Horsburg v. Baker
26 U.S. 232

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U.S. Supreme Court

Horsburg v. Baker, 26 U.S. 1 Pet. 232 232 (1828)

Horsburg v. Baker

26 U.S. (1 Pet.) 232




A court of chancery is not the proper tribunal to enforce a forfeiture, the remedy for the same being at law.

After an answer and discovery, the rule is that a suit brought merely for discovery cannot be revived. The object is obtained, and the plaintiff has no motive for reviving it.

A bill had been filed originally for discovery, and afterwards became a bill for relief. The relief prayed for, was a forfeiture, which might be enforced at law. Under such circumstances, it was proper to dismiss the bill so far as it sought for relief against the forfeiture, but the dismission should have been without prejudice to the legal rights of the parties, as an absolute dismission might be considered as a decree against the title the plaintiff claimed, and which, by the bill and the evidence obtained under it, he sought to establish.

The facts and the pleadings in the case are fully stated in the opinion of the Court.

Page 26 U. S. 233

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.:

In the year 1813, James Henderson and his wife, filed their bill in the Court of the United States for the Seventh Circuit and District of Kentucky stating that Alexander Horsburg, the former husband of the plaintiff, did, by deed bearing date 25 April in the year 1787, confirm to Martin Baker and Hannah his wife for their lives and the life of the survivor then residing in the County of Halifax in Virginia a negro girl named Charlotte, previously loaned to them (which deed was recorded), reserving to himself and his heirs the reversion of the said slave and her increase and prohibiting any alienation of them under the penalty of forfeiting the loan.

This deed was recorded on 4 July, 1787, in the Court of Hustings for the Town of Petersburg, the town in which the said Hartsburg resided. The bill further states that the said Alexander Hartsburg departed this life in the year 1798 having first made his last will in writing, whereby he bequeathed the residue of his estate to his wife, who afterwards intermarried with the plaintiff, James Henderson.

The bill proceeds to state that Martin Baker and wife have removed to Kentucky with the slave Charlotte and her increase, whom they profess to hold as their absolute property, and that the plaintiffs fear that they will be secreted or conveyed

Page 26 U. S. 234

out of the state to places unknown. The plaintiffs further allege that they are unable to prove the identity of the said slaves, and pray that the said Baker and wife may be compelled to discover their number, and names, and may be decreed to give security for their forthcoming when the life estate should determine.

The court awarded an injunction to restrain the defendants from removing Charlotte, and her issue, out of the state.

In May, 1814, the plaintiff, James Henderson, filed an amended and supplemental bill, stating the death of his wife, and praying that the suit might be continued in his name. The bill also states, that Baker and wife had sold Charlotte and her increase to Francis Clarke and Robert Boyce, who intend removing them out of the state, and concealing them. It prays that the slaves may be rendered to the plaintiff, and that Clarke and Boyce may be restrained from removing them. The court extended the injunction to the other defendants. The defendants, Baker and wife, file their answer denying the loan, and insisting that certain friends of the defendant, Hannah, subscribed the sum of forty-three pounds, which was placed in the hands of Alexander Hartsburg, to purchase the slave Charlotte for her. They insist on their title, but give a full description of all the descendants of Charlotte.

The defendants, Clarke and Boyce, also deny the right of the complainant.

In 1817, the plaintiff again amended his bill and charged that Baker and wife had brought the deed from Hartsburg with them into Kentucky, as their title to Charlotte.

In November, 1819, Junius K. Hartsburg appeared, by his attorney, and leave was given him to file a bill of revival. The bill is filed by the said Hartsburg, as the administrator and devisee of James Henderson, and as the heir and only child of Mrs. Henderson, the wife of the said James, and the former wife and devisee of Alexander Hartsburg.

The bill recites the previous proceedings in the cause -- exhibits the will of James Henderson and his letters of administration and charges the sale to Boyce and Clarke since the institution of this suit, who purchased at a low price with the intention of removing the slaves beyond the jurisdiction of the court.

In answer to this bill, Baker and wife say that in the year 1773, Thomas Simmons and others named in the answer contributed

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