Sugar Act Explained — Section 44

April 5, 1764

Section 44 of the Sugar Act of 1764 explains that the owner of any seized property must file a claim and pay a fee to keep it from being auctioned off. If the fee was not paid, the owner forfeited the property, which was then sold by British officials.

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 44 — Providing Guarantee for Seized Property

XLIV. And it is hereby further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That from and after the said twenty ninth day of September, one thousand seven hundred and sixty four, no person shall be admitted to enter a claim to any ship or goods seized in pursuance of this or any other act of parliament, and prosecuted in any of the British colonies or plantations in America, until sufficient security be first given, by persons of known ability, in the court where such seizures is prosecuted, in the penalty of sixty pounds, to answer the costs and charges of prosecution; and, in default of giving such security, such ship or goods shall be adjudged to be forfeited, and shall be condemned.


Section 44 of the Sugar Act of 1764 establishes a requirement for providing security when claiming seized ships or goods. It ensures that only serious claims with financial backing are considered, preventing fraudulent claims and ensuring the costs of prosecution are covered. 

The key points are:

  1. Effective Date — Starting on September 29, 1764.
  2. Claiming Seized Property — No person can enter a claim for a ship or goods that have been seized under this act or any other act of Parliament in the British colonies or plantations in America without providing security.
  3. Security Requirement — The claimant must provide sufficient security by persons of known ability.
    1. The security amount is set at a penalty of sixty pounds.
    2. The security is given to cover the costs and charges of prosecution.
  4. Failure to Provide Security — If the required security is not given, the seized ship or goods will be judged as forfeited and will be condemned.


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. 

Although the measures in Section 44 are intended to reduce smuggling and enforce the Navigation Acts, owners who did not have the money to pay the fee to file a claim risked losing their property.

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.

  • Adjudged — Formally judged or decided.
  • Authority — The power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience.
  • Claim — A demand for something as rightful or due.
  • Condemned — Declared unfit for use or forfeited.
  • Costs and Charges of Prosecution — Expenses incurred during the legal process of prosecuting a case.
  • Default — Failure to fulfill an obligation, especially to repay a loan or appear in a court of law.
  • Enter a Claim — To officially make a demand or assertion of a right.
  • Forfeited — Lost or given up as a penalty for wrongdoing.
  • Penalty — A punishment or sanction for breaking a law or rule.
  • Persons of Known Ability — Individuals recognized as having the financial means or credibility to provide security.
  • Prosecuted — Conducted legal proceedings against someone.
  • Security — A guarantee, often in the form of money, to ensure that obligations will be met.
  • Seized — Taken possession of by force or legal authority.
  • Ship — A vessel used for transporting goods across water.
  • Sufficient — Adequate or enough.

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 44
  • Date April 5, 1764
  • Author
  • Keywords Sugar Act, What did Section 44 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