Sugar Act Explained — Section 21

April 5, 1764

Section 21 of the Sugar Act of 1764 explains how shipments of goods need to be reported upon arrival. It also requires the person in charge of the ship to swear the cargo is legal. This was intended to reduce 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 21 — Reporting Cargo

XXI. And it is further enacted, That upon the arrival of such ship or vessel into the port of her discharge, either in Great Britain or any other port of his Majesty’s dominions, where such goods may be lawfully imported, the master or other person taking the charge of the ship or vessel shall, at the time he makes his report of his cargo, deliver the said certificate to the collector or other principal officer of the customs, and make oath before him, that the goods so reported are the same that are mentioned in the said certificate, on forfeiture of one hundred pounds; and if any rum or spirits, sugars or paneles, molasses or syrups, shall be imported or found on board any such ship or vessel, for which no such certificate shall be produced, or which shall not agree therewith, the same shall be deemed and taken to be foreign rum and spirits, sugar and paneles, molasses and syrups, and shall be liable to the same duties, restrictions, regulations, penalties, and forfeitures, in all respects, as rum, spirits, sugar, paneles, molasses, and syrups, of the growth, produce, or manufacture, of any foreign colony or plantation, would respectively be liable to by law.


Section 21 of the Sugar Act of 1764 outlines the procedures and penalties related to the arrival and reporting of certain goods in British ports or other lawful ports of His Majesty’s dominions. The key points are:

  1. Arrival of Ship — When a ship carrying the specified goods arrives at its destination port in Great Britain or any other lawful port under British control.
  2. Delivery of Certificate — The ship’s master (captain) or person in charge must:
    1. Submit the certificate (previously obtained from the customs officer at the loading port) to the customs officer at the destination port.
    2. Swear an oath before the customs officer that the goods being reported are the same as those mentioned in the certificate.
  3. Penalty for Non-compliance — Failure to comply with these requirements will result in a forfeiture (fine) of one hundred pounds.
  4. Goods Without Certificate — If any rum, spirits, sugars, paneles, molasses, or syrups are found on the ship without the appropriate certificate, or if the goods do not match the certificate:
    1. These goods will be treated as foreign goods.
    2. They will be subject to the same duties, restrictions, regulations, penalties, and forfeitures as foreign rum, spirits, sugar, paneles, molasses, and syrups.


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.

  • Arrival — The action or process of reaching a destination.
  • Authority — The power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience.
  • Certificate — An official document attesting a fact, in this case, confirming the origin and authenticity of goods.
  • Collector — A customs officer responsible for collecting duties and taxes.
  • Customs — The government agency responsible for regulating the import and export of goods and collecting duties.
  • Deemed — Considered or judged.
  • Deliver — To hand over or submit something.
  • Dominions — Territories under the control of a sovereign, in this context, British territories.
  • Forfeiture — The loss or giving up of something as a penalty for wrongdoing.
  • Goods — Items or products for sale or trade.
  • Imported — Brought into a country for sale.
  • Liable — Legally responsible or obligated.
  • Master — The captain or person in charge of a ship.
  • Oath — A solemn promise, often invoking a divine witness, regarding one’s future action or behavior.
  • Paneles — A type of unrefined sugar.
  • Penalty — A punishment or sanction for breaking a law or rule.
  • Port — A harbor where ships load and unload cargo.
  • Regulations — Rules made by an authority to control or govern conduct.
  • Restrictions — Limitations or rules that restrict what can be done.
  • Rum — A distilled alcoholic drink made from sugarcane byproducts.
  • Spirits — Strong distilled alcoholic drinks.
  • Submit — To present or hand over for consideration or inspection.
  • Syrups — Thick, sweet liquids made by dissolving sugar in boiling water, often flavored or containing medicinal ingredients.
  • Swear — To make a solemn statement or promise, often invoking a divine witness.
  • Vessel — A ship or large boat.

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 21
  • Date April 5, 1764
  • Author
  • Keywords Sugar Act, What did Section 21 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