Nova Scotia Archives

Poll Tax Records, 1791-1795

A poll tax records the names of heads of household (head = 'poll') in a given geographical area, for the purposes of collecting taxes based on the value of the property or livestock owned. The original records presented here include 21,018 names and are located in RG1, Vol. 444 and 444½ . The records in volume 444 are predominantly 1791-1793; exceptions are Little Harbour (Vol. 444, No. 15) which is for 1794; and Tatamagouche, which states 'Assessment for the years 1791:1792:1793,' and is signed 'March 25, 1795.' The records in volume 444½ are predominantly 1793 to 1795. Click here list of communities included.

To deal with the provincial debt the legislature passed poll tax acts in 1791, 1792 and 1793 (read the 1793 Act) which levied a capitation tax on all adult males. The amount of tax was based on a person's employment and their ownership of cattle or sheep and was collected until the legislation was repealed in 1796.

The legislation grouped occupations into classes and named a sum to be paid by persons falling into that class. The Sessions of the Peace for each part of the province were to appoint assessors and collectors. The sums raised were then forwarded to local Collectors of Impost and Excise who in turn forwarded it to the Provincial Treasury. The legislation required multiple copies of the rolls, and after 1793, required that one copy be sent directly to the Treasury in Halifax. The Journals of the House of Assembly for March 29, 1796 include a table showing which townships and areas had forwarded returns to Halifax.

The provenance of these returns is uncertain. It would appear that they were removed by Records Commissioner T. B. Akins from the Impost and Excise files kept by the provincial treasurer and bound into two volumes 444 and 444½ of the Public Records of Nova Scotia as part of the Census and Poll Tax series.

The information recorded varies between returns. Some, probably copies of the original assessors' rolls, record the person's name, occupation, livestock and tax levied. Others, probably copies of the collector's roll, record only the persons's name and the tax levied. Volume 444 contains returns from 1791 to 1793. Volume 444½ contains returns from 1793 to 1795. Not all returns for all years have survived.

RG 31-104, the Impost and Excise series of the Treasury Papers, contains documents relating to the collection of these taxes. The legislation mentioned above is not included in the published statutes of Nova Scotia as they were not perpetual acts. Rather they are found in the manuscript series of Statutes, (RG 5, Series 'S') or in the copies of statutes forwarded to the British Colonial Office and preserved as CO 221. The relevant statutes are: Chapter 12, 1791; Chapter 2, 1792; Chapter 2, 1793; and Chapter 1, 1796.

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