Distillery Excise Tax Records
United States Treasury Department.
Tax accounts, 1791-1802
Size: 0.5 linear feet
Catalog number: MSS 232, sg3
Processed by: Rick Stattler, October 1996USE MICROFILM E445 .R4, part 2, reel 29
©Rhode Island Historical Society
Rum produced for the African slave trade had fueled Rhode Island's economic expansion before the Revolution. Though it gradually declined in importance after the war, it was still the exclusive domain of the state's leading merchants. When the United States Congress declared an excise tax on distilled spirits in 1791, this had the dramatic result of inspiring the Whiskey Rebellion in western Pennsylvania, but was met more peacefully in Rhode Island. While western distilleries were often small operations run by backwoods farmers to supplement their meager incomes, the Rhode Island rum distilleries were a major industry, and the excise tax was just another business expense.
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Scope and content:
These two volumes were kept by federal Treasury collectors appointed to collect the excise tax. They seem to have monitored every distillery in the state, giving a rare comprehensive look at an entire industry. The volumes are arranged into accounts by distillers, and give weekly tallies of gallons distilled and removed, with a running tally of stock on hand. The weekly duties on spirits shipped are given, including the abatement for leakage. They also describe whether the rum was of domestic or foreign material, and whether it was first or second proof. The volumes cover from 1791 through 1799, with a few entries for 1800. There are also a few loose quarterly reports giving less detailed information through 1802.
The distilleries taxed in this volume were almost all in Providence or Newport, with the major exception of Bourn & Wardwell in Bristol. The distillers were among the state's merchant elite, and include John Brown (1736-1803), Welcome Arnold (1745-1798) and the Clark & Nightingale firm. Distilling made sense for merchants involved in the slave trade, who had easy access to molasses and needed rum to ship to Africa. Distilling their own rum cut out a middle man. Some distillers, including John Brown, also expanded beyond rum into gin production.
The excise collectors remained constant through both volumes. Daniel S. Dexter and Paul Allen were the collectors for Providence distilleries, George Sears was the collector in Newport, and Samuel Bosworth handled the one distillery in Bristol.
An item at the R.I.H.S. closely related to this collection is an account book filed under "Bourn & Wardwell", dated 1796-1798. It is apparently the record book kept by the distillery to settle their accounts with the excise collector, and includes much of the same information as this collection, plus data on where their rum was shipped.
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The provenance of this collection is unknown. It was not listed in a 1938 federal inventory of Rhode Island treasury records that identified other R.I.H.S. material. The volumes were definitely here by the 1970s, when Jay Coughtry used them for research on his Notorious Triangle.
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The volumes are not in good condition. Though the pages are still for the most part strong, they are coming detached from the binding. The volumes have been boxed in archival flat boxes and should be handled with care.
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Volume 1. Accounts with distillers, 1791-1795
Volume 2. Accounts with distillers, 1794-1800
Folder 1. Loose papers found in volume 2.
Includes quarterly reports arranged by distiller, 1799-1802.
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Allen, Zachariah Sr. (1740-1801)
Arnold, Welcome (1745-1798)
Bourn & Wardwell
Brown, John (-1802)
Clarke & Nightingale
Excise tax - Rhode Island
Rum industry - Rhode Island - Taxation
Taxation - United States
Tillinghast, Daniel (1732- )
United States. Department of the Treasury.
Index of Distillers:
Allen (Zachariah; succeeded by Ann in 1802). Providence.
Vol. 2, p. 124-145.
Allen & Allen (Phillip and Zachariah). Providence.
Vol. 1, p. 69-85.
Arnold (Welcome). Providence.
Vol. 1, 1-12 (as a partner in Brown, Benson & Ives)
Vol.. 2, p. 22-36
Auchmuty (Robert N.). Newport.
Vol. 2, p. 188-195
Bourn & Wardwell (Shearjashub Bourne and ___ Wardwell). Bristol.
Vol. 1, p. 187-193.
Vol. 2, p. 1-21.
Brinley & Littlefield. Newport.
Vol. 1, p. 137-153
Brown, Benson & Ives. Early partner was Welcome Arnold. Providence.
Vol. 1, p. 1-17, 137
Brown & Francis. Became just John Brown. Providence.
Vol. 2, p. 42-58
Clark (John Innes)
Clarke (Peleg). Newport.
Vol. 1, p. 154-170
Vol. 2, p. 172-179
Clark & Nightingale. Providence.
Vol. 1, p. 34-51.
Vol. 2, p. 92-101
Clarke, Nightingale & E. Bowen. Providence.
Vol. 1, p. 18-33
Vol. 2, p. 76-85
Crary (Archibald & Co.). Newport.
Vol. 2, p. 112-115
Gibbs & Channing. Newport.
Vol. 2, p. 199-204
Hunter (Henry). Newport.
Vol. 1, p. 171-186
A single entry dated August 1, 1801 in the loose papers.
Mason (Daniel). Newport.
Vol. 1, p. 103-119.
Vol. 2, p. 112. Mentioned stock as being transferred to Archibald Crary's account.
Overing (Henry). Newport.
Vol. 1, p. 120-127
Smith (Henry, succeeded by Benjamin in 1794). Providence.
Vol. 1, p. 86-102
Loose papers, 1802.
Sterry (Cyprian). Providence.
Vol. 2, p. 60-69.
Tillinghast (Daniel). Providence. Apparently rented from John Brown.
Vol. 1, p. 52-68
Vol. 2, p. 108-111
Tillinghast (Robert G.)
Whitehorn (John). Newport.
Vol. 1, p. 184-185
Whitehorn (Samuel, then John G. after 1796). Newport.
Vol. 1, p. 128-136
Vol. 2, p. 156-167
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