Stelle v. Carroll - 37 U.S. 201 (1838)
U.S. Supreme Court
Stelle v. Carroll, 37 U.S. 12 Pet. 201 201 (1838)
Stelle v. Carroll
37 U.S. (12 Pet.) 201
Dower. The doctrines of the common law, on the subject of dower, although since altered by an act of assembly of Maryland, were still the law of Maryland when the United States assumed jurisdiction over the District of Columbia, and the Act of Congress of February 27, 1801, which provides for its government, declares that the laws of Maryland as they then existed should continue and be in force in that part of the District which was ceded by that state.
According to the principles of the common law, a widow was not dowable in her husband's equity of redemption, and if a man mortgages in fee before marriage and dies without redeeming the mortgage, his widow is not entitled to dower.
Mortgages were made during the coverture, but the mortgage deeds were acknowledged by the wife upon privy examination, and these acknowledgments, under the Acts of Assembly of Maryland of 1715, ch. 47, and 1766, ch. 14, bar the right of dower in the lots thus conveyed to the mortgagee. The legal estate passed to the mortgagee, and the husband retained nothing but the equity of redemption, and as the wife had no right of dower in this equitable interest, a subsequent deed, executed by the husband, conveyed the whole of his interest in the estate and was a bar to the claim of dower. It was not necessary for the wife to join in such a deed, as she had no right of dower in the equity of redemption, which was conveyed by the deed.
The plaintiff in error brought an action claiming to be endowed out of certain lots, with the improvements on them, being No. 16 and No. 17 in square 728 in the City of Washington, and relied on the following circumstances as giving her the right thereto.
On 24 August, 1804, George Walker and William Turnicliffe conveyed in fee simple to Pontius D. Stelle lots 16 and 17 in square 728 in the City of Washington. And on 25 August, 1804, Pontius D. Stelle reconveyed these lots to William Turnicliffe by way of mortgage to secure the payment of the purchase money, but his wife did not relinquish her dower.
On 14 November, 1808, Pontius D. Stelle executed to Peter Miller another deed of bargain and sale in fee simple of lot 18 in square 728, and Beulah Stelle, his wife, joined with him in the acknowledgment and relinquished her dower.
On 1 March, 1810, Pontius D. Stelle conveyed the
same lots to Peter Miller in fee simple by way of mortgage, and Beulah Stelle, the demandant, relinquished her dower in them.
On 28 January, 1811, Pontius D. Stelle executed another deed in fee simple to Peter Miller by which, after reciting that he had, on 25 August, 1804, mortgaged lots 16 and 17 to William Turnicliffe to secure the payment of four thousand dollars, the balance of which had been or was secured to be paid to Turnicliffe by Miller, "and from which the said Pontius D. Stelle is wholly released and exonerated;" that Miller had advanced to him (Stelle) several large sums of money for securing the payment of which he (Stelle) had conveyed to Miller lot 18 in square 728, with a deed of defeasance from Miller to Stelle, which sums of money "Stelle having failed to pay to the said Miller, the said conveyance of lot numbered 18 to the said Miller hath become absolute and unconditional," and that Stelle is desirous of "more fully conveying and assuring the above described lots of ground to the said Peter Miller," and for the consideration of eight hundred and ninety-two dollars and ninety-eight cents, he proceeded to convey, by bargain and sale to the said Peter Miller, his heirs and assigns, the said lots 16, 17, and 18, "and all the right, title, interest, property, claim, and demand, whether in law or equity," which he had in them, with covenants of general warranty ("except the liens above-mentioned") and for further assurances. This deed has no release of dower.
Afterward Pontius D. Stelle left the possession of the said lots, and they were sold under a decree of the Court of Chancery of Washington by Zachariah Walker, trustee, and were purchased by the defendant, and the buildings on lot 16 were erected after the deed to Peter Miller in 1811, and not by P. D. Stelle.
The circuit court instructed the jury the plaintiff could not recover, and a verdict and judgment were rendered for the defendant, who thereupon prosecuted this writ of error.