Sugar Act Explained — Section 37

April 5, 1764

Section 37 of the Sugar Act of 1764 explains the penalties and fines for people convicted of smuggling goods.

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 37 — Penalties for Failing to Pay Customs Duties

XXXVII. And it is hereby further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That from and after the twenty ninth day of September, one thousand seven hundred and sixty four, if any goods or merchandizes whatsoever, liable to the payment of duties in any British colony or plantation in America by this or any other act of parliament, shall be loaded on board any ship or vessel outward bound, or shall be unshipped or landed from any ship or vessel inward bound, before the respective duties due thereon are paid, agreeable to law; or if any prohibited goods whatsoever shall be imported into, or exported out of, any of the said colonies or plantations, contrary to the true intent and meaning of this or any other act of parliament; every person who shall be assisting, or otherwise concerned, either in the loading outwards, or in the unshipping or landing inwards, such goods, or to whose hands the same shall knowingly come after the loading or unshipping thereof, shall, for each and every offence, forfeit treble the value of such goods, to be estimated and computed according to the best price that each respective commodity bears at the place where such offence was committed; and all the boats, horses, cattle, and other carriages whatsoever, made use of in the loading, landing, removing, carriage, or conveyance, of any of the aforesaid goods, shall also be forfeited and lost, and shall and may be seized and prosecuted, by any officer of his Majesty’s customs, as herein after mentioned.


Section 37 of the Sugar Act of 1764 sets out penalties for violating customs regulations in the American Colonies. It explains the importance of paying duties and adhering to legal import and export practices, per the Navigation Acts. The key points are:

  1. Effective Date — Starting on September 29, 1764.
  2. Duty Payment Requirement — Goods or merchandise subject to duties must have those duties paid before they can be loaded onto an outward-bound ship or unloaded from an inward-bound ship.
  3. Prohibited Goods — Importing or exporting prohibited goods is illegal.
  4. Penalties for Violations
    1. Anyone involved in loading or unloading goods without paying the required duties, or handling prohibited goods, will be fined three times the value of the goods.
    2. The value of the goods will be estimated based on the highest price they fetch at the location of the offense.
    3. Any boats, horses, cattle, or other means used in the illegal loading, landing, or transport of the goods will also be confiscated.
  5. Enforcement — Customs officers are authorized to seize the goods and transport means involved in the offense and take legal action.


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.
  • Boats — Small vessels for traveling over water.
  • Cattle — Large domesticated animals used for farming or transport.
  • Carriages — Vehicles for transporting goods or people.
  • Commodity — A raw material or primary agricultural product that can be bought and sold.
  • Customs — The government agency responsible for regulating the import and export of goods and collecting duties.
  • Duties — Taxes imposed on imports and exports.
  • Effective Date — The date when a law or regulation begins to apply.
  • Enforcement — The act of ensuring compliance with laws, rules, or regulations.
  • Estimated — Roughly calculated or approximated.
  • Forfeit — To lose or be deprived of something as a penalty for wrongdoing.
  • Goods — Items or products for sale or trade.
  • Importing — Bringing goods into a country.
  • Loading — Placing goods onto a ship or other means of transport.
  • Merchandise — Goods or products that are bought and sold.
  • Offense — A breach of a law or rule; an illegal act.
  • Outward Bound — Departing or leaving for another destination.
  • Penalties — Punishments or sanctions for breaking a law or rule.
  • Prohibited — Forbidden by law.
  • Removing — Taking away or transferring goods from one place to another.
  • Seized — Taken possession of by force or legal authority.
  • Treble — Triple or three times the amount.
  • Unloading — Removing goods from a ship or other means of transport.
  • Valued — The worth of something in monetary terms.

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 37
  • Date April 5, 1764
  • Author
  • Keywords Sugar Act, What did Section 37 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