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As the 18th century winds down, Fredericksburg contends with local and national issues. This is the last in a 13-part series.
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Further, the costs of welfare were spiraling upward, and the members assigned as Overseers of the Poor (a responsibility passed to the town from the Colonial church laws) were incurring ever larger personal outlays for which they had to be reimbursed.
Fredericksburg had an income problem from the beginning of its incorporation. But there was a deeper dissatisfaction, going back to the removal of the courthouse in 1780, which had been vigorously opposed. Now, there was a district court in town, which provided an alternative to the council's hustings court.
Town government was being viewed by some as a needless expense. Also, because of the welfare obligation assigned to the town in the charter, "the poor of neighboring counties easily obtain a residence," some complained, thus adding to the town's financial burdens.
In 1797, George Spooner, part of the "new blood" and now chamberlain (treasurer), organized the expenses and receipts in summary form, giving Fredericksburg its first financial statement. The expenses (about $900) outweighed the taxes and receipts by about $100.
Quite possibly prompted by Spooner's analysis, 185 petitioners (about three-fourths of all the property owners and tenants) formally sought to end Fredericksburg's status as an incorporated town. They requested the assembly to return Fredericksburg to its Colonial status as a precinct of the county, having only constables and trustees. Even James Somerville and George French, two former mayors, signed the petition sent to the assembly.
But their petition was ignored.
There seems to have been a strategy evolving by the council, however, to take a new tack. Clearly, revenues from rents, licenses and commissions would not produce much more income. What was needed was a broader tax base.
By 1790, Fredericksburg's population had been surpassed by many of Virginia's towns and cities--Norfolk, Richmond, Petersburg, Portsmouth, Alexandria and even Winchester.