Oregon Poll Taxes

By Connie Lenzen, CGSM

An article published in the Genealogical Forum of Oregon’s Bulletin, December 1994.

Oregon taxpayers are familiar with property taxes. They are levied on all real property. Along with income taxes, these taxes pay for government services. When Oregon’s territorial and state governments were formed, the support of the government was three-pronged: real property, personal property, and poll taxes.

The poll tax was a one dollar tax 1 levied on people rather than on property. In Oregon, the tax was

"assessed upon every white male inhabitant of this state, between the ages of twenty-one and fifty years; except all active firemen who have been a member of any company for a period of one year preceding the assessment of taxes."2

In 1910, Oregon voters passed an initiative petition repealing the tax, and it soon passed from memory.3

Value of Poll Tax

Poll tax lists can be used as a census substitute to locate men who did not own property and, therefore, are not included in deed indexes. They can also be used to determine when a person entered or left the county. Finally, they can be used to make an approximation of age.

Form of Records

Poll taxes were sometimes included in the regular assessment rolls in a column entitled, "Polls." Sometimes the poll tax was taken out of the regular roll books and assembled in a "Poll Book." This means all types of tax records must be inspected for poll taxes.

Names of taxpayers were either arranged by precinct or by initial order, meaning all surnames beginning with any alphabet letter are together but not in perfect alphabetical order. The initial order lists are easier to search than the precinct order ones. However, the precinct order lists provide the names of neighbors who may be related to your subject.

Location of Poll Tax Lists

Most tax records for the nineteenth century are located at the Oregon State Archives in Salem, Oregon; some are still in the county courthouses. The Archive staff prepared an inventory of each county's holdings, both in the county courthouse and the Oregon State Archives. The holdings include tax records. The "Oregon Historical County Records Guide" is found on the Archive's web page at: http://arcweb.sos.state.or.us/county/cphome.html.

Poll Tax Example

Orrin Martin, Sr. was born in Indiana in 1823. He arrived in Washington County, Oregon sometime in 1853 and married Maranda Lee. He did not take out an Oregon Donation Land Claim. He did not transact a land sale or purchase until 1858 when he and Maranda disposed of her claim to her father’s estate.4 He appears on the 1860, 1870, and 1880 Washington County censuses. He died before the 1900 census, but his death date and place are unknown to the family.5

The search objective is to locate Orrin Martin’s death date and place. Orrin Martin’s wife’s 1908 obituary gave his death date as 25 June 1899, but there is no indication as to where he died. Poll taxes helped trace him.

Establishing Orrin Martin's presence in Oregon

Orrin Martin did not appear on the October 1852, Washington County Assessment List.6 If he had been in the county, he would have been assessed a poll tax. In 1853, we find him listed as a voter in West Tualatin Precinct. This gives us an approximate time of arrival for him.

Washington County Poll Books:7 (This is called a poll book, but it is a voting list, not an assessment list.)

1853; O Martin; West Tualatin Precinct
1854; Orrin Martyn [sic] Forest Grove Precinct

Washington County Tax Records for Orrin Martin

In 1887, Orrin Martin, Sr. paid the following Washington County taxes:8

SW part of W.O. Gibson & wife Donation Land Claim; Sec. 19 & 36; T1S R4W; 136 acres, value $1,100
Value of merchandise and implements; $30
Value of furniture; $40
8 swine; value $10
No poll tax

Orrin was 64 years old and not liable for the poll tax. His son, Orrin Martin Jr., is listed in the Washington County tax rolls as:

Martin, Orrin Jr.
Value of merchandise and implements, $20
3 horses & mules; value $170
3 cattle; value $60
Poll tax

In 1888, the only Orrin Martin listed in the Washington County rolls is one who paid a poll tax.

Orrin Martin
Merchandise; $20
3 horses & mules; $150
1 cattle; $20
Poll tax

Orrin Martin Sr. was past the age of 50 and would not have paid a poll tax. The above Orrin Martin is probably Orrin Martin Jr., implying that Orrin Martin Sr., was no longer in the county.

In 1889, Orrin Martin was not listed in the Washington County tax lists.10 A check of Washington County deed records shows he sold his property to a son in April 1889.11

In 1890, Joseph Martin, Orrin Martin Sr.’s son, paid taxes on the following property:

Part of W.O. Gibson Donation Land Claim; Sec. 19 & 18; T1S R4 & 3W; 136 acres, $1,500 value
Merchandise; $40
Household furniture; $40
2 horses and mules; $100
4 cattle; $60
3 swine; $10
Poll tax

Orrin Martin in Linn County

Orrin Martin’s descendants recalled he lived in Lebanon, Linn County, Oregon. Therefore, Linn County Assessment Rolls, located at the Oregon State Archives, were checked.

In 1892, Orrin Martin was listed in the Linn County, Oregon Assessment Rolls:13

Martin, Orrin
South Lebanon, Osborn Addition, Lot 3, Block 2. Value of lots, $2.30. Value of household furniture, $35.00.

He was not assessed a poll tax, indicating he was over age 50.

Back in Washington County

In 1893, Orrin Martin is listed in the Washington County assessment rolls and taxed on the following:14

Martin, O.
SE 4 of SE 4; Sec. 1, T1S R5W; 40 acres; $150

He is not assessed a poll tax. Again, this implies we are looking at Orrin Martin, the elder. The tax was not marked as paid. He may have moved back to Linn county. He also may not have had the money to pay the tax; the United States entered a major financial depression in 1893.

Finding an obituary

Orrin Martin's wife’s 1908 obituary gave his death date as 25 June 1899, but there was no indication as to where he died. Assessment rolls show us that Orrin Martin resided in Washington and Linn Counties, so Washington and Linn County newspapers were searched for an obituary for him. One was located in the Albany, Oregon "Weekly Herald."15

MARTIN—On Sunday, June 25th, 1899, at the poor farm, Mr. Owen (sic) Martin, at the age of 76 years, of paralysis.
The deceased leaves a wife and nine children, one daughter, Mrs. Marian Elliott living in Boise City, Idaho, the others in different parts of this state. The interment was in the city cemetery on Monday.


We had no reason to think that Orrin Martin was in Albany, Linn County, Oregon. It was only after we located him in Linn County tax records that we extended the search for an obituary in all newspapers in that county.


1 William Lair Hill, comp. The Codes and General Laws of Oregon (San Francisco: Bancroft-Whitney Company, 1887), 1277.

1 The Organic and Other General Laws of Oregon: Together with the National Constitution, and Other Public Acts and Statutes of the United States. 1843–1872 (Salem, Oregon: Eugene Semple, State Printer, 1874), 748.

3 Hon. Charles B. Bellinger, comp. The Codes and Statutes of Oregon Showing All Laws of a General Nature (San Francisco: Bancroft-Whitney Company, nd). xxv.

4 "Orrin Martin and Miranda Martin to Sam'l Waller." Washington County Deed Book C, page 483, dated 14 July 1858.

5 "Crossed the Plains to Oregon in 1847." [Obituary of Maranda Lee Martin.] Portland Oregonian, 30 May 1908, p. 4., c.3.

6 "1852 Washington County Assessment Roll." Oregon Territorial and Provisional Government Records Access Project, Microfilm Reel 18, Washington County (Salem, Oregon: Oregon State Archives).

7 Washington County Poll Books, 1846, 1847, 1850–1860, 1862 & 1868 [Microform] (Salem, Oregon: Oregon State Archives).

8 1887 Washington County, Oregon Assessment Roll; located at Oregon State Archives.

9 1888 Washington County, Oregon Assessment Roll; located at Oregon State Archives.

10 1889 Washington County, Oregon Assessment Roll; located at Oregon State Archives.

11 "Orrin Martin and Maranda Martin to George W. Martin." Washington County, Oregon Deed Book 26, page 49, dated 23 April 1889.

12 1890 Washington County, Oregon Assessment Roll; located at Oregon State Archives.

13 1892 Linn County, Oregon Assessment Rolls; located at Oregon State Archives.

14 1893 Washington County, Oregon Assessment Rolls; located at Oregon State Archives.

15 Funeral Notice for Owen Martin. Albany, Oregon Weekly Herald. 29 June 1899, p.5.

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Connie Lenzen

CG, Certified Genealogist, is a service mark of the Board for Certification of Genealogists, used under license by board certified genealogists after periodic evaluation, and the board name is registered in the US Patent & Trademark Office.

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