The Boston "Wine" Party?

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By Mary Malik

December 16 marks the 250th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party. We all remember the story, even if the details are a little fuzzy.

Here’s a recap: In 1773, a group known as the Sons of Liberty boarded British ships and threw the entire shipment of tea into the harbor in protest of the tea tax imposed under the Townshend Acts. But have you ever heard of the Boston Wine Party? Jim Sperk of the Northern Ohio Wine Guild spins quite the historical tale involving Boston, British ships and not tea, but wine.

“Well, I wasn’t there, but historians say it’s true,” Jim jokes. And it goes like this:

An incident five years prior to the Boston Tea Party involved one of the wealthiest men in the colonies, John Hancock, and may have already provoked the Colonists. Hancock’s sloop Liberty arrived in Boston Harbor on the evening of May 9, 1768 carrying a shipment of Madeira wine, a favorite of the Colonists that made up more than 75% of all the wine imported.

Colonists in all major cities held weekly Madeira parties where they would gather to taste and discuss wine. On the morning of May 10, customs officials inspected Hancock’s ship and found 25 casks of wine, a fourth of the capacity of the ship. Hancock proceeded to pay customs on the 25 casks, but officials suspected that more casks had been unloaded during the night. The plot thickens…

A month or so later, the Liberty was confiscated and towed out of the harbor. Hancock was charged with smuggling, and angered Bostonians started a riot and customs officials were forced to retreat to a British warship.

After confiscating the Liberty, the British used it to control trade regulations. That so infuriated the Colonists that they burned the Liberty in Rhode Island a year later. Some historians believe that the “Sons of Liberty” chose that name to commemorate Hancock’s ship.

After months of trials, the proceedings against Hancock were dropped without explanation.

“Many historians believe that the Liberty incident was the catalyst for the Boston Tea Party, which led to the America Revolution,” Jim says.

For information on the Northern Ohio Wine Guild, contact Jim Sperk at