United States v. Seton
35 U.S. 309 (1836)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Seton, 35 U.S. 10 Pet. 309 309 (1836)

United States v. Seton

35 U.S. (10 Pet.) 309

Syllabus

A grant of land by the governor of East Florida in consideration of services to the Spanish government, made before the cession of the Territory of Florida to the United States, confirmed.

This was a claim to land in East Florida under a concession made by Don Jose Coppinger, Governor of the province of East Florida, then under the dominion of the King of Spain, on 6 May, 1816, to Charles Seton, the claimant. The claimant, on 26 April, 1816, applied by petition to Governor Coppinger for leave to build a water saw mill on Nassau River, in East Florida, at a place called Roundabout, and for the right to the quantity of land which was customary for his supply of timber.

On 8 May following, the governor, in consideration (as he states in his decree made on said petition) of the benefit and utility which would redound to the improvement of the province if what Don Charles Seton proposed should be carried into effect, granted to him, without injury to a third person, that he might build a water saw mill at the place which he solicited, but with the precise condition that until he should establish said mill, said concession should be considered as not made and without any value or effect until that event took place. That then, in order that he might not be injured by the increased expenses which he was preparing to incur, he might make use of the pine trees which were included in the square of five miles which he asked for.

Fifteen thousand six hundred and thirty acres of this land were surveyed by George J. F. Clarke, public surveyor of the province, agreeably to the calls of the concession, on 1 November, 1816, which is stated in the petition to be adjoining to a tract of three hundred and seventy acres, which had been before surveyed by said

Page 35 U. S. 310

Clarke as a part of said sixteen thousand acres, but it is alleged that the certificate and plat of the three hundred and seventy acres have been mislaid or lost. The claimant also alleges in the petition that in the year 1817 he completed the building of said saw mill, and that it was for some time in full operation.

The district attorney, by his answer filed on behalf of the United States, denies the power of the governor to make the concession and insists that if he did possess competent power to make it, and if the condition was complied with, it gives to Seton no right of soil, but only a right to "use the pine trees which were comprehended in the square of five miles which he asked for," and that only while the mill was in operation, and that for several years past, Seton has entirely failed and neglected to keep the mill in operation, by which failure and neglect he has lost all right even to the use of the pine trees.

This claim is evidenced by a copy of the concession, certified by Thomas de Aguilar, late secretary of the government at of this province, and by a duly certified copy of the survey and plat for fifteen thousand six hundred and thirty acres. A duly certified copy of another survey and plat, made by said Clarke on 16 May, 1816, for five hundred and twenty acres, at the place called Roundabout, was also produced.

It is in evidence that Seton built the mill in the year 1817 or 1818 (for the witnesses differ on this point), but all agree that it has not been in operation since 1819.

Upon this state of the case, three questions were submitted in the court below:

1st. Had the governor power to make the grant?

2d. If he had, what interest vested in Seton upon the establishment of the mill?

3d. Does that interest, whatever it was, continue, or did it cease with the destruction of said mill?

The claim was confirmed, the first question being considered as settled and the court being of opinion that upon the establishment of the mill, a full and complete title to the land itself vested in Seton, to which he is entitled notwithstanding his neglect to keep it in operation. The United States appealed from this decree.

Page 35 U. S. 311

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