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The Salem Custom House Records

The Salem Custom House Records

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Collection Summary

Repository:The Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum 132 Essex Street Salem, MA 01970 Phone: 978-745-9500 Fax: 978-531-1516
Creator:Salem Custom House
Title:The Salem Custom House Records
Quantity:9.5 linear feet (9 boxes, 5 volumes)
Abstract:The Salem Custom House Records give evidence of the day-to-day activities undertaken by the Custom House employees.
Collection Number:MH 261

Series List

SERIES I. Administration
A. Correspondence
B. Other
SERIES II. Crew Documentation
SERIES III. Imports and Exports
A. Returns of Merchandise
B. Imposts
C. Exports
D. Other
SERIES IV. Vessel Documentation
A. Enrollments and Registry Oaths
B. Privateers
C. Entrances and Clearances
D. Other
SERIES V. Guilford Parker Bray Personal Papers

Scope and Contents

The Salem Custom House Records give evidence of the day-to-day activities undertaken by the Custom House employees. Series I. Administration includes correspondence, administrative paperwork, and account books. Subseries A. Correspondence includes letters to and from the Collector of Customs, most notably letters to the Collector from the Secretary of the Treasury. This subseries includes one letter from Alexander Hamilton, dated 1794. Also included are circulars addressed to the collector of customs, a letter book for the years 1763-1772 and a typescript in which each letter is abstracted. Subseries B. Other consists of a variety of administrative paperwork, including accounts of payment to staff, fees collected by the Collector and Deputy Collector, as well as two account books of Bonds. Of note in this subseries is an estimate written in 1818 for the construction of the current customs house.

Series II. Crew Documentation contains original and typed crew lists, crew list inspections, and passport and roll of equipage.

Series III. Imposts and Exports contain account books, records, and inspectors’ records. Subseries A. Returns of Merchandise includes three account books documenting the cargoes of individual ships and loose records from the years 1849-1850. Subseries B. Imposts contains records of duties paid on imported goods. Subseries C. Exports contains loose records and two account books detailing amounts paid on exports. Subseries D. Other contains one volume and two folders of "Inspector's Returns," one volume containing the work activity for a number of inspectors, one folder of the schedules of goods, and one folder of completed forms for duties paid.

Series IV. Vessel Documentation includes material relating to the physical condition and the official status of ships coming in and out of the Port of Salem. Subseries A. Enrollments and Registry Oaths contains four books of owners' enrollment oaths and one volume of masters' oaths; these oaths were signed by the ships' owners and masters as they placed themselves under bond to obey customs regulations. This subseries also includes one volume of coastwise vessel enrollments, lists of merchant vessels, and changes of masters of vessels. Subseries B. Privateers includes two volumes of applications for commissions as privateers. Subseries C. Entrances and Clearances document the arrival of foreign ships to their first United States port, and their departure from their last port before returning home. It also includes one folder of two loose entrances and clearances signed by the naval officer at the Custom House, temporary documents for vessels, and reports of boarding officers. The books in this subseries overlap because more than one person kept records on entrances and clearances. The volume of Entrances and Clearances for 1750-1762 is referenced in Early Coastwise and Foreign Shipping of Salem by Harriet S. Tapley. Subseries D. Other includes reports of fines, seizures and penalties, issuances and surrenders of Marine documents, two volumes of Tonnage duties paid, and one volume of Wharfages and Dockages paid.

Series V. Guilford Parker Bray Papers is included in this collection because Bray was Collector of Customs in Salem from 1889-1894. He was a member of the United States Navy and served in the Civil War until he was discharged for a physical disability. Included in this series is: a notebook; a history of the Salem Custom House, which he wrote; railroad tickets; as well as official papers dealing with his discharge from the Army and his commission at the Customs House. The folder "Miscellaneous Papers" contains documentation concerning the sale of a slave named Marianne, 9 years old.

Historical Sketch

Since its inception in 1789, the United States Customs Service has been an integral part of United States history; for the first 125 years of its existence, duties collected by the Customs Service contributed to the nation's early growth and infrastructure. The Customs Service enforced the laws and regulations concerning the import and export of merchandise, the collection of tonnage taxes, the entrance and clearance of vessels as well as their documentation, the overseeing of coastwise and fishing trade vessels, and the protection of passengers.

The Salem Massachusetts Custom House has been in existence since 1649, overseeing imports and exports for the British government during the colonial period and for the American government once the Customs Service was established in 1789. At the turn of the 18th century, Salem was counted among the major international trading ports, primarily dealing in textiles, porcelain, spices, as well as furniture and decorative arts. The current customs house in Salem was built in 1819. A typical staff roster would include the Collector and Deputy Collector of Customs as well as a Surveyor, who managed the tasks of the Inspectors, Weighers, and Gaugers; Nathaniel Hawthorne was employed at the Custom House as a surveyor in the 1840s. The Custom House was used until the 1930s, when the demise of the shipping industry in Salem rendered its operations unnecessary.

Index Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in Philcat. Researchers desiring materials about related topics, persons, or places should search the catalog using these headings.

Bray, Guilford Parker
Hamilton, Alexander
Hawthorne, Nathaniel, 1804-1864
United States Customhouse (Salem, Mass.)


Restrictions on Access

This collection is open for research use.

Administrative Information


Requests for permission to publish material from the collection must be submitted in writing to the Manuscript Librarian in Phillips Library of the Peabody Essex Museum.

Preferred Citation

The Salem Custom House Records, MH 261, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.


This collection is an amalgamation of materials from several different sources. Some of the material was purchased, while other items were donated.

Processing Information

Collection processed by Rachel Jirka, June 2009. Amended by Karen Clemons, September 2011.

Related Material

Customs and Border Protection. "U.S. Customs Service: Over 200 Years of History." U.S. Customs and Border Protection. (accessed 18 June 2009).

Frayler, John. "A Custom House Sketch." Pickled Fish and Salt Provisions (2) 2000.

National Archives and Records Administration. "Record Group 36: Records of the U.S. Customs Service." National Archives and Records Administration. (accessed 17 June 2009).

Salem Maritime Historic Site. "Salem's International Trade." Salem Maritime Historic Site. (accessed 17 June 2009).

Salem Maritime Historic Site. "The U.S. Customs Service in Salem." Salem Maritime Historic Site. (accessed 17 June 2009).

Related Collections

Hawthorne-Manning Collection, MSS 69

For additional material, see The Records of the U.S. Customs Service, Record Group 36 at the National Archives and Records Administration in Waltham, Massachusetts.

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