Russell County, Virginia Tax List 1795/Acreage Analysis

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Data

The following table summarizes some statistics about land ownership in Russell County Virginia, in 1795. These data are based on Russell County, Virginia Tax List 1795.

StatisticValueCharacterization
Average 432The average amount of land owned by each person on the tax list is 432 acres. Some land owners are shown as owning several parcels; Since the data shown here combines the separate parcels into a total for each land owner, the average parcel size would be smaller than 432 acres. These instances, however, are relatively few, and the average parcel size is probably around 400 acres.
Median 200The median land ownership size is 200 acres. This is smaller than the average ownership because the data are distorted by the eixstence of a few land owners with very substantial land holdings. If what is of interest is what the typical settler owned, than the median parcel size of 200 acres is the apprpriate measure.
Maximum 30,000While most land owners held about 200 acres, a few owned substantially more land. The single largest land owner held 30,000 acres.
Minimum 8The single smallest land owner owned just 8 acres.


Data Limitations

Land ownership can be approximated by the amount of land on which each land owner was taxed. Actual ownership is probably slightly different because some owners may not have been taxed. This could occur either because they were overlooked by the tax collector, or because their tax obligations were voided by the county government, typically because of old age and infirmity. The fact that the former occurred can be detected by examining tax records systematically in successive years; in some instances certain individuals appear in the tax record for one year, not in the next, but again in the third year out. Possibly this is because of land sales, but more likely they are just being missed. With regard to deobligation, there are occassional mentions of this in the surviving court records. How common this was is not known, but it is clear that it happened.

Analysis

That said, possibly the most interesting feature of these data is the realization that of the 284 land owners, half of them owned 200 acres or less. Fully half of the owned land lay in the hands of just 18 persons.


These observations raise a number of interesting questions about the circumstances in which these 284 land owners found themselves. Certainly, it would seem that the Simon Nathan with 30,000 acres, had more land than he needed for simple survival. By the same token, how did Anthony Knight managed to survive with his 8 acres of land? More to the point, just how much land was needed to live an acceptable existence? Was the life of Simon Nathan much different than that of Anthony Knight? Was there any relationship between land ownership and slave ownership? Did more land require more slaves? Were "land poor" settlers more likely to move on than those with ample land? Were the patterns of land ownership revealed in the 1795 property tax records different from those that obtained at the start of the Revolution? How did they compare to conditions prevailing just before and after the Civil War, and again today?

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