Sugar Act Explained — Section 36

April 5, 1764

Section 36 of the Sugar Act of 1764 explains the penalties for concealing packages on British ships, with the intent to smuggle goods into the American Colonies.

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 36 — Penalties for Concealment

XXXVI. And, to prevent the concealing any goods in false packages, or private places, on board any ship or vessel arriving at any of the British colonies or plantations in America, with intent to their being clandestinely landed there, 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, all goods which shall be found concealed in any place whatsoever on board any such ship or vessel, at any time after the master thereof shall have made his report to the collector or other proper officer of the customs, and which shall not be comprized or mentioned in the said report, shall be forfeited and lost, and shall and may be seized and prosecuted by any officer of the customs; and the master or other person having the charge or command of such ship or vessel (in case it can be made appear, that he was any wise consenting or privy to such fraud or concealment) shall forfeit treble the value of the goods so found.


Section 36 of the Sugar Act of 1764 outlines the regulations and penalties related to the smuggling goods into the American Colonies. It ensures the enforcement of proper reporting and discourages smuggling activities. The key points are:

  1. Effective Date — Starting on September 29, 1764.
  2. Prohibited Activity — Concealing goods in false packages or hidden places on ships to smuggle them into British colonies.
  3. Inspection Requirement — All goods on board must be reported to the customs officer by the ship’s master (captain) upon arrival.
  4. Penalties for Concealment
    1. Any goods found hidden on the ship that were not reported will be confiscated.
    2. Customs officers have the authority to seize these concealed goods and take legal action.
  5. Penalties for Ship Master
    1. If it is proven that the ship’s master or person in charge knew about or participated in the concealment, they will be fined three times the value of the hidden goods.


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.
  • Clandestinely — Secretly or illegally.
  • Collector — A customs officer responsible for collecting duties and taxes.
  • Command — The authority or control over something, especially a ship.
  • Concealed — Hidden or kept out of sight.
  • Consenting — Agreeing to or approving something.
  • Customs — The government agency responsible for regulating the import and export of goods and collecting duties.
  • False Packages — Packages that are used to disguise or hide the true nature of the goods.
  • Forfeit — To lose or be deprived of something as a penalty for wrongdoing.
  • Goods — Items or products for sale or trade.
  • Intent — Purpose or intention.
  • Master — The captain or person in charge of a ship.
  • Penalties — Punishments or sanctions for breaking a law or rule.
  • Privy — Sharing in the knowledge of something secret or private.
  • Report — To officially declare the goods on board a ship to customs officers.
  • Seized — Taken possession of by force or legal authority.
  • Treble — Triple or three times the amount.
  • 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 36
  • Date April 5, 1764
  • Author
  • Keywords Sugar Act, What did Section 36 of the Sugar Act do
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date July 22, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update June 14, 2024