A Taxing Situation

The taxman in Scotland was busy canvassing the population and leaving ancestral bread trails as he made his rounds in the late 18th century assessing farm horses and timepieces.

Neil McNair, father of Janet McNair (who married Neil Livingston), had two horses in 1797 to support his tenant farming in Kilmichael Glassary parish. The entry above reads "Neil MacNuier Mid Shirvan." He had two horses, only one of which was liable for duty. The duty, shown in the last three columns (pounds, shillings, pence) was 2 shillings. Mid Shirvan was the farm name at the time, but is presently called Ballymeanoch. Neil's owning two horses was average for that parish.

Duncan Livingston, father of Neil Livingston, also had two horses while working as a tenant farmer in Craignish parish. He was working at Coraninor farm, present-day Corranmore, on the eastern side of the Craignish peninsula.

William Brown (maternal grandfather of William McCrie) of Ochiltree parish had one horse, assessed at 2 shillings a year. Considering there were 244 horses spread over 85 farms in the parish, William apparently fell on the lower end of the economic scale, since the parish average was three horses per farm.

Reviewing the tax records, a couple of observations come to mind:

  • The Campbell's were thick as weeds in the Kilmichael Glassary parish, where one out of every six men with horses was a Campbell.
  • Kilmichael Glassary's population in the 1790's looked a whole lot like the Mosa Township, Ontario's, population one hundred years later, with a full complement of Campbell, MacKellar, and Leith family names.
  • You would have been safe to call a stranger "Mac" in Kilmichael Glassary. Fully one-half of the farmers' names began with Mac: MacTavish, MacBain, MacGregor, MacLarty, MacArthur, etc.
  • Time may have been less critical in Scotland in the 1790's, but owning a timepiece was pretty expensive. Whereas there were 184 horses owned by 96 families in the Kilmichael Glassary parish, there were only 9 timepieces owned by 5 families (none of them ours). With only 5% of families keeping track of time, one can only imagine that life was measured more by seasons and days than by hours and minutes. The tax on a clock, being a luxury item, was assessed at 3 shillings 9 pence, almost twice that of the horse tax, at 2 shillings each.