The Boston Port Act
In 1773, the British Parliament passed the Tea Act, which allowed the
British East India Company to sell tea in America without any duty. The act was
partially passed because the East India Company's imports of tea into America
had declined sharply during the prior decade because of American boycotts.
After the passage of the Tea Act, the East India Company would have been
able to sell tea more cheaply than American importers. American merchants
organized protests, lead by Samuel Adams. Some of the protesters boarded three
British ships docked in Boston Harbor and scheduled to begin unloading the
cheaper tea. The protesters seized the tea and dumped it overboard. Damage
estimates ran to over ten thousand pounds. The event became known as the Boston
Tea Party, and it inspired several smaller such acts.
In response to the event and those that followed, Parliament passed the
Boston Port Act on March 31, 1774, which effectively shut down the port of
Boston. Ships were prevented from mooring or docking anywhere in Boston Harbor.
Any caught doing so were subject to seizure of both cargo and ship. The only
exception was for ships brought in for what would today be called
"humanitarian" purposes, so long as said ships paid duties at the port of Salem
and took a customs official on board to ensure legal passage into Boston.
Military supplies were also excepted.
The Boston Port Act is one of the Intolerable Acts that lead to dissent in
the American colonies and to the creation of the Declaration of Rights and Grievances in 1774.
The other Intolerable Acts are the Administration of Justice Act, the Massachusetts Government Act, the Quartering Act, and the Quebec Act.
The source for this text is the Avalon
Project. The text has been modified slightly to expand abbreviations,
modernize spelling, and enhance readability. Footnotes explain arcane language
or uncommon terms.
An act to discontinue, in such manner, and for such time as are therein
mentioned, the landing and discharging, lading or shipping, of goods, wares,
and merchandise, at the town, and within the harbor, of Boston, in the
province of Massachusetts Bay, in North America.
WHEREAS dangerous commotions and insurrections have been fomented and raised
in the town of Boston, in the province of Massachusetts Bay, in New England, by
diverse ill-affected persons, to the subversion of his Majesty's government,
and to the utter destruction of the public peace, and good order of the said
town; in which commotions and insurrections certain valuable cargoes of teas,
being the property of the East India Company, 
and on board certain vessels lying within the bay or harbor of Boston, were
seized and destroyed: And whereas, in the present condition of the said town
and harbor, the commerce of his Majesty's subjects cannot be safely carried on
there, nor the customs payable to his Majesty duly collected; and it is
therefore expedient that the officers of his Majesty's customs should be
forthwith removed from the said town: May it please your Majesty that it may be
enacted; and be it enacted by the King's most excellent majesty, by and with
the advice and consent of the lords spiritual and temporal, and commons, in
this present parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, That from
and after June 1, 1774, it shall not be lawful for any person or persons
whatsoever to lade put, or cause or procure to be laden or put, off or from any
quay, wharf, or other place, within the said town of Boston, or in or upon any
part of the shore of the bay, commonly called the Harbor of Boston, between a
certain headland or point called Nahant Point, on the eastern side of the
entrance into the said bay,  and a certain other
headland or point called Alderton Point, on the western side of the entrance
into the said bay,  or in or upon any island,
creek, landing place, bank, or other place, within the said bay or headlands,
into any ship, vessel, lighter , boat, or bottom,
any goods, wares, or merchandise whatsoever, to be transported or carried into
any other country, province or place whatsoever, or into any other part of the
said province of the Massachusetts Bay, in New England; or to take up,
discharge, or lay on land, or cause or procure to be taken up, discharged, or
laid on land, within the said town, or in or upon any of the places aforesaid,
out of any boat, lighter, ship, vessel, or bottom, any goods, wares, or
merchandise whatsoever, to be brought from any other country, province, or
place, or any other part of the said province of the Massachusetts Bay in New
England, upon pain of the forfeiture of the said goods, wares, and merchandise,
and of the said boat, lighter, ship, or vessel or other bottom into which the
same shall be taken, and of the guns, ammunition, tackle, furniture, and
stores, in or belonging to the same: And if any such goods, wares, or
merchandise, shall, within the said town, or in any the places aforesaid, be
laden or taken in from the shore into any barge, hoy , lighter, wherry , or
boat, to be carried on board any ship or vessel coming in and arriving from any
other country or province, or other part of the said province of the
Massachusetts Bay in New England, such barge, hoy, lighter, wherry, or boat,
shall be forfeited and lost.
And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That if any
wharfinger,  or keeper of any wharf, crane, or
quay,  of their servants, or any of them, shall
take up or land, or knowingly suffer to be taken up or landed, or shall ship
off, or suffer to be waterborne, at or from any of their said wharfs, cranes,
or quays, any such goods, wares, or merchandise; in every such case, all and
every such wharfinger, and keeper of such wharf, crane, or quay, and every
person whatever who shall be assisting, or otherwise concerned in the shipping
or in the loading or putting on board any boat, or other vessel for that
purpose, or in the unshipping such goods, wares, and merchandise, or to whose
hands the same shall knowingly come after the loading, shipping, or unshipping
thereof, shall forfeit and lose treble  the value
thereof, to be computed at the highest price which such sort of goods, wares,
and merchandise, shall bear at the place where such offense shall be committed,
together with the vessels and boats, and all the horses, cattle, and carriages,
whatsoever made use of in the shipping, unshipping, landing, removing,
carriage, or conveyance of any of the aforesaid goods, wares, and
And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That if any ship or
vessel shall be moored or lie at anchor, or be seen hovering within the said
bay, described and bounded as aforesaid, or within one league  from the said bay so described, or the said headlands,
or any of the islands lying between or within the same, it shall and may be
lawful for any admiral, chief commander, or commissioned officer, of his
Majesty's fleet or ships of war, or for any officer of his Majesty's customs,
to compel such ship or vessel to depart to some other port or harbor, or to
such station as the said officer shall appoint, and to use such force for that
purpose as shall be found necessary: And if such ship or vessel shall not
depart accordingly, within six hours after notice for that purpose given by
such person as aforesaid, such ship or vessel, together with all the goods
laden on board thereon, and all the guns, ammunition, tackle, and furniture,
shall be forfeited and lost, whether bulk shall have been broken or not.
Provided always, That nothing in this act contained shall extend, or be
construed to extend, to any military or other stores for his Majesty's use, or
to the ships or vessels whereon the same shall be laden, which shall be
commissioned by, and in the immediate pay of, his Majesty, his heirs or
successors; nor to any fuel or victual  brought
coastwise from any part of the continent of America, for the necessary use and
sustenance of the inhabitants of the said town of Boston, provided the vessels
wherein the same are to be carried shall be duly furnished with a cocket
 and let-pass, after having been duly searched
by the proper officers of his Majesty's customs at Marblehead, in the port of
Salem, in the said province of Massachusetts Bay; and that some officer of his
Majesty's customs be also there put on board the said vessel, who is hereby
authorized to go on board, and proceed with the said vessel, together with a
sufficient number of persons, properly armed, for his defense, to the said town
or harbor of Boston; nor to any ships or vessels which may happen to be within
the said harbor of Boston on or before June 1, 1774, and may have either laden
or taken on board, or be there with intent to load or take on board, or to land
or discharge any goods, wares, and merchandise, provided the said ships and
vessels do depart the said harbor within fourteen days after June 1, 1774.
And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That all seizures,
penalties, and forfeitures, inflicted by this act, shall be made and prosecuted
by any admiral, chief commander, or commissioned officer, of his Majesty's
fleet, or ships of war, or by the officers of his Majesty's customs, or some of
them, or by some other person deputed or authorized, by warrant from the lord
high treasurer, or the commissioners of his Majesty's treasury for the time
being, and by no other person whatsoever: And if any such officer, or other
person authorized as aforesaid, shall, directly or indirectly, take or receive
any bribe or reward, to connive at such lading or unlading, or shall make or
commence any collusive seizure, information, or agreement for that purpose, or
shall do any other act whatsoever, whereby the goods, wares, or merchandise,
prohibited as aforesaid, shall be suffered to pass, either inwards or outwards,
or whereby the forfeitures and penalties inflicted by this act may be evaded,
every such offender shall forfeit the sum of 500 pounds for every such offense,
and shall become incapable of any office or employment, civil or military; and
every person who shall give, offer, or promise, any such bribe or reward, or
shall contract, agree, or treat with any person, so authorized as aforesaid, to
commit any such offense, shall forfeit the sum of 50 pounds.
And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That the forfeitures
and penalties inflicted by this act shall and may be prosecuted, sued for, and
recovered, and be divided, paid, and applied, in like manner as other penalties
and forfeitures inflicted by any act or acts of parliament, relating to the
trade or revenues of the British colonies or plantations in America, are
directed to be prosecuted, sued for, or recovered, divided, paid, and applied,
by two several acts of parliament, the one passed in the fourth year of his
present Majesty,  (entitled, An act for
granting certain duties in the British colonies and plantations in America; for
continuing, amending, and making perpetual, an act passed in the sixth year of
the reign of his late majesty King George the Second, entitled, An act for the
better securing and encouraging the trade of his Majesty's sugar colonies in
America: for applying the produce of such duties, and of the duties to arise by
virtue of the said act, towards defraying the expenses of defending,
protecting, and securing, the said colonies and plantations; for explaining an
act made in the twenty-fifth year of the reign of King Charles the Second,
entitled, An act for the encouragement of the Greenland and Eastland trades,
and for the better securing the plantation trade; and for altering and
disallowing several drawbacks on exports from this kingdom, and more
effectually preventing the clandestine conveyance of goods to and from the said
colonies and plantations, and improving and securing the trade between the same
and Great Britain); the other passed in the eighth year of his present
Majesty's reign , (entitled, An act for the
more easy and effectual recovery of the penalties and forfeitures inflicted by
the acts of parliament relating to the trade or revenues of the British
colonies and plantations in America).
And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That every charter
party bill of loading, and other contract for consigning shipping, or carrying
any goods, wares, and merchandise whatsoever, to or from the said town of
Boston, or any part of the bay or harbor thereof, described as aforesaid, which
have been made or entered into, or which shall be made or entered into, so long
as this act shall remain in full force, relating to any ship which shall arrive
at the said town or harbor, after June 1, 1774, shall be, and
the same are hereby declared to be utterly void, to all intents and purposes
And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That whenever it shall
be made to appear to his Majesty, in his privy council, that peace and
obedience to the laws shall be so far restored in the said town of Boston, that
the trade of Great Britain may safely be carried on there, and his Majesty's
customs duly collected, and his Majesty, in his privy council, shall adjudge
the same to be true, it shall and may be lawful for his Majesty, by
proclamation, or order of council, to assign and appoint the extent, bounds,
and limits, of the port or harbor of Boston, and of every creek or haven
within the same, or in the islands within the precincts thereof; and also to
assign and appoint such and so many open places, quays, and wharfs, within the
said harbor, creeks, havens, and islands, for the landing, discharging,
lading, and shipping of goods, as his Majesty, his heirs or successors, shall
judge necessary and expedient; and also to appoint such and so many officers of
the customs therein as his Majesty shall think fit, after which it shall be
lawful for any person or persons to lade or put off from, or to discharge and
land upon, such wharfs, quays, and places, so appointed within the said
harbor, and none other, any goods, wares, and merchandise whatever.
Provided always, That if any goods, wares, or merchandise, shall be laden or
put off from, or discharged or landed upon, any other place than the quays,
wharfs, or places, so to be appointed, the same, together with the ships,
boats, and other vessels employed therein, and the horses, or other cattle and
carriages used to convey the same, and the person or persons concerned or
assisting therein, or to whose hands the same shall knowingly come, shall
suffer all the forfeitures and penalties imposed by this or any other act on
the illegal shipping or landing of goods.
Provided also, and it is hereby declared and enacted, That nothing herein
contained shall extend, or be construed, to enable his Majesty to appoint such
port, harbor, creeks, quays, wharfs, places, or officers in the said town of
Boston, or in the said bay or islands, until it shall sufficiently appear to
his Majesty that full satisfaction hath been made by or on behalf of the
inhabitants of the said town of Boston to the united company of merchants of
England trading to the East Indies, for the damage sustained by the said
company by the destruction of their goods sent to the said town of Boston, on
board certain ships or vessels as aforesaid; and until it shall be certified to
his Majesty, in council, by the governor, or lieutenant governor, of the said
province, that reasonable satisfaction hath been made to the officers of his
Majesty's revenue, and others, who suffered by the riots and insurrections
above mentioned, in the months of November and December, in the year 1773, and
in the month of January, in the year 1774.
And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That if any action or
suit shall be commenced, either in Great Britain or America, against any person
or persons, for any thing done in pursuance of this act of parliament, the
defendant or defendants, in such action or suit, may plead the general issue,
and give the said act, and the special matter, in evidence, at any trial to be
had thereupon, and that the same was done in pursuance and by the authority of
this act: and if it shall appear so to have been done, the jury shall find for
the defendant or defendants; and if the plaintiff shall be nonsuited, or
discontinue his action, after the defendant or defendants shall have appeared:
or if judgment shall be given upon any verdict or demurrer, against the
plaintiff, the defendant or defendants shall recover treble costs, and have the
like remedy for the same, as defendants have in other cases by law.
1. This references the event popularly known as the Boston
2. Nahant Point is to the northeast of Boston. The
Northeastern University campus is located in Nahant.
3. Alderton Point is to the southeast of Boston, in the
modern town of Pemberton.
4. A lighter is a flat-bottomed barge used to move goods
from a moored ship to shore.
5. "Hoy" is another word for lighter.
6. A wherry is a small rowboat.
7. A wharfinger is a keeper of a wharf.
8. A quay is like a dock.
9. Treble means triple.
10. A league is three nautical miles (about 3.5 statute
11. To "break bulk" is to begin the unloading of a
12. Victuals are food stores.
13. A cocket is a receipt given at a customs house as
proof of duty paid.
14. The "fourth year of his present Majesty" was 1765.
15. The "eighth year of his present Majesty" was 1769.