Sugar Act Explained — Section 20

April 5, 1764

Section 20 of the Sugar Act of 1764 explains the documentation, requirements, penalties, and fines for shipments of sugar and molasses. This section was aimed at reducing smuggling.

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 20 — Importing Sugar and Molasses

XX. And, for the better preventing frauds in the importation of foreign sugars and paneles, rum and spirits, molasses and syrups, into any of his Majesty’s dominions, under pretence that the same are the growth, produce, or manufacture, of the British colonies or plantations, it is further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That from and after the twenty ninth day of September, one thousand seven hundred and sixty four, every person or persons loading on board any ship or vessel, in any of the British colonies or plantations in America, any rum or spirits, sugars or paneles, molasses or syrups, as of the growth, product, or manufacture, of any British colony or plantation, shall, before the clearing out of the said ship or vessel, produce and deliver to the collector or other principal officer of the customs at the loading port, an affidavit signed and sword to before some justice of the peace in the said British colonies or plantation, either by the grower, maker, or shipper, of such goods, or his or their known agent or factor, expressing, in words at length and not in figure, the quality of the goods so shipped, with the number and denomination of the packages, and describing the name or names of the plantation or plantations, and the name of the colony where the same grew or were produced and manufactured; which affidavit shall be attested, under the hand of the said justice of the peace, to have been sworn to in his presence; who is hereby required to do the same without fee or reward: and the collector or other principal officer of the customs to whom such affidavit shall be delivered, shall thereupon grant to the master, or other person having the charge of the ship or vessel, a certificate under his hand and seal of office (without fee or reward) of his having received such affidavit pursuant to the directions of this act; which certificate shall express the quality of the goods shipped on board such ship or vessel, with the number and denomination of the packages: and such collector or other principal officer of the customs shall also (without fee or reward) within thirty days after the sailing of the ship or vessel, transmit an exact copy of the said affidavit to the secretary’s office for the respective colony or plantation where the goods’ were shipped, on forfeiture of five pounds.


Section 20 of the Sugar Act of 1764 explains the documentation needed to prevent fraud in the importation of certain goods into British dominions. The key points are:

  1. Preventing Fraud — The goal is to prevent the fraudulent importation of foreign sugars, paneles, rum, spirits, molasses, and syrups into British territories, falsely claiming they are from British Colonies.
  2. Effective Date — Starting on September 29, 1764.
  3. Requirements for Exporters
    1. Affidavit Requirement — Before a ship can clear out from any British colony or plantation in America, the person loading the ship must provide an affidavit (a sworn statement).
    2. Affidavit Details — The affidavit must be signed and sworn to before a justice of the peace and include:
      1. The quality of the goods in words, not figures.
      2. The number and type of packages.
      3. The name(s) of the plantation(s) and the colony where the goods were produced and manufactured.
    3. Affidavit Authentication — The justice of the peace must attest that the affidavit was sworn in their presence without charging a fee.
  4. Customs Officer’s Role
    1. Certificate Issuance — The customs collector or principal officer must give the ship’s master a certificate confirming receipt of the affidavit, detailing the goods and packages, without charging a fee.
    2. Copy of Affidavit — The customs officer must send a copy of the affidavit to the secretary’s office of the respective colony within 30 days after the ship sails, also without a fee.
  5. Penalty for Non-compliance — Failure to send the affidavit copy results in a forfeiture (fine) of five pounds.


The Sugar Act put an elaborate system in place that was intended to verify and track each shipment of goods to the American Colonies. The system ended Salutary Neglect by enforcing the Navigation Acts and supported Mercantilism in the colonies. The 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.

  • Affidavit — A written statement confirmed by oath or affirmation, used as evidence.
  • Authority — The power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience.
  • Collector — A customs officer responsible for collecting duties and taxes.
  • Denomination — The classification or category of items, often referring to size or type.
  • Dominions — Territories under the control of a sovereign, in this context, British territories.
  • Fee — A payment made for a service.
  • Forfeiture — The loss or giving up of something as a penalty for wrongdoing.
  • Fraud — Wrongful or criminal deception intended to result in financial or personal gain.
  • Justice of the Peace — A magistrate or judge who administers minor civil and criminal justice.
  • Loading — Placing goods onto a ship or vessel for transport.
  • Paneles — A type of unrefined sugar.
  • Principal Officer — The chief officer in charge of customs at a port.
  • Reward — Payment or compensation for services.
  • Ship — A vessel used for transporting goods across water.
  • Shipper — The person or company responsible for sending goods by sea.
  • Sailing — The departure or journey of a ship from a port.
  • Sworn Statement — A statement that someone makes under oath, promising that the information is true.
  • Transmit — To send from one place to another.
  • Without Fee or Reward — Without charging any payment for the service.

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 20
  • Date April 5, 1764
  • Author
  • Keywords Sugar Act, What did Section 20 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 10, 2024