The Customs House in Salem has now been set up as a Museum. It had some really interesting artifacts from the early sailing period. (Can anyone tell how much I love this town?) The Customs House is set right across from the Derby wharf.
History of the custom house with a shot of the wharves and the pier during their busiest times.
Maps of Salem’s trade routes. Remember, this was in the days of wind power and those little bitty ships.
the Derby wharf which is still there today. In the late 1700s, all the wharves were lined with warehouses to hold the goods imported from India, Indonesia and China as well as slips where the ships were tied up.
The golden eagle sat on top of the Customs House. (I believe this is a replica). It is much larger than it appears in the photo. It must have been quite a sight to see for the ships sailing into port.
The counting houses, simple desk above, took in millions of dollars – and that was millions in the money of that time. Salem was not only the sixth largest city in the new US but also the wealthiest. The customs duties pretty much supported the federal government.
Tunnels had been constructed underneath Salem. I’ve read a number of reasons for this, including hiding the amount of wealth pouring into the city. The one that makes the most sense to me is that the merchants did not want to carry such enormous funds through the streets. It would have been very difficult to avoid paying customs since the Custom Officer rowed three miles out to where the incoming ships docked and assessed the duties then.
Finally, one final note. The museum has pieces of eight. Remember, anything that mentions pirates always includes pieces of eight. Well, this was money, made so that it could be broken into eight pieces. Can you imagine going to the store and breaking off a piece of a quarter and handing it to the shopkeeper? Wild, right?