Sugar Act Explained — Section 24

April 5, 1764

Section 24 of the Sugar Act of 1764 explains the requirement for a ship captain to obtain a certificate from a customs officer, along with the penalties.

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 24 — Customs Certificates

XXIV. And it is hereby further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That every master or person having the charge of any ship or vessel shall, before he departs from any British colony or plantation where he receives his lading, take a certificate under the hands and seals of the collector or other principal officer of the customs there (which certificate such officers are hereby required to grant without fee or reward) that bond hath been given, pursuant to the directions of this or any other act of parliament, as the case shall require; and the master or person having the charge of such ship or vessel, shall keep such certificate in his custody till the voyage is compleated, and shall then deliver the same up to the collector or other chief officer of the customs at the port or place where he shall discharge his lading, either in Great Britain, or any British American colony or plantation, on forfeiture of one hundred pounds for each and every offence.


Section 24 of the Sugar Act of 1764 explains the requirements for captains of merchant ships to obtain and keep a certificate of compliance with customs regulations. It also explains penalties for failing to comply. The key points are:

  1. Certificate Requirement — Every shipmaster or person in charge of a vessel must obtain a certificate from the customs officer before leaving any British colony or plantation where the ship is loaded.
  2. Issuance of Certificate — Customs officers are required to issue this certificate without charging any fees.
  3. Contents of Certificate — The certificate must confirm that a bond has been given according to this or any other relevant act of Parliament.
  4. Retention of Certificate — The shipmaster must keep the certificate until the voyage is completed.
  5. Delivery of Certificate — Upon arriving at the port where the cargo is unloaded, either in Great Britain or any British American colony, the shipmaster must deliver the certificate to the customs officer there.
  6. Penalty for Non-Compliance — Failure to obtain, keep, or deliver the certificate will result in a fine of one hundred pounds for each offense.


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.

  • 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.
  • Cargo — Goods carried on a ship, aircraft, or other vehicle.
  • Certificate — An official document attesting a fact, in this case, confirming compliance with customs regulations.
  • Charge — Responsibility or control over something.
  • Collector — A customs officer responsible for collecting duties and taxes.
  • Compliance — Conformity in fulfilling official requirements.
  • Customs — The government agency responsible for regulating the import and export of goods and collecting duties.
  • Departure — The action of leaving, especially to start a journey.
  • Fee — A payment made for a service.
  • Forfeiture — The loss or giving up of something as a penalty for wrongdoing.
  • Issuance — The act of supplying or distributing something officially.
  • Lading — The cargo or freight loaded on a ship.
  • Master — The captain or person in charge of a ship.
  • Offence — A breach of a law or rule; an illegal act.
  • Penalty — A punishment or sanction for breaking a law or rule.
  • Port — A harbor where ships load and unload cargo.
  • Principal Officer — The chief officer in charge of customs at a port.
  • Required — Mandated by law or rule.
  • Retention — The continued possession or control of something.
  • Seal — A stamp or mark used to authenticate a document.
  • Ship — A vessel used for transporting goods across water.
  • Voyage — A long journey involving travel by sea.

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 24
  • Date April 5, 1764
  • Author
  • Keywords Sugar Act, What did Section 24 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