J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, April 05, 2010

Provisions of the Boston Port Bill

One of the major milestones leading up to the Revolutionary War was the Boston Port Bill, the law Parliament passed on 31 Mar 1774 to punish the town—the third-largest port in North America—for the Boston Tea Party. It stated that starting on 1 June:

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 Harbour of Boston,…any goods, wares, or merchandise whatsoever…
The authorities could confiscate any goods they found being unloaded, and any ship carrying them, and any “horses, cattle, and carriages,” used to move them. Also, any wharf owner caught with such goods could be fined to triple their value.

The law was to remain in effect 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 [i.e., the East India Company], 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 [i.e., the Customs service], and others, who suffered by the riots and insurrections above mentioned, in the months of November and December, in the year one thousand seven hundred and seventy-three, and in the month of January, in the year one thousand seven hundred and seventy-four.
The law allowed in “any military or other stores for his Majesty’s use.” It didn’t apply to fishing vessels, and it provided a way for Boston to receive other food and firewood:
nothing in this act contained shall extend…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 Massachuset’s 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 defence, to the said town or harbour of Boston…
The bill was more succinctly summarized in a diary quoted in the Marblehead Register on 17 Apr 1830:
Boston Port Bill passed, only Coasters [i.e., smaller ships sailing up and down the North American coast] allowed to enter after being searched at Marblehead and an officer put on board to proceed to Boston; many strangers in town, and great buzz among the people.
The government in London probably thought that Marblehead would be pleased with the extra traffic, and not support Boston politically. Instead, people in other parts of New England, and then other parts of America, started sending food to Boston as a show of solidarity. The Boston Port Bill became one of what were decades later labeled “the Intolerable Acts.”

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