Printed document of various sizes and formats, bearing the signatures of one or more customs officials, i.e. collector, deputy collector, and naval officer. Many display the name of the district and/or port of clearance as a heading. “Clearance” or “General Clearance” is often found, as is the statement, “hath entered and cleared his said vessel according to law”. A typical form indicates the names of the vessel and master, registered tonnage, guns mounted (if any), number of crew members, country in which the vessel was built, and the destination of that particular voyage. A general description of the cargo might be included, and the date of issue is usually found near the bottom of this one-page document. Some examples may contain small engravings or have relevant information printed on the backside. Customs stamps or seals are often present.
Any vessel that departed for a foreign port without obtaining a Clearance Certificate was subject to a heavy fine. To obtain clearance papers the master would present a Manifest to the customs collector and swear to the accuracy of the information contained in the papers. Vessels licensed for coastwise trade were not required to formally enter and clear if they were proceeding to another domestic port. However, they had to produce Manifests, or duplicate Manifests if their cargo included foreign goods, before they received permission to proceed. Beginning in 1803 American vessels arriving in foreign ports were required to deliver their papers to the U.S. Consul at that port within 48 hours, or pay a fine that could range from $50.00 to $5,000. The Consul would issue the master a receipt for the papers. Upon leaving, the master obtained a Clearance Certificate from the port authorities. He then took it to the U.S. Consul, who returned the ship’s papers, authorizing the vessel to continue its voyage.