The Lost Customs Records of Colonial Massachusetts

Sandra Webber

Abstract


The disappearance of the Colonial Customs records of Massachusetts has long been lamented by maritime and economic historians. Many people have tried to locate whatever records might have survived from the various Customs districts, primarily those of Boston and Salem. What little has been published on the topic is clouded in myth and conjecture, some of which sounds logical, yet searches have repeatedly ended in frustration. My own interest in the Customs service stems from years of research towards a biography of Boston Customs officer Benjamin Hallowell. A challenge from a maritime history friend brought me to the many questions surrounding the story of the missing Customs records. Although definitive answers remain elusive, retracing and weaving together what is known about the early events and the subsequent searches, while presenting new evidence, reveals the probable fate of these records.

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