Civil War Taxes

By Connie Lenzen, CGSM

An article for the February 2009 issue of the Genealogical Forum of Oregon's Insider.

On 1 July 1862, legislation was established to help the United States pay for a war that we call the Civil War. Congress passed the Internal Revenue Act that established an office of the Commissioner of Internal Revenue with an annual salary of $4,000. The states and territories were to be divided up into collection districts, each with their own collector. On 1 August 1862 and the first Monday of May in each year thereafter, the collectors and their assistants were to make a list of people who were liable for taxes. Individuals who had an income of over $600 were required to pay a 3% tax. If income was over $10,000, the tax rate was 5%.

There were numerous other features to the Act; duties were placed on gross receipts of transportations companies. Licenses were required for bankers, auctioneers, wholesale and retail dealers, pawnbrokers, distillers, brewers, tobacconists, livery stable keepers, soap-makers, and many more. Licenses were required for eating houses, theatres, circuses, bowling alleys, and billiard rooms. Digitized images of the tax lists are on

In Oregon, where the assessors were given an extra stipend due to the increased cost of travelling, people were taxed on valuables, their gross receipts, and their occupations. In 1868, in Oregon's Division Number Four, roughly Clackamas, Marion, and Polk Counties, L. Ground of Independence paid $10 for keeping a livery stable. James McKay of Salem paid $10 for being a manufacturer. The Willamette Steamboat Company of Oregon City paid $10.77 tax on passage receipts and $6.25 on their hotel receipts.

An inspection of the tax lists shows few Oregonians earned over $600 per year, and these people lived mainly in Portland. In 1867, in Division Three, the Portland area, there were 281 people who paid tax on their income. Some of these individuals were involved in land development. Stephen Coffin, one of the founders of Portland, paid $40.65 tax on income of $5,773 and a watch. John H. Couch paid $233.05 tax on $4,621 income and watch; W. S. Ladd, the banker, had paid $1,531.30 tax on his income of $30,271, watch and 315 ounces of silver plate.

Some merchants paid hefty taxes. Henry W. Corbett paid $989.40 tax on $17,145 income, a watch, 63 ounces of silver plate, and his wholesale dealer license. Henry Failing paid tax on his $15,953 income, watch, silver plate, and his wholesale dealer license.

Physicians paid a $10 license fee. Some doctors, like Fan See, a Chinese physician, did not have $600 income. Others, like James C. Hawthorne, the owner of the Hawthorne Hospital and Asylum, and his partner A. M. Loryea had incomes over $10,000.

For further reading, see Cynthia G. Fox, "Income Tax Records of the Civil War Years."

Other articles about taxes on my website are:

For Genealogists, Taxes Are Good

Multnomah County, Oregon, Tax Records

Oregon Poll Taxes

Using Tax Records to Locate an Ancestor

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Connie Lenzen, CGSM

CG, Certified Genealogist, is a service mark of the Board for Certification of Genealogists, used under license by board certified genealogists after periodic evaluation, and the board name is registered in the US Patent & Trademark Office.