Introduction to First Tax List for Philadelphia County, 1693

In the 59th Chapter of "The Great Law," passed at Upland in 1682, it had been provided that no money or goods should be raised upon or paid by any of the people of the province by way of a public tax, but by a law for that purpose made by the Governor and freemen thereof, and that no tax at any time should continue any longer than the space of one whole year. This law was substantially re-enacted, and approved by the Governor, Benjamin Fletcher, June 1st, 1693, and forms the 37th section of the law known as the "Bill of Right."

Previously to this, however, owing to great miscarriages, as it was alleged, in the Government of the Province, and the absence of the Proprietor, by reason of which it had fallen into disorder and confusion, Penn, in the year 1692, had been deprived of his Government by King William and Queen Mary, and a commission had been granted by them to Benjamin Fletcher, Governor of New York, to take Pennsylvania also under his government He arrived in Philadelphia on April 26, 1693. After some opposition an Assembly was chosen in answer to his call, and a letter from Queen Mary to him was read, in which was embodied the chief business which he had to present for its action. This letter represented that great expense had been entailed upon the province of New York in the defense of its frontiers against the French, and called upon the several colonies to assist New York in resisting the attempts of the French and Indians. The Governor also, in his address to the Assembly, called its attention to the necessity of providing a general revenue for the support of the government. This, in fact, was the Governor's main object in calling the Assembly. But the great discontent among the people, caused by the abrogation by the King and Queen in council of various laws passed by the Assembly, showed itself in the many obstacles thrown in the way of the adoption of the Bill of Supply. Advantage was taken of the Governor's earnest desire that the bill should pass to procure the confirmation of existing laws, or the re-enactment of new ones of like import. These were embodied in the Petition of Right, and with the Bill of Supply and twenty-nine other new bills were finally passed into laws.

On the 18th of 3rd mo. (May), 1693, the second day after the reading to Assembly of the Queen's letter, a Committee of Eleven was appointed to consider the part of the Governor's speech relating to the support of the Government and Fortification of the Province, etc., the sum needed, and how it could be raised. On the 19th the Committee reported that there was an absolute necessity of raising money to support the Government, and suggested a mode of doing so. On the 26th the report was considered, and it was resolved that a penny per pound of all the real and personal estates within this Province and Territories, with respect had to the moderate assessment of all uncultivated and unprofitable land, and six shillings per head, should be assessed toward the support of Government. A motion that part of the money to be raised be appropriated for the use of the two late Governors was negative and it was voted that all counties should defray their respective county charges, and that the same be levied or taxed proportionally. David Lloyd, James Fox, Samuel Richardson, Thomas Pemberton, and Edward Blake were accordingly appointed a Committee to draw the bill.

The bill was presented on May (3rd mo.) 30th, read the first time and passed, and on the following day it passed second reading. On June 1st it passed third reading, and was sent to the Governor, who gave it his assent on the same day.

This Act, which was the first in the history of the Province authorizing a general tax to be assessed for public purposes, was entitled "An act tor granting to King William and Queen Mary the rate of one penny per pound upon the clear value of all real and personal estates, and six shillings per head upon such as are not otherwise rated by this Act, to be employed by the Governor of this province of Pennsylvania and territories thereof for the time being towards the support of this government."

The Preamble to the Act sets forth that "since it hath pleased the King and Queen to take the government of this Province and country into their own hands, and supply the absence of our Proprietor by so worthy a person who gives us such great assurances of his good desires to preserve and con-firm us in our rights and liberties, We, the General Assembly, do humbly present the said King and Queen with the free gift of the rates and assessments hereinafter mentioned, which we desire they will please to accept of as a testimony of our dutiful affections towards them, and we do likewise desire that the King and Queen would be pleased to give and allow one-half thereof unto Benjamin Fletcher, Captain General and Governor in Chief in and over this Province and country."

It was therefore enacted "That all and every person and persons within this government having any personal estates either in their possession or in the possession of others in trust for them, other and besides the household goods and implements they use, and such sums of money as they really owe or ought to pay, shall yield and pay to the use aforesaid after the rate of one penny per pound; and to the end that this tax may he laid with such equality and indifference as may be, upon all lands within this government, and that a due regard may be had to the many tracts of uncultivated and unimproved lands, which produce rather a charge than profit to the owners thereof," it was enacted "that all lands and other real, as also the personal estates, shall be and are hereby charged, for one year only and no longer, with one penny for one pound clear value."

And it was further enacted "That all freemen within this province and territories, who have been out of their servitude by the space of six months, and shall not be otherwise rated by this Act, nor worth one hundred pounds, shall pay unto the use aforesaid the sum of six shillings per head; provided always that our Chief Proprietary and his late Deputies in government shall not be assessed, or otherwise chargeable by virtue of this Act: Provided also, that no person or persons shall be taxed by this Act, who have a great charge of children and become indigent in the world, and are so far in debt that the clear value of their real and personal estate doth not amount to thirty pounds."

The Act then provided for the appointment of Collectors and Assessors, the time of payment, the collection by distress of taxes due by delinquents, the alteration of assessments, etc.

It seems that there was some dissatisfaction regarding the manner of the assessment of the tax. A Committee of the Governor's Council, which, in consequence of this, had been appointed to investigate the matter, reported on the 26th of May, 1694, that having examined the several rates of the respective Counties did find that in most of the Counties there have been great errors and partiality committed by the Assessors in undervaluing their own and others' estates whereby the whole amounts but to £760 16 2 money of Pennsylvania; in money of New York to about £700; in English money about £560, which £60 may come short in the salaries for collecting the same and in runaways, so that the net produce may be about £500 English money."

The total of the assessments in the following list amounts to £61,759. From this the value of the private estates and property at that time in Philadelphia County may be approximated.

The Province of Pennsylvania was then composed of but three counties, Philadelphia, Chester, and Bucks and the Territories, or Three Lower Counties upon Delaware, New Castle, Kent, and Sussex, now comprising the State of Delaware. Philadelphia County extended indefinitely toward the northwest, bounded on either side by the counties of Chester and Bucks. Chester County included all the territory (except a small portion now in Philadelphia County) southwest of the Schuylkill River, to the extreme limits of the province, and Bucks County had for its northern boundary the Kittatinny Mountain, or as far as the land might be purchased from the Indians, a very indefinite limit, as subsequent events proved.

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Source: The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Volume VIII, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1884.


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