The National Archives at Boston
New England Customs Records

Records of a Salem Vessel in 1803:
Featured Documents

Introduction

This exhibit features early federal records that document the first voyage made by the Ship Mount Vernon of Salem, Massachusetts in 1803. At that time, tall ships from Salem, like the Ship Mount Vernon, traveled around the world exporting and importing cargoes from the West and the East, including exotic locations such as Canton and Sumatra. These documents, and the information recorded on them, are typical examples of records for thousands of American ships of that time. They are also documents that were an integral part of the daily life of seamen, merchants, and officials.

All of the documents in this exhibit are from records created by officials of the Salem and Beverly Customs District for keeping track of American vessels, the cargoes that they carried, and most importantly, to account for the import and tonnage taxes that were the main source of federal revenue in those early days of the Republic. In 1803 the Salem and Beverly Customs District was one of a network of Customs Districts created by the national government in 1789 to govern the maritime activities of American ports. Each district was originally headed by officials known as Collectors of Customs whose job included overseeing the collection of import and tonnage taxes (duties) and registering or licensing all American vessels at their port. These districts eventually became the U.S Customs Service.

One result of the need to document all aspects of the comings and goings of ships and cargoes was the creation of a huge body of records that are now valuable artifacts of America's maritime history and a rich source of information about maritime life in general. In addition to documenting ships, seamen, and maritime trade, many of the critical issues affecting the history of the United States, such as the War of 1812, are also reflected in these records. Today, the archival records of the Salem and Beverly Customs District, along with many others from New England, are located at NARA's Northeast Region at Boston.

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List and full citation for documents in this exhibit
Resources: Documents of Other Salem Ships

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