A printed document. These certificates were usually printed locally for use by the port’s customs officers, and thus vary a great deal in size and format. Frequently the words, “”Bill of Health”” do not appear, but the name of the customs district issuing the Bill is often prominently displayed. Some documents exhibit decorative engravings, while all provide spaces for the vessel’s name and master, cargo, destination, and number of per sons aboard. Signatures of the Collector and the Naval Officer are present.
By the end of the eighteenth century a Bill of Health was required as part of a ship’s papers, and certified the status of contagious disease at the port during the time of departure. A clean bill of health indicated that no plague or infectious disorders were known to exist. A suspected bill indicated rumors of disease, although it had not yet appeared, and a foul bill certified that the port of departure was infected at the time the ship sailed. A clean bill of health was by far the most common, and these are often found in maritime collections.