The Hat Act (1732)

In 1732, the British parliament passed the Hat Act, an item of legislation to restrict competition from the hat-making trade in the colonies. The act required all colonial hat-makers to have first served a seven-year apprenticeship, while African American slaves were prohibited from working in the trade:

“Preamble – An Act To Prevent The Exportation Of Hats Out Of Any Of His Majesty’s Colonies Or Plantations In America And to restrain the number of apprentices taken by the hat-makers in the said colonies or plantations, and for the better encouraging the making hats in Great Britain.

Whereas the art and mystery of making hats in Great Britain has [seen] considerable quantities of hats manufactured in this kingdom heretofore exported to his Majesty’s plantations or colonies in America, who have been wholly supplied with hats from Great Britain… And great quantities of hats have of late years been made, and the said manufacture is daily increasing to the British plantations in America, and is from thence exported to foreign markets, which were [previously] supplied from Great Britain…

The hat-makers in the said plantations take many apprentices for very small terms, to the discouragement of the said trade, and debasing the said manufacture… For preventing the said ill practices for the future, and for promoting and encouraging the trade of making hats in Great Britain, be it enacted… that from and after the 29th day of September in the year of our Lord 1732, no hats or felts whatsoever, dyed or undyed, finished or unfinished, shall be shipped, loaded or put on board any ship or vessel in any place or parts within any of the British plantations, upon any pretence whatsoever, by any person or persons whatsoever… and also that no hats or felts, either dyed or undyed, finished or unfinished, shall be loaded upon any horse, cart or other carriage, to the intent and purpose to be exported, transported, shipped off, carried or conveyed out of any of the said British plantations to any other of the British plantations, or to any other place whatsoever, by any person or persons whatsoever.

Be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid that every offender and offenders against this act, shall be subject and liable to the penalties and forfeitures herein after mentioned…

And it is hereby further enacted… that no person residing in any of his Majesty’s plantations in America shall, from and after the 29th ninth day of September 1732, make or cause to be made any felt or hat of or with any wool or stuff whatsoever, unless he shall have first served as an apprentice in the trade or art of felt-making during the space of seven years at the least…”