326 | Certification of the Conduct of James Cockle

    I Francis Bernard, Esq; Governor of his Majesty’s Province of Massachusetts Bay, being requested by James Cockle, Esq; Collector of his Majesty’s Customs in the Port of Salem in the said Province, to certify my Opinion concerning the Conduct of the said James Cockle; in the execution of the said office, & particularly with regard to his integrity & Corruption, do certify & declare as follows.

    Mr Cockle entring upon his office about the same time that I took the Government, I have had an opportunity to observe his Behaviour from the beginning,1 & more so as, his scrupulousness concerning the duties of his Office & his desire, as I understood, to fullfill them made him frequently use the liberty I allowed him, to consult me in matters wherein he was in doubt: and it was from those intercourses that I first formed my opinion concerning his conduct: to some of them therefore I must resort to show upon what foundation I have built my Opinion of him.2

    The first application He made to me was upon the Melasses Act. He expressed his concern that He was charged with an Act, which he was informed never was & never could be executed without flinging the Country into confusion. I told him that I could not dispense with his not executing this Act, nor could I tell him how to carry it into Execution. But I could put him in a way to act a more creditable part than some other Officers had done; which was, not to make the impracticability of the Act an inducement to private Corruption. That whatsoever Mony was received by means of this Act, should be brought to the account of the King, & not put in the Officers pocketts: that if this was done, & the Officer took nothing to himself, he would have some pretence to plead necessity arising from the impracticability of the Act, & incorruption in his receiving no benefit from the non-execution of it; which considering that it was well known in England that this Act was no where duly executed, would probably be admitted as a justification.3

    In consequence of this, considerable Sums were brought to account by Mr Cockle, by duties upon foreign Molasses & Sugar, tho’ I suppose, very short of what would have been the real duties upon what was actually imported, if all had been reported; and I allways understood that they were the whole Sums received by the Collector, excepting that the Duties were paid in by the Merchant, according to the quantity of each Specie reported, in sterling mony, & were accounted for, as usual at 5s. 6d.; which made a poundage of about 6 23 pr. cent upon which sums so received & accounted for in favour of the Collector.4 And I have allways understood, & believe that this was all the profits or perquisites received by the said James Cockle upon account of foreign Molasses & Sugar: and this, as I was informed, he was led into by the practice of the Port of Boston on the same occasion.

    I remember well, that on or about Midsummer 1762, upon Mr Cockle’s seizing a Schooner for a breach of the laws of trade, I was told that the Owner of Her threatned to make a discovery of mony he had paid for being permitted to bring in foreign Molasses & Sugar without paying any Duty. I saw Mr Cockle, & charged him with it: He answered that if any such mony was paid on that account, he knew nothing of it; for he could safely swear that no such mony was paid to him or to any other Person for his use or with his knowledge. And he hath frequently since that, expresst to me his readiness to make Oath that he never had any Profit from the bringing in foreign Sugar & Molasses, except in the difference betwixt Sterling & Mony at 5s. 6d. pr. ounce as before mentioned which he said he had often repented having been prevailed upon to accept, trifling as it was.

    As to other perquisites of Mr Cockle’s office, I never have heard that he has received any, but what have been taken publickly & notoriously, by other officers as well as by himself. As for sums of Mony given to him for extraordinary trouble &ca I know nothing of them but from his own Confession.5 And from that it appears that the whole Sum of them, including single dollars, does not amount to 40 guineas in the course of 4 years: A Sum much too small to be the Wages of Corruption.

    From those instances within my own Knowledge I have entertained a very good Opinion of Mr Cockle’s Integrity as an officer: and I have been confirmed in it, by general report, & by the like opinion of many people of the first rank that I have conversed with upon this Subject, without a single contradiction of it in any one person whatsoever, except since the charge made against him by the Surveyor genl. According to report, His general Character has been that of an Officer too severe & strict, the very contrary to that of corrupt. As to the Opinion of his Integrity which other persons have professed, I will endeavour to recollect some particular Instances of it.

    I remember very well, (tho’ I can’t now recollect the time & place, but I think it was within a twelvemonth) that talking with the Surveyor general about Mr Cockle, I said that He had not the Art of pleasing the people, but that I believed he was a very honest man & a faithful Officer: To which The Surveyor genl. answered, that He believed he was. I took the more notice of this, as the Surveyor genl. at times had been very unkind to Mr Cockle.

    I remember about two years ago, Having an intention to put Mr Cockle into the Commission of the peace, I consulted Mr Lynde of Salem, a Member of the Council & a Judge of the Superior Court, about it.6 He said that that it had better be postponed; for at that time the Merchants there were out of humour with Mr Cockle upon account of the strictness with which he executed his Office: that by & by they would be more used to Punctuality in the Customhouse, & would be reconciled to the Collector; of which, when it happened, he would give me notice. About a Year afterwards, He came to me & informed me, that the Merchants were then in good humour with Mr Cockle, & the appointment I proposed would be agreable to them. I accordingly made him a justice of Peace.7

    Sometime ago I heard that Mr Hooper of Marblehead (heretofore a member of the Council & now the first Merchant in that Country for Property, business, & Credit) had frequently vindicated Mr Cockle’s conduct as an Officer.8 I lately had an opportunity to ask Mr Hooper if this was true: he said it was; & added, that when any People complained of Mr Cockle’s Strictness, He used to tell them, that they never had & never would have a better Officer: for he was exact in demanding & receiving the King’s dues, & yet was merciful & humane, & not ready to inforce the penalties of the Law where he could avoid it consistently with his duty.

    I have talked upon the same Subject with Mr Pickman of Salem, heretofore a Member of the Council, & now a principal Merchant, a justice of the Peace, & Col of a Regiment of Militia, with Mr Ropes of Salem now a Member of the Council, one of the Judges of the County Court of common Pleas, & a justice of the Peace, with Mr Oliver of Salem, Representative of the Town, one of the Judges of the County Court & a justice of the Peace,9 and with sevral others whom I cannot recollect: and they all agreed in one opinion of Mr Cockle, that he was, as he was generally esteemed, a faithful & uncorrupt officer, & if blameable in any thing, was so in his strictness in executing his office, & not in a remission of his duty.

    Upon the whole, My Estimate of Mr Cockle’s conduct in his office is precisely this:

    That, before the receiving the late orders for enforcing a strict observance of the laws of trade, he has been guilty (in common with evry other Custom house officer in North America as far as I know) in overlooking the importation of foreign Sugar & Molasses without paying the full duties therefor;

    That, before such time as aforesaid, in collecting the duties of such foreign Sugar & Molasses as were reported to him, he has received the duties, according to the sevral Articles reported, in sterling Mony, that is at 5s. 2d. pr. ounce, & has accounted for the same, as usual, at 5s. 6d. pr. ounce, & thereby had to himself an advantage of about 6 23 pr. cent;

    That, He was the first officer of his Port, ^as I have heard,^ that ever brought to the account of the King any considerable Sums of money as Duties for foreign Sugar & Molasses;

    That, the receiving such duties in Sterling mony, & accounting for it at 5s. 6d. was first practised at the Port of Boston, & from thence introduced to the Port of Salem;

    That, He never received any mony upon account of his overlooking the importation of foreign Sugar & Molasses, or had any profit from such importation except the difference betwixt Sterling & 5s. 6d. pr. ounce as aforesaid, which at that ^time^ was what very few officers in North America could say;

    That, before the receiving the late orders as aforesaid, He did (in common with evry other Officer in North America as far as I know) overlook the Ships from Portugal & Spain, (which were generally laden in bulk with salt) importing Wine & fruits in small quantities as Ship stores, or ventures &ca;

    That, before such time as aforesaid, He hath (in common with all other Officers in North America as far as I know) received from divers Masters & Owners of Ships trading to Spain & Portugal, presents of Lemons & other fruit & some small Parcells of Wine;

    That, the allowing Portugal & Spanish Wine & Fruits to be brought in to American Ports in small quantities was at that time practised all over North America (as far as I know) in a public manner, & was generally believed to be a matter of indifference to Great Britain;

    That, the making presents of Fruits & small parcells of Wine to the Officers of the Customs was publickly & notoriously practised in evry Port, & such presents were again given away by the same Officers to their friends in as public a manner;

    That, since the receiving the late orders for enforcing a strict observance of the laws of trade, Mr Cockle has not, as far as appears to me, connived at the importation of foreign Sugar or Melasses without paying the whole duties, or of Portugal or Spanish Wines & Fruits not imported from Great Britain;

    That, He hath according to his own confession, received from divers persons pecuniary gratuities for extraordinary trouble upon particular occasions, to the amount in the whole of less than 40 guineas in 4 years time;

    That, it does not appear that Mr Cockle has in any one instance taken a bribe, that is, received a sum of mony for secreting, & not prosecuting a breach of the laws of trade, which he would have otherwise published & prosecuted;10

    That, Mr Cockle has in general been very observant of his duty & careful of the King’s Rights, &, allowance being made for the exigencies of the Times, & the usage of the Country in the matters aforesaid, He may truly be said to be one of the best Customhouse officers in America.

    This is my Opinion of the conduct of Mr Cockle, Collector of Salem, carefully drawn from my best recollection with a strict regard to truth & justice. And I shall be very ready to give any assurance of the truth of it, which shall be further wanted or required.

    Fra Bernard

    Boston Nov 24 1764

    AMsS, RC CO 5/755, ff 183-188.