Just as the colonies were coming out of the French and Indian War, illegal trade tactics thrived on the open market. By 1764, the smuggling grew significantly, and George Greenville, the new British Prime Minister, proposed a solution. He suggested the lowering of the current tax on sugar and molasses. The plan would dismiss the 6 pence per gallon and impose a new 3 pence per gallon. However, the idea also suggested the full enforcement of new trading laws. These new laws would prohibit the colonies from trading with other countries, such as Spain and France. The colonists would then be solely dependent on British imports. The proposed solution offered three strategic goals, one to prohibit illegal trade, two to protect British interests, and three to promote revenue from the colonies. Great Britain faced an overwhelming debt after the French and Indian War. This new law quickly offered economic rest. The American Revenue Act became law in 1764.
Families quickly began feeling the effects and discussing what they called the Sugar Act at local taverns. Before the war, the average person paid an additional 1 1/2 pence per gallon for sugar and molasses. The majority of colonists depended on companies out of the West Indies, and now these transactions have become illegal. Persons caught in the act were not on trial in local courts. Instead, they were tried in Admiralty courts, and a judge decided the outcome. Admiralty courts in Halifax, Nova Scotia, issued harsh penalties for the guilty defendants. The judges were awarded 5% of the confiscated cargo. Tensions continued to grow until 1766, when Great Britain reduced the tax from 3 pence per gallon to 1 per gallon. It became cheaper to pay the tax than to pay the smuggler’s price. Great Britain earned £30,000 per year from 1765 to 1774 due to the new tax.
The Sugar Act of 1764 is a prime example of British control and growing tensions with the colonists. How the colonists responded to the tax sheds light on how willing they were to adapt to new laws and diversion. Many families adopted a pure and natural solution. Local honey and molasses filled the pantry shelves in colonial homes. Bee Skeps and homemade hives dotted the landscape as the bees continued creating the natural sweetener. Estate records list the importance of beehives and honey as dying colonists give instructions for these items in their wills. How many of your ancestors became beekeepers during the Sugar Act?
Each colony reacted differently to the American Revenue Act. Be encouraged to research your family’s past and see how their local communities were affected. Several materials listed below are excellent book sources for this timeline. Our history fills our family branches. Enjoy your journey to the past.
- The American Nation by Albert Hart and David Matteson published 1904 by Harper & Brothers in New York, New York. This book is comprised of essays and articles from individuals who researched the documents in each colony. Many of the articles give a detail report on how the Sugar Act affected local communities, especially in the Boston area.
- A Dependent People: Newport, Rhode Island, in the Revolutionary Era by Elaine Forman Crane published 1985 by Fordham University Press New York. This book goes into detail about Rhode Island and several chapters cover the Sugar Act and local communities.
- The Colony of Delaware by Nanci A Lyman published 1975 by Franklin Watts Inc New York.
- The Enterprising Colonials by William S Sachs published 1965 by Argonaut Inc Chicago, Illinois.
- Taxation in Colonial America by Alvin Rabushka published 2008 by Princeton University Press Princeton, New Jersey.