Just to keep you up-to-date on John Hancock’s trial for smuggling madeira wine on board his ship, The Liberty, the court recessed yesterday. The court re-convened this day in 1769. Immediately, the defense raised an issue pitting Colonial Common law against actual British practices: can a blank warrant be given to commissioners, or any other enforcement authority, to be randomly exercised by the customs officials?
John Hancock was accused by the British Admiralty of smuggling. The Admiralty seemed to think they had jurisdiction on the open seas and in English ports. In the middle of the night John’s employees locked-up the customs employee in the brig of the Liberty and then removed the madeira. Consequently, all of the unloading went down without a government eyewitness. The customs official testified that he heard noises that sounded like individuals removing casks of wine. In his words “heard a Noise as of many people upon deck at Work hoisting out Goods,”. 
John had set himself up as the most prominent challenger to Parliaments parochial taxes and oligopoly on trade. The Admiralty welcomed the opportunity to make him an example to future smugglers. After all, he was the richest man in town and the best smuggler. It did not help matters that John Hancock had bragged that he would unload the madeira without paying the customs duties authorized by the Townshend Acts. Perhaps more to embarrass than to comply, he did pay customs duties on a small amount of madeira wine as the Liberty birthed on Long Wharf in Boston Harbor.
We could not determine the lawyer that represented John at trial. It is speculated that John Adams was the lawyer with the most experience defending merchants against the Admiralty. The issue evolved into one of jurisdiction versus customs fees. The Boston Evening Post, indicated that Common Law practiced in England had begun to exercise control over customs fines and forfeitures. In South Carolina, local officials defeated an Admiralty case on the belief that any violation of customs duties took place on land as the contraband was brought to the docks.
One rule complicated all of the above. All merchandise entering a Colonial harbor had to be landed within twenty days. On the twenty-first day the customs officials could confiscate the contents of the ship’s hull. So timing and jurisdiction were arguable points. In this case the Admiralty prevailed and seized the Liberty. In the future, writs without a specific party named were constantly challenged and physically resisted, often by a mob. All of this piggy-backed the Colonies resistance to the Writs-of-assistance used to justify spontaneous entering of a home or business in search of smuggled goods.
John Hancock lost his ship but had plenty of madeira wine to serve at his Beacon Hill mansion. The Liberty was ill-fated.
Our walk-up to the Boston Massacre continues. From October 1, 1768, nearly each day, Boston provided us with additional examples of the legal, emotional and military tensions that exploded on March 5, 1770.
"Browsing: Legal Papers of John Adams, Volume 2." MHS Digital Edition: Adams Papers. 2017. Accessed January 05, 2017. https://www.masshist.org/publications/apde2/view?id=ADMS-05-02-02-0006-0004-0001.
 Our Boston Massacre Tour describes in detail the five “Townshend Acts” that led to occupation of Boston by the British and the inevitable Boston Massacre. Further information is available here; http://www.walkbostonhistory.com/the-boston-massacre-tour.html