Maryland Insurance Company v. Woods
10 U.S. 29

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U.S. Supreme Court

Maryland Insurance Company v. Woods, 10 U.S. 6 Cranch 29 29 (1810)

Maryland Insurance Company v. Woods

10 U.S. (6 Cranch) 29

Syllabus

In an action upon a policy on property, warranted neutral, "proof of which to be required in the United States only," a sentence of condemnation in a foreign court of admiralty upon the ground of breach of blockade is not conclusive evidence of a violation of the warranty.

Quaere whether breach of blockade by a vessel not warranted neutral would discharge the underwriters.

If the vessel sail to a port within the policy with intent to go to a port not within the policy in case the former should be blockaded, this is not a deviation.

A vessel might lawfully sail for a port in the West Indies known to be blockaded until she was warned off according to the British orders of April, 1804. She was not bound to make inquiry elsewhere than of the blockading force.

Error to the Circuit Court for the District of Maryland in an action of covenant upon two policies of insurance, one upon the schooner William & Mary, Travers, master, and the other upon her cargo, "from Baltimore to Laguira, with liberty of one other neighboring port, and at and from them, or either of them, back to Baltimore." The policy contained the following clause:

"Confessing ourselves paid the consideration due unto us for the assurance of the said assured or his assigns after the rate of seven and one-half percent on cargo, by said vessel warranted by the assured to be American property, and that the vessel is an American bottom, proof of which to be required in the United States only. Insured against all risks, the

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assured binding himself to do all in his power in case of capture for the defense of the property, and if condemned that he will enter an appeal if practicable."

Upon the trial of the issue of non infregit seven bills of exceptions were taken. The first was by Woods, the plaintiff below, in whose favor the judgment was rendered, and is therefore unimportant, excepting that it states the facts which each party offered evidence to prove, and is referred to in all the other bills of exceptions.

It states that the plaintiff gave evidence that he was a citizen of the United States and sole owner of the vessel and cargo of the value insured and made insurance thereupon according to the policies. That the vessel arrived in safety off the port of Laguira on 29 March, but was refused permission to enter the port except upon terms as to the sale of his cargo which the master deemed too disadvantageous to be accepted. That he remained with his vessel off the port, endeavoring to obtain permission to enter it on more advantageous terms, until 31 March, when, finding that such permission could not be obtained, he sailed with the vessel and cargo towards the port of Amsterdam in the Island of Curracoa, with a view and intention of ascertaining, by inquiring from British ships of war or other ships or by actual inspection or other proper means, whether the said port was in a state of blockade, and of entering it if he should find it not blockaded. That about four months before, he had been informed in Baltimore, that an American vessel, bound to that port, had been warned off by the British blockading force, and a report, which he had heard in Baltimore before he sailed, that the island was still blockaded induced him to suppose at the time of sailing towards Amsterdam that that port might still be in a state of blockade (he then being ignorant of that fact, and not having been able to obtain information relative thereto off Laguira), and to resolve to make

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inquiry as aforesaid before he attempted to enter the port. That on the first of April, on his passage to Amsterdam, being then about 28 or 30 miles distant therefrom, he discovered a ship, distant about 21 miles, and immediately changed his course and stood towards her for the purpose of inquiring whether Amsterdam was still blockaded. The ship was the British ship of war Fortune, and was then supporting alone the blockade of the port of Amsterdam. While standing towards her, she seized and captured the schooner as prize under pretense of an attempt to break the blockade, and sent her to Jamaica, where the vessel and cargo were condemned as good prize, whereby they were totally lost to the plaintiff. That the distance of Amsterdam from Laguira was about 147 miles, which may be run in fifteen or twenty hours. That the plaintiff, upon the first intelligence of the capture, offered to abandon and demanded payment of the loss.

That the British minister, on 12 April, 1804, informed the government of the United States that the siege of Curracoa was converted into a blockade, which notification the government of the United States did not at any time make known. That the British government had issued an order to their commanders and to their admiralty courts in the West Indies

"not to consider blockades as existing unless in respect to particular ports which may be actually invested, and then not to capture vessels bound to such ports unless they shall have previously been warned not to enter them."

That this order was in force at the time of the capture, and had been notified by the British government to the government of the United States, and immediately published in the gazettes of the United States.

That to the eastward of Laguira, on the Spanish Main, the first port is New Barcelona, at the distance of about 57 leagues from Laguira. That it is a small port only entered by small vessels. That

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the next port to the eastward of Laguira on the Spanish Main is Cumana, at about the distance of 70 leagues. That about the time of the voyage aforesaid, no vessel could enter the port of New Barcelona without having obtained permission therefor at Cumana. That the next port on the Spanish Main from Laguira westward is Porto Cabello, under the same jurisdiction and at the distance of about 18 leagues; that no vessel could enter that port without having obtained permission therefor at Laguira. That the next port on the Spanish Main to the westward of Laguira is Maracaibo, at the distance of about 90 leagues and about two and a half degrees further west from the port of Amsterdam. That the usual course of trade for vessels from Baltimore with cargoes for Laguira assorted for the Spanish Main is to proceed to the port of Amsterdam if refused permission to enter Laguira. That vessels in such cases never proceed to Cumana or New Barcelona. That except Amsterdam and the said ports on the Spanish Main, the nearest port to Laguira used for the purposes of trade is in the Island of Porto Rico, distant more than 120 leagues. But that Carthagena, on the Spanish Main, although more distant than Porto Rico, may be reached from Laguira in a shorter time, being more in the course of the winds. That there is no port in the Island of Bonaire except a small roadstead on the west side of the island, where there is a small battery and military post. That a vessel bound from Laguira to Amsterdam could not touch at the said roadstead without going about five leagues out of her way and being delayed three or four hours, and that there is no other place in the neighborhood of Laguira or of Amsterdam except Porto Cabello, where information could then have been had respecting the continuance of the blockade.

The defendants then offered evidence to the jury that when Travers sailed from Baltimore, and when he arrived at Laguira, and when he sailed from thence and arrived near the Island of Curracoa, he had reason to believe and did know that that island

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was actually blockaded and attempted to enter the port of Amsterdam. That when the insurance was effected, a vessel might enter Cumana and Porto Cabello without first obtaining permission elsewhere. That the Spanish government was a party in the war. That it has been usual and customary for vessels sailing from Baltimore, having cargoes suitable to the markets on the Spanish Main, to proceed direct to either of the ports of Cumana, New Barcelona, Porto Cabello, Maracaibo, or Carthagena, without first calling at Laguira for permission.

Whereupon the plaintiff prayed the direction of the court to the jury that if it believed the matters so offered in evidence by him, then the proceeding towards the port of Amsterdam for the purposes and in the manner so by the plaintiff stated and offered in evidence doth not in operation of law deprive him of his right to recover for the said losses under the said policies.

But the court was of opinion, and so directed the jury, that if it should be satisfied from the evidence in the case that Travers, the master of the schooner, had reason to believe that the Island of Curracoa was actually blockaded at the time when he sailed from Laguira, and when he arrived near the said island, and that he attempted to enter the port of Amsterdam, then the plaintiff cannot maintain the present action.

To which opinion the plaintiff excepted.

The 2d bill of exceptions stated that the defendants, in addition to the evidence by them offered as stated in the first bill of exceptions, gave in evidence that Captain Travers might have obtained information at Laguira of the blockade of Curracoa (it being well and generally known there) if he had made the inquiry, but that he made no such inquiry.

That there is a small island to the eastward of

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Curracoa, called Bonaire, and about 20 miles distant therefrom on the direct and usual route to Curracoa, and where Captain Travers might also have received information of the blockade, but he sailed past the island without stopping thereat or taking any measures whatever to learn whether the blockade existed or not. That after Travers found he could not sell his cargo to advantage at Laguira, he determined to proceed to Porto Rico, and as Curracoa was very little out of the course, to ascertain whether the blockade still continued. That on 12 April, 1804, the blockade of Curracoa was notified by the British minister to our government, and that there had been no notification of a discontinuance thereof. That when the schooner left Baltimore, it was generally reported and understood that Curracoa was blockaded. They also offered in evidence the record and proceedings of the Admiralty Court at Jamaica, and that the schooner was condemned on the ground of an attempt to violate the blockade.

Whereupon the plaintiff offered in evidence all the matters by him offered in evidence as stated in the first bill of exceptions, which bill of exceptions is referred and made part of this bill of exceptions, and also offered in evidence that the matters by the defendants stated in this and the foregoing bill of exceptions are untrue, and also that Travers, while lying off Laguira, did inquire whether the blockade of Curracoa still continued, and could obtain no information on that subject, and also that at the time he discovered the ship of war, he might have proceeded to, and entered into, the port of Amsterdam without being intercepted by the frigate.

Upon which aforesaid statement of facts, so given in evidence, the defendants pray the court to instruct the jury that the said Travers was not justified in sailing from Laguira and passing the Island of Bonaire without inquiring there whether the port of Amsterdam was blockaded, and that in consequence thereof, the plaintiff is not entitled to recover.

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But the court was of opinion that if the jury shall be satisfied from the evidence in the case that Travers sailed from Laguira for Amsterdam with intent to enter that port if not actually blockaded, but if blockaded not to attempt to enter, but to sail for the Island of St. Thomas, and if the jury shall be satisfied from the evidence that Travers did not attempt to enter the said port, but was captured on his way thither at the distance of 29 or 30 miles therefrom, the court directed the jury that such conduct of Travers was not unlawful and that, notwithstanding such conduct, the plaintiff can maintain the present action.

The 3d bill of exceptions stated that the defendants, upon all the matters in the preceding bills of exceptions contained, prayed the court to instruct the jury that if it believe that the blockade was notified by the British government to the American government in a reasonable time before Travers sailed, and that it was generally known in Baltimore before he sailed, and that he had been informed of it, and knew of the general report and belief, and under these circumstances sailed from Laguira to the port of Amsterdam without making due inquiry at Laguira whether the blockade subsisted at Amsterdam, and passed Bonaire without making such inquiry, to the place where he was captured, then he was not justifiable in proceeding on the said voyage to Curracoa, there to make inquiry, not having first made the inquiry in the neighboring ports of Laguira and Bonaire.

The court refused to give the instruction as prayed, but repeated the instruction stated in the second bill of exceptions, to which the defendants excepted.

The 4th bill of exceptions stated that the defendants prayed the court to direct the jury that if it should be of opinion that there are three ports on the Spanish Main, viz., Port Cabello, it the distance of 21 leagues from Laguira, Maracaibo at 93 leagues

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from Laguira, and about 2 1/2 degrees further west than Amsterdam, and Carthagena at the distance of 185 leagues from Laguira to the westward, and that the prevailing winds there are generally from the eastward, and that a voyage may be performed with more facility from Laguira to Porto Cabello than to Curracoa, and from Laguira to Maracaibo and Carthagena than to the Island of St. Thomas or Porto Rico. That those ports are situated on the Spanish Main, and under the government and jurisdiction of the King of Spain. That vessels sailing from the ports of the United States are in the habit of sailing direct to the said ports of Porto Cabello, Maracaibo, and Carthagena without obtaining permission from the government at Laguira. That vessels leaving the United States with cargoes suited to the market on the Spanish Main frequently sailed from Laguira to one or other of the above-mentioned ports for the disposal of their cargoes. That the Island of Curracoa belongs to the Dutch government, who were parties to the war. That there are two other ports on the Spanish Main, under the Spanish government, lying to windward of Laguira, viz., Cumana, 70 leagues, and New Barcelona, 57 leagues from Laguira, but the voyage from Laguira to those ports is more difficult than the voyage to Curracoa, which is 147 miles. That Curracoa was known to be blockaded, and so notified by the British government to that of the United States a reasonable time before Travers sailed, and that he knew the same at the commencement of the voyage, then Amsterdam was not a port to which he was entitled to go under the said policy. Which direction the defendants refused to give. And the defendants excepted.

The 5th exception stated that the defendants prayed the opinion of the court, upon the whole facts before stated, whether the insured had a right to proceed to Porto Rico or St. Thomas under the terms of the policy. That the court directed the jury that he had no such right, and that the defendants excepted.

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The 6th exception stated that the defendants, upon all the matters aforesaid, prayed the court to instruct the jury that if it believe that the insured, after his arrival at Laguira, proceeded on a provisional voyage for the port of Amsterdam, or for Porto Rico, or for St. Thomas, with an intention to go to Amsterdam if not blockaded, and to Porto Rico or St. Thomas if the port of Amsterdam was blockaded, he was not so entitled to do under the policies, and in consequence thereof that the plaintiff is not entitled to recover. Which direction the court refused to give, but gave the following opinion.

The court having declared that the said Travers had a right to proceed from Laguira to Amsterdam, as is fully stated in its second opinion, to which it refers, it directed the jury that if it found that the said Travers intended, if the port of Amsterdam was blockaded, to go to the Island of Porto Rico or St. Thomas, that such his intention only will not affect the policies, and that notwithstanding such intention, the plaintiff can maintain his action thereon. To which direction the defendants excepted.

The 7th bill of exceptions stated that the defendants, upon all the matters in the preceding bills of exception stated, prayed the opinion of the court that if the jury believe that Travers sailed from Laguira on a voyage to St. Thomas or Porto Rico, but with an intention to proceed a small distance out of the way to see if Amsterdam was blockaded, and in case it was not blockaded then to enter that port, and did so proceed to the port of Amsterdam, and was captured as aforesaid, then the defendants are not answerable, which opinion and direction the court refused to give, but gave the following opinion.

The court having declared that the said Travers had a right to proceed from Laguira to Amsterdam, as is fully stated in their second opinion, to which it refers, it was of opinion, and accordingly directed the jury, that if it found that the said Travers intended, if the port of Amsterdam was

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blockaded, to go to the Island of Porto Rico or the Island of St. Thomas, such his intention only will not affect the policies aforesaid, and that notwithstanding such intention, the plaintiff could maintain his actions on the said two policies. To which instruction the defendants excepted.

The verdict and judgment being in favor of the plaintiff, the defendants brought their writ of error.

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