Fenwick v. Chapman
34 U.S. 461 (1835)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Fenwick v. Chapman, 34 U.S. 9 Pet. 461 461 (1835)

Fenwick v. Chapman

34 U.S. (9 Pet.) 461

Syllabus

By the statute of Maryland of 1796, ch. 67, s. 13, manumissions of slaves, by will and testament may be made to take effect at the death of the testator. The testator may devise or charge his real estate with the payment of debts, to make the manumission effective, and not in prejudice of creditors.

The right to freedom may be tried at law, in a suit against the executors, at the instance of the manumitted slaves, and the executor may, in such suit, admit the existence of a sufficiency of real assets or real estate to pay the debts of his testator.

A judgment at law in favor of manumitted slaves, in a suit against an executor, obtained on the admission by the executor of a sufficiency of assets, may be set aside in equity, if such admission was made without foundation in fact, or in fraud or mistake. In such a proceeding in equity, to which the executor, the manumitted slaves, and all persons interested have been made parties, there may be an entire review of the administration of the estate, of the conduct of the executor, and that of the creditors, in regard to the estate, and in respect to the vigilance of the executor in paying, and of the creditors in the pursuit of their debts.

The words in a will, "after my debts and funeral charges are paid, I devise and bequeath as follows," amount to a charge upon the real estate for the payment of debts.

When a testator manumits his slaves by will and testament, and it clearly appears to have been his intention that the manumission shall take place at all events, the manifest intention, without express words, to charge the real estate will charge the real estate for the payment of debts, if there be not personal assets enough without the manumitted slaves, to pay the debts of the testator.

In such a case, the creditors of the testator must look to the real estate for the payment of debts which remain unpaid, after the personal estate, exclusive of the manumitted slaves, has been exhausted, and they may pursue their claims in equity, or according to the statutes of Maryland subjecting real estate to the payment of debts.

When an executor permits manumitted slaves to go at large and free under a manumission to take effect at the death of the testator, he cannot recall such assent. Nor can it be revoked under an order of the Orphans' Court of Maryland, for the sale of all the personal estate of the testator, that court not having jurisdiction of the question of manumission.

It being admitted that a testator left real estate to an amount in value more than sufficient to pay his debts, without the sale of slaves manumitted by his will, those persons are free, notwithstanding a deficiency of personal assets

Page 34 U. S. 462

The defendants in error instituted a suit in the circuit court to recover their freedom, alleging that they were entitled to it under the last will and testament of their late mistress, Frances Edelin deceased, in the State of Maryland. The plaintiff in error claimed the petitioners as his slaves, having purchased them of the sole acting executor of the deceased, at a sale made by the order and authority of the Orphan's Court of Prince George's County, in Maryland, and by the consent of all parties to the suit, the executor was admitted to defend the same in the court below. It was proved in the circuit court that the slaves were sold by the executor, with all the other personal estate of the deceased, by authority of the aforesaid orphan's court, as assets in the hands of the executor, to pay the debts of the deceased; there not being assets enough to pay the same without the sale of said slaves, and without recourse to the real estate. It was contended that the sale was a good one, and that the slaves were not entitled to their freedom. The following facts in the case were agreed, and submitted to the court, with the other evidence in the case, and making a part of the record now before this Court.

It is agreed in this case:

1. That the petitioners are the same named in the will of Frances Edelin deceased, to whom she gave their freedom after her death, as appears by the said will, a copy whereof is hereto annexed.

2. That Edelin, the defendant, was the executor of the last will and testament of said deceased, and, as such, sold, in the year 1833, said petitioners to the other defendant, Fenwick.

3. That the sale of the petitioners was made in Prince George's County aforesaid, where the deceased lived at the time of her death, and where the petitioners were, and that, from the time of deceased's death to the time of their sale, they were permitted by the executor to go at large as free, and that after the purchase made by Fenwick he brought them to the District of Columbia, where the present suit was instituted, and that after the institution of the said suit, Fenwick transferred his claim to the petitioners to the defendant Edelin, who repaid him his money, and appears to defend the suit.

Page 34 U. S. 463

4. That the deceased left real estate to an amount in value more than sufficient to pay her debts without the sale of the negroes emancipated by the will, as will appear by her will referred to, and made a part of this agreement; but not personal estate sufficient.

5. That the original copy of all the proceedings had in the Orphan's Court of Prince George's County relative to the settlement of the deceased's estate, by her executors or administrators, may be filed as part of this case.

The will of Frances Edelin, the proceedings in the Orphan's Court of Prince George's County, and all the material facts in the case, are fully stated in the opinion of this Court, delivered by MR. JUSTICE WAYNE. Upon a hearing in the circuit court, judgment was given in favor of the petitioners in that court, now defendants in error, and from that judgment a writ of error was sued out to this Court.

Page 34 U. S. 466

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