Tax Collecting



Early Method of Collecting Taxes — Some Early Customs and Improvements.


For many years the town was divided for the purpose of taxation into classes. They were designated as the south list and the north list. The two constables were the authorized collectors and the duty of levying the tax fell to the selectmen. The tax for each department of government was assessed by itself, which made the duties of these officers the most important within the gift of the town.

In the year 1736, after the expenses of organizing the town and church had been met, the rates and portions were as follows and entered upon the records as here given:

Province tax6726
Nathaniel Page is to collect3663North
Daniel Taylor is to collect30189South
County tax496
Nathaniel Page is to collect283North
Daniel Taylor is to collect213South
Rev. Mr. Bowes’ salary12000
Nathaniel Page is to collect64142North
Daniel Taylor is to collect55510South
Town and School tax9190
Nathaniel Page is to collect49118North
Daniel Taylor is to collect41174South

Constables were required to use severe means, even to resort to imprisonment, to secure the collection of the “rates.”

The following is a copy of the warrant issued to the constable for the collection of the taxes in 1743: (But two punctuation marks appear in the original, and they might be regarded as accidental)

“Middx Ss. To Zacheriah Fitch one of the cons^t of the Town of Bedford Greeting

In His Majestys name you are Required to levy and collect of the several parsons named in the list herewith committed unto you each his respective proportion therein set down of the sum total of such list being fare assesment granted and agreed upon by the Inhabitants of the town of Bedford Regularly assembled for defreying the nessasary charges arising with in the same and to deliver and pay in the sum and sums which shall so levy and collect unto John Whitmore Town Treasurer or where you shall have orders from the selectmen, and to compleat and make up an accompt of your collections of the whole sum at or before the first day of June next in serving the date hear of and if any parson or parsons shall neglect or refuse to make payment of the sum or sums whereat he or they are Respectively assessed and set in the

said list to destrain the goods or chattles of such parson or parsons to the value thereof and the distress or distresses so taken to keep by the space of four days at the cost and charge of the owner and if the owner do not pay the sum or sums of money so assessed upon him with four days than the sd distress or distresses so taken you are to expose and openly sell at an out-cry for payment of sd money and charges notice of such sail being posted up in some publick place within the same Town Twenty fore hours before hand and the over pluse coming by the sd sail If any be beside the sum or sums of the assesment and the charges of taking and keeping of the distress and distresses to be Imediately restored to the owner and for want of goods or chattels whereon to make distress you are to seese the bodie or bodies of the parson or parsons so refusing and him or them commit unto the common goal of the said County there to remain until he or they pay and satisfie the several sum or sums whereat they are Respectively assessed as aforesaid unless upon aplication made to the Court of general Sessions of the peace the same or any part thereof be abatted

Dated in Bedford october y^e 17^th day 1743
by orders of the assessors

Israel Putnam
Town Clerk.”

The following is the tax-list of Bedford in 1748:

South List.— Samuel Baron, Stephen Davis, James Dodson, Joseph Fitch, Zachariah Fitch, Peter Fasset, John Fasset, Benjamin Fasset, Joseph Hartwell, Henry Harrington, William Hastings, James Housten, John Merriam, Amos Merriam, Samuel Merriam, Nathaniel Merriam, John Moore, Joseph Meads, Walter Powers, Paul Raymond, William Raymond, Edward Stearns, James Rankin, David Taylor, Thomas Woolly, Jonathan Woolly, Thomas Woolly, Jr., Richard Wheeler, Samuel Whitaker.

North List.— Obed Abbot, Josiah Bacon, Josiah Bacon, Jr., Benjamin Bacon, Michael Bacon, John Bacon, Thomas Bacon, Jonas Bowman, James Chambers, John Corbet, Samuel Dutton, Benjamin Danforth, Cornelius Dandley, Benjamin Fitch, Jeremiah Fitch, Josiah Fasset, Jonathan Grimes, Benjamin Hutchinson, Timothy Hartwell, Benjamin Kidder, Deacon Job Lane, Col. John Lane, Capt. James Lane, John Lane, Jr., Job Lane, Jr., John Lane, (3d), Timothy Lane.

The basis of suffrage in 1810 appears in the warrant for the spring meeting:

“To the freeholders and other votable inhabitants of said town, qualified to vote in town-meetings, namely, such as pay to one single tax, besides the poll or polls, a sum equal to two-thirds of a single poll tax.”

In 1812

“a voter must have been a resident for the space of one year, and have been taxed during said time for his poll.” [^1]

The property qualification was then declared to be a

freehold income of ten dollars or other property valued at $200.”

The changes in the observance of funeral rites, as indicated by the records of this town, have been as great as in any direction. The custom of holding any religious service at the burial of the dead was not general when this town was incorporated, but it was the custom to furnish mourning friends with certain articles of wearing apparel, and the custom was observed in some families in a modified form until a much later date. The following receipt is self-explaining:

“Boston, June 24, 1715, Recd, of Mr. Job Lane, of Billerica, y^e sum of ten pounds, at twice, for gloves for y^e funeral of his father.

I say reced by me.— Benj. Fitch.” [*8]

Rev. Samuel Stearns was instrumental in breaking up the drink habit at funerals, which was carried to a most ridiculous extreme in some cases. In 1804 the town voted

“That the practice of carrying round drink publicly or in a public manner, and also of inviting the bearers to return to the house of mourning after the funeral, be laid aside.”

It was also voted

[ p 48 ]

“That notice be given to those who are desired to officiate as bearers, previous to the time appointed for attending the funeral. That two or more suitable persons be appointed by the town to superintend on these solemn occasions. That prayer be attended in one hour after the time appointed for the funeral.”

In 1817, after the erection of the new meeting-house, and purchase of the new bell, it was voted

“That the bell should be tolled one hour before the time set for the funeral service.” [^2]

It was also customary to notify the people of the death of a fellow-citizen by tolling the bell and indicating the age of the deceased by the number of strokes of the bell. On the Sabbath following a death, all of the members of the family were expected to attend the service of public worship at the meeting-house and present written petitions for a remembrance in the “long prayer.” The “note for prayers” was expressed according to the case— that of a widow was as follows:

“Mrs. B. desires prayer that the death of her husband may be sanctified to her and her family for their spiritual good.”

Petitions were also sent in for prayers for recovery of the sick, or delivery from impending danger. It was expected that the pastor would make early calls on Monday following, upon all of the sick who had thus asked an interest in the public prayer.

In 1810 Mr. William Page gave a hearse to the town. Until that time the dead were carried to the burial-ground on the shoulders of men. When intoxicating liquor was too freely used the scene became most disgraceful. It was a repetition of these scenes that led to the action of reform by the town.

The erection of the frame of a building — “a raising” — was an occasion where the sublime and ridiculous were strangely combined. The people of the town assembled in large companies, and aided in putting the massive oak timbers together and pulling the frame into place, a side at a time. The minister was expected to attend and offer prayer during the work, and all were treated to as much liquor as they would drink. At the raising of Colonel Timothy Jones’ house, about the year 1780, tradition says, the Rev. Mr. Penniman gratified his appetite for strong drink so much that he offered one of his most peculiar addresses to the Deity, and when returning home fell from his horse and lost his wig. This was found by the boys, and some days later put in a hollow log near his house, when the owner was called upon by the boys to assist in capturing a wood-chuck that had lodged in the log, and there found his much-needed article of dress, instead of the little animal.



  1. his poll.” ∨ his poll.
  2. service.” ∨ service.


  1. “parson(s)”: person(s)
  2. “accompt”: account
  3. “destrain” (i.e., “distrain”): seize
  4. “distress(es)”: seized property
  5. “out-cry”: auction
  6. “over pluse” (i.e., “overplus”): surplus
  7. “goal” (i.e., “gaol”): jail
  8. “reced” (i.e., “rec^d”): received

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