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Ipswich (Mass.) Federal Custom House (1796-1844) Records

Ipswich (Mass.) Federal Custom House (1796-1844) 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:United States Customhouse (Ipswich, Mass.)
Title:Ipswich (Mass.) Federal Custom House (1796-1844) Records
Quantity:1.25 Linear feet (3 boxes)
Abstract:This collection contains the only known extant records of the independent Ipswich Federal Customs District.
Collection Number:MSS 335

Series List

SERIES I. Registers, Enrollments, Licenses
A. Registers
B. Registration and Enrollment Oaths
C. Enrollment Bonds
D. License Abstracts
E. License Bonds
F. Licensing Oaths
SERIES II. Hospital Returns
SERIES III. Crew Lists

Scope and Content Note

This collection contains the only known extant records of the independent Ipswich Federal Customs District. Also included are records kept at Ipswich following annexation of the port to the District of Newburyport. After the annexation, information was recorded at Newburyport, and many Ipswich-related materials may be found in the Newburyport Federal Custom House Records (MSS 282).

Thirty volumes and several folders of loose records comprise the collection. Materials have been arranged in three series to distinguish between records of the fleet, arriving vessels, and crew lists.

Series I. Registers, Enrollments, and Licenses

Federal customs duties performed at Ipswich include registering vessels engaged in foreign trade; enrolling vessels over 20 tons that participated in domestic coastwise trade and fishing; and granting one-year licenses to all vessels involved in coastwise trading and fishing.

This series contains 92 registers dated 1797-1830. Entries include: register number; temporary or permanent designation; name and residence of owner; name, rigging, and home port of vessel; its place of construction, date, and specifications; place and date of issue, and date of registration.

To register or enroll a vessel, the owner and master were required to bond themselves to obey federal customs regulation and take an oath attesting to the accuracy of the information contained in their application. The oaths of owners recorded at Ipswich date from 1804-1868. Masters are included from 1804-1829. Oaths indicate: owner's name and residence; name, rigging, and tonnage of vessel; place and date of construction; master's name; and the date of the oath.

Actual enrollment papers are not known to exist; however enrollment bonds dating from 1820-1841 are included in the collection. Bonds specify: the names and residence of the owner and master; the amount and date of bond; and the name, rigging, and tonnage of the vessel. Bonds between 1832-1835 include the length of the vessel.

Three small volumes containing abstracts of license records date from 1797-1829. The volumes detail licenses granted and surrendered at Ipswich for cod fishing, mackerel fishing, and coasting. Entries include: date, number, and place of enrollment; date of license; rigging, name, home port, and tonnage of the vessel; names of the owner and master; license bond date and amount; names of bond principals and sureties; and place, date, and cause of surrender of license.

License bond records are available for 1827-1830, 1837-1844, and 1849-1868. The bonds indicate: vessel name, owner, master, rigging, tonnage, and home port; the bond amount; and the type and number of the vessel license.

Additionally, four volumes detail oaths given by masters for licenses from 1828-1834, one from 1854, and 1860-1868. Included is vessel name, rigging, and home port, and master's name, and the date of the oath.

Series II. Hospital Returns

One volume of hospital return records from 1829-1835 contains details of the tax paid by arriving vessels in support of the marine hospital. Details include vessel, crew, and tax information. See historical note for more information about the hospital tax.

Series III. Crew Lists

Two crew lists from fishing schooners dated 1795 are included with the Ipswich records. They are the schooner Raven, mastered by David Pulsifer, and the Sally mastered by Ebenezer Caldwell, Jr. The crew lists are agreements signed by the master and crew to obey United States regulations regarding fishing voyages. These records include their signatures, signatures of witnesses, and the dates of the fishing voyage conducted for the season.

Historical Sketch

On 31 July 1789, Congress established the United States Custom Service as a branch of the Treasury Department. A minor port between two major points of entry at Newburyport and Gloucester, Ipswich became a port of delivery under the Salem/Beverly Customs district. Jeremiah Staniford was appointed Surveyor; John Holmes was Inspector and Measurer, and John Stanwood Weigher and Gauger.

On 7 May 1796, Congress passed a new act establishing Ipswich (including the port of Essex) as an independent customs district. The Surveyor position was abolished and Asa Andrews was installed in the new role of Collector. Andrews was succeeded by Timothy Souther in 1829, and the third and last Ipswich Collector was Asabel Wildes, appointed 2 August 1840.

On 16 July 1798, and again on 3 May 1802, Congress passed acts for the relief of sick and disabled seamen. Hospitals were established and supported by a hospital tax secured by the Customs Collectors from each American vessel arriving from a foreign port. The tax was assessed according to the number of men in the crew and the aggregate time for which the entire crew had been employed. The masters deducted their crewmen's salaries to cover the tax. Sick and disabled seamen applied to the Collector for free admission to the marine hospital associated to the Customs District.

Congress approved legislation to annex Ipswich to the Newburyport Customs District, and Essex to the Gloucester District on 15 June 1844, to be effective 20 July 1844. Wildes remained in Ipswich as Surveyor following the annexation, with Daniel L. Wilcomb as Inspector during this period. Following annexation, the Ipswich fleet was greatly reduced because many of the vessels formerly registered, enrolled, or licensed there were actually owned by residents of Essex.

The exact location of the Custom House is unknown. Due to its infrequent use, and the small size of the Ipswich fleet, it is possible that several rooms in rented quarters were sufficient for Customs collections. Customs collection ended in Ipswich and the Newburyport District in 1910.

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.

Raven (Schooner)
Sally (Schooner)
United States Customhouse (Ipswich, 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 the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum.

Preferred Citation

Ipswich (Mass.) Federal Custom House (1796-1844) Records, MSS 335, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.


The provenance of the Ipswich (Mass.) Federal Custom House Records is unknown. It is possible that the records were donated with the Newburyport (Mass.) Federal Custom House Records (MSS 282) on May 24, 1927.

Processing Information

Collection processed by Robert M. Hall, Jr., [1985]. Updated by: Jean Marie Procious, September 2003.

Related Material

Felt, Joseph B. History of Ipswich, Essex, and Hamilton, Massachusetts. Ipswich, MA: Clamshell Press, 1966.

Hurd, Duane Hamilton. History of Essex County, Massachusetts. 2 v. Philadelphia: J.W. Lewis & Co., 1888.

Laffley, Sally Brown. Unpublished manuscript titled: "Report on the Custom House, Newburyport." Newburyport Public Library, 1974.

Morison, Samuel Eliot. The Maritime History of Massachusetts, 1783-1860. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1979.

Nason, Elias. "History of Ipswich" in Standard History of Essex County. Boston: C.F. Jewett & Co., 1878.

Waters, Thomas Franklin. Ipswich in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. 2 v. Ipswich: Ipswich Historical Society, 1917.

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