Boyce v. Anderson
27 U.S. 150

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U.S. Supreme Court

Boyce v. Anderson, 27 U.S. 2 Pet. 150 150 (1829)

Boyce v. Anderson

27 U.S. (2 Pet.) 150

Syllabus

The law regulating the responsibility of common carriers does not apply to the case of carrying intelligent beings such as negroes. The carrier has not and cannot have over them the same absolute control that he has over inanimate matter. In the nature of things and in their character they resemble passengers, and not packages of goods. It would seem reasonable therefore, that the responsibility of the carrier should be measured by the law which is applicable to passengers, rather than by that which is applicable to the carriage of common goods.

The law applicable to common carriers is one of great "rigor," though to the extent to which it has been carried, and in the cases to which it has been applied, its necessity and its policy are admitted; yet it ought not to be carried further or applied to new cases. It has not been applied to living men, and it ought not to be.

The ancient rule of the law of carriers that the carrier is liable only for ordinary neglect does not apply to the conveyance of slaves.

The case was submitted to the court, on the part of the counsel for the plaintiff in error, Mr. Rowan, upon the following brief.

"This was an action in the court below against defendants in error, owners of the steamboat Washington, to recover from them the value of four slaves, the property of the plaintiff, who he alleged were delivered to the commandants of said boat to be carried thereon, and who, he alleged, were drowned by the carelessness, negligence, neglect or mismanagement of the captain and commandants of the said steamboat."

"The declaration contained two counts, which are in the ordinary form."

"Plea not guilty, and joinder in the usual form."

"Upon the trial of the cause, the following bill of exceptions was signed by the judges, viz.,"

" Be it remembered that at the trial of this cause, the plaintiff gave evidence conducing to prove that the defendants were owners of the steamboat Washington. That the said boat Washington by them was used and employed, on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers as a common carrier of property and passengers, for freight and reward. That the steamboat Teche, in descending

Page 27 U. S. 151

the Mississippi, with the plaintiff's agent, and the negroes mentioned in the declaration and others on board, was blown up and set on fire, and the passengers escaped from the burning Teche to the shore, about six miles below Natches. That the steamboat Washington was ascending the Mississippi, and passed the burning Teche, and when she came opposite to them, the plaintiff's agent, the negroes, and others who had escaped from the Teche, were on shore; the agent of the plaintiff, with the negroes belonging to the plaintiff, was received into the yawl belonging to the defendants, a tender to the steamboat, for the purpose of conveying the negroes from the shore on the Mississippi to the steamboat, to be put on board the steamboat, and that the yawl was upset, the negroes in the declaration mentioned were drowned, and evidence conducing to show that the yawl was upset by ill and imprudent management in putting the steamboat in motion as the yawl approached, and before the passengers were on board the steamboat."

The defendants on their part gave evidence conducing to show that these negroes and other persons, to the number of sixteen, had been passengers on board the steamboat Teche, which had taken fire, and the passengers had been put on shore about six miles below Natches, from said Teche in her distress. That these passengers, including the negroes, were taken into the yawl of the steamboat Washington, from their distress, so as aforesaid, from motives of humanity, and without any view to reward, at the request of captain Campbell commanding the Teche, or of the agent of the plaintiff. That there was no agreement for hire, reward, or freight; none was charged or received. That it was the custom of steamboats in the river not to claim passage money or reward in such cases from persons who were in distress, and unable to pay. And to repel the evidence of plaintiff as to negligence, it appeared that there was no contract in this case between the agent of the plaintiff and the owners or officer of the steamboat about reward, but the yawl was sent to shore and the passengers taken in, without any contract, or conversation about the carriage, or about any reward.

Page 27 U. S. 152

The steamboat Teche when she took fire was descending. The steamboat Washington was ascending.

Upon this evidence the plaintiff moved the court to instruct the jury

1. That if they find from the evidence that the defendants were owners of the steamboat, and by themselves, their officer, or servants of the boat did actually receive into their yawl, the negroes of the plaintiff to be carried from shore on board the steamboat, they are responsible for neglect and imprudent management notwithstanding no reward or hire or freight or wages were to have been paid by Boyce to defendants.

2. That if they find from the evidence that the steamboat Washington was owned by defendants and used by them on the river as a common carrier for wages and freight, and that the slaves of plaintiff were actually received by the agents and servants of the defendants on board of the yawl of and belonging to the defendants as a tender of the steamboat, to be carried from the land, put on board the steamboat, to be therein carried and transported, that the defendants were bound to the most skillful and careful management, and if the slaves were drowned in consequence of any omission of such skillful and careful management by the agents and servants in the conduct and navigation of the boat and tender, the defendants are answerable to the plaintiffs for the value of the slaves.

3. That if the jury believe the evidence in this case, the defendants would have had a legal right to demand a reasonable compensation for their undertaking to transport said slaves on board their boat, and their afterwards waiving or declining that right from motives of humanity or any other motive does not change or diminish their legal responsibility as common carriers for hire or reward.

The defendants moved the court

"to instruct the jury that if they find from the evidence that the slaves in controversy were taken on board of the yawl at the instance, and in pursuance of the request of the captain of the Teche, from motives of humanity and courtesy alone, that the defendants are not liable unless they shall be of opinion that

Page 27 U. S. 153

the slaves were lost through the gross neglect of the captain of the steamboat, or the other servants or agents of the defendants."

The court gave the first instruction moved by the plaintiff, with this qualification, "that gross negligence, or unskillful conduct was required to charge the defendants." The second and third instruction moved by the plaintiff, the court refused to give, and instructed the jury,

"that the doctrine of common carriers did not apply to the case of carrying intelligent beings, such as negroes, but that the defendants were chargeable for negligence, or unskillful conduct."

The court gave the instructions asked for by the defendants.

It is believed and alleged that the court erred in refusing to give the instructions required by plaintiff and in giving those required by defendants, and especially in instructing the jury that the doctrine of common carriers did not apply to the case.

Page 27 U. S. 154

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