June 1763) and Elizabeth Nicken (3 thithables on 19 November 1764) were presented by the Lancaster County court for failing to list or concealing tithables [Orders 1764-7, 76; Judgments, 1765-7, frames 41, 54; Orders 1756-64, 483].

Louisa County

28 May 1745, "Ordered that William Hall, Samuel Collins, Thomas Collins, William Collins, Samuel Bunch, George Gibson, Benjamin Branham, Thomas Gibson, and William Donathan be summoned to appear at the next Court to answer the presentment of the Grandjury this day made against them for concealing tithables within twelve months past." They pled not guilty. On 27 August 1745 the jurors failed to agree on a verdict, and at the next court some of the jurors failed to appear. On 28 May 1746 the defendants argued that some of the jurors were from the same parish as they, so they would be gainers by a guilty verdict but the court rejected their argument. The jury brought in a special veridct which was referred for argument the next court, but the result was not recorded [Orders 1742-8, 152, 157, 166-7, 172, 175, 183, 193].

Southampton County

12 October 1752, John Artis, a "negro," petitioned the court to add his wife Sarah to the list of tithables. And on 11 April and 13 June 1754 William Bynum (informer), in order to secure half the fine awarded to informers, brought suit against Francis Locust, John Roberts, John Byrd, Sr., James Brooks, James Brooks, Jr., John Byrd, Jr., Abraham Artis, Lewis Artis, William Brooks, John Demory, Ann Brooks, William Tabor, William Porteus, Thomas Wilkins, and Isaac Young. The presentment against Thomas Wilkins was dismissed. All others at first pleaded innocent, but later changed their plea to guilty and were fined either 500 or 1000 pounds of tobacco [Orders 1749-54, 283, 473, 495, 496, 500, 501, 510-12].

Henrico County

On 6 November 1752 the grand jury presented Thomas Moseley, David Going, James Matthews, and William Gwinn for not listing their wives, "Being Mulattos" and presented Jane Scott, Patt Scott, Lucy Scott, Betty Scott, Elizabeth Scott, Sarah Scott, and Hannah the wife of John Scott, "being Mulattos" for not listing themselves. The presentment against Thomas Moseley was dismissed in December 1752. Jane Scott appeared, was heard and acquitted (due to old age?). David Going paid a 5 shilling fine for not going to church, but pleaded not guilty to failure to list his wife. He failed to appear when the case came to trial and was fined 1,000 pounds of tobacco. The others were fined 500 pounds of tobacco [Minutes 1752-5, 19, 26-8, 52].

Princess Anne County

Abraham Anderson, a "free negro, was fined 2,000 pounds of tobacco in Princess Anne County court on 2 December 1729 for concealing two tithables (one of whom was probably his wife), and George Lewis was called a "free negro" when he was convicted by the Princess Anne County court on 3 December 1729 for concealing a tithable who was probably his wife [Minutes 1728-37, 43, 44].

George Lewis, a "free negro, " was convicted by the Princess Anne County court on 3 December 1729 for concealing a tithable (probably his wife). He petitioned the Princess Anne County court on 7 January 1729/30 to be free from paying taxes, but the court ruled that he was "very able to work and labour" [Minutes 1717-28, 119, 129; 1728-37, 44, 49].

Charles City County

On 3 August 1758 the grand jury presented George Coley, Thomas Coley, George Coley, Jr., William Smith, Jonathan Vincent, Thomas Marshall, Thomas Carter, and Richard Cumbo for not listing their wives [Orders 1758-62, 56-7, 78].

Surry County

On 21 November 1758 the grand jury presented "Joseph Barkley (Bartley), John Banks, John Banks, Jr., Jas. Barlow, John Eley, Thomas Thorn, John Deverix, Wm Walden, Thomas Charity, Thomas Simon, Thomas Tann, David Walden, Thomas Wilson, Edward Peters, for each and every of them not listing their wife's according to law supposing the said persons to be Mulattoes..." [Orders 1757-64, 135].

Halifax County

In May 1765 the grand jury presented William Chandler, Shadrach Gowin, Peter Rickman and Philip Dennum for concealing a tithable. The tithables were probably their wives [Pleas 5:46].

York County

York County, near the seat of government, appears to have enforced the law from an early date. The grand jury brought the following presentments for failure to list free female tithables:

20 November 1727, William Brooks for not listing his sister Mary, a Mulatto," Jane Peacock, Elizabeth Rawlinson, the younger, Mary Haley, and Johanna Inscowe for not listing themselves [Orders & Wills 1720-1729, 489].

17 November 1735, Isaac Bee for not listing Joanna Inscow, a "Molatto," John Jesper for not listing Anne Jesper, a "Molatto; Margaret Jesper, Elizabeth Hoomes, Jane Poe, and Mary Roberts, and Mary Roberts living in Chiscake, "Molattos," for not listing themselves. Thomas Crips for not listing Judith Roberts, a "Molatto." Joseph Kennady for not listing Betty his wife, a "Molatto." John Byrd, John Banks, Joseph Allen and Richard Limas for not listing their wives, "Molattos."

15 May 1738, Morris Evans for not listing Beck Hulet; Thomas Queen and Betty Queen/ Quin, Edith Smith, Pegg Jesper, Sarah and Nanny Jones, Betty Rollison, Joana Insco, Betty Hoomes, Nanny Kannady, and Patience Limes for not listing themselves. Peg Jesper was excused from paying levies for the future in exchange for her maintaining her son who was a cripple. Joanna Insco proved herself "not a Molatto." And Edith Smith proved herself to be born of a white woman and in wedlock.

17 November 1740, William John(s) and Matthew Cuttilla on 17 November 1740 for not listing their wives, Nanny Bash and Molly Mitchell for not listing themselves. Molly Mitchell proved she was not a tithable [Wills, Inventories 1732-40, 237, 245, 414, 427, 434, 440, 502, 652, 666-7].

20 August 1744, the court rejected Patience Savoy's petition to be levy free.

19 November 1744, Matthew Catilla and Thomas Combs, "Malattos," for not listing their wives; William and Joseph Kennady for not listing all their tithables.

19 January 1746/7, Daniel Armfield, William Kennedy, Joseph Gwin, Godfrey Maclin for not listing their wives and Joanna Insco for not listing herself [Wills & Inventories 1740-6, 301, 314, 486].

19 December 1748, John Rawlinson, a "Mulatto," for not listing his wife and mother. 20 November 1749 Mary Banks, a "Mulatto," Ann Po, Elizabeth Po, Mary Jones (wife of John), Hannah Jasper, Jane Savy, and Sarah Parrot for not listing themselves. 19 November 1750 Mary Jones, Edward Jones for his wife Betty, John Francis for his wife Sarah Cutillo for herself and Ann Berry [Judgments & Orders 1746-52, 146, 156, 256, 277, 284, 364, 393].

16 November 1761, Jane and Sarah Allen for not listing themselves. Thomas Craig for not listing Sarah West. Jane Allen, a poor old woman, was discharged from paying levies.

15 November 1762, John Howell for not listing his wife, Frances West [Orders 1759-63, 298, 437, 480].

21 November 1763, William Kennada for himself and wife, Daniel Armsfield for not listing his tithables, Anne Murray for not listing herself, Thomas Combs for not listing Martha Cuttillo [Judgments & Orders 1763-5, 90, 128].

17 November 1766, Jemima, a "Mulatto," for not listing herself and daughter Anne Murray, Hannah Banks for not listing themselves and Thomas Combs for not listing Anne Wilson [Orders 1765-8, 161].

North Carolina

A 1738 North Carolina defined tithables as, "every white Person Male of the age of Sixteen Years and upwards all Negroes Mulattoes Mustees Male or female and all Persons of Mixt Blood to the fourth Generation Male and Female of the Age of Twelve Years and upwards"

In 1749 the law was amended to include all white Persons intermarrying with any Negro, mulatto, or mustee, or other Person of mixt Blood" [NCGSJ IV:218-9].

Edward Harris refused to pay the tax on his wife (the daughter of William Chavis) in Granville County in 1753, but his wife and daughters were included in all the remaining colonial lists.

Joseph, Thomas and Michael Gowen refused to list their wives in Granville County in 1761, but Michael listed his wife and daughter in Bute County in 1771 [CR 44.701.23; 1771 List of Tithables, p.11].

James Matthews, "has a wife and daughter," but did not list them in Granville County in 1766 [CR 44.701.19].

Edward Gowen was prosecuted in Edgecombe County in August 1756 for concealing his tithables and refused to list his wife in Granville County in 1765, but he listed his wife in Bute County in 1771 [Haun, Edgecombe County Court Minutes, I:131; CR 44.601.23].

Francis Jenkins, a "mustee," was also indicted in Edgecombe County for failing to list his wife [Minutes 1764-72, 42].

South Carolina

Few colonial records have survived for South Carolina. However, there are records starting from the early 1790s:

20 April 1794, Petition of Free People of Colour:

To the honorable the Representatives of So Carolina

the Petition of the people of Colour of the state aforesaid who are under the act entitled an Act for imposing a poll tax on all free Negroes Mustees and Mulatoes - most humbly showeth

that whereas (we your humble petitioners) having the honor of being your Citizens, as also free and willing to advance the support of Government anything that might not be prejudicial to us, it being well known that we have not been backward on our part, in performing any other public duties that hath fell in the compass of our knowledge, We therefore being sensibly griev'd at our present situation, also having frequently discovered the many distresses, occasioned by your Act imposing the poll tax, such as widows with large families & women scarcely able to support themselves, being frequently followed & payment extorted by your tax gathers -- these considerations on our part hath occasioned us to give you this trouble, requesting your deliberate body to appeal an Act so truly mortifying to your distress'd petitioners for which your petitioners will ever acknowledge, & devoutly pray

Isaac Linagear

Isaac Mitchell

Jonathan Price

Nathan price

Richard evins

Nathaniel Conbie (Cumbo)

George Collins

Willeam x (his mark) Turner

thomas hulen

spencer x (his mark) Bolton

William (his mark) Swett

Solomon (his mark) Bolton

James (his mark) Shewmak

John (his mark) Turner, Junr

Solomon (his mark) Shewmk

Sampson (his mark) Shewmak

Thomas (his mark) Shewmake, Junr

thomas (his mark) Shumake Senr

John (his mark) Shumake

James (his mark) Shumake

David Collins

thomas Collins

John (his mark) Turner Senr

Mildred (her mark) Turner

Grenelaper(?) (her mark) Turner

Catherine (her mark) Turner

Elias hulon

Cudworth Oxendine

Archmack Oxendine

G(?)reter (his mark) Colder

Moses (his mark) Colder

Delley Gibson

Drusilla Gibson

Georg Mccloud


In Justice to your petitioners as above we whose particular knowledge of their situation hath induced us to request in their favor the Benefits or a repeal, provided your honorable and deliberate Body can thin(k) it best &c &c


Stephen Gibson

Isaac Linegear, Jr.

Edmund Dickin


Jur.(?) Driggers

Moses Mannin


James Arde

Robin Arde

hardey graves

James Ivey

Mark Maning

Joseph (his mark) Bass

Levi Gibson

Jas Odom Capt.


[South Carolina Department of Archives and History, General Assessment Petition 1794, no. 216, frames 370-374, Free People of Color ST 1368, series no. 165015, item 216]


In 1806 sundry female "persons of Colour" resident in Richland District petitioned the Senate concerning the discriminatory tax levied on them:

Elizabeth Harris, Dicey, Nelson, Lydady Harris, Keziah Harris, Clarissa Harris, Elenor Harris, Katherine Rawlinson, Elizabeth Wilson, Jerry Sweat, Sarah Jacobs, Sarah Wilson, Sarah Holley, Edey Welsch, Sarah Bolton, Nancey Grooms, Mary Jeffers, Sarah Jeffers, Mary Jacobs, Rachel Portee, Sarah Portee. Thirty-three whites also signed the petition [South Carolina Archives, General Assembly Petitions, ND 1885, frames 382-6].

A petition in 1809 asked that the Senate excuse "people of color and free Negroes" who paid property tax from paying the capitation tax:

Jehu Jones, Thos Inglis, James Mitchell, Isaac Austin, William Clark, John Livingston, William Cooper, William Pinceel, Joseph Humphries, Phillip Manuel, Robert Hopton, Corlus Huger, James Wilson, C. G. Pinceel, George Logan, Peter Robertson, Henry Chatters, Richard Holloway, William Eden, John Martin, Morris Brown, Abraham Jacobs, Ed Chrighton, Geo. Chrighton, John Francis, Jehu Jones, Junr., Geo. H. Bedon, Moses Irving [South Carolina Archives, General Assembly Petitions, S165015, N.D. 1877, Roll ST1430, frames 352-6]. Jehu Jones, Inglis and Huger were from Charleston.

In August 1809 in Marion District Thomas Hagans refused to pay the levy "upon all Free Negros, Mulatoes and Meztizos," claiming he was a white man. In October 1812 the court ruled that he was of Portuguese descent and acquitted him [NCGSJ IX:259].

The sheriff of Richland District petitioned the House of Representatives asking to be released from payment of $263 in uncollected taxes from the "Free people of Colour" due to the difficulty he had in finding them, "on account of the peculiar situation of their place of residence." He owed $4 each as follows:

1821, Randel Harris, John Harris, Jacob Harris, Nasry Harris, Rowline Harris, Russell Portee, Fanny Portee, Polly Oxendine, Rachel Oxendine, Wm Oxendine, Ailsey Oxendine, Michael Wilson, Rebecca Locklier, James Locklier, Phillip Gibbs, Lydia Chavis,

1822, Wm Harris, Eliza Harris, Patience Sweat, Jane Lytira(?), Howell Portee, Russell Portee, Malie Portee, Rachel Oxendine, Ailsy Oxendine, Wm Oxendine, John Lystria, Michael Wilson, Thos Wilson, A. Wilson, Ephraim Wilson, Rebeccah Locklier, Rowlin Harris, Stark Harris, Jery Harris, Jnr., Gideon Gibson, Sarah Jacob, J. Jacobs alias J. Tuff, Keizh Jacobs, Essey Jacobs, Sophia Jacobs, Mary Chavis, Tempty Cursey, Lydia Chavis, Charlotte Chavis, Deby or Debitha, Nasry Harris, Randel Harris Griffen Harris, Sally Langly, Peter Barns, James Locklier, Pricilla Simons, Sophia Sweat, Patience Sweat, Henry Bostick, James Fowler, Lewis Jones, William Smith, Sally Howter, Mary Howter, Elizabeth Harris [South Carolina Archives, General Assembly Petitions, S165015, N.D. 1796, Roll ST1429, Frames 786-92].