Plantation Duty Act (1673)

Written By North Carolina History Project

A “complicated piece of legislation” is how historian David S. Lovejoy describes the duty on plantations. The Plantation Duty Act limited American trade; it attempted to force planters to trade exclusively with England and her colonies and to redirect revenue to Great Britain.  There were numerous objections to the duty.  In the end, the Albemarle governor, John Jenkins, ignored enforcing the act, and the tax contributed greatly to the Culpeper Rebellion.

The Plantation Duty Act had several provisions.  One, it placed a penny tax on each pound of tobacco.  Two, it required a five-shilling tax for every hundred weight of sugar.  Three, collectors were appointed in the colonies.  The latter meant that, for the first time in history, writes Lovejoy, the British government placed a “revenue-collecting administration in British North America.”

Across the British Empire, people protested the duty.  London merchants worried that it might have a negative effect on the sugar trade and thereby disrupt trade between the Indies and New England.  In New England, merchants erroneously believed that once a duty had been paid, the ship’s cargo could then be transported to any port; but that was not the case.  Confusion abounded among American merchants. Even the Irish argued that the duty targeted them.   

Although the Lord Proprietors supported the Act’s passage, many North Carolinians protested (or ignored) the new law. The Albemarle region of North Carolina offered the stiffest resistance.  As required by law, the Albemarle governor, John Jenkins, appointed tax collectors, but the agents performed their duties with a noticeable lack of enthusiasm.  Yet Jenkins did not pressure the agents to enforce the law.   In Albemarle, citizens believed they should be able to deal directly with England rather than having to first go through New England traders.  The Plantation Duty Act angered an independent-thinking region that had already showed its dislike for government regulation and that did so later during the Culpeper Rebellion.