The Josefa Segunda
23 U.S. 312 (1825)

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U.S. Supreme Court

The Josefa Segunda, 23 U.S. 10 Wheat. 312 312 (1825)

The Josefa Segunda

23 U.S. (10 Wheat.) 312

Syllabus

The district courts have jurisdiction under the slave trade acts to determine who are the actual captors under a state law made in pursuance of the fourth section of the Slave Trade Act of 1807, c. 77, and directing the proceeds of the sale of the negroes to be paid "one moiety for the use of the commanding officer of the capturing vessel," &c.

In order to constitute a valid seizure, so as to entitle the party to the proceeds of a forfeiture, there must be an open, visible possession claimed and authority exercised under the seizure.

A seizure, once voluntarily abandoned, loses its validity.

A seizure not followed by an actual prosecution or by a claim in the district court before a hearing on the merits insisting on the benefit of the seizure becomes a nullity.

Under the seventh section of the Slave Trade Act of 1807, c. 77, the entire proceeds of the vessel are forfeited to the use of the United States unless the seizure be made by armed vessels of the navy or by revenue cutters, in which case distribution is to be made in the same manner as prizes taken from the enemy.

Under the Act of the State of Louisiana of 13 March, 1818, passed to carry into effect the fourth section of the Slave Trade Act of Congress of 1807, c. 77, and directing negroes imported contrary to the act to be sold and the proceeds to be paid

"one moiety for the use of the commanding officer of the capturing vessel, and the other moiety to the Treasurer of the Charity Hospital of New Orleans for the use and benefit of the said hospital;"

no other person is entitled to the first moiety than the commanding officer of the armed vessels of the navy or revenue cutter who may have made the seizure, under the seventh section of the act of Congress.

This is the same case which was reported in 18 U. S. 5 Wheat. 338. It was a proceeding against the vessel, and the negroes taken on board of her under the Slave Trade act of 3 March, 1807, c. 77, in which the vessel was condemned in the court below, and that decree was affirmed on appeal by this Court. After the condemnation of the vessel in the district court and before the appeal to this Court, the negroes found on board of her were (under the 4th section of the act of Congress and under an Act of the State of Louisiana passed on 13 March, 1818, in pursuance of the act of Congress) delivered by the Collector of the Customs for the port of New Orleans to the Sheriff of the Parish of New Orleans for sale according to law. A cross-libel was afterwards filed by the alleged original Spanish owners claiming restitution of the negroes, which was dismissed, and on appeal the decree affirmed by this Court. By consent of all the parties in interest, the negroes were sold by the sheriff, and the proceeds lodged in the Bank of the United States, subject to the order of the court below. After the cause had been remanded to the district court, a question arose in that court respecting the manner in which these proceeds, as well as those of the vessel and effects, were to be distributed and the parties respectively entitled to them. Mr. Roberts, an inspector of the revenue, claimed a moiety of the proceeds as the original seizor or captor; Messrs. Gardner, Meade, and Humphrey, respectively, made similar claims under subsequent

Page 23 U. S. 314

military seizures alleged to be made by them; and Mr. Chew, the Collector of the port of New Orleans, conjointly with the naval officer and surveyor of the port, filed a like claim as the true and actual captors and seizors, who made the last and only effectual seizure, and prosecuted the same to a final sentence of condemnation.

Page 23 U. S. 315

It appeared by the evidence that Roberts, being employed as an inspector in a revenue boat at the Balize, near the mouth of the Mississippi,

Page 23 U. S. 316

on the 18th of April, 1818, boarded the vessel and declared that he had seized her. He soon afterwards went on shore and put a person on board to take charge of the vessel, which remained at anchor opposite the blockhouse until 21 April, when Lieutenant Meade, with six soldiers in a boat, went from Fort St. Philip, in company with a custom house boat, and Mr. Gardner, an officer of the customs, on board, took possession of the vessel and brought her up under the guns of the fort. It appeared that Roberts afterwards, came on board the vessel, but did not remain on board until her arrival at the City of New Orleans, he having left her in order to board another vessel in the river. On 21 April, Mr. Chew, the Collector at New Orleans, acting on independent information which he had received, sent an armed revenue boat with an inspector of the customs down the river with instructions to seize the vessel. On arriving at

Page 23 U. S. 317

Fort St. Philip, they found the vessel at anchor opposite the fort with a sergeant's guard on board which had been placed there by Major Humphrey, the commanding officer at the fort. The inspector received from that officer the ship's papers, and took possession of the vessel and negroes, the guard having been withdrawn, and brought them up to the City of New Orleans. Proceedings were commenced against the property at the instance of Mr. Chew and the other officers of the customs, and though his name was not inserted in the libel, the prosecution was conducted by him until its final determination, and the other parties claiming as captors, or seizors, did not intervene until after the decree of this Court on the appeal in the original cause.

The court below pronounced a decree dismissing the claims of Messrs. Roberts, Humphrey, Meade, and Gardner and allowing that of the collector and other officers of the customs, and the cause was brought by appeal to this Court.

Page 23 U. S. 319

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