National Archives at New York City

225th Anniversary of the U.S. Customs Service

Press Release
June 2014

225th Anniversary of the United States Customs Service

The National Archives at New York City's Welcome Center exhibit gallery New York on the Record will feature an original ledger book from 1789 to commemorate the 225th anniversary of the United States Customs Service. This record, on display for the first time, notes the first ship that entered the port of New York under the new regulations.

On July 31, 1789, the United States Custom Service was established by the fifth act of Congress to "regulate the Collection of the Duties imposed by law on the tonnage of ships or vessels, and on goods, wares and merchandise imported into the United States." These duties funded virtually the entire U.S. Government over the next century. Revenue collected through Customs strengthened government infrastructure, financed construction of cities and buildings, and paid for the operation of the ports.

The first ship to usher in this era under the new Customs regulations entered the port of New York on August 5, 1789, less than a week after the Agency was established. The brigantine Persis sailed from Italy into New York Harbor carrying various goods consigned to William Seton, a successful importer who also served as cashier of the Bank of New York under Alexander Hamilton. Seton paid a duty of $774.41, the first collected by the United States.

By the early twentieth-century, New York was the world’s busiest port and generated substantial revenue for the United States Custom Service and the Federal Government. During this time, the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House was constructed; along with its official function as an operating Custom House, its grandeur served as a symbol of the strength of the port and the Federal Agency that oversaw it.

Visit this display through October 2014 in the 3rd floor Welcome Center at the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House at One Bowling Green, New York City, NY. The Welcome Center and Research Center are open Monday through Friday 10:00 am to 5:00 pm and the first Saturday of each month from 10:00 to 4:00 pm. Exhibit tours will be offered every Wednesday at 12pm.