Sugar Act Explained — Section 23

April 5, 1764

Section 23 of the Sugar Act of 1764 requires captains and merchants of American ships to document their cargo and report it to British Customs Officials. It expands the framework of documentation, verification, and penalties for fraud, which is intended to reduce smuggling. It penalizes captains and merchants if they fail to provide proper documentation.

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. There is also a list of primary documents related to the Sugar Act listed at the bottom of this article.

Section 23 — Additional Requirements for Preventing Fraud

XXIII. And whereas by an act of parliament made in the twelfth year of the reign of King Charles the Second, intituled, An act for encouraging and increasing of shipping and navigation, and several subsequent acts of parliament which are now in force, it is amongst other things, directed, that for every ship or vessel that shall load any commodities, in those acts particularly enumerated, at any British plantation, being the growth, product, or manufacture thereof, bonds shall be given with one surety, to the value of one thousand pounds, if the ship be of less burthen than one hundred tons, and of the sum of two thousand pounds; if the ship be of greater burthen, that the same commodities shall be brought by such ship or vessel to some other British plantation, or to some port in Great Britain; notwithstanding which, there is great reason to apprehend such goods are frequently carried to foreign parts, and landed there: and whereas great quantities of foreign molasses and syrups are clandestinely run on shore in the British colonies, to the prejudice of the revenue, and the great detriment of the trade of this kingdom, and it’s American plantations: to remedy which practices for the future, be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That from and after the twenty ninth day of September, one thousand seven hundred and sixty four, bond and security, in the like penalty, shall also be given to the collector or other principal officer of the customs at any port or place in any of the British American colonies or plantations, with one surety besides the master of every ship or vessel that shall lade or take on board there any goods not particularly enumerated in the said acts, being the product or manufacture of any of the said colonies or plantations, with condition, that, in case any molasses or syrups, being the produce of any of the plantations, not under the dominions of his Majesty, his heirs or successors, shall be laden on board such ship or vessel, the same shall (the danger of the seas and enemies excepted) be brought, without fraud or wilful diminution, by the said ship or vessel to some of his Majesty’s colonies or plantations in America, or to some port in Great Britain; and that the master or other person having the charge of such ship or vessel, shall, immediately upon his arrival at every port or place in Great Britain, or in the British American colonies and plantations, make a just and true report of all the goods laden on board such ship or vessel under their true and proper denominations; and if any such non-enumerated goods shall be laden on board any such ship or vessel before such bond shall be given, the goods so laden together with the ship or vessel and her furniture shall be forfeited, and shall and may be seized by any officer of the customs, and prosecuted in the manner herein after directed.


Section 23 of the Sugar Act of 1764 explains additional measures and requirements aimed at preventing fraud in the importation and exportation of goods, ensuring proper taxation and reporting, and protecting British revenue and trade interests. The key points are:

  1. Historical Context — Refers to an existing law from the 12th year of King Charles II’s reign (1672) and subsequent acts requiring bonds for ships loading certain goods in British plantations to ensure they are brought to another British plantation or a port in Great Britain.
  2. Smuggling — Despite these laws, goods are often illegally taken to foreign ports, and foreign molasses and syrups are smuggled into British colonies, harming British revenue and trade.
  3. New Requirements — Effective September 29, 1764:
    1. Bond and Security — Ships loading non-enumerated goods (goods not specifically listed in the earlier acts) in British American colonies must provide a bond and security to the customs officer.
    2. Surety — This bond must include one surety (a person who takes responsibility) in addition to the ship’s master.
    3. Conditions of the Bond — If the ship carries molasses or syrups from non-British plantations, it must be brought without fraud to a British colony or a port in Great Britain.
    4. Accurate Reporting — Upon arrival at any port in Great Britain or British American colonies, the ship’s master must report all goods accurately.
    5. Penalties for Non-Compliance — If goods are loaded without providing the bond, the goods and the ship (including its furniture) will be forfeited and can be seized by customs officers.


The rules and regulations found in the Sugar Act, including Section 23, were designed to prevent fraud through the establishment of a detailed system of documentation, incentives, and penalties. The system was designed to ensure compliance and accountability in the shipping and trade of goods, per the Navigation Acts, and reduce smuggling and fraud. The system also intended to maintain Britain’s Mercantile System in the American Colonies.

  • Bonds and Cockets — These documents were used to meticulously track the cargo of vessels and their previous ports of call, making it harder for merchants to engage in fraudulent activities.
  • Enforcement by the Navy — Officers in the British Royal Navy were instructed to assist in the collection of customs duties, patrolling American ports and inlets to detect and seize smuggled goods. 
  • Admiralty Courts — Violations detected were to be prosecuted in admiralty courts, which operated without juries and were less susceptible to local influence and corruption compared to common-law courts.
  • Reporting and Oversight — Colonial Governors were instructed to report regularly on contraband trade, providing additional oversight and ensuring that customs officers were performing their duties.
  • Personnel Accountability — Customs Officers were required to perform their duties in person or forfeit their jobs, reducing the likelihood of fraud by ensuring that responsible officials were directly overseeing the collection of duties.


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.
  • Bond — A formal agreement to pay a certain amount as a guarantee.
  • Burthen — An old term for the cargo capacity or size of a ship.
  • Clandestinely — Secretly or illegally.
  • 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.
  • Denominations — The names or descriptions of items or categories.
  • Diminution — Reduction in size, amount, or value.
  • Enumerated — Specifically listed or mentioned.
  • Forfeited — Given up as a penalty for wrongdoing.
  • Fraud — Wrongful or criminal deception intended to result in financial or personal gain.
  • Goods — Items or products for sale or trade.
  • Just and True Report — An accurate and honest declaration of goods.
  • Laden — Loaded with cargo.
  • Master — The captain or person in charge of a ship.
  • Molasses — A thick, dark syrup produced during the refining of sugar.
  • Non-Enumerated Goods — Goods not specifically listed in the earlier acts.
  • Penalty — A punishment or sanction for breaking a law or rule.
  • Plantations — Large estates or farms where crops are grown, particularly in the American Colonies.
  • Principal Officer — The chief officer in charge of customs at a port.
  • Prosecuted — Conducted legal proceedings against someone.
  • Report — To officially declare the goods on board a ship.
  • Security — Something given as a pledge for the fulfillment of an obligation.
  • Seized — Taken possession of by force or legal authority.
  • Ship — A vessel used for transporting goods across water.
  • Syrups — Thick, sweet liquids made by dissolving sugar in boiling water, often flavored or containing medicinal ingredients.
  • Surety — A person who takes responsibility for another’s performance of an undertaking, such as appearing in court or paying a debt.

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 23
  • Date April 5, 1764
  • Author
  • Keywords Sugar Act, What did Section 23 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 2, 2024