Scott v. Negro Ben
10 U.S. 3 (1810)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Scott v. Negro Ben, 10 U.S. 6 Cranch 3 3 (1810)

Scott v. Negro Ben

10 U.S. (6 Cranch) 3

Syllabus

The right to freedom under the act of Maryland which prohibits the bringing of slaves into that state is not acquired by the neglect of the master to prove to the satisfaction of the naval officer or collector of the tax that such slave had resided three years in the United States, although such proof be required by the act.

Error to the judgment of the Circuit Court for the District of Columbia in the County of Washington upon the petition for freedom filed by Negro Ben, against Sabret Scott, who claimed the petitioner as his slave.

The ground upon which the petitioner claimed his freedom was that he had been imported into the State of Maryland contrary to the act of assembly of that state, passed in the year 1783, entitled, "An act to prohibit the bringing of slaves into this state," by which it is enacted,

"That it shall not be lawful, after the passing this act, to import or bring into this state, by land or water, any negro, mulatto, or other slave for sale or to reside within this state, and any person brought into this state as a slave contrary to this act, if a slave before, shall thereupon immediately cease to be a slave and shall be free, provided that this act shall not prohibit any person, being a citizen of someone of the United States, coming into this state with a bona fide intention of settling therein, and who shall actually reside within this state for one year at least, to be computed from

Page 10 U. S. 4

and next succeeding his coming into the state, to import or bring in any slave or slaves which before belonged to such person, and which slave or slaves had been an inhabitant of someone of the United States for the space of three whole years next preceding such importation, and the residence of such slave in some one of the United States, for three years as aforesaid antecedent to his coming into this state, shall be fully proved to the satisfaction of the naval officer or collector of the tax, by the oath of the owner, or someone or more credible witness or witnesses."

Upon the trial, the defendant below took two bills of exceptions.

The first was to the opinion of the court that it was incumbent on the defendant (Scott), in order to bring himself within the proviso contained in the first section of the act of 1783, to show to the jury that it has been fully proved to the satisfaction of the naval officer, or collector of the tax, by the oath of the owner, or some one or more credible witness or witnesses, that the petitioner was a resident of some one of the United States for three years antecedent to his coming into the State of Maryland, and that it was not sufficient for the defendant to prove, on the trial, to the satisfaction of the jury, that the defendant, being a citizen of someone of the United States, and coming into the State of Maryland with a bona fide intention of settling therein, and who actually resided within the said state for one year at least, computed from and next succeeding his coming into the state, imported the petitioner, who then belonged to the defendant, and that the petitioner had been an inhabitant of someone of the United States for the space of three whole years next preceding such importation.

The second bill of exceptions was to the refusal of the court to admit as evidence two certificates made during the trial, the one by the collector of the customs and naval office of the United States,

Page 10 U. S. 5

for the district and port of Georgetown in the District of Columbia, and the other by a collector of taxes, appointed by the levy court for the County of Washington, in that district; the purport of which certificates was that Scott had, on that day, (16 June, 1807), by his own oath, proved, to the satisfaction of each of those officers respectively, that Ben

"was a resident of the State of Virginia, one of the United States, three whole years next preceding the time when the said mulatto Ben was brought into the State of Maryland."

The cause was argued by C. Lee and Jones, for the plaintiff in error, and by Swann and F. S. Key, for the defendant.

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