Taxation in early Granby: A first class fireplace in 1813 burned a lot of money

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Fireplace in the 1732 Abijah Rowe House. Photos courtesy of Salmon Brook Historical Society

Originally published March 1989

The inevitability of death and taxes has long been acknowledged. In fact, many taxpayers of today feel “taxed to death” by a multitude of federal, state and local taxes. Our ancestors, however, also paid a rather amazing variety of taxes. The Salmon Brook Historical Society recently acquired a Granby Tax List from 1813. At that time, Granby (Salmon Brook at the time) was larger, encompassing the present town of East Granby (Turkey Hills at the time). Twenty-seven years earlier, in 1786, the Ecclesiastical Societies of Turkey Hills (which became East Granby) and Salmon Brook (became Granby) had separated from Simsbury to form a new town.

The Taxes of Micah Case Jr.

Micah Case Jr. (1756-1834) lived on Messenger Road in West Granby. The large center chimney Colonial home was built by his father and is now owned by the Messenger family. Micah Jr. had been a soldier in the Revolutionary War and was a widower. His wife Catharine died in 1897 at the age of 44.

Men had to pay a “poll tax” as a “freeman” or voter in town. Ages 18-21 paid $30 and from 21-70 years, $60. Veterans were exempt from this tax.

These oxen would have resulted in a $20 tax in 1813 Granby.

Micah owned four oxen (also referred to as “bulls”). They were all four years old and taxed at $10 each. Three-year-old cows and heifers were taxed at $7; Micah had three. On the other hand, steers, heifers and bulls, age two, were rated at $3.34 each—again Micah had three. Three-year-old horses were taxed at a rate of $10, two-year-olds $7 and one-year-old $3.34. There were three horses on the Case farm, in the first category.

Granby residents paid a complicated land tax. “Plow land” was $1.67 an acre —Micah had 15 acres; “acres of upland mowing and clear pasture” was $1.34 an acre—he had four acres. He also owned 40 acres of “Bush Pasture” at 34 cents an acre. “Unenclosed land” was taxed at three levels: first rate land was 34 cents, second rate was 17 cents and third rate only 9 cents. The Case farm had 20 acres of second-rate land.

Then the local tax assessor looked at personal possessions. Watches, silver or base metal, were taxed at $10 each. However, “Wooden Wheeled Clocks” were $7. Micah possessed neither. It was evidently a luxury to know what time it was in Granby.

The last tax was for “Fireplaces 3rd or 4th class.” There is no explanation of what this means and no one in Salmon Brook seemed to have a fireplace considered first or second class. Third class was taxed $2.50 and fourth class $1.25. The Micah Case Jr. house had three in the fourth class.

There was a tax break that Granby does not provide today. Sheep raising was being encouraged and a credit of 75 cents was given for each sheep. Here Micah was doing well, owning 20 sheep. The total tax for Micah Case Jr. came to $212.18 minus $15 for sheep. As a veteran of military service, he was exempt from the poll tax resulting in a total tax bill of $137.18.

Highest Tax, Lowest Tax in the Salmon Brook district

The highest tax, nearly $300, in the Salmon Brook district was paid by Ferdinand Clemons of North Granby. He owned much livestock, 232 acres of land, a watch, a clock and one third class and three fourth class fireplaces.

At the other end of the scale was Ezekiel Alderman who paid $10. His only taxable property was a three-year-old horse and, as a Revolutionary War veteran, he paid no poll tax.

Sheep were a good investment—two sheep were worth a tax credit of $1.50!

If you were poor enough and managed to raise a few sheep, you might receive money from the town instead of giving it. Alanson Holcomb owned no horses or cattle, but did have 16 acres of bush pasture and 10 acres of third-rate unenclosed land. He had no timepieces or even a fireplace of any class, but he did raise 18 sheep, so the Town paid him $6.16. My calculations reveal the Town cheated him of $1.

The total tax levied on 105 taxpayers in Salmon Brook in 1813 was $8,977.08.

East Granby (aka Turkey Hills )

The East Granby district was somewhat larger at 119 taxpayers and richer, collecting half again as much as the Salmon Brook tax, $13,757.77. The Turkey Hills tax list was broader in scope and more sophisticated than the one in Salmon Brook. Residents of Turkey Hills were taxed on their carriages or “chaises” at 15, 20 or 30 dollars each. Owners of clocks with brass works had to pay $30 and with brass and steel works, $20. There also must have been better fireplaces in East Granby, because they did have second class fireplaces taxed at $3.75 (no first class however).

Many of the wealthy East Granby farmers paid over $300 in taxes and several paid over $400. The highest taxpayers were Apollos and Erastus Bates who paid $489.90. Their farm consisted of 345 acres, 28 head of livestock and 20 sheep. They also had a $20 chaise and a clock with steel and brass works. They must have lived in separate houses, because between them they had nine fireplaces, three in each class.

The lowest tax was paid by Micah Moor, a former soldier who only owned nine acres of land and was taxed $6.04; and by Asher Tiffany, another veteran, whose sole taxable property consisted of a three-year-old cow at $7.

The comparative wealth of the two districts can be seen in the timepiece count. Only three watches were owned (or admitted to) in Salmon Brook, while 10 were taxed in Turkey Hills. With wooden works clocks, Granby had 13 and East Granby 26 plus an additional 14 clocks with brass or steel works.

The present-day taxpayer might wonder if the tax rebate for raising sheep is still in effect in Granby. However, too thorough an investigation might find that we should still be paying taxes on all of our clocks and watches. Better to let sleeping dogs (and taxes) lie.