Sugar Act Explained — Section 17

April 5, 1764

Section 17 of the Sugar Act of 1764 required merchants who were exporting goods from England to the American Colonies to swear their shipments were legal.

Sugar Act, 1764, Date, Taxes, Reaction, Grenville Acts, AHC

George Grenville, Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer, was responsible for the Sugar Act of 1764, starting the movement in the 13 Colonies against Taxation Without Representation.

Understanding the Sugar Act of 1764

This entry is part of a series that explains the Sugar Act of 1764, including, rules, regulations, and penalties. To learn more, see History of the Sugar Act and Facts About the Sugar Act. Vocabulary, key people, and primary documents related to the Sugar Act are listed at the bottom of this article.

Section 17 — Oath Required by Merchants

XVII. And it is further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That from and after the said first day of May, one thousand seven hundred and sixty four, if any goods, not allowed to draw back any part of the old subsidy, or any other duty by this act, shall be entered for exportation from this kingdom to any other place beyond the seas, except to some British colony or plantation in America, in every case where the exporter is required, by any law now in force, to swear that such goods are not landed or intended to be landed in Great Britain, Ireland, or the isle of Man, there shall also be added to and included in, the oath upon the debenture, for such goods, “any British colonies or plantations in America.”


Section 17 of the Sugar Act of 1764 specifies additional requirements for exporters (merchants) regarding the oath they must make when exporting certain goods from Britain. The key points are:

  1. Effective Date — Starting on May 1, 1764.
  2. Goods Not Eligible for Drawback — If any goods that are not allowed to receive a refund (drawback) on any part of the old subsidy or any other duty by this act are entered for exportation from Britain to any place outside of Britain.
  3. Existing Oath Requirement — Exporters are already required by law to swear that such goods are not intended to be landed in Great Britain, Ireland, or the Isle of Man.
  4. Additional Oath Requirement — The exporter must now also swear that the goods are not intended to be landed in any British colony or plantation in America. This additional statement must be included in the oath on the debenture (a document acknowledging a debt) for such goods.


The Sugar Act implemented a complex system of verification regarding shipments of goods to the American Colonies. Exporters (merchants) sending shipments to America were required to swear an oath. This system also included:

  • Documentation — The Sugar Act introduced an elaborate system of bonds and cockets to accurately document the cargo of vessels and ports of call. This system was meant to make it more difficult for merchants to engage in smuggling by providing a detailed paper trail that customs officials could use to verify the legality of goods being traded.
  • Naval Enforcement — Naval officers were instructed to assist in collecting customs duties and patrolling American waters smugglers. This was intended to establish ongoing enforcement of the Sugar Act, however, many officers abused their authority. This contributed to the Gaspee Affair (1772).
  • Admiralty Courts — Accusations of violating the Sugar Act were to be prosecuted in the Admiralty Courts. These courts did not use juries, and the judges had full authority. Parliament considered these courts more reliable than common law courts and would ensure strict enforcement of the law. However, the financial incentives provided to judges by the Sugar Act increased the likelihood they would seize cargo regardless of the evidence.
  • Customs Officer Accountability — The Sugar Act required British Customs Officers to perform their duties in person or forfeit their jobs. Before this, Customs Officers usually lived in England and hired someone in the American Colonies to perform the duties of the position. Requiring Customs Officers to live in the Colonies was intended to reduce corruption and increase effectiveness. However, customs officers were given immunity from counter-suits by merchants, encouraging them to enforce the regulations without fear of legal repercussions.
  • Colonial Governor Reporting — Colonial Governors were required to report on smuggling. They were also required to swear an oath that they would enforce the Sugar Act.


These terms and definitions provide more context for students studying the Sugar Act. For more on the Sugar Act as it relates to the AP US History curriculum, see Sugar ACT APUSH Review.

  • Authority — The power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience.
  • Debenture — A document acknowledging a debt, used in this context for claiming refunds on taxes.
  • Drawback — A refund of duties paid on imported goods when they are subsequently exported.
  • Effective Date — The date when a law or regulation begins to apply. In this case, May 1, 1764.
  • Entered — Officially recorded with customs for exportation.
  • Exporter — A person or company that sends goods to another country for sale.
  • Goods — Items or products for sale or trade.
  • Isle of Man — An island located in the Irish Sea between Great Britain and Ireland.
  • Kingdom — Refers to Great Britain in this context.
  • Landing — Bringing goods to shore or a port after transportation by sea.
  • Law — A rule made by a government or other authority that must be obeyed.
  • Oath — A solemn promise, often invoking a divine witness, regarding one’s future action or behavior.
  • Plantation — A large farm or estate, particularly in the American colonies, where crops are grown.
  • Subsidy — A grant or contribution of money.
  • Swear — To make a solemn statement or promise, often invoking a divine witness.
  • United Kingdom — Refers to Great Britain in this context.

Key People

  • Samuel Adams — Adams helped lead opposition to the Sugar Act in Massachusetts. Went on to become a leader of the Boston Sons of Liberty and one of the most influential men behind the movement for independence.
  • George Grenville — Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer. Responsible for the design of the Sugar Act and introducing it to Parliament.
  • Stephen Hopkins — Governor of Rhode Island. Critic of the Sugar Act and its impact on the Rhode Island economy and colonial rights.
  • James Otis — Early advocate of the rights of Americans as British subjects. Argued against Writs of Assistance (1761) in the Paxton Case.

Primary Documents

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations, including APA Style, Chicago Style, and MLA Style.

  • Article Title Sugar Act Explained — Section 17
  • Date April 5, 1764
  • Author
  • Keywords Sugar Act, What did Section 17 of the Sugar Act do
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date June 21, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update June 8, 2024