During last class we spent time looking tax lists from 1875. The first thing that struck me was that the majority of white men were those who owned land. This was clearly highlighted by the first column of the table which tallied the Number of White Polls. However I quickly remembered that Edward L. Ayers’s Southern Crossing discussed how nearly 200,000 black farmers managed to purchase their own land. (Ayers pg. 508 of Southern Crossing e-book). In addition, Ayers also discussed how the increase in black land ownership was one of the characteristics of the era which he describes as the “New South.” Although land ownership does not guarantee an easy life, the statistic from the Tax List of 1875 of the number of black men who owned land makes me question if blacks had the same opportunities in Durham as they did in other places throughout the region. Another thing discussed in class that caught my attention, was that those who had the highest value for their personal property usually tended to live closer to railroads. Once again, when thinking back on Southern Crossing I realized why this made sense. Ayers spends a great portion of chapter one discussing how the railroad completely transformed the region. He describes the railroad station as the main feature of the town and states how nine out of ten southerners lived in a railroad county (Edwards pg. 948 of Southern Crossing e-book). This also explains why in the maps on Digital Durham, the railroads were often in the center of the town. This contrasts with today’s society as railroads are no longer the main mode of transportation and those wealthiest in the town tend to live further away from the railroad lines. Finally, the last thing that struck me from the tax list was how animals were taxed. Animals such as horses, mules, and jacks were considered property of a landowner. In addition I found that the more animals the land owner possessed, the wealthier he tended to be. This fact also stresses the idea that the South was still fairly agricultural during the New South era despite having made some advancements toward diversifying their economy.
The archival materials I examined in class and on the Digital Durham website revealed a lot about daily life in Durham and issues relevant to people back then.
The Orange County tax list from 1875 sheds light on what was considered valuable. The headers include the numbers of animals and land acreage people owned. Landowners like Washington Duke had more land, more animals, and thus, more wealth. It was also very interesting to see names I recognized, like Washington Duke, in the tax list. For me, I don’t know much about Durham history, so being able to learn more about Durham’s key historical figures was fascinating.
I think the tax list also highlights the importance farming still had in the new South. Many people, both blacks and whites, were farmers. As Ayers explained, after the Civil War, angry farmers formed alliances or groups to champion more representation for farmers. And the tax list demonstrates that owning animals and planting crops were activities important to making a living.
Furthermore, I also discovered a lot from some of the archival materials I noticed on the Digital Durham website.
For instance, I looked at Emerson’s North Carolina tobacco belt directory in 1886 which lists businesses within the corporate limits of Durham. Also listed in the directory are the names of proprietors, stores’ locations, and the products sold. Businesses owned by people of African American heritage are denoted with an asterisk. Such a document could help someone research the industrialization and urbanization of Durham–an emblem of the New South. The directory provides glimpses into life in 1886. Many of the names in the directory sold tobacco, and even ads, such as the cigar ad on page 6 or the multiple page spread starting on page 27 of Allison & Addison’s Star Brand Tobacco, illustrates the growing prevalence of Durham tobacco. The thriving tobacco industry would soon lead to rapid increases in population and business in Durham.
In this time period, relations between blacks and whites were strenuous, and many black weren’t afforded fair rights, but some had more opportunities and were able to receive educations and distinguish themselves. Although many were relegated to becoming sharecroppers, there still existed more opportunities for African Americans–as some of the directory entries show. Some owned grocery stores, others barber shops, and still others ventured into tobacco.
Other maps on the site underline the prevalence of railroads in Durham. Railroads were a technological innovation that helped increase urban growth; however, they were also sites of tense racial clashes. Because railroads contained the same facilities, whites and blacks sometimes get entangled in violence. Some railroads created separate cars, one for blacks and one for whites–a pricey and unprofitable endeavor. Other trains used two different classes, and sometimes, forced African Americans to use second-class facilities even when they’d paid for first class.
The archival materials can help provide more context and explain some of the issues Ayers discussed.
While looking through the archive collection that is found on Digital Durham, I found myself spending more time looking at the maps. As a visual learner, I grew interested in the photographs as well, but the multitude of maps that was displaying very similar information was captivating to me. In particular, the Durham Annexation Map received a lot of my time.
While looking at the annexation map, I quickly noticed the different patterns. Not understanding what annexation exactly meant (at first), I thought that it coded for certain areas of town. Shortly after, realizing that annexation referred to the expansion or “takeover” of certain areas at certain points in time, I began to more look more intently at all of the small details. After 1925, Durham started growing massively. Starting at 1957, Durham’s annexation was increasing upon the x and y component very broadly – almost like the square footage increased by at least 25% each period. It appeared to have farm plantations and large parcels of land toward the North and East sides of Durham. Starting in the 1990’s, I started to recognize that very small extensions of the boundaries were becoming more frequent and the Central (town boundaries) of Durham were probably beginning to get more heavily populated.
Since I have lived in Durham for almost 3 years, I have been able to decently explore the city and the different parts. Since I became an education minor, I grew interested in how Durham was structured, what demographics were present in certain areas, and how the areas compared to others. The viewing of all of the maps sparked questions I had related to social structure. I’m interested to see how the North and East neighborhoods/areas compare to the commercial area of Durham as far as class, race, political views, etc. I wonder if individuals that lived in these more distant areas were against annexation, because they may not have to share county existence. I also wonder how the urbanization of Durham has changed individuals’ idea of “home” or how the neighboring areas feel. I wonder how neighboring areas or “distant” annexed areas feel, because from my understanding annexation collects more tax revenue to be utilized in the new boundaries. Did the residents have a say? What is the history behind the annexation? Knowing that other cities like San Antonio and Fayetteville are facing conflicts with annexation, it leads me to wonder how Durham has dealt with its municipal expansion.
While looking at the Durham section of the 1875 tax list, I was immediately drawn towards the names which I recognized. With my limited knowledge of Duke’s history and knowledge of building names around campus, I first looked for members of the Duke family. Seeing Washington Duke’s worth in comparison to some of the other people in the town makes me see how disproportional the wealth was distributed. Although a small amount of people had animals and large amounts of land, it reminds me of how wealth is still distributed in the modern age. In 2017, the top 1% earned 82% of the wealth and I can only think that the same existed back then.
Besides the large disparity in wealth, I noticed how the column headers were labeled. The inclusion of animals in taxation makes me think that taxation was more for those who owned farms. This idea however was questioned also by the graph by having different values associated with different plots of land. Knowing that Washington Duke had the prime real estate on the train tracks allows me to try to understand the distribution on land worth and correlation with animal ownership. Although not exactly accurate and based partially on logic, it seems animal ownership might mean more rural land and thus less taxes from land ownership. It also surprises me that some of the columns were completely empty for people with the same surname. Almost as if they had little to no possessions or social status and thus were taxed lightly.
Continuing on looking at family names, I noticed that if one member of the family was worth more than $5,000, that more individuals with the same name had money. The same goes on the opposite spectrum with individuals commonly having little valuables when family members also having limited funds. This makes sense due to privilege but it does not explain why family members were often not written next to each other on the page. For organization purposes, pages have the same letter last names next to each other but seemingly no organization between the names on the page. Overall, I feel like this tax list gives insight into the administrative system in place in Orange County but raises more questions in me instead of answering.
I enjoyed looking through the Orange County Tax List and was surprised how much information could be gleaned from a seemingly routine document used for book-keeping.
Skimming through the entire document allows me to estimate that roughly 30% of individuals in Durham between the ages of 21 and 50 were black, while around 70% were white. It first struck me as odd that races were distinguished in this tax document – the poll tax was $1.20 for both white and black individuals, so why would one create separate columns in a spreadsheet that was meant to keep track of taxes? This allows us to look at this document like a census sheet and a finance sheet instead of only the latter. After I read the Southern Crossing chapters, particularly Chapter Five “In Black and White,” this decision made sense in light of the race relations of the day.
I thought the marks made for the poll tax were tallies, because I could only find 1s, until on page 138 I came across a 2 in the white polls column. The name looks like Rawls and contains 4 letters after it that appear to be L C S A. They have no town lots, land, or animals, but they own stocks in merchandise and have highly valued personal property. This could potentially be a company.
In class, we looked at Washington Duke’s tax records. I wanted to see what I could learn about Pauli Murray’s family. Although she was born in 1910 in Baltimore, she moved in with her grandparents in Durham at the age of 3, so I hoped to find information on Robert and Cornelia Fitzgerald. However, I could not find their names. The Fitzgeralds had lived in the Durham-Chapel Hill area since 1869, but they may have been listed under Goldsboro or Hillsborough for taxes. As I continued to search through the document, I found a woman named Mildred Cameron who had a land evaluation at a staggering $7500. She was the daughter of Duncan Cameron, who was a lawyer who gained a fortune while investing heavily in land and buying stock in banks. After his death, she likely inherited much of her father’s land.
I am curious how much of the transcription process could be automated. There have been advances in handwriting recognition through optical character recognition programs, but cursive has always proved a challenge – particularly the style seen in this document. If not the names of individuals, the writing in other columns could potentially be read by a computer, as the numbers are extremely clear. However, the occasional spots of ink throughout the document (and places where a 1 is crossed out with a dash) might prove to be a problem.
After diving into the 1875 tax records of Orange County, I was shocked at the amount of information I was able to gather, the inferences I was able to draw, and then individuals I wanted to research more. The first item I noted was the possession of different animals – subsections that took up a majority of the personal property section. Without even analyzing the individuals to whom the animals belonged, it was apparent that horses, cattle, hogs, and sheep were of the most popular animals owned in 1875. The ownership of mules appeared here and there, but was not as prevalent as the aforementioned animals. Finally, I found that it was rare for an individual in Orange County to own any jacks or jennets. I’d be interested to learn why this was the case.
A second element was not as surprising as the previous thoughts on the animals owned by individuals in Orange County. Utilizing the Number of White Polls or the Number of Colored Polls in combination with the amount of land owned produced a predictable pattern. Black men often did not own land. There were definitely exceptions, such as Haywood Day owning 10 acres, John Guif (sp?) owning 33 acres, and David Justice owning 4 acres. In an attempt to explore these individuals even more, I utilized resources from ancestrylibrary.com, but was not largely successful. I first searched for John Guif, the owner of 33 acres, in an attempt to understand how he came to be the owner of a fairly large number of acres. (To be clear, his “large” number of acres is in relation to the amounts of acres owned by other black men.) However, after finding a John Guif only in the IRS Tax Assessment of Indiana in 1862, I decided to try my luck at another individual.
David Justice was a black homeowner in Durham in 1875, owning 4 acres of land valued at $200. Justice was also the owner of three cattle, valued at $25, as well as $25 worth of “farming items”. He paid $0.37 in state tax, which was on par with the value paid by many other individuals between .14% and .15% of the value of real and personal property. As Justice was a black landowner in Durham, I wanted to do some more investigating into his life. This was not any easier than my previous attempt at an individual search, but there were more (and better) results. Records found for a David Justice in Durham include two marriage registries – one for a David Justice and Julia Laws in 1891 and a second for a David and Laura Justice in 1895. Is the David Justice in both records the same? It is unknown at this point, but a second issue was revealed through the discovery of the marriage licenses. The date of birth of this David Justice was somewhere between 1856 and 1859, too early for him to appear in the 1875 tax records as he had a tally in the column specifying his age between 21 and 50 years of age. Either this individual is not the same, or there was a discrepancy in the record-taking. Thus, it must be emphasized that recordkeeping by hand was a very inexact science. Misspellings, incorrect dates, missing data, and other issues all plagued these sorts of records.
Overall, the exploration of these tax records proved to be very interesting. A discussion of animals owned by these individuals, especially differing in the area in which they lived throughout Orange County, may prove to be intriguing. In addition, these records provide an avenue into the exploration of many personal lives, such as that of David Justice. Finally, while not discussed as much in this blog post, an analysis of the amount of property owned and the taxes paid between whites and blacks, or landowners and non-landowners, may be quite an interesting study to take on in the future.
Through these tax records, we can learn about the general work culture and positions of wealth in Durham in 1875. There are many categories included in this list that that allow the archivist to understand the working conditions during this era. A majority of the recorded data refers to the number of animals owned by each person. Instead of having a more general category that covers all animals owned, the tax record makes a deliberate effort to specify which animals are owned. This directly relates to an agriculture-based economy in Durham during these times. While discussing the ownership of animals by each recorded person, it is also important to acknowledge that a large majority of those who were able to own animals are men. This era strictly followed gender stereotypes, and this extends itself into the ability to act as an owner of property and material goods. Women are seldom recorded on this list, and I would infer that this would only result from a situation where she was a widow.
This record displays the varying level of socioeconomic status of Durham citizens in 1875. It is very apparent who was wealthy and who was not. This can be understood by analyzing the data from the chart. Someone like John M. Smith would be considered wealthy due to the 70 acres of land in his possession along with three horses. However, on the same page, P. Sonitho owns no property, placing him in a poorer category. In those days, wealthy was measured primarily through the land and animals one owned. Today, we could equate this to owning a number of houses around the world or having successful investments in a variety of companies. Also, the amount of tax dollars collected during these days is fascinating to analyze. For example, Jefoe Miller paid a total of $5.27 of county taxes which would convert to about $110 today (http://www.in2013dollars.com/1875-dollars-in-2018?amount=5.27). It would be interesting to research if there were descriptions as to what percentage of the taxes went to which specific funds (education, infrastructure, etc) in 1875 to compare how the money was dispersed back then and where our tax dollars go today. Since analyzing this document, I have asked many more questions about the Durham culture in 1875 that I would like to explore in further depth. Understanding the emphasis on property and money during this era also allows us to analyze the types of jobs and environment that people experienced in Durham during this time.
While I know this archival document speaks volumes to the everyday life of an agrarian-based society in Durham, I am mostly curious about the way this information was recorded. Our discussion in class of Friday has challenged me to ask questions about what exactly gets preserved and how we choose to preserve it. Obviously there were no computers and smartphones during the late 19th century, so collecting this information through a handwritten document makes the most sense. However, I wonder how Durham chose who would have the opportunity to write the notes. Did they require everyone in Durham to go to the town hall to make sure this information was recorded? Were censuses dropped off at every house? I noticed that within this extensive tax record, the town of Hillsborough is spelled both “Hillsborough” and “Hillsboro.” The handwriting stays consistent throughout, but there are multiple versions of spelling this town. I would infer that these handwritten records took days to complete and that every sheet required attention and patience. I am wondering what would make the scribe vary in his/her spelling of this local town.
One last observation surrounds the process of analyzing these tax records. Seeing how pristine the primary source was in person made looking at the tax records digitally more difficult. I am not an expert at reading cursive anyways, but having to zoom in and out of the images to read names and numbers made this process much more frustrating than expected. Also, having two scanned pages for every person was difficult because I could not analyze the second page based on a specific person. It was too hard to count lines and ensure that I was reading the correct information regarding the correct person. The ability to scan this type of document and make it publicly accessible is an incredible resource, but I also think it is important to recognize the pros and cons of this type of research. I am now much more excited to see more documents in person so I can really spend time connecting with them!