Ross v. Doe ex Dem. Barland
26 U.S. 655

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U.S. Supreme Court

Ross v. Doe ex Dem. Barland, 26 U.S. 1 Pet. 655 655 (1828)

Ross v. Doe ex Dem. Barland

26 U.S. (1 Pet.) 655

Syllabus

Both the plaintiff and defendants claimed title under the provisions of the Act of Congress, passed 3 March, 1803, entitled "An act regulating the grants of land and providing for the disposal of the lands of the United States south of the State of Tennessee," and the decision of the Supreme Court of the State of Mississippi was upon the construction given to that act by the commissioners acting under its authority. This is a case which draws into question the construction of an act of Congress, and the Supreme Court of the United States has jurisdiction on a writ of error by which the decision of the court of the state of Mississippi is brought up for revision under the 25th section of the Judiciary Acct of 1789.

Where, by the established practice of courts in particular states, the courts in actions of ejectment look beyond the grant and examine the progressive stages of the title from its incipient state until its consummation, such a practice will form the law of cases decided under the same in these states, and the Supreme Court of the United States regards those rules of decision in cases brought up from such states, provided that in so doing they do not suffer the provisions of any statute of the United States to be violated.

Under the Act of Congress of March 3, 1803, such lands only were authorized to be offered for sale as had not been appropriated by the previous sections of the law and certificates granted by the commissioners in pursuance thereof. A right, therefore, to a particular tract of land derived from a donation certificate given under that law is superior to the title of anyone who purchased the same land at the public sales unless there is some fatal infirmity in the certificate which renders it void.

The act of Congress requires no precise form for the donation certificate. It is sufficient if the proofs be exhibited to the court of commissioners to satisfy them of the facts entitling the party to the certificate. It is sufficient if the consideration, to-wit the occupancy and the quantity granted, appears. Nothing more is necessary to certify to the government the party's right or to enable him, after it is surveyed by the proper officer, to obtain a patent.

The second section of the Act of Congress of March 3, 1803, was intended to confer a bounty on a numerous class of individuals, and in construing the ambiguous words of the section, it is the duty of the court to adopt that construction which will best effect the liberal intentions of the legislature.

The time when the territory over which this law operated was evacuated by the Spanish troops was very important, as the law was intended to provide for those who were actually at that time inhabitants of and cultivated the soil within it; but whether it was in 1797, or 1798 was comparatively unimportant. The decision of the commissioners upon the period when the evacuation took place is sufficient, and the Court is disposed to adopt the construction of the act given by the commissioners west of Pearl River: that the evacuation took place on 30 March, 1798, by which persons coming within the objects of the section were entitled to donation certificates.

Page 26 U. S. 656

Congress has treated as erroneous the construction given to the law by the commissioners to settle claims to lands east of Pearl River, who had decided that only those who were settled on the lands within the territory in the year, 1797 were entitled to donation certificates, and who had granted to others, preemption certificates.

The commissioners appointed under the act of Congress relative to claims to lands of the United States south of the State of Tennessee were authorized to hear evidence as to the time of the actual evacuation of the territory by the Spanish troops and to decide upon the fact. The law gave them power to hear and decide all matters respecting such claims and to determine thereon according to justice and equity and declared their deliberations shall be final. The Court is bound to presume that every fact necessary to warrant the certificate, in the terms of it, was proved before the commissioners, and that consequently it was shown to them that the final evacuation of the territory by the Spanish troops took place on 30 March, 1798.

This action of ejectment was originally instituted by the lessee of the defendants in error in the Circuit Court of the State of Mississippi, citizens of that state, against Allison Ross, the plaintiff in error, to recover a tract of land lying in that state. The plaintiff in that court obtained a verdict for the land, and on the trial of the cause a bill of exceptions was taken to the opinion of the circuit court upon certain instructions which were refused to be given when required by the counsel for the defendant below. From the decision of the state circuit court, the defendant in that court appealed to the Supreme Court of the State of Mississippi, and the judgment of the circuit court having been affirmed in that court, he prosecuted a writ of error to this Court.

The bill of exceptions, sent up with the record, sets forth that the counsel for the plaintiff in error moved the circuit court to instruct the jury that, if it should be of opinion that the defendant in the ejectment was in possession of the land in controversy under a patent from the United States to Isaac Ross dated 12 August, 1819, and assigned by him to the said defendant, the plaintiff in the ejectment could not recover. The patent to Isaac Ross was founded upon a certificate of the Register of the land office west of Pearl River, and was for the land in controversy, which had been sold at the sales of the lands of the United States and purchased by Isaac Ross, who afterwards assigned the same to Allison Ross, the defendant below.

The patent was of older date than the patent held by the lessors of the plaintiff below, which patent was issued to Joseph White on a certificate of the Board of Commissioners West of Pearl River, granted in pursuance of an Act of Congress passed 3 March, 1803, entitled "An act regulating

Page 26 U. S. 657

the grants of land, and providing for the sales of lands of the United States south of the State of Tennessee."

The instructions required claimed that the elder patent of the defendant below should prevail in the action of ejectment in a court of law against the junior patent of the plaintiff although the junior patent emanated from a prior certificate of the commissioners.

The court refused to give the instructions prayed for, but on the contrary instructed them that the junior patent of the plaintiff in the ejectment, emanating upon a certificate for a donation claim prior in date to the patent under which the defendant claims, would overreach the elder patent of the defendant and in point of law should prevail against it.

The plaintiff in error contended that the court below erred in refusing the instructions prayed for and in the instructions they gave to the jury in favor of the title of the plaintiff in the ejectment.

Page 26 U. S. 662

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