• Salem Maritime National Historic Site

    Salem Maritime

    National Historic Site Massachusetts

The U.S. Customs Service in Salem

a tall wooden desk with an angled top for writing

Nathaniel Hawthorne used this desk during his term as Surveyor of the Port of Salem from 1846 to 1849.

NPS photo

The officers of the Custom House worked for the Collector of Customs. The Collector was assisted by the Deputy Collector, who was mainly responsible for the record keeping in the port. Third in the chain of command was the Surveyor, who supervised the Inspectors, Weighers, and Gaugers. These officers weighed and measured the cargo entering the port in order to calculate the taxes owed by merchants. Another member of the staff was the Naval Officer, who served in the capacity of an auditor. The Naval Officer assisted the Collector in estimating the duties to be received and kept separate books to verify the accuracy of the transactions.
 
a customs inspector's hat has a gold badge with an eagle and the words

A reproduction of a c. 1900 custom inspector’s cap.

NPS photo

Customs inspectors were authorized to board any vessel to inspect, search and examine to ensure compliance with the laws of the United States. In 1789, Customs inspectors were initially authorized a salary of one dollar and twenty-five cents per day. By 1816, this had increased to three dollars and remained so throughout the Age of Sail.
 
behind the desk in the Custom House Public Office are desks and filing cabinets

Behind the counter in the Public Office.

NPS Photo

The Collector's Public Office in the Custom House housed the port's records and was the office where duties were paid by merchants and captains. At the large counter, merchants and ship captains would file ship enrollments, crew lists, manifests, and other forms that Customs required. Behind the desk, clerks recorded information related to incoming and outgoing cargos. In the days before photocopying machines, all the information related to a trading voyage had to be copied by hand into large ledgers. Good handwriting was an important skill for an office worker in the nineteenth century.
 

For More Information:

U. S. Customs and Border Protection

Issues of Salem Maritime’s occasional newsletter, Pickled Fish and Salted Provisions
Officers of the Revenue” Volume 2, Number 2 (149 KB pdf file)
Retired on the Fourth of July” Volume 4, Number 6 (105 KB pdf file)
“He Now Resides at Violet Path” Volume 5 Number 4 (coming soon)

Did You Know?

An artist's depiction of an American privateer pursuing a British merchant ship.  Painting by Thomas Freeman.

During the American Revolution, Salem was the most successful privateering port in America. Salem's 158 privateering vessels captured 445 English vessels.