John Overton was the collector in Tennessee of the first Federal excise tax, the so-called Whiskey Tax. The entries from his ledgers list distillers in Tennessee by county. The record details those who distilled spirits, the number of pots or stills, their annual production of distilled spirits in gallons, and the amount of tax owed. The earliest volume, 1796-1801, includes entries for Andrew Jackson and his whiskey operations at Hunter's Hill outside Nashville, his residence before purchasing the Hermitage property.
This tax volume is a product of the earliest federal tax in the United States, an excise on all distilled spirits produced in the United States. This tax was the revenue-generating part of Washington's Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton's grand plan to repay the bonded debt owed from the Revolutionary War and to establish the fiscal standing of the national government. Because it was done on the backs of farmers, many of whom distilled their corn into value-added whisky, the excise was widely unpopular in rural areas; it sparked the Whiskey Rebellion in western Pennsylvania and discontent generally. Distilling was a staple rural industry in frontier America, and particularly in this largely Scot-Irish state, where many Tennesseans distilled whiskey to sell, imbibe, and as a dietary and medicinal supplement.