Governeur's Heirs v. Robertson
24 U.S. 332

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U.S. Supreme Court

Governeur's Heirs v. Robertson, 24 U.S. 11 Wheat. 332 332 (1826)

Governeur's Heirs v. Robertson

24 U.S. (11 Wheat.) 332

Syllabus

An alien may take real property by grant, whether from the state or a private citizen, and may hold the same until his title is devested by an inquest of office or some equivalent proceeding.

The Act of Assembly of Virginia of 1779, c. 13, s. 3, secured from escheat all the interest acquired by aliens in real property previous to the issuing of the patent, and left the rights acquired by them under the patent to be determined by the general principles of the common law.

The title of an alien thus acquired by patent in 1784 under the laws of Virginia and subsequently confirmed to him by a legislative act of Kentucky in 1796, and to his heirs and their grantees by an act of the same state in 1799 will overreach a grant made by Virginia to a citizen in 1785 and defeat the claim of all persons holding under such grant

These legislative acts were valid under the compact of 1789 between the States of Virginia and Kentucky.

This was an action of ejectment brought in the Circuit Court of Kentucky in which the lessors of the plaintiff gave in evidence a patent from the Commonwealth of Virginia for the lands in controversy lying in Kentucky to Robertus S. Brantz, then an alien, bearing date 11 October, 1784, founded on a land office Treasury warrant. They also gave in evidence a certificate of naturalization of the said Brantz in the State of Maryland on 8 November, 1784, and an act of the Legislature of Kentucky passed in 1796, entitled, "An act for the relief of Robertus Samuel Brantz," which recited that he was an alien when the patent issued, confirmed his estate as fully as if he had been a citizen at the time of the grant, with a proviso that nothing in the act should affect the right or title of any other person or persons, but only "the right which this commonwealth may have in the said lands." The said Robertus S. Brantz died in 1797, leaving a son, Johannes Brantz, an alien, incapable of inheriting the lands. An act of the Legislature of Kentucky passed December 9, 1799, reciting that Robertus S. Brandtz had departed this life indebted to Isaac and Nicholas Governeur; that Johannes Brantz, his son and executor and an alien, made a power of attorney to the said N.G. to sell the lands of the said R.S.B. for the payment of the debt, which sale had been made; therefore "all the right which the said R.S.B. had before and at his death," and the right of the said Johannes B. was declared to be vested in

Page 24 U. S. 334

the said I. and N. Governeur

"as fully as if the said Robertus S.B. had done in his lifetime or as if the said Johannes B. had been a naturalized citizen when he executed the power of attorney for the sale and conveyance of the said lands."

The defendants claimed title under a grant of the Commonwealth of Virginia dated 2 December, 1785, to one Duncan Rose, and proved a regular derivation of title from him.

The plaintiffs thereupon moved the court to instruct the jury that if it found that the grants to R. S. Brantz covered the lands in controversy, that the lessors of the plaintiff duly derive title under N. and I. Governeur, and that R. S. Brantz neither conveyed nor devised those lands, and left no heirs capable of inheriting them, and that the defendants were in possession at the commencement of this suit, that the verdict should be for the plaintiff.

The defendants moved the following instructions:

1. That if the jury finds from the evidence that Robertus S. Brantz was an alien at the time when the patent given in evidence was procured by him, that nothing passed to him by said grant, but that it was void.

2. That if Robertus S. Brantz died leaving his son as alien and having no relations who were citizens of the United States or of any of the states, then upon his death without heirs, the title, if it had passed out of the commonwealth by the patent, was immediately vested in the commonwealth, and if the grant to Duncan

Page 24 U. S. 335

Rose, from the Commonwealth of Virginia, includes the land in controversy, then the act of Kentucky granting the land to N. and I. Governeur cannot, under the articles of the compact between Virginia and Kentucky, overreach the grant to Duncan Rose from the Commonwealth of Virginia, and they ought to find for the defendants.

3. That the plaintiff, showing no title or connection with Robertus S. Brantz but through and by virtue of the act of Kentucky given in evidence by plaintiff, such grant from Kentucky is, by virtue of the 3d and 5th articles of the compact with Virginia, of inferior dignity and inoperative to overreach the grant by the State of Virginia to Duncan Rose.

4. That the acts of Kentucky of 1796 and 1799, given in evidence by the plaintiff, being in pari materia, are to be taken together; that the latter act is explained by the former, and by operation of said two acts and of the said compact between Virginia and Kentucky, the title of the plaintiff, as offered in evidence by him, is younger in date and inferior in dignity, and cannot overreach the grant to Duncan Rose, so far as those grants conflict.

5. That if they find that the grant to Duncan Rose given in evidence includes the land held thereunder by the defendants, then the grant of the Commonwealth of Kentucky in the act given in evidence by the plaintiff is the junior and inferior claim of title, and the jury ought to find for the defendants.

Page 24 U. S. 336

The judges of the circuit court being divided in opinion upon the instructions moved, the division was certified to this Court.

Page 24 U. S. 348

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