United States v. Heirs of Clarke and Atkinson - 41 U.S. 228 (1841)
U.S. Supreme Court
United States v. Heirs of Clarke and Atkinson, 41 U.S. 16 Pet. 228 228 (1841)
United States v. Heirs of Clarke and Atkinson
41 U.S. (16 Pet.) 228
A Florida land claim. A grant of fifteen thousand acres by the Spanish governor of East Florida, in consideration of important services performed on behalf of the government of Spain, to George Atkinson, confirmed by the supreme court.
By the eighth article of the Florida Treaty, no grants of land made after 24 January, 1818, were valid, nor could a survey be valid on lands other than those authorized by the grant. Still the power to survey in conformity to the concessions existed up to the change of flags.
Spain had the power to make grants founded on any consideration, and subject to any restrictions within her dominions. If a grant was binding on that government, it is so on the United States, the successor of Spain. All the grants of land made by the lawful authorities of the King of Spain, before 24 January, 1818, were by the treaty ratified and confirmed to the owners of the lands.
The grant to Atkinson was for the land he mentioned in his petition or for any other lands that were vacant. Three surveys were made of lands within the quantity granted, not at the place specially mentioned in the grant, but at other places. Held that these surveys were valid notwithstanding that they were made at different places.
This was an appeal from the decree of the Superior Court of East Florida, confirming the claims of the heirs of Clarke and Atkinson to 15,000 acres of land, under the acts for the adjustment of land claims in Florida. The claim was founded on a petition of George Atkinson, merchant, of Fernandina, dated October 8, 1816, and a decree of governor Coppinger thereon, dated October 20, 1816. The petition stated many services rendered to government, and benefits conferred on the province, and prayed that his Excellency would be pleased "to grant him, in property, fifteen thousand acres of land in Cedar Swamp, and on the west of the lake named Upper Little Lake."
The governor's decree stated that in consideration of the merits cited, he granted him in property the lands he solicited in the petition, and that the surveyor general would run them for him, in
the places he mentioned, or in others that were vacant, and of equal convenience to the party.
The originals of the petition and decree were not produced in evidence; neither are they to be found in the archives at St. Augustine. A certified copy, under the hand of Tomas de Aguilar, secretary of the government (whose handwriting was proved), stated to be faithfully drawn from the original in his office, was alone offered, and was objected to one the part of the appellants. The objection was overruled.
There were also produced four several plats and certificates of survey, made by George J. F. Clarke, surveyor general, for George Atkinson. 1. Dated 20 January 1818, for 4,000 acres of land, northwardly of Dunn's Creek, which runs from Dunn's Lake to the River St. John's, and above the crossing-place of said creek. 2. Dated 12 March, 1818, for 3,000 acres of land, on the middle arm of Haw Creek, which empties itself into Dunn's Lake, toward the east. 3. Dated 21 March, 1818, for 2,000 acres of land, in the place called Dupon's Hammock, southeasterly of Bowlegs' Prairie, and southwestwardly of Paynestown. 4. Dated 24 January, 1818, for 6,000 acres, on Darcey's Creek, and extending from the natural bridge of Santa Fe, on the road called Ray's Trail.
The petition to the court in this case was filed on 22 May, 1829, in the name of George J. F. Clarke, for himself, and the heirs and legal representatives of George Atkinson, deceased, and set forth the grant, and that the claim of Atkinson had been filed before the Land Board of East Florida, which rejected the same but did not report it forged or antedated, and that he had legal right, under the said George Atkinson, to _____ acres, parcel of the said land.
On 21 May 1830, the district attorney filed his answer which, inter alia, stated that
"The petitioner had not shown whether or not the said George Atkinson died intestate, or who were the legal heirs of the said George Atkinson, whether they are minors or otherwise, if any such there were; nor indeed had he expressly alleged that the said George Atkinson left any legal heirs or representatives or that any such now existed; nor had he
shown any title in himself to the said tract of land or any part thereof; nor had he stated or set forth in his petition any bargain, sale, deed or deeds of conveyance from the said George Atkinson in his lifetime, or from any of the said legal representatives of the said George Atkinson since his death, to the said petitioner to all or any part of the said lands, or in what right he claimed, whether by gift, descent, devise, conveyance or otherwise, and respondent relied upon the aforesaid defects in the petition or bill of complaint as matter of defense on the hearing of this cause."
Clarke having died, his heirs, on 13 July, 1840, filed a petition to revive the suit, which was ordered accordingly, on 16 July, 1840, and the cause came on to be heard on the 20th day of the same month. The counsel for the claimants then moved the court that the cause might also proceed in the name of Philip R. Younge and Mary Younge, his wife; Samuel Humphries and Letitia Humphries, his wife; Jane Gains, widow of Dr. Joseph Gains; and Letitia Atkinson, heirs and legal representatives of George Atkinson, and with the assent of the attorney of the United States, it was ordered accordingly.
No deed or conveyance nor evidence of any kind was offered to show that either Clarke or his heirs had any interest whatever in the lands. After hearing testimony, the court made a decree in favor of the claimants, from which the present appeal was taken.