Sugar Act Explained — Section 41

April 5, 1764

Section 41 of the Sugar Act of 1764 explains how the money for fines should be estimated and collected. It also gives the Vice Admiralty Courts jurisdiction in the American Colonies over court cases related to the Navigation Acts.

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 41 — Authority of Admiralty Courts Over American Colonies

XLI. And it is hereby further enacted and declared, That from and after the twenty ninth day of September, one thousand seven hundred and sixty four, all sums of money granted and imposed by this act, and by an act made in the twenty fifth year of the reign of King Charles the Second, intituled, An act for the encouragement of the Greenland and Eastland trades, and for the better securing the plantation trade, as rates or duties; and also all sums of money imposed as penalties or forfeitures, by this or any other act of parliament relating to the customs, which shall be paid, incurred, or recovered, in any of the British colonies or plantations in America; shall be deemed, and are hereby declared to be sterling money of Great Britain, and shall be collected, recovered, and paid, to the amount of the value which such nominal sums bear in Great Britain; and that such monies shall and may be received and taken according to the proportion and value of five shillings and six pence the ounce in silver; and that all the forfeitures and penalties inflicted by this or any other act or acts of parliament relating to the trade and revenues of the said British colonies or plantations where such offence shall be appointed over all America (which court of admiralty or vice admiralty are hereby respectively authorized and required to proceed, hear, and determine the same) at the election of the informer or prosecutor.


Section 41 of the Sugar Act of 1764 includes the regulations for valuing and handling money collected from duties, penalties, and forfeitures in the American Colonies. The rules ensure that the money collected is treated as sterling money (hard money, such as coins) and provides a clear process for payment and collection. More importantly, any court cases dealing with penalties and forfeitures will be handled in the Admiralty Courts and Vice Admiralty Courts. The key points are:

  1. Effective Date — Starting on September 29, 1764.
  2. Sterling Money — All sums of money granted or imposed by this act and the act made in the twenty-fifth year of King Charles II’s reign, as well as all penalties or forfeitures from customs laws, are to be considered sterling money of Great Britain.
  3. Value Equivalence — The money collected in the colonies should be valued equivalent to its worth in Great Britain.
    1. Specifically, the value is based on the proportion of five shillings and six pence per ounce of silver.
  4. Collection and Payment — The money should be collected, recovered, and paid in accordance with this valuation.
  5. Admiralty Courts — All penalties and forfeitures related to trade and revenues in the colonies can be prosecuted in the court of admiralty or vice admiralty.
    1. These courts are authorized to handle such cases across all of America.
    2. The informer or prosecutor can choose which court to use.


The Sugar Act set up a controversial system for handling accusations regarding customs violations, including seizures of ships and goods, per the provisions of the Sugar Act. While cases in Great Britain were handled through the usual courts, cases in the American Colonies were directed to the Vice Admiralty Courts. Overall, the system entailed:

Admiralty and Vice Admiralty Courts

These courts had jurisdiction over maritime issues and trade disputes.

  1. Admiralty Courts — These courts had jurisdiction over maritime navigation and trade issues, such as violations of customs laws. They were responsible for adjudicating cases of seized ships and goods, ensuring compliance with the laws regulating trade and duties.
  2. Vice Admiralty Courts — These were similar to Admiralty Courts but operated in the American Colonies. They handled cases involving maritime trade, including the enforcement of the Sugar Act and the Navigation Acts.

Legal Process

The courts had the authority to hear and determine cases of customs violations, including disputes over whether duties had been paid, whether goods were lawfully imported or exported, and the legitimacy of seized goods.

When goods or ships were seized, the courts would decide whether the seizure was lawful. If it was found lawful, the goods would be forfeited. If the seizure was deemed unjustified, the claimant (the owner) could contest it in these courts but was limited.

Certification and Penalties

The courts were responsible for certifying whether there was probable cause for the seizure. If probable cause was established, the seizing officer would be protected from lawsuits, and the costs of the legal action would be limited for the claimant. The courts could order the payment of prosecution costs from customs revenue if the proceeds from the sale of seized goods were insufficient.

Controversy Over the Admiralty and Vice Admiralty Courts

The use of Admiralty and Vice Admiralty Courts in the American colonies created controversy for many reasons:

  • Lack of Jury Trials — One of the main points of contention over the Sugar Act was that these courts did not use jury trials. Each case was decided by judges who were appointed by the Crown. Because of this, the judges were considered biased against American merchants. This was seen as a denial of the colonists’ rights, which traditionally included the right to a trial by jury.
  • Consolidation of Authority — The Vice-Admiralty Courts centralized judicial power in the hands of a few Crown-appointed judges. At the time, colonial courts had authority over local cases, and the use of the Vice-Admiralty Courts for violations of the Sugar Act was viewed as an overreach of British authority that undermined the local courts. 
  • Harsh Penalties and Procedures — The penalties imposed by these courts were often severe. This included the forfeiture of ships and goods and large monetary fines. The requirement for claimants to provide security before contesting the seizure of ships and goods was another problem and made it hard for many colonists to defend themselves in court.
  • Perception of Corruption and Unfairness — Many colonists believed that the courts were corrupt and unfair, favoring British Customs Officials and merchants over American merchants. The protections given to Customs Officials, making it difficult for them to be charged with harassment, made the entire system suspect in the minds of Americans.
  • Economic Impact — The strict enforcement of the Sugar Act disrupted colonial trade and commerce and had a significant impact on the Rum Production Industry in the New England Colonies.


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.

  • Admiralty Court — A court with jurisdiction over maritime affairs.
  • Authority — The power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience.
  • Bear — To carry or support.
  • Deemed — Considered in a specified way.
  • Determined — Decided or resolved.
  • Election — Choice or decision.
  • Forfeitures — Penalties involving the loss of property or money due to a breach of law or regulations.
  • Granted — Given or allowed.
  • Incured — Brought upon oneself as a result of one’s actions.
  • Informer — A person who gives information about illegal activities.
  • Nominal Sums — The stated amounts of money without regard to its actual value.
  • Penalties — Punishments or sanctions for breaking a law or rule.
  • Proceeds — To continue or begin a course of action.
  • Proportion — A part, share, or number considered in comparative relation to a whole.
  • Prosecutor — A person, especially a public official, who institutes legal proceedings against someone.
  • Recovered — Obtained again or brought back to a normal condition after being lost or taken.
  • Securing — Protecting or making safe.
  • Shillings — A former British coin and monetary unit equal to one-twentieth of a pound or twelve pence.
  • Silver — A precious metal used as a standard for currency.
  • Sterling Money — British currency.
  • Vice Admiralty — A court with jurisdiction over maritime affairs, subordinate to the admiralty court.

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 41
  • Date April 5, 1764
  • Author
  • Keywords Sugar Act, What did Section 41 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