Alexander Hamilton Papers
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To Alexander Hamilton from Joseph Whipple, 10 September 1791

From Joseph Whipple

Collectors Office Portsmo. New Hamp. Sep. 10. 1791

Sir

Your Circular letter dated the 5th. of August respecting two missing Certificates of Registry, Enjoining the Seasonable transmission of Returns, Noticing the failure of complying with the opinions of Messrs. Jones and Harrison,1 The Information Stating a practice of Measuring Vessels of the United States previously Registered, And requesting a Copy of the Table of Fees, was received the 25th. Ulto.

Being Apprehensive that the possibility of a failure in the Conveyance of returns thro’ the post offices or erroneous informations may have led to the forming unjust Ideas of the proceedings in Custom Houses which a conciousness of not falling under the imputations does not fully Satisfy, I think it necessary and judge it will be also more Satisfactory to you that answers be given to the Several paragraphs of that letter, except those respecting the Registers.

All Returns hitherto directed have been regularly transmitted from this District as soon as they could be made up. The quarterly & Monthly returns have in no instance exceeded the Month Suceeding the periord to which the Returns extended, and the Shorter delays have been Occasioned by unavoidable detentions in ascertaining duties & liquidating Bonds or in the nonpayment of Tonnage Duties which it was desirable Should be comprehended in the returns for the term in which they Occurd.

The Instructions on the Opinions of Mess. Jones & Harrison have been carefully attended to & complied with, excepting the Opinion respecting the receiving the fee of 60 cents on the 27th Section of the Coasting Act,2 which has not in all instances been received. As no penalty is annexed to a failure of Coasters making entry as directed by that section, it is seldom complyed with by Coasters, nor do I perceive in what manner they can be compelled unless by an action of debt for the fee, which if proper would be a disagreeable method when this trifling fee only is depending & it is not enjoined as an official duty.

The Measuring of Vessels of the United States previously registered and receiving a fee for such Admeasurement has never been considered in this district as a possible intention of the Legislature, or Construction of the law & the Charge for the like fee on Foreign Vessels, before measured in the port and known to have undergone no alteration of Tonnage has in some instances been given up, tho’ the Same Idea is entertaind of its proprity as conveyed in your letter.

A Copy of the Table of Fees fixed up in the Custom House is enclosed.

I beg leave upon this Occasion [to] take notice that the exemption from entering & clearing of certain descriptions of Coasters exposes the Revenue to frauds—as also does the manner of entering Coasters as directed by the 28th. Section,3 in which case a master is under no restraint by his oath, from receiving Smuggled goods on board after clearing & before his arrival at another port, as no oath is required at his entry at which time rather than at his clearing I conceive it would be proper.

I will also take the Occasion to observe that the term of 15 days allowed by law for the discharge of Vessels from foreign ports is subject to abuse, by increasing the expence of Inspectors attendance & affording opportunities for Smuggling.4 Was the clause in the Act qualified by a proviso that the No. of hands of which the Vessel consisted Should be dayly employd till such discharge, these delays would be prevented without Subjecting the owner to any hardship. Instances have happened in which a Cargo consisting of 30 or 40 hhds Molases & 300 or 400 bushels of Salt only has been detained on board 12 or 15 days, the hands being discharged on the day of arrival & the Vessel employed as a Store.

The Hon. Alex Hamilton Esqr

ADf, RG 36, Collector of Customs at Portsmouth, Letters Sent, 1791–1792, Vol. 3, National Archives; copy, RG 56, Letters from the Collector at Portsmouth, National Archives.

2Section 27 of “An Act for Registering and Clearing Vessels, Regulating the Coasting Trade, and for other purposes” (September 1, 1789) reads as follows:

And be it further enacted, That the master of every ship or vessel of the burthen of twenty tons or upwards, licensed to trade as aforesaid, not having on board rum or other ardent spirits, exceeding four hundred gallons, and arriving from one district to another in the same state, or from a district in one state to a district in the next adjoining state, with goods, wares or merchandise, of the growth or manufacture of the United States only, within twenty-four hours, Sundays excepted, next after his arrival at any place or port where a collector or surveyor resides, and before any part of the cargo on board such ship or vessel be landed or unloaded, deliver to such collector or surveyor a manifest thereof, and shall make oath or affirmation before such collector or surveyor, that such manifest contains a true account of all the goods, wares and merchandise on board such ship or vessel, and thereupon shall receive from such collector or surveyor a permit to land or unload the same.” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 63.)

3This section reads as follows: “And be it further enacted, That in all other cases the master of every vessel of the burthen of twenty tons or upwards, licensed to trade as aforesaid, shall within twenty-four hours, Sunday excepted, next after his arrival at any port or place within the United States, where a collector or surveyor resides, and before any part of the cargo on board any such ship or vessel be landed or unloaded, deliver to such collector or surveyor the manifest thereof, authenticated before and received from the collector or surveyor of the port or place where the said cargo was taken on board, together with his permit to depart from the place of lading, whereupon it shall be the duty of such collector or surveyor to grant a permit to land or unload such cargo” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 63).

4Whipple is referring to Section 33 of “An Act to provide more effectually for the collection of the duties imposed by law on goods, wares and merchandise imported into the United States, and on the tonnage of ships or vessels” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 145–78 [August 4, 1790]). This section reads as follows:

And be it further enacted, That if at the expiration of fifteen working days after the time within which the report of the master or person having the charge or command of any ship or vessel, is required to be made to the collector of a district as aforesaid, there shall be found on board any goods, wares or merchandise, other than shall have been reported for some other district or a foreign port or place, the said inspector or inspectors shall take possession thereof, and deliver the same to the order of the collector of the district, taking his receipt therefor, and giving a certificate thereof to the master or person having such charge or command of such ship or vessel, describing the packages and their marks and numbers. And the said goods shall be kept with due and reasonable care at the charge and risk of the owner or owners for a term of nine months; and if within that time no claim be made for the same, the said collector shall procure an appraisement thereof by two or more reputable merchants, to be certified under their hands, and to remain with him, and shall afterwards cause the said goods to be sold at public auction, and retaining the duties and charges thereon, shall pay the overplus, if any there be, into the treasury of the United States, there to remain for the use of the owner or owners, who shall upon due proof of his, her or their property, be entitled to receive the same; and the receipt or certificate of the collector shall exonerate the master or commander from all claim of the owner. Provided, That where any entry shall have been duly made of such goods, the same shall not be appraised; and that where such goods are of a perishable nature, they shall be sold forthwith. Provided further, That the said limitation of fifteen days shall not extend to ships or vessels laden with salt or coal; but if the said master or owner of any such ship or vessel requires longer time to discharge her cargo, the wages or compensation of the inspector for every day’s attendance exceeding the said fifteen days, shall be paid by the said master or owner. And if by reason of the delivery of a cargo in different districts, more than the said term of fifteen working days shall in the whole be spent therein, the wages or compensation of the inspector or inspectors who may be employed on board of any ship or vessel, in respect to which the said term may be so exceeded, shall for every day of such excess be paid by the said master or owner.” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 165–66.)

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