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AfriGeneas Free Persons of Color Forum

Strategies for Research -- Tax Records


I would suggest that you first focus on Bedford County, as the information was provided during the lifetime(or not long after) of your ancestor who was born in Virginia.

Then you might check the Bedford County tax records in the 1820's and then from 1833-1836 for your ancestor. Typically if the person was a FPOC, you'll find notation to that effect.

I would check the records especially after 1831, as Virginia authorities took great pains to identify FPOC following Nat Turner's Rebellion and the revision of Free Negro and Slave laws. There was considerable pressure placed on FPOC to leave the state during this time, and authorities were keen to identify anyone who could be classified as an illegal resident (i.e. FPOC without permission to remain in the state). The law directed the local tax collector to prepare the lists of Free Negro residents. He then made three copies. He kept one copy, gave another to the local sheriff or constable, and sent the third copy to the state Auditor of Public Accounts.

Some of these Free Negro lists are found at the end of personal or land tax records for the city/county. Others are found amongst the records of the State Auditor of Public Accounts in a special collection titled, Free Negro and Slave records.

The Mormons have these records (State Auditor of Public Accounts) on microfilm, which you can of course, borrow at a local LDS center. I currently have one set of the microfilm on loan. I don't know how many other copies of the film are available. The quality is very poor, as I believe the original images were quite faded when they were filmed. I've already checked for Bedford County, but no lists survive amongst these records. You may want to view other county lists on the microfilm.

To view details of what's contained on the microfilm, go to the website and click on the "LIBRARY" tab. Then select "FAMILY HISTORY LIBRARY CATALOG," and search by TITLE with the following search terms "FREE NEGRO AND SLAVE RECORDS." Click on the title to get a short description of the records.

The Mormons also have the county tax records on microfilm. To find these, you need to do a PLACE search in the catalog. The tax records are split under "LAND AND PROPERTY" and "TAXATION." I've found some of these Free Negro lists at the end of the personal property/land tax lists during the 1830's and not during any other period. I suspect that with increased vigilance in monitoring the Free Black population, local tax collectors were a bit more diligent in retaining the records, hence the survival of these lists from the 1830's.

You may of course, also find you ancestor as a tax payer, or as a delinquent tax payer.

In cases where FPOC owned slaves, they appear in the land tax records. And when they failed to pay that tax, they appeared on special "delinquent tax payer on slaves-type" lists. I've found most of these records at the local level, amongst loose papers rather than at the state level.

As for the timing of the assessment and collection of taxes, I don't know the specific dates. I believe the state dictated when taxes were collected. I've discovered that the local tax collector often posted a notice in the local newspaper to instruct residents on what was considered taxable property and how they should proceed to report/pay the tax for the year.

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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