Each record includes a transcript of the original record. The amount of information listed varies, but the records usually include a combination of the following information:
Import or export
Vessel departure port
Vessel destination port
Summary of taxable cargo
Port books were created by different types of local customs officials.
The Collector or Customer had to make a return for all goods that were exported or imported and for all sums of money that were received, they would issue a receipt for these. A Controller had to make a similar returned however, they did not receive the payments.
Appointed to prevent fraud, a Searcher was responsible for the examination of the goods, once examined they would issue a warrant to show they had carried out the inspection.
The port books do not provide a full picture of trading activity because of smuggling, evasion, and fraud. They are still, however, a source of evidence for the development of trade in the 16th and 17th centuries.
In 1696, the importance of discovering the nature of existing trade flows and the state of the balance of trade with individual countries, the Board of Customs introduced its registers of imports and exports. An Inspector-General of Imports and Exports was appointed and in 1697, the first of the Registers of Imports and Exports appeared. The port books then became effectively redundant and most ports had ceased sending them in by 1750.
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