In July, 1771, the Massachusetts General Court passed “An Act for Enquiring into the Rateable Estates of this Province.” Each town then elected assessors who prepared a list of all taxpayers and taxable property within that town. The residents themselves each submitted a list of their property as of September first. The information was needed roughly once every seven years for reapportioning the tax burden among the localities.
Only “improved” land was reported – meaning that any possible acres of native forest were not included in each property report. Property owners had small gardens, which were not reported. In gardens, home residents would grow relatively small amounts of vegetables such as potatoes, squash, pumpkins, peas, beans, turnips and maybe others.
In the listings, “grain” meant wheat grown to make bread, plus corn and rye. Some grain became animal feed, and some grain was kept to produce seeds for the next year’s planting. Grain and other products could be sold for money, and were often traded for other items with nearby residents.
Only adult animals were reported, so each farm had significantly more total numbers of animals than reported. Uncounted animals were oxen under four years, cows and horses under three years, plus goats, sheep, and pigs under one year of age.
About this Collection
This collection contains the names and descriptions of taxable property of nearly 38,000 individuals who resided in 152 Massachusetts towns in 1771. Data items include type and value (in pounds, shillings, and pence) of real estate, buildings, and other assets, as well as tabulation of livestock and farm commodities produced. Specific variables pertaining to value of real estate, buildings, and other assets include annual worth of whole real estate, tons of vessels, value of trading stock, value of factorage or commissions, value of money lent at interest, and types of buildings (e.g., tanhouses, stillhouses, warehouses, gristmills, superficial feet of wharf, ironworks). With respect to tabulation of livestock, variables provide information on number of horses, oxen, cows, goats, sheep, and swine. Data describing farm commodities cover acres of pasture, number of cows the pasture will keep, acres of tillage, bushels of grain produced per year, barrels of cider produced per year, acres of salt marsh, tons of salt marsh hay per year, acres of English and upland mowing land, tons of English and upland hay per year, acres of fresh meadow, and tons of fresh meadow hay per year. Other variables specify taxpayer name, title (e.g., widow, doctor, blacksmith), and status of taxpayer (e.g., decedent, landlord, free Negro).
- 1771 Massachusetts Tax Inventory
This on-line version allows you to browse the data by selecting items to view and “drilling down” through totals for counties and towns to the holdings of individual taxpayers. When viewing the individual’s record, make sure you also view the probate record if linked!
These data were obtained from original tax lists maintained by the state of Massachusetts as Massachusetts Archives, Volumes 132-134. The data in this collection were prepared by Bettye Pruitt, Philips Exeter Academy. The tax list has been published in its entirety (along with extensive discussions of Massachusetts tax laws and practices) as Bettye Pruitt (ed.), The Massachusetts Tax valuation List of 1771 (Boston: G.K. Hall and Co., 1978). The data for this Internet-based access tool are obtained from the University Consortium for Political and Social Research, (ICPSR Study Number 7734) Anne Arbor, Michigan. The data are distributed by ICPSR in the form received from the original investigator. The data have been converted to a format appropriate for this Internet-based tool using the documentation distributed by the ICPSR, as donated by the original investigator. Programming developed by the Instructional Computing Group of Harvard University.