United States v. Skiddy
36 U.S. 73 (1837)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Skiddy, 36 U.S. 11 Pet. 73 73 (1837)

United States v. Skiddy

36 U.S. (11 Pet.) 73

APPEALS FROM THE EASTERN

DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA

Syllabus

Certain persons who were slaves in the State of Louisiana were by their owners taken to France as servants, and after some time were by their own consent sent back to New Orleans, some of them under declarations from their proprietors that they should be free and one of them, after her arrival, was held as a slave. The ships in which these persons were passengers were, after arrival in New Orleans, libeled for alleged breaches of the Act of Congress of April 20, 1818, prohibiting the importation of slaves into the United States. Held that the provisions of the act of Congress do not apply to such cases. The object of the law was to put an end to the slave trade and to prevent the introduction of slaves from foreign countries. The language of the statute cannot properly be applied to persons of color who were domiciled in the United States and who are brought back to their place of residence after their temporary absence.

The French ship Garonne, from Havre, and the ship Fortune, also from Havre, were libeled, by several proceedings, by the United States at New Orleans, in the District Court of the United States, January, 1836, under the provisions of the first section of the Act of Congress, passed April 20, 1818, entitled

"An act in addition to an act to prohibit the introduction of slaves into any port or place within the jurisdiction of the United States, from and after the first day of January, 1808, and to repeal certain parts of the same."

The ship Garonne had arrived in New Orleans, about 21 November, 1835, having on board a female, Priscilla, who had been born a slave in Louisiana, the property of the widow Smith, a native of that state, and resident in New Orleans. Mrs. Smith and her daughter, being in ill health, went from New Orleans, with her family, in 1835, to Havre, taking with her, as a servant, Priscilla, having previously obtained from the mayor of the city a passport for the slave, to prove that she had been carried out of the state, and that she should again be admitted into the same. Priscilla being desirous of returning to New Orleans, from Paris, was sent back on board the

Page 36 U. S. 74

Garonne, under a passport from the charge des affaires of the United States, in which she was described as a woman of color, the servant of a citizen of the United States. On the arrival of the ship, the baggage of the girl was regularly returned as that of the slave of Mrs. Smith.

The facts of the case of the ship Fortune were as follows: Mr. Pecquet, a citizen of New Orleans, went to France, in 1831, taking with him two servants, who were his slaves, as was alleged in the testimony, with an intention to emancipate them. They remained with the family of Mr. Pecquet in France for some time, and returned to New Orleans, at their own instance, in the ship Fortune in 1835, as was asserted, as free persons. The passport of the American legation represented these females as domestics of Mr. Pecquet, of New Orleans, a citizen of the United States. After their return to New Orleans, it did not appear, that they were claimed or held by the agent of Mr. Pecquet, or by any person, as slaves, but no deed of emancipation for either of them had been executed. On the arrival of the Fortune, in the list of passengers which was certified under the oath of the master, these persons, by name, were stated to be the slaves of Mr. Pecquet. The declarations of Mr. Pecquet that these persons were brought back as free, and that it was his intention that they should be free, were in evidence.

The District Court of Louisiana dismissed both the libels, and the United States prosecuted these appeals.

Page 36 U. S. 76

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE TANEY delivered the opinion of the Court.

These two cases are appeals from decrees of the District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, upon libels filed by the district attorney, against these said ships, their tackle, apparel and furniture, for alleged breaches of the Act of Congress of April 20, 1818, 3 Stat. 450, prohibiting the importation of slaves into the United States.

In the case of the ship Garonne, the facts were admitted by the

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parties in the court below, and are in substance, as follows:

Priscilla, a person of color born in Louisiana, was a slave, the property of the widow Smith, who was a native of the same state. Mrs. Smith and her daughter, Madame Couchain, being in an ill state of health, left New Orleans with her family for France in 1835, taking with her as a servant the above-mentioned girl. Priscilla being desirous of returning to New Orleans, Mr. Couchain, the son-in-law of Mrs. Smith, through the intervention of a friend, procured for her a passage in the ship Garonne from Havre to New Orleans, and since her arrival at that place, she has lived at the house of Mrs. Smith, and is held as her slave.

Upon this statement of facts, the question is presented whether Mrs. Smith, a resident of Louisiana, going abroad, and sojourning for a time in a foreign country, and taking with her one of her slaves, as an attendant, may lawfully bring or send her back to her home with intent to hold her as before in her service. It does not appear from the evidence or admissions in the case whether the laws of France gave the girl a right to her freedom upon her introduction into that country. But this omission is not material to the decision. For even assuming that by the French law she was entitled to freedom, the Court is of opinion that there is nothing in the act of Congress under which these proceedings were had to prevent her mistress from bringing or sending her back to her place of residence and continuing to hold her as before, in her service.

The object of the law in question was to put an end to the slave trade and to prevent the introduction of slaves into the United States from other countries. The libel in this case was filed under the first section of the act, which declares

"That it shall not be lawful to import or bring in any manner into the United States or territories thereof, from any foreign kingdom, place or country, any negro, mulatto or person of color with intent to hold, sell or dispose of such negro, mulatto or person of color as a slave or to be held to service or labor,"

and then proceeds to make the vessel liable to forfeiture which shall be employed in such importation. The language of the law above recited is obviously pointed against the introduction of negroes or mulattoes who were inhabitants of foreign countries, and cannot properly be applied to persons of color who are domiciled in the United States and who are brought back to their place of residence after a temporary absence. In the case before the Court, although the girl had been staying for a time in

Page 36 U. S. 78

France in the service of her mistress, yet in construction of law, she continued an inhabitant of Louisiana, and her return home in the manner stated in the record was not the importation of a slave into the United States, and consequently, does not subject the vessel to forfeiture.

If the construction we have given to this section of the law needed confirmation, it will be found in the exception contained in the fourth section of the law in relation to persons of color who are "inhabitants, or held to service by the laws of either of the states or territories of the United States." This section prohibits our own citizens and all other persons resident in the United States from taking on board of any vessel or transporting from any foreign country or place any negro or mulatto "not being an inhabitant, nor held to service by the laws of either of the states or territories of the United States." Under this section, the mere act of taking or receiving on board the colored person in a foreign country with the intent to sell or hold such person in slavery constitutes the offense. But inasmuch as Priscilla was an inhabitant of New Orleans and held to service by the laws of Louisiana, if the master of an American vessel had taken her on board at Havre, for the purpose of transporting her to Louisiana, there to be held in slavery, it is very clear that by reason of the exception above-mentioned, the act of receiving her in his vessel for such a purpose would have been no offense, while the taking on board of a negro or mulatto who was the inhabitant of any other country would have been a high misdemeanor and subjected the party to severe punishment and the vessel to forfeiture. It would be difficult to assign a reason for this discrimination, if the persons of color described in the exception could not be brought to this country without subjecting the vessel to forfeiture, and the exception made in this section in relation to those who are inhabitants or held to service by the laws of either of the states or territories of the United States proves that Congress did not intend to interfere with persons of that description, nor to prohibit our vessels from transporting them from foreign countries back to the United States.

The principles above stated decide also the case of United States v. Ship Fortune. We think there is enough in the record to show that the persons of color therein mentioned were sent to New Orleans, the place of their residence, for the purpose of being there manumitted, and not to be held in slavery. But it is

Page 36 U. S. 79

unnecessary to go into an examination of the evidence on this point, because in either case, the bringing them home was not an offense against the act of Congress, and the vessel in which they returned is not on that account liable to seizure and condemnation. The decree of the district court must therefore be

Affirmed in each of these cases.

These causes came on to be heard, on the transcripts of the record from the District Court of the United States for the Eastern District of Louisiana, and were argued by counsel. On consideration whereof it is now here ordered and decreed by this Court that the decree of the said district court in each of the causes be and the same is hereby affirmed.

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