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Greathouse Point > Greathouse County > Colonial Tax Lists & Age of 21

Colonial Tax Lists & "Of Lawful Age" Twenty-one

Excerpt from "Penn in Hand", Vol. 21, No. 2, June 2000:

Tax lists can be very helpful in establishing the comings and goings of individuals. When someone “disappears” from a particular township’s list, it ordinarily means the person either died or moved elsewhere. Lists vary greatly in the amount of information given – sometimes just the name and a tax rate; other times with occupations, approximate land acreage and numbers of sheep, cows, and horned cattle. The Colonial and early 19th century lists were usually divided into several lists:

1) Property owners were usually dubbed “freeholders”;
2) Married renters heading households, called “inmates”;
3) A “single freemen” list composed of unmarried men (usually age 21 and above).

At times the best proof of an individual’s marriage may be when the groom moves from “single freeman” to “inmate.”

Within the Constitution of Pennsylvania adopted on 28 Sep 1776, were established the following requirements for whom could vote in elections:

Every freemen of the full age of twenty-one Years, having resided in this state for the space of one whole Year next before the day of election for representatives, and paid public taxes during that time, shall enjoy the right of an elector: Provided always, that sons of freeholders of the age of twenty-one years shall be intitled to vote although they have not paid taxes.

The ninth Maryland Convention met in Annapolis on Wednesday, August 14, 1776. Seventy-eight men served in the 1776 Constitutional Convention of Maryland, two only briefly. The members wrote, debated, and voted on behalf of 250,000 people, nearly a third of whom were slaves. They were elected by:

"freemen above twenty-one years of age, being freeholders of not less than fifty acres of land or having visible property. ... to the value of £40 sterling at the least."

A journal entry made by John Matthews, who was noted as a young Yankee surveyor-school teacher of Ohio County, VA, on 18 Dec 1786, reveals what attaining the age of 21 meant to one colonial frontiersmen.

1786, Dec 18 - Journal Entry: John Matthews, Page 212

Monday 18th This day I am twenty-one years of age and Free by the Laws of my Country I am Near Six hundred miles from my native home and poor enough the whole pitance that I can call my own does not amount to more than 50 dollars but while I have my health I feal no enxiety about geting a living and hope to support by an honest Industery that Independancy of Spirit and Circumstances which is requisite to Happiness.


The Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania, Tax Records and Their Cousins, the PA Septennial Census, From "Penn in Hand", Vol. 21, No. 2, June 2000.

State of Pennsylvania, Constitution of Pennsylvania - September 28, 1776, Plan Or Frame Of Government For The Commonwealth Or State of Pennsylvania, Section 6: Right of Elector. Referenced from "The Avalon Project", Yale Law School. Online:

Archives of Maryland Documents for the Classroom, Writing It All Down: The Art of Constitution Making for the State & the Nation, 1776-1833. Maryland State Archives, 350 Rowe Boulevard, Annapolis, MD 21401. The Documents for the Classroom series of the Maryland State Archives was designed and developed by Dr. Edward C. Papenfuse and Dr. M. Mercer Neale and was prepared with the assistance of R. J. Rockefeller, Lynne MacAdam and other members of the Archives staff. MSA SC 2221-04. Publication no. 3918. © 1993 Maryland State Archives. View @ Maryland State Archives.

Samuel Prescott Hildreth, Pioneer History: being an account of the first examinations of the Ohio valley, and the early settlement of the Northwest territory; chiefly from original manuscripts, Volume 1 of Publications (Historical and Philosophical Society of Ohio). Cincinnati, OH: H.W. Derby & Co., 1848. Original from Harvard University, Digitized Sep 14, 2006. Page 178, John Matthews: Monday 18th This day I am twenty-one years of age and Free by the Laws of my Country.


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