The Winter issue of the Hunterdon Historical Newsletter, published by the Hunterdon County Historical Society, carried an article I wrote about the 1865 tax assessment lists for the County. I am reproducing it here, to make it available for online searches, and am also including a helpful comment/correction that could not be included in the spring issue of the newsletter. And be sure to visit the Historical Society’s beautiful new website.
Hunterdon’s Civil War Taxes
When the country went to war with itself in 1861, neither the North nor the South could foresee the amount of killing that would take place or the years of fighting that lay ahead, and they were not at all prepared for the financial cost of war. Like the wars of our time, the Civil War caused the government to incur massive debts. Unlike today, the federal government raised taxes to maintain solvency. The first war tax was ordered by the Congress in 1862. But costs kept rising, so additional taxes were levied each year of the war. By 1865, practically everything was being taxed. The act did not expire until 1873.
In order to levy taxes, the IRS was required to make assessments. The country was divided into Districts and the Districts into Divisions. The assessments were compiled by assistant assessors for each division. According to the Revenue Act of 1864, any person with income over $600 or owning certain luxury items had to submit a list of their taxable property to the assistant assessor on or before the first Monday in May. There were three types of taxes: ad valorem (income taxes), license (on nearly all occupations, at set rates) and enumerated articles (luxury taxes).
Annual tax lists were compiled for 1862-63, 1864, 1865 and 1866. In addition there were monthly lists made from 1862 through 1866 that contain partial lists of names. The law required that assessors create their collection lists, giving the taxpayer’s name along with annual income, articles subject to tax, and quantity of goods made or sold that were taxable. But this last item, goods made or sold, does not appear on the 1865 lists for Hunterdon County, even though these items were counted in other districts. Also missing is a separate list for non-resident landowners.
I have chosen to focus on the tax list for 1865 because I found an abbreviated version in the Hunterdon Republican, thanks to the work of William Hartman. The complete lists have been kept by the National Archives and were recently digitized and published on Ancestry.com.
Hunterdon County was part of District 3, and its towns were in Divisions 5, 7, 8 and 9. Robert Rushing was the Assessor for District 3. The assistant assessors were J. McCloughan for Division 5, John Pierson for Division 7, Newton Gary for Division 8, and Jacob S. Dunham for Division 9. Division 6 was left blank, perhaps reserved for some purpose.
Division 5 contained these post offices, some of which also show up in Divisions 7 and 8: Anthony, Asbury, Bethlehem, Bloomsbury, Changewater, Clarksville (Glen Gardner), Clinton, Clinton Station, Cokesbury, Dansville, Everittstown, Fairmount, Frenchtown, German Valley (Long Valley), High Bridge, Holland, Lebanon, Little York, Middle Valley, Milford,
Mountainville, Mt. Pleasant, Musconetcong, New Germantown (Oldwick), New Hampton, Pattenburg, Penwell, Perryville, Pittstown, Rowlands Mill, Springtown, Stanton, Stuartsburg, Succasunna, White Hall and White House. Succasunna is in Morris County, Middle Valley is in Somerset County, while Penwell, Springtown and White Hall are in Warren County. I assume that Hunterdon residents living near the county lines used these post offices.
Musconetcong had me stumped; was it Warren or Hunterdon County? The name is not listed as a village in Thomas Gordon’s Gazetteer of 1834, nor in Barber and Howe’s Historical Collections of 1845 (they include Musconetgong River, Creek, Valley and Mountains, but no town). Snell’s History of Warren and Sussex didn’t help much either. Fortunately, the estimable Phyllis D’Autrechy listed it (along with the Gorge, Mountain, River, Creek and Valley) as a post office in Holland Township, “north of the village of Mt. Joy.”
The post offices included in Division 7 were located in Baptistown, Cherryville, Clinton, Croton, Everittstown, Franklin, Frenchtown, Headquarters, Kingwood, Lambertville, Locktown, Oakdale, Oak Grove, Pittstown, Quakertown, Raven Rock, Ringoes, Sand Brook, Sergeantsville, Sidney, Stockton, and Tumble. Post offices in Division 8 were Barley Sheaf, Centerville, Cherryville, Clover Hill, Copperhill, Croton, Flemington, Klinesville, North Branch, Pleasant Run, Potterstown, Readington, Reaville, Ringoes, Rowlands Mill, Sand Brook, Stanton and Whitehouse. Post offices in Division 9 were Centreville, Clover Hill, East Amwell, Lambertville, Reaville, Ringoes, Wertsville, West Amwell and Woodsville.
As you can see there is a lot of overlap between divisions and post offices. Somewhere there might be a map showing the boundaries of each division. Since the listings only include the post office used by each taxpayer, we cannot be certain which municipality those taxpayers lived in.
The income tax was intended to be progressive. In the Act of 1862, all income under $800 per year was tax free. The Revenue Act of 1864 (which applied to the 1865 levy) created three tax rates: 5% for income from $600 to $5000; 7.5% for income from $5,000 to $10,000, and 10% for income over $10,000. At first I was bewildered to find people with income as low as $1 being taxed at 5%. But apparently, that one dollar was net income above $600. Since income in the lower ranges was not tallied, we cannot know who the poorer residents of Hunterdon were in 1865. However, by my count, there were 1657 people taxed on occupations or possessions who were not taxed on income. We must presume that their income was less than $600.
I use the term ‘by my count’ because I know that the spreadsheet I made of these taxpayers is not 100% accurate. I am particularly irritated by Mr. McCloughan, assistant assessor for Division 5, whose nib was less than sharp, and who was a bit casual with his numbers.
Despite the legislation requiring incomes from $600 to $5000 to be taxed at 7.5%, people in Hunterdon with income between $600 and $4400 paid the same 5% rate. Income over that amount got taxed at 10%. Not many people were rich enough to pay that higher tax. The fortunate few in Divisions 5, 7, 8 and 9 were Ashbel Welsh and James D. Stryker (Lambertville P.O.), Jonathan Higgins (Wertsville P.O.), Charles Bartles, John S. Emery, Judiah Higgins, Jno. C. Hopewell, Franklin Reading, and John G. Reading (Flemington P.O.), Joseph B. Cornish (Bethlehem P.O.), and Mr. O. L. Gardner (Clarksville P.O.). The total amount of income taxed in Hunterdon County amounted to $941,709.
Looking over the assessments can be endlessly fascinating. For instance, it is abundantly clear that Flemington and Clinton were the centers of commerce, based on income and number of occupations. Flemington had 106 people paying taxes on income of $126,795. The total number of Flemington taxpayers was 237. The next most important post office was Clinton, with 110 people paying taxes on income of $87,256 and a total of 202 taxpayers. Then came Lambertville with only 59 people taxed on income of $57,751, but a total population of 155 taxpayers.
On the other end of the scale, there were ten post offices where only one person was counted: Barley Sheaf, Danville, Franklin, Headquarters, North Branch, Robbinsville, Succasunna, Stuartsburg, German Valley, and New York City. It’s probably safe to conclude that James Dolan of 790 3rd Ave., NYC was an absentee owner of Hunterdon property, as was George Ambuster of Danville, Jno. C. Willet of Succasunna, and Marietta Row of Robbinsville.
Another way to study these lists is to examine the occupations that were licensed. Most of the people who were charged fees for occupations were not taxed on income, although that was not always the case. The total number of people taxed in Divisions 5, 7, 8 and 9 was 3132. There were 736 people taxed on 29 different occupations. Agriculture was not listed as an occupation, perhaps because it was so universal. The most common non-farming occupation in Hunterdon was “retail dealer” or storekeeper (222 were taxed). The second most common was “retail liquor” or liquor store owner or manager (100 taxed). Clearly the temperance movement had not made much of an impact by 1865.
Flemington had the greatest number of occupations licensed, but did not have the most hotels. That distinction went to High Bridge with 4, followed by Clarksville, Clinton, Frenchtown, Lambertville, Milford, New Hampton, Pittstown, Whitehouse and, surprisingly, Croton, each having three. Most hotels had liquor licenses. However, Lambertville had 8 retail liquor licenses, Flemington had 7, while High Bridge, Frenchtown and Wertsville each had 6 licenses. Those were the places where you could be sure of getting a drink.
These are the occupations licensed, in order of frequency: retail dealers 222, retail liquor 100, manufacturers 84, hotels 66, “stallions” (horses for breeding or racing) and horse dealers 43, physicians 39, cattle brokers 35, peddlers 32 (2d, 3d and 4th class), butchers 23, lawyers 18, insurance agents 17, produce brokers 12, conveyancers 11, wholesale dealers 10, livery stables 9, claim agents 7, distillers 7, dentists 6, auctioneers 5, photographers 5, bankers 4, contractors 3, veterinary surgeons 3, civil engineers 2, eating houses 2, patent right dealers 2, wholesale liquor 2. There was one apothecary, one fish peddler, and one tobacconist.
Strangely missing from this list are blacksmiths, harness makers, wheelwrights—people responsible for making all those horses and carriages run properly. By law jugglers and circuses were licensed, but not blacksmiths. Sadly, there were no jugglers or circuses in the Hunterdon divisions.
Carriages for personal use were the equivalent of automobiles. Carriages valued at between $50 and $100 were probably one-horse carriages (taxed at $1). Those worth $100 to $199 were probably two-horse carriages, with a tax o $2. Flemington had the most carriages, both one-horse (95) and two-horse (45), followed closely by Clinton with 92 one-horse and 40 two-horse carriages. Third came Lambertville (50 one-horse and 27 two-horse carriages), more or less tied with Ringoes (58 one-horse and 35 two-horse carriages). More valuable carriages were rare. Ely Garvis of Ringoes, A. K. Kinney of Clinton, Peter W. Melick of New Germantown and Franklin Reading of Flemington all owned carriages worth more than $300 and less that $500.
There are very few women on the lists, and when they appeared it was usually for possessions like watches and carriages. 113 women were taxed, only about 4% of the total. There were six retail dealers, three hotel keepers, and four retail liquor sellers who did not own hotels. 25 women were taxed on income, 13 on pianos and melodeons, 30 on carriages, 31 on watches. I suspect that many of the women with watches and carriages were school teachers. One woman was taxed on silver plate: Aletta Hill of Flemington. And there was one physician, Hannah E. Archer of Flemington.
There is so much more to learn from these assessments. I encourage you to look them up, especially if you have mid-19th century ancestors in Hunterdon County.
Following publication of the article, Sharon <email@example.com> emailed this observation on Feb. 27, 2011:
I have read the winter newsletter. Please forward my comments to Marfy in her article on page 1102. if you look at the 1873 Beers Atlas, you will find that MUSCONETCONG is at Riegelsville, NJ. It was once a post office there. That is in Warren county on the line with Hunterdon. thank you, Sharon
Sharon is absolutely correct—Musconetcong was a village in Warren County, just over the border between Hunterdon and Warren, the border being the Musconetcong River.
May 13, 2011 @ 11:26 am
According to the indispensible work, New Jersey Postal History by John L. Kay and Chester M. Smith Jr. (1976), the Musconetcong Post Office opened in Warren County on 10 July 1854 and closed on 6 July 1876. Andrew Sailor Jr served as the first postmaster. On the last day of service defined above, the postal facility changed names to become the Riegelsville Post Office, Robert A. Shimer, postmaster. This post office continued operations until 25 February 1966, when it converted into a branch of the Phillipsburg Post Office. The branch permanently closed on 31 January 1970.
May 13, 2011 @ 11:34 am
The depths of this source appears to know no bounds! While not necessarily applicable to folks in Hunterdon County, I recently found, within the assessment records, monthly statements of income and expenses for a steamboat operated on a tributary to the Delaware River during the Civil War years. This information is vital for a blog article I am preparing.
May 13, 2011 @ 12:11 pm
To Jerseyman: You are so right about the unexplored possibilities in these tax records. I know I just barely scratched the surface with this article, and would love to follow through with a more careful look–someday.