The Grotius
12 U.S. 456

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

The Grotius, 12 U.S. 8 Cranch 456 456 (1814)

The Grotius

12 U.S. (8 Cranch) 456

APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT

FOR THE DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS

Syllabus

In this case further proof was ordered, the question being on the validity of the capture of the Grotius. One man only was put on board, the ship's papers and the navigation of the vessel being left to the master.

The Grotius, an American ship owned by Thomas Sheafe and Charles Coffin, the claimants, sailed from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, March 2, 1812, on a voyage, according to the shipping paper, from Portsmouth to one or more southern ports, and from thence to one or more ports in Europe and back to her port of discharge in the United States, and to Portsmouth, if required. She arrived at New York, and sailed from thence with a cargo for St. Petersburg, and arrived at Cronstadt on 17 June, 1812. The cargo was owned by American merchants and was consigned to a house at St. Petersburg. The consignees furnished a return cargo on the credit of the outward cargo. After the return cargo was put on board, the French armies having entered Russia and threatening to approach St. Petersburg, the consignees were apprehensive that their security for the return cargo might be lost. They arrested the ship and cargo, and would not permit her to

Page 12 U. S. 457

depart but on condition that she should proceed to London with the cargo then on board and that the captain should sign bills of lading to deliver the property in London to the order of the consignees, they stipulating that if they should have obtained payment from the proceeds of the outward cargo, the bills of lading should be given up to their owners or agents in London, and the cargo then to be at the disposition of the captain.

The news of the war between the United States and Great Britain having reached St. Petersburg, the American ships in that port (fifty or sixty in number), with the knowledge and approbation of Mr. Adams, the American minister at the court of St. Petersburg, sailed for England with British licenses. This was resorted to as the only course in which it was possible to get home. The Grotius sailed, among others, with such license. Owing to the lateness of the season, she put into Carlscrona, Sweden, where she lay from 28 November, 1812, until 13 March, 1813. On 2f May following, she arrived at London, and there discharged her cargo consisting of iron, hemp, and cordage, and on 17 June following departed for the United States in ballast. On 29 July, she was captured by the privateer Frolic, John O'Diorne commander, who put one man on board of her from the privateer. The captain of the Grotius kept his papers and the command of his ship and navigated her to Boston. On her arrival, she was libeled in the District Court of Massachusetts.

In this Court, a question was made by the claimants as to the fact of capture.

The master, in answer to the 2d interrogatory, swore that he never considered the ship Grotius to have been taken or seized as prize; that he was present when an armed schooner under English colors met with her, the commander of which represented her to be a British privateer called the Bream, and requested him to take on board a man and treat him as a gentleman until he arrived in the United States, to which he consented.

Gilman, the mate, in answer to the 2d and 3d interrogatories, stated that until his arrival, he never knew

Page 12 U. S. 458

that the Grotius had been taken as prize; that the master had been ordered on board the schooner, and returned with Very, the man who had been taken on board the Grotius.

Chambers, a seaman, in answer to the 3d interrogatory, stated that the Grotius was met by an armed schooner under English colors which obliged the mate of the ship to go on board her, and afterwards sent him back with a man who, on the next day, declared himself to be put on board as prize master, saying that if they should fall in with a French vessel, he should be obliged to show his commission.

The affidavit of Very, the alleged prize master, confirms the statement of the mate that the captain was ordered on board the privateer, and that he, Very, was directed by his commander, in presence of the captain of the Grotius, to go on board as prize master, but that the master of the ship was to keep possession of the papers and to navigate her into port.

In the district court the ship was condemned to the United States. From this decree the captors and claimants appealed.

In the circuit court, the decree of the district court was affirmed pro forma by consent of parties.

Page 12 U. S. 460

WASHINGTON, J., delivered the opinion of the Court in this case as follows:

This case differs in no material respect from that of the Joseph, just decided, except that in this a question arises as to the validity of the capture. The master of the Grotius, in answer to the second standing interrogatory, swears that he hath never considered the ship to have been taken or seized as prize. That he was present when an armed schooner under English colors met with her, the commander of which represented her

Page 12 U. S. 461

to be a British privateer called the Bream, and requested him to take on board a man and treat him as a gentleman until he arrived in the United States, to which he consented. This testimony of the captain is confirmed by Gilman, the mate, in answer to the 2d and 3d interrogatories, who adds that Very, the man who was put on board, never conducted as prize master, nor in any other manner than a passenger would, during the voyage. Pierce, one of the seamen who accompanied the captain on board the schooner, swears that he never knew the ship was seized as prize until after her arrival within the Boston Lighthouse. Chambers, another seaman belonging to the Grotius, in answer to the third interrogatory, says that she was met by an armed schooner under English colors which obliged the mate of the ship to go on board her, and afterwards sent him back with a man who, on the next day, declared himself to be put on board as prize master, saying that if she should fall in with a French vessel, he should be obliged to show his commission. That he knows not upon what pretense or for what reason she was taken, not knowing, in fact, that she was made prize of until her arrival at Boston.

Daniel J. Very, the alleged prize master, has deposed on oath that he was present at the capture of the Grotius by the Frolic; that the captain of the ship was ordered on board the schooner with his papers; and that he, Very, was directed by his commander to go on board as prize master, and this in the presence of the captain of the Grotius; that the master of the ship was to keep possession of the papers and to navigate her into port. That he accordingly went on board as prize master, carrying with him a copy of the commission of the Frolic and instructions in writing from the commander to him (Very) as prize master. That the captain of the Grotius informed his crew that in case a British cruiser should board the Grotius, and they should be asked respecting the said Very, they were to answer that he was a passenger.

Without giving any opinion as to the regularity of admitting the affidavit of the prize master as a part of the preparatory evidence, the Court is of opinion that the facts necessary for deciding upon the validity of the

Page 12 U. S. 462

capture are not sufficiently clear, and that it will be proper to make an order for further proof, to be furnished by the captors and the claimants, with respect to all the circumstances of the capture.

This point appears not to have been made or considered in the court below.

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