Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Petition of Free People of Color Asking that an Act to Impose a Poll Tax be Repealed - South Carolina

This petition, and the associated statement of supporters, was filed 20 April 1794 in South Carolina in an effort to overturn the Poll tax. Among it's signers are the Turners, the family of my 5th great grandfather, John Turner, which is how I encountered this document.

This entire journey through my own history, dove tailing my experiences with inequalities that still exist in our modern society, has been an eye opening experience in the most horrific of ways.  This post isn't about politics, it's about a thing that happened that my ancestors were involved in -  but I believe that I would be remiss in my understanding of the experiences of my ancestors, which is the point of my research, without noting two things about this document that highlight the stunning inequality between people of color and white people, at the time.


First, the people of color who are making the petition, in large part, all make a mark rather than signing.  Generally, this is because they are unable to read or write.  Conversely, presumably, the statement of supporters was signed by white people who support the petition.  All of those people, save one, can sign their own names.

Second, this petition, made by people of color, presumably because their own stake in having the poll tax repealed, clearly states the adverse affects of the poll tax against women, specifically.  We know now, that what these petitioners said in this document was the truth, and still the tiniest sliver of the whole truth which was that the poll tax unjustly affected people of color, women and the poor and was a way to discriminate against them without blatantly denying rights.  Poll taxes were finally abolished in 1964, 170 years later, with the 24th amendment - but for over 200 years, poll taxes, and the unequal duress is caused for the poor, people of color and women, was supported by our society.  We (Americans) voted for it, insisted upon it, supported it, allowed it and encouraged it.

Let's not continue to do that, please.  Let's question why we believe things to be 'right', 'just' or 'fair'.  Let's question institutionalized norms in the interest of allowing all of our humans to have a fair shake at happiness, in the shape and form that takes for them.  Just because that's how the system is or that's how it's been done for longer than we've been alive, doesn't make it right.

Each page is displayed below along with a text version and a list of signers.

Right click the image and choose 'view in new tab' to see a larger version of it or right click and 'save as' to download a copy for yourself.
To the honorable the Representatives of So Carolina the Petition of the people of Colour of the state aforesaid who are under the act entitled an Act for imposing a poll tax on all free Negroes Mustees and Mulatoes - 
Most humbly showeth that whereas (we your humble petitioners) having the honor of being your Citizens, as also free and willing to advance the support of Government anything that might not be prejudicial to us, it being well known that we have not been backward on our part, in performing any other public duties that hath fell in the compass of our knowledge, 
 We therefore being sensibly griev'd at our present situation, also having frequently discovered the many distresses, occasioned by your Act imposing the poll tax, such as widows with large families & women scarcely able to support themselves, being frequently followed & payment extorted by your tax gathers -- 
These considerations on our part hath occasioned us to give you this trouble, requesting your deliberate body to appeal an Act so truly mortifying to your distress'd petitioners for which your petitioners will ever acknowledge, & devoutly pray
[signed] Isaac Linagear, Isaac Mitchell, Jonathan Price, Nathan price, Richard evins, Nathaniel Conbie (Cumbo), George Collins, Willeam x (his mark) Turner, thomas hulen, spencer x (his mark) Bolton, William (his mark) Swett, Solomon (his mark) Bolton, James (his mark) Shewmak, John (his mark) Turner, Solomon (his mark) Shewmk, Sampson (his mark) Shewmak, Thomas (his mark) Shewmake Junr, thomas (his mark) Shumake Senr, John (his mark) Shumake, James (his mark) Shumake, David Collins, thomas Collins, John (his mark) Turner Senr, Mildred (her mark) Turner, Grenelaper (her mark) Turner, Catherine (her mark) Turner, Elias hulon, Cudworth Oxendine, Archmack Oxendine, Greter (his mark) Colder, Moses (his mark) Colder, Delley Gibson, Drusilla Gibson, Georg Mccloud



In Justice to your petitioners as above, we whose particular knowledge of their situation hath induced us to request in their favor the benefit of a repeal, provided your honorable and deliberate body can then it best to do.
[signed] Stephen Gibson, Isaac Linegear, Jr., Edmund Dickin, Jur Driggers, Moses Mannin, James Arde, Robin Arde, hardey graves, James Ivey, Mark Maning, Joseph (his mark) Bass, Levi Gibson,
Jas Odom Capt.


You can get a copy of this document by going here  and ordering this :

Petition of Free People of Color Asking that an Act to Impose a Poll [Tax] be Repealed. General Assembly Petitions 1794 # 216, frames 369-374. Roll ST 1368. 

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