Reasons Against the Renewal of the Sugar Act Text

1764 — Sugar Act

Massachusetts Bay Colony published this pamphlet in 1764, objecting to the Sugar Act.

Sugar Cane Plantation

The Sugar Act was an extension of the Molasses Act, which was implemented to encourage colonial merchants to trade for molasses from sugar cane plantations like this one in the British West Indies.


THE Reasons offered in the following Pages against the Renewal of the Act of Parliament, imposing a Duty on foreign Sugar and Molasses imported into the British Colonies, are founded principally on the pernicious Effect this Act will have on the Trade of the Massachusetts Province in particular, and the Detriment which will hereby accrue to the Trade and Manufactures of Great-Britain. It is not attempted here to shew in what Respects, and how far, it will operate to the Disadvantage of the other Northern Colonies. But, it is certain, they are all concerned in it, and will be affected by it, in some Degree or other, according to the particular State and Circumstances of their Trade. And if this Act, considered only as it affects the Trade of a single Province, will be detrimental to Great-Britain, it surely will be so, in a much greater Degree, if we take into Consideration the ill Effects it will have on the Trade of the whole Continent,

REASONS against the Renewal of the SUGAR-ACT.

AS the act, commonly called the sugar act, has been passed upwards of thirty years, without any benefit to the crown, the duties arising from it having never been appropriated by parliament to any particular use; and as this act will soon expire, the following considerations are offered as reasons why it should not be renewed.

First, It is apprehended that the trade is so far from being able to bear the high duty imposed by this act, on sugar and molasses, that it will not bear any duty at all. As the price of molasses now is, it will barely answer to distill it into rum for exportation: Should this duty be added, it would have the effect of an absolute prohibition on the importation of molasses and sugar from the foreign islands, and consequently the same effect on the exportation of fish, lumber and other commodities from hence to those islands, as the french, dutch and other foreigners, whom we supply with those articles, will not permit us to bring away their money; so that unless we can take their ordinary sugars and molasses in return, this trade will be lost. And if an end should be put to our trade to the foreign islands, Great-Britain would finally lose much more than would be gained by the duty on sugar. For should the colonies be obliged to take from our own islands all the west india produce that they consume, the price in Great Britain must necessarily advance more than double this duty. But if we are permitted to import foreign sugars and molasses into the northern colonies, more of our west india produce will be carried to Great Britain, where the consumption is supposed to be equal to the whole produce of our islands.

Secondly, The loss of the trade to the foreign islands, on which great part of our other trade depends, must deeply affect all the northern colonies, greatly hurt the fishery at Newfoundland, and entirely destroy that of this province, as our own islands are not capable of taking off above one third of our west india cod fish, or one quarter of the mackrell, shad, alewives and other small fish exported from hence.—

In this province, we have about 300 sail of vessels from 45 to 75 tons, employ’d in the cod fishery, and about 90 sail from 25 to 40 tons in the mackrell fishery: these vessels carry from six to ten men each; the bankers, one with another, make 800 quintals a vessel in the season, (from March to October) and by an exact account taken at several of our fishing towns, the proportion of west india cod fish was about three fifths of the whole quantity taken. The mackrell vessels get about 200 barrels a vessel in the season.

Now as our own islands take off but about one third of the west india cod fish, and not more than one quarter of the mackrell and other small fish, the remainder will be lost, if we are prevented from supplying the foreign Islands; there being no other market where it can be disposed of.

The fishery, at present, is carried on to very little profit, and wants all the encouragement that can possibly be given, to support those concerned in it, supposing they had a vent for all their west india fish. But should they be deprived of a market for two thirds, (which they will be if this act should be put in execution) the whole fishery must infallibly be broken up; for it is impossible to procure fish for the european market, seperate from the other; the merchantable being such as is culled for that market out of the whole, after it is cured; what remains is fit only for the west indies. So that any interruption in either branch must be the destruction of the whole.

The manner of carrying on the fishery is this: The vessel draws 2 eighths, after what is called the great general is taken out of the whole; the shoreman, who is generally the owner, has one eighth for making, & the fishermen the other 5 eighths. Suppose the vessel makes 800 quintals, which appears by an exact account taken last year to be the medium, and this is estimated as follows,

340 Quintals fit for the European Markets, at 12s. per Quintal,£. 20400
460 Quintals, fit only for the West India Market, at 9s.20700
12 Barrels Oyl, at 30s.1800
£. 42900
From this Sum of £. 429 deduct the Great General, which is Salt, Bait, Candles, Ballast, Boots, &c. for the Salter,£. 85100
£. 343100
To the Vessel 2 eighths, which barely pay for the Wear and Tear, as these Vessels expend double the Quantity of Cables, Anchors, Rigging and Sails, that those in any other Employ do,£. 85176
To the Shoreman’s 1 eighth for making, on which the Support of his Family depends, as the Vessel don’t clear any Thing,42189
To the Crew for the other 5 8ths,214139
£. 343100

From the crews 5 8ths amounting to £. 214 13. 9. is to be deducted, the small general, so called, being for wood and provisions of all sorts, paid for by the crew, amounting to £. 44 10s; likewise their craft, as boots, barvels, hooks, lines and small stores, amounting to £. 5 15. a man for 7 men, is £. 40 5s. this leaves £. 129 18. 4. to be divided amongst the crew, and amounts to £. 18 11. 3. sterling a man, which is but a bare subsistence, as most of the fishermen have families, and are at double the expence for cloathing that other seamen are; the supply of which, as well as the rigging and sails for the vessel, is from Great Britain. Should they be deprived of the trade to the foreign islands in the west indies, by which two thirds of the west india fish will be lost, this will reduce the vessel’s share to £. 51 17. 6. which is not sufficient to pay the necessary wear & tear: the fishermen’s shares will likewise be reduced to £. 6 5. 6. ½ a sum by no means sufficient for their support.—The merchants who ship the fish to Europe, and remit the neet proceeds to England, allow their vessels from 2s. 6d. to 3s. sterling a quintal freight; if they go to Bilboa or the Streights, where they can’t procure salt, the freight is 3s. if to Lisbon or Cadiz, it is only 2s. 6d. and at this low freight, the fish seldom or never yields any profit. If upon the whole, the merchants by these voyages can make their remittances to England at parr, they are very well satisfyed, and would always compound, at this rate, for the season. This evidently proves, that the fishery will not bear the least additional incumbrance, and that a very small discouragement will totally destroy it.

Thirdly, A prohibition of the trade to the foreign islands will greatly promote the French fishery. If the French islands can be supplied with fish for their molasses, it will be easier for them to purchase it of us, than to catch it themselves. Should they be obliged to pay money for our fish (as some have supposed they will be) they must give a much greater price for it than they do now, as our vessels must come back empty; we consequently cannot afford it so cheap as when they make a freight home. This will have a tendency to promote and enlarge the French fishery, which the planters in their islands will not apply for, while they can be supplied with fish for their molasses; and their establishing such a fishery will be very prejudicial to Great Britain, as great numbers of our fishermen, having no employ at home, will be induced to enter into the French service, where they will have all possible encouragement given them.

Fourthly, The fishery being a great nursery of seamen for his Majesty’s navy, the destruction thereof must very much weaken the naval power of Great-Britain. The fishery, in this province alone, employs near 3000 seamen, allowing seven men to a Vessel: The vessels employed in carrying the merchantable fish to Europe are about 50 sail at 8 men to a vessel, which will make 400 men. The vessels employed in the west india trade are about 300 sail. By the custom-books it appears, that there were cleared out for the west india islands at the ports of Boston and Salem, from January 1762, to January 1763, 266 sail of vessels; suppose only one half of these went to the foreign islands, that is, 133 from these two ports, and only 27 from Newbury and Casco-Bay; this will make 160 vessels, at 8 men to a vessel amounting to 1280 men: So that in the whole, there will be near 5000 seamen immediately turned out of employ. From this nursery of seamen, his Majesty’s ships on this station and in the west indies, have often been supplyed with men in a time of war, by which our trade and fishery have sometimes been greatly distressed; particularly the squadrons employed in the reduction of Louisbourg and Quebec upon application from Admiral Saunders, were supplied with upwards of 500 seamen who was inlisted at Boston, to serve in those expeditions, and sent on board the fleet then laying at Halifax. Besides which, two armed vessels were fitted out, at the expence of this government, for the protection of our coast, and mann’d out of the fishermen; notwithstanding all which, many were impressed by the commanders of his Majesty’s ships, out of the vessels on the banks; which obliged several of them to return without their fairs: And by this means our fishery was reduced one third during the late war.

Fifthly, The destruction of the fishery will be very prejudicial to the trade of Great Britain, by lessening the demand for her manufactures, (of which that branch of business occasions a very large consumption): The imports into Great Britain, from the sugar islands, may appear more considerable than the imports from the northern colonies; but the exports of the manufactures of Great Britain to the northern colonies (on which the wealth of the nation so much depends) exceed those to the sugar islands, vastly more than their imports exceed ours. The planters in the west indies soon get estates, leave their plantations and retire. The inhabitants of the northern colonies, are not able, by their trade and industry, to procure estates sufficient to enable them to retire, but are obliged to remain in this cold climate, where they consume more of the manufactures of Great Britain than the sugar planters have occasion for; and their consuming these manufactures in the colonies is more beneficial to Great Britain, than their going home would be in order to consume the same quantities there.

The whole produce of our fishery, tho’ not immediately sent to Great Britain, finally centers there, by means of our other trade, which in a great measure depends on this: So that the importation of goods from England into this province, will thereby be lessened very near, if not the whole amount of our fishery, being £. 164,466 sterling per annum, as appears by the following estimate of the fish caught and exported from hence, Viz.

300 Vessels in the Cod Fishery, which caught last Year, by the Accounts taken from the fishing Towns, 240,059 Quintals, viz. Sterling.

102,265 Quintals, fit for the European Market, at 12s. per Quintal,£. 61,35900
137,794 Quintals for the West India Market, at 9s.6200760
90 Mackrel Vessels, at 200 Barrels each, is 18000 Barrels, at 18s.1620000
Shad, Alewives, and other pickled Fish, 10,000 Barrels, at 10s.500000
West India Cod Fish from Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, in Return for Provisions, Rum, Sugar and Molasses,10,00000
12 Barrels Oyl to each Banker, is 3600 Barrels at 30s.5,40000
15,000 Hogsheads for packing the West India Fish, at 6s.4,50000
£. 164,46600

The exports of fish to the west indies, may be proved by the custom-house books, where it will appear, that from January 1762, to January 1763, there was enter’d for exportation at the two ports of Boston and Salem, 14891 hogsheads, and 2614 quintals, equal to 330 hogsheads, which makes in all 15231 hogsheads of fish of about 8 quintals each.

Sixthly, The destruction of the fishery will not only lessen the importation of goods from Great Britain, but must greatly prejudice the whole trade of these colonies. The trade to the foreign islands is become very considerable: Surinam and the other dutch settlements, are wholly supply’d with provisions, fish, lumber, horses, onions, and other articles exported from the northern colonies, for which we receive molasses in return; this is distilled into rum, for the fishery, and to export to the southern colonies for naval stores, which we send to Great Britain, and for grain; and to Africa to purchase slaves for our own Islands in the west indies. If this trade is destroyed, the distillery on the continent must be broke up, as all our own islands don’t export molasses sufficient to supply the northern colonies with beer.

The annual supply of rum and molasses for this province alone, including the whale, cod and mackrell fishery, amounts to near 9,000 hogsheads; besides which, we export to the southern colonies upwards of 3000 hogsheads, to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland about 1300 hogsheads, and to Africa about 1700 hogsheads; which amount to upwards of 6000 hogsheads exported; so that the whole demand for this province is about 15,000 hogsheads per annum, of 100 gallons each. It is said by the planters in the west indies, that they can supply us with rum and molasses for the fishery, and our own consumption, and that there is no occasion for any distillers in the northern colonies.

To which it may be answered; first, that they are not capable of supplying us with all the rum & molasses we want. It appears by the entries at the custom house, that from January 1762, to January 1763 there were enter’d at Boston and Salem, from the conquered islands, upwards of 7000 hogsheads of molasses; whereas from our own islands were entered at Boston only 406 hogsheads rum, and 424 hogsheads of molasses; 412 of which were from Jamaica, and only 12 from all the other Islands. 2dly. That the price of rum at our own islands for many years past, has been, and now is, so high, that the fishermen can’t afford to purchase it, nor do they make use of any but what is distilled here. Should we be obliged to take all our supply from them, the price would immediately advance more than double. 3dly. the demand of the northern colonies for molasses is at present so great, that the price of it in our islands would soon be equal to the price of rum; and from the natural increase of inhabitants on the continent, our demands would soon render that article too dear for the poorer sort to purchase, even as a medicine. 4ly. Molasses is distilled here into rum 50 per cent. cheaper than in the west indies, which is a very great advantage to the fishery; and we are hereby enabled to supply the southern colonies, and save our money to send to Great Britain, which otherwise must go to those colonies for grain. We are able also to export large quantities to Africa, in return for which we receive slaves and gold dust, and likewise to supply the fishery at Newfoundland. So that the distillery here is become very necessary, not only for our fishery, but for our other trade too, and has been a very considerable branch of business which we can’t do without. Rum, sugar and molasses, are become so necessary, by being universally used among the lumbermen, tradesmen, and all sorts of labourers, that advancing the price of those articles must greatly inhance the price of lumber and ship building, by which large remittances are made to Great Britain; and this will be a further discouragement to the english trade. In short, as necessity is the mother of invention, the people will be driven into manufactures for their support, which they will never think of, while they can maintain themselves by trade.

The advocates for our sugar Islands, allege further, that the supplies the foreign Islands receive from us, by our trade with them, are of great advantage to them, in carrying on their works, and supporting their slaves, and that they are hereby enabled more easily to send their sugars to market, and to become our rivals in that trade. If this was really the case, the french government would certainly permit, and even encourage our trade with their islands. But they are so far from doing this, that they have laid a prohibition on it, and thrown so many discouragements in the way, that it is with difficulty, and oftentimes with considerable hazard, that it is carried on at all.

Seventhly, The destruction of the fishery will be the ruin of those concerned in that business, and that are dependant on it. The fishing vessels, which cost upwards of £. 100,000 Sterling, more than one half of which was supplyed from Great Britain, will thereby be rendered useless and of little or no value; consequently a loss to near that amount must ensue to the owners. The merchants concerned in shipping the fish to Europe and the west Indies, will be great sufferers, by their vessels being reduced in their value for want of employ. The tradesmen of all sorts in the fishing towns, will be reduced to beggary, as their whole support depends on the fishery. Nor will the distress end here. The tradesmen in the country towns will be greatly affected, particularly the coopers, who will lose the making of

5000 Barrels for Oyl, Blubber and Fishermen’s Water Cask, at 2s. 7d. ½£. 65654
18,000 Barrels used for Mackrell and other pickled Fish at 2s. 3d.202500
10,000 Hogsheads and Barrels used for Rum, as the Distillery will be broke up with the Fishery,375000
10,000 Shook Hogsheads sent to the foreign Islands for Molasses, at 3s.150000
200 Thousand Hoops to make up the Molasses Hogsheads,52500
The Tanner and Shoemaker will lose the Sale of 2000 Pair of Boots and Barvills, at 15s.150000
The Farmer will likewise be affected, as each Banker car+ries 6 Barrels Pork, each Mackrell Vessel 4, which makes 2160 Barrels, at 60s. besides what is used by the Vessels employed in carrying off the Fish, which is at least 500 Barrels of Pork, at 60s. and 500 Barrels Beef at 30s.873000
5000 Quintals Bread for the Fishermen, besides what is used in their Families, at 15s.375000
1000 Bushels Beans & Pease at 6s. besides Butter, Cheese, Roots, &c.30000
£. 22,73654

The whole amounting to £. 22,736 5 4 sterling per annum’ besides the lumber, horses, provisions and other commodities, sent to the foreign islands as cargoes.

Eighthly, The sugar act, if put into execution, will greatly affect the king’s revenue, by lessening the importation of rum and sugar into Great Britain. The duty paid upon rum, it is said, amounts to upwards of £. 50,000 sterling per annum. This will be wholly lost to the crown, as the northern colonies will take all the rum our islands can make; consequently none can be ship’d to Great Britain: They will likewise want a great proportion of their sugars, and in a few years, should the number of inhabitants increase in proportion as it has done for a century past, the whole produce of the islands, we at present possess, will not exceed the demand for this continent. The consumption at present is computed to be about 15,000 hogsheads of 1000 wt each, the duties on which, if imported into Great Britain, would amount to upwards of £. 30,000 sterling per annum; besides, such a large proportion of their sugars being brought this way, for our supply, would raise the price so much in Great Britain, that they would soon feel the unhappy effects of it.

Ninthly, This act was procured by the interest of the west india planters, with no other view than to inrich themselves, by obliging the mother colonies to take their whole supply from them; and they still endeavour the continuance of it, under a pretence that they can supply Great Britain and all her colonies with west india goods; which is perfectly chimerical. Take their own accounts of the exportation of their produce from their several islands (which by the way, from some, would be much more than is really their own produce, it being foreign produce run among them, & then cleared out as english) then take the natural demand of Great Britain for their sugars, and the demand of the colonies for rum, sugar and molasses, and it will appear that their produce is by no means sufficient to supply even the bare necessities of the english. If the demand for rum and molasses, in the southern colonies, is in any proportion to that of this province, it will still further surmount the exportation of molasses from our islands.

The planters in our islands have no reason to complain of our trade to the foreign islands, as it will appear, by examining original accounts of sales and invoices, from their islands, for twenty years before the french war in 1744, that our goods were sold higher to them, and their goods much cheaper to us than since the peace in 1748. The increase of our lumber business and fishery has been such, that by exporting to them such large quantities of these commodities, they don’t sell for more than their prime cost; and so many of our vessels going to their islands have occasioned the rise of their goods about fifty per cent.

The general course of our trade to the west indies has been this: Our vessels (except those bound to Surinam, and some that go directly to Jamaica) call at Barbados to try the market; from thence they proceed to Antigua, Nevis and St. Kitts; and in case they meet with a tolerable market at either of those islands, they always embrace it; if not, they then proceed, some to Jamaica, others to St. Eustatia, and the other foreign islands, where they dispose of their cargoes, which our own islands don’t want, being already over-stock’d with those commodities.

But a further proof that the trade is in their favour, is this: formerly, when our goods fetch’d a price with them, and their produce did not vend quick, they owned and sent vessels with their produce to sell among us, and took our produce in pay. But this is not the case now; for where one vessel, owned in the west indies comes to us, we send 100 sail to them; which plainly shows that they don’t want our goods so much as we do to sell them, nor to vend their own, so much as we do to buy. Their navigation is otherwise employed; they take our fish and other commodities, dispose of them among the french, and pay us in the return of those goods, only shifted into english cask, at 100 per cent…

Upon the whole, it is evident that the…be followed by the most pernicious…encreasing, it will sink the king’s revenue…naval power of Great Britain, by…nursery of british seamen, and…the marine of France, by …will be highly prejudicial to the…to that of these colonies: for our…to supply us with what we want from…from us what lumber and fish we are obliged…they will be still less able to do either; for our…be growing faster than their produce, and our…has been increasing, will continue still to increase, if not obstructed, while their demands have not increased in any proportion, and never can.


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