Giles County, Tennessee
Introduction to the 1836 Tax Lists
by Joyce McDonald
Giles County, TNGenWeb Researcher

Introduction to the
1836 Giles County Tax Lists
by Giles County, TNGenWeb Researcher Joyce McDonald

I did not start out planning to transcribe the entire 1836 tax list! I only picked up the film to look for a few "missing" names (from various published lists). I had found these men on Janell's 1840 Giles Federal Census, but even though they were over 21 in 1836, they were nowhere to be found. I finally decided to read the microfilm myself, and compare it to an excellent transcription published by the Giles County Historical Society. As is always the case with researchers-transcribers, I didn't always "agree" with the published transcription (transcriptions are “interpretative”—there is no “right or wrong way”—just each “transcriber's way”). But I ended up reading all of it, and eventually, I realized I had "proofed" ("re-transcribed") the entire list, which is when I asked Carole if she would like it for Giles County, TNGenWeb. She said yes, and has even helped with the proofing (she has a copy of the film, too). The result is now here, even though it is not quite the end result because we have a third researcher-proofer plus another researcher who knows the names in some Districts better than the rest of us, and has already helped a lot. In other words, this transcription is not yet "done.".

As to the tax lists themselves: In 1836, Giles was divided into seventeen civil districts, after which all elections, tax enumerations, etc. were by civil district (previously they had been by militia company or "beat"). The categories under which individuals might be taxed were: land (by the acre), school lands (also by the acre), town lots, slaves, carriages, and white polls. This last was a tax paid by every adult male under a certain age (I have not yet researched the legal provisions in effect in 1836, so I do not know the age at which a man became "levy-free" that year). I also do not know whether ministers or constables were levy-free in 1836, although it appears from the entries that ministers were not exempt). Free men and women of color will not appear on these lists as they were, by state statute, exempt from taxes. White females were exempt from the white poll tax, but not from land and slave taxes, thus the only white women on these lists are those who owned land (including town lots), carriages or slaves. The total number of entries on the seventeen lists was 2,370 (by my rough count), but some names were duplicated (if an individual owned land in more than district, for example).

Tax lists such as these can be of immense value to researchers since they include all adult white males, and not just heads of household (as is the case with the 1840 Giles County Census). Interestingly enough, however, the number of names on the 1836 tax lists was (by my rough count) 2,370, only 5 names less than the number of heads of household in 1840. Some of these can be accounted for by young men who married and started their own households between 1836 and 1840, but Giles County's population was also still undergoing rapid growth at this time, and that is another factor. A third possiblity is that Goodspeeds' History of Giles was wrong in omitting Giles from the list of counties that contributed land to Marshall County when it was erected in 1836, and that, in fact, Giles did lose part of the northeast county (this is “new news” and whatever we ultimately discover will be added here as soon as possible).

The 1836 Giles County Tax Lists are the "master lists" that were submitted to the state along with a warrant for the amount of state taxes due. Each page has a stamped number, beginning with No. 1 and continuing through No. 173. Page No. 2 was blank, and pages Nos. 174 and 175 were microfilmed but also appear to be blank. The pages are in order by District No. and District No. 17's last page is No. 171. Page No. 172 has the date "Sept 22nd 1836" in the upper left corner, and states that the "Whole amount State and County Tax Collected in Giles County for the year 1836 is $4547.18," and the "Whole amount State Tax Collected in Giles County for the year 1836 is $3,253.79 Which the Sheriff of said County is by Law bound to pay to the Treasurer of Tennessee." An added entry by E. D. Jones, Clerk, indicated that Warrant No. 171 had been issued to the state on 7 Nov 1836." Page No. 173 is a breakdown of the totals by district.

I would like to thank Carole, Steve and Janell for their help with the transcription, and Fred for his help with the maps (See Civil Districts).

Good luck, enjoy, and please do check back soon for updates so you can see the final proofed version.

Joyce McDonald
Giles County, TNGenWeb Researcher

Message from the Coordinator:

Although transcribers should always make every effort to be "faithful" to the original, as Joyce notes above, transcribing is not an exact science, and there is no right or wrong, but only one interpretation versus another. The quality of a transcription depends on many factors, including the handwriting of the original author, how much the paper and ink have deteriorated, the clarity of the microfilm, etc. Other factors have to do with the time period: "Old-style" cursive is not the same as today's "Palmer Method." In fact, differentiating between the old-style capital letters "I" and "J" was so difficult that many court clerks skipped past the letter "J" and titled the next book "K" (This was also true of military companies as can be seen when reading accounts of Giles County and the Civil War).

Compounding the problem is the fact that there was also no right or wrong way to spell names. Names were instead spelled however the tax collectors, assessors and clerk chose to spell it (this was often phonetically, providing researchers with yet more possible variant spellings that may help to locate "the" record). Only when a record included the signature of an individual was spelling a possibly critical factor (and not even then if the individual has made his mark, which means that someone else determined the spelling of his name).

There are many more clues to be found in these tax lists than may be apparent at first glance:
(1) If the "Person Named" pays a "White Poll," you know that the individual is a male and at least 21 years of age. (2) If a "Person Named" pays no white poll, it may mean that the individual is (a) a woman; (b) over 50 years of age; (c) not a resident of the district; (d) exempt for reasons of military or other designated government service; or (e) a free man of color (it is possible that free men of color who owned land were exempt from land tax, too. This is on my "list of laws" still to be checked).

(2) A widow could always demand "her thirds" (1/3 dower interest in the estate of her deceased husband). If a female is listed with land and the heirs of a deceased male with the same surname is listed with double the acreage of the woman, the "heirs" may be minor children; i.e., the estate has been settled, but the children's share cannot be distributed until they are adults. A possible example is in District 3 where Dicy Jones is taxed on 73 acres, and immediately below her entry is that of "David Jones's heirs," who are taxed on 147 acres -- I have not researched this, however. and am suggesting only that this information provides a possible clue for researchers).

(3) If the same exact name is found in two district tax lists, and each pays a white poll, then this should be two men (rather than one man paying a tax in each district)... “should” because it is also possible that one man has been charged erroneously with two white polls. To determine if this latter is the case, it would be necessary to find a record of it in the county court minutes. If an individual appears more than once on the lists, but with only one poll tax, then he lived in the record where the poll tax was paid.

(4) Comparing the 1836 tax list to the 1840 census can provide yet more clues -- both about the individuals and their families, and also about possible variant spellings of their names, middle names or initials. In the case of the above-mentioned Dicy, for example, a Dicy Jones is on the 1840 Giles Census, p. 98. Two males age 20-30 are in the household, as are two females 10-15, one female 15-20, 1 female 20-30, 1 female 30-40 and 1 female 50-60. While we do not know which of the adult females is Dicey, we do at least know that there are minor children in the household, and a comparison of the 1840 to the 1830 and 1850 should provide even more information (with the age of the youngest child possibly providing the year when the estate will be settled (generally, at age 21).
Good luck with your research!

Copyright 2001, Joyce McDonald, Giles County Historical Society and TNGenNet, Inc.

Submitted by Joyce McDonald with the condition that the contents are not to be altered in any way without the express consent of the transcriber/proofer.

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