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Federal Taxes Paid by York Countians in 1815

It’s soon income tax time again. There was no federal income tax 200 years ago, but that doesn’t mean that you didn’t have to pay taxes to support the United States government, it was just harder for people to find the right accounting and consulting services.

Not having strong taxing ability was one of the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation. It was unbelievably hard to finance the Revolutionary War with a government that could only ask the states for funds. That was one of the problems that led to the U.S. Constitution of 1789, giving the legislators federal taxing power.

One of the many pre-income tax taxes was the 1815 U.S. direct tax. (We had second war with Great Britain to pay for by then.) It was levied based on accessed value of real estate and buildings.

A long notice in the York Gazette, dated March 21, 1816, reads:

To all whom it may concern
YOU are hereby notified that the direct tax of the United States, for 1815, has become due and payable, and that attendance will be given to receive the same at the following times and places viz:
At my office in York, for the Borough of York; Townships [of] York, Manchester, Westmanchester, Dover, Washington, Franklin, Monaghan, Chanceford, Windsor, Hellam, Warrington, Newberry and Fairview, from the date hereof to the 10th of April next.”

Tax collector George Kerr goes on to list specific dates, mostly just for one day, on which he or his deputies would also be at taverns throughout the county ready to collect the tax. I’ll list them in one of my next posts so you can see who some of the tavern keepers were during that period. The taverns were community meeting places. In fact, if you look at the 1821 Small and Wagner map of York County, you’ll see that there are three important sites marked on the map: churches, mills and taverns.

Kerr’s notice ends with:
“N.B. [Latin abbreviation for Take Note.] The collector takes the liberty to suggest to the people, the propriety of being provided with small change, as it will be impossible for him to accommodate everyone in that way.” A wordy way of saying: “Have the right amount of cash.” No ATMs to run out to in those days.