Top income tax payers, 1863

To finance the Civil War, Congress and President Abraham Lincoln imposed the first nationwide income tax in 1861. Changes the next year made the tax progressive – people with incomes of less than $600 a year (about $18,000 in 2024) paid nothing; people whose incomes were  between $600 and $10,000 paid a 3 percent tax; and those with incomes of $10,000 (about $300,000 in 2024) and above paid 5 percent to the federal government.

Apparently, the government also disclosed the names and incomes of those who owed the tax. There weren’t, as it turned out, that many of them.

In 1863, the city of Springfield had perhaps 12,000 residents (an estimate based on the difference between the results of the 1860 and 1870 U.S. censuses). Of those, only 383 people – all apparently men – owed income taxes, according to a list published in the Jan. 10, 1865, Illinois State Journal.

Eleven of those were in the top (5 percent) tax bracket, although six of the top earners were partners in businesses that were so profitable that both partners reached the $10,000 threshold.

Here are their names, in descending order of income.

  • Jacob Bunn recorded by far Springfield’s highest income, $50,000 in 1863. That year’s city directory listed him as the owner of Bunn’s Bank and partner in the firm of J. &

    Jacob Bunn, mid-19th century (Sangamon Valley Collection)

    J.W. Bunn wholesale and retail grocers. (Jacob Bunn’s brother and business partner, John Whitfield Bunn, also did well, but his $5,500 income left John Bunn in the middle of the 3 percent bracket.) The Bunns would go on to finance many other endeavors, including the Illinois Watch Co.

  • Brothers George and Joel Dalbey (spelled “Dalby” in the Journal’s list) apparently were equal partners in a cattle business. They tied for the city’s second-highest income, $19,000 apiece. Although they apparently were Springfield residents, the Dalbeys raised and sold cattle on farms generally east of the city. It’s likely that the demand for beef during the war helped boost their 1863 profits. Two more brothers, William and John, also were involved in the business, but weren’t listed by the Journal. It’s possible they simply lived outside the city in 1863 – census records say they both lived in Woodside Township in 1870, and the various Dalbeys also operated at times in Logan and Christian counties.
  • John Williams, merchant, banker, and land and railroad developer, ranked fourth with a listed income of $18,073. (It isn’t clear why some people rounded off their reported incomes, while others calculated them down to the dollar.) Williams built his fortune after coming to Springfield to clerk for the city’s first store owner, Elijah Iles. Iles himself was certainly a wealthy man in 1863, but much of his fortune apparently was

    Edward L. Baker (picturehistory)

    tied up in land and other investments. That left him with, comparatively, a modest income – $1,440 – in 1863, according to the Journal.

  • Edward L. Baker, editor and co-owner of the Journal, reported an income of $17,500. Ned Baker would go on to serve as U.S. Consul in Buenos Aires, Argentina, from 1874 to 1897.
  • Edwin S. Fowler (1828-1905), was a physician, a government contractor during the war and the Democratic candidate for Congress in 1866 (Fowler lost to Shelby M. Cullom). He made $17,040 in 1863.
  • William Yates (1806-72) co-owned Yates & Smith, “wholesale and retail dealer in dry goods, boots and shoes, groceries, &c, &c,” according to the 1863 directory. Yates reported income of $16,820. His partner, Clark M. Smith, was also in the 5 percent tax bracket. See below.
  • Nicholas H. Ridgely, income of $16,710, was a banker, financier, and railroad impresario. He also was president of the Springfield Gas Light Co. in 1863.
  • Roswell Eaton Goodell was a LaSalle County politician who, while secretary of the

    R.E. Goodell (Wikipedia)

    Illinois Senate in the 1850s, married Mary Jane Matteson, the daughter of Gov. Joel Matteson. Goodell then became a banker and railroad director with financial interests around the state. The couple lived in the palatial Matteson mansion in 1863, when Goodell’s income was listed as $13,546. (Trivia note: The Goodells later moved to Colorado, where one of their daughters married a man who would become governor there; so R.E. Goodell was both the son-in-law and the father-in-law of governors.)

  • Charles Ridgely, the son of Nicholas Ridgely, was treasurer of the Springfield Gas Light Co. and partnered with his father in many investments. He later founded the Springfield Iron Co. The younger Ridgely made $12,975 in 1863.
  • Clark Moulton Smith, the second partner in Yates & Smith, reported an income of $10,220 in 1863. Smith was a brother-in-law of Mary Lincoln.

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