New Hampshire Glossary: Excise

Advertisement for Excise on Liquors found in the New Hampshire Gazette, 6 May 1757, Portsmouth NH, Issue 31, page 2.

Excise, a Monster, worse than e’er before
Frighted the Midwife, and the Mother tore;
A thousands Hands she has, a thousand Eyes,
Breaks into Shops and into Cellars pries;
With hundred Rows of Teeth the Shark exceeds,
And on all Trades, like Casawar, she feeds;
Chops off the Piece, where’er she close the Jaw,
Else swallows all down her indented Maw;
She stalks all Day in the Streets conceal’d from Sight,
And flies, like Bats, with Leathern Wings by Night;
She wastes the Country, and on Cities preys;
Her of a female Harpy, in Dog-Days,
Black Birch, of all the Earth-born Race most hot,
And most rapacious, like Himself begot,
And of his Brat enamor’d as she increast,
Revel’d in Incest with the Mongrel Beast.
–From Weekly Rehearsal, May 14, 1733 Boston MA

The definition of “excise” is a select tax collected on goods and commodities made or sold within a country or State and on licenses granted for certain activities. This is sometimes also called an excise duty.  When we speak of colonial excise taxes, historians often think of the excise duties imposed on the American colonies by the European countries who ruled them.

Taxation began almost the moment Europeans set foot on the shores of what is now New Hampshire. Discounting taxes prior to 1680, the commission of that year established New Hampshire’s provincial government, and specifically recognized “the right of the people, through their legal representatives to impose public taxes.”

A “Stark Vodka” bottle, the alcoholic beverage reportedly made from 100% New Hampshire apples. Photograph by Heather Wilkinson Rojo and used here with her permission. General John Stark Vodka distilled by Flag Hill.

There were local excise taxes on liquor in New Hampshire as far back as 1687 on all “wines and brandy, rum and other distilled liquors, cyder, ale and bear,” sold by retail within the province. An example: in 1757 the Portsmouth licensed tavern keepers and retailers paid an excise tax. It was probably not only “Spirits distilled” and wine that was taxed, for a 1758 advertisement in the same newspaper reports on excise taxes in the nearby county of York, Maine who taxed liquors but at the same time taxed “limes, Lemmons and oranges.”

Today excise duties are much the same, just the products have been updated. They are still ‘indirect’ taxes on the sale or use of specific products,’ and often include alcohol, tobacco and energy. Excise taxes are still very important to New Hampshire’s government. According to, “New Hampshire generates the bulk of its tax revenue by levying select sales taxes (otherwise known as excise taxes) and a corporate income tax.”


A History of Taxation in New Hampshire, by Maurice H. Robinson, from Publication of the American Economic Association, 1902


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