Stoddard v. Chambers
43 U.S. 284 (1844)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Stoddard v. Chambers, 43 U.S. 2 How. 284 284 (1844)

Stoddard v. Chambers

43 U.S. (2 How.) 284

Syllabus

A deed of land in Missouri, in 1804, attested by two witnesses, purporting to have been executed in the presence of a syndic, presented to the commissioners of united states in 1811 and again brought forward as the foundation of a claim before the commissioners in 1835, must be considered as evidence for a jury.

If it was not objected to in the court below, it cannot be in this Court.

A confirmation under the act of 1836 to the original claimant and his legal representatives enured, by way of estoppel, to his assignee.

Page 43 U. S. 285

To bring a case within the second section of the act of 1836, so as to avoid a confirmation, the opposing location must be shown to have been made "under a law of the United States."

The holder of a New Madrid certificate had a right to locate it only on "public lands which had been authorized to be sold." If it was located on lands which were reserved from sale at the time of issuing the patent, the patent is void.

There was no reservation from sale of the land claimed under a French or Spanish title between 26 May, 1829, and 9 July, 1832. A location under a New Madrid certificate, upon any land claimed under a French or Spanish title not otherwise reserved, made in this interval, would have been good.

If two patents be issued by the United States for the same land, and the first in date be obtained fraudulently or against law, it does not carry the legal title.

A patent is a mere ministerial act, and if it be issued for lands reserved from sale by law, it is void.

A patent is a mere ministerial act, and if it be issued for lands reserved from sale by law, it is void.

This was an ejectment brought by the plaintiffs in error (who were also plaintiffs in the court below) against the defendant. The title of the plaintiffs was derived through their ancestor, Amos Stoddard, from an old Spanish concession, granted in 1800, and that of the defendant, to forty-seven acres and twenty-one hundreths of an acre, from what is called a New Madrid patent, issued to one Peltier under the Act of Congress passed on 17 February, 1815, ch. 198. The defendant also claimed one acre and sixty-three hundreths under a certificate granted, under the same act, to one Coontz, for which a patent had not issued. Beyond these forty-eight acres and eighty-four hundreths of an acre, the defendant set up no claim.

The historical order of the facts in the case is this:

On 21 January, 1800, Mordecai Bell a resident of Louisiana, presented a petition to Don Carlos Dehault Delassuse, Lieutenant Governor and Commandant-in-Chief of Upper Louisiana, praying for a concession of 350 arpens of land.

On 29 January, 1800, Delassuse made the concession and instructed the surveyor, Soulard, to put the petitioner in possession of the land conceded.

On 29 May, 1804, Bell conveyed the concession and order of survey to James Mackay. The original deed was in French, and purported to be executed before Richard Caulk, syndic of the District of St. Andrew. The names of two attesting witnesses are also subscribed.

Page 43 U. S. 286

On 2 March, 1805, Congress passed an act "for ascertaining and adjusting the titles and claims to land within the Territory of Orleans and the District of Louisiana," the general purport of which was to recognize all existing grants. It further provided for the appointment of three persons, who should examine, and decide on, all claims submitted to them, and report the result to the Secretary of the Treasury, who was directed to communicate it to Congress.

On 26 September, 1805, James Mackay conveyed the grant and order of survey to Amos Stoddard, who was at that time civil commandant, under the government of the United States at St. Louis. It may here be remarked that evidence was given on the trial below that as early as 1817, Stoddard was in possession under this deed, and that the facts of his death before the suit and of the plaintiffs being his heirs at law were also given in evidence.

In January, 1806, Soulard, the Surveyor General of the Territory of Louisiana, but not so under the authority of Congress, made a plat and certificate of the survey of the above land.

On 3 March, 1807, Congress passed another act relating to land titles in Missouri, explanatory and corrective of the act of 1805. It also extended the time limited for filing the claims to 1 July, 1808.

On 29 June, 1808, all the papers relating to the claim were presented to the recorder of the district, viz.: 1. The concession. 2. Deed to Mackay. 3. Deed the Stoddard. 4. Certificate of survey in favor of Stoddard.

On 15 February, 1811, Congress passed an Act by which the President was authorized (section 10), "whenever he shall think proper, to direct so much of the public lands lying in the Territory of Louisiana as shall have been surveyed in conformity with the eighth section of this act, to be offered for sale,"

and further

"That all such lands, with the exception of the section number sixteen, which shall be reserved for the support of schools within the same; with the exception also of a tract reserved for the support of a seminary of learning, as provided for by the eighth section of this act, and with the exception also of the salt springs and lead mines, and lands contiguous thereto, which, by the direction of the President of the United States, may be reserved for the future disposal of the said states, shall be offered for sale to the highest bidder, under the direction of the register of the land office and the receiver of public moneys, and of the principal deputy surveyor, and on such day or

Page 43 U. S. 287

days as shall, by public proclamation of the President of the United States, be designated, for that purpose."

"Provided, however, that, till after the decision of Congress thereon, no tract shall be offered for sale, the claim to which has been in due time, and according to law, presented to the recorder of land titles in the district of Louisiana, and filed in his office, for the purpose of being investigated by the commissioners appointed for ascertaining the rights of persons claiming lands in the Territory of Louisiana."

On 3 March, 1811, Congress passed another act, in which the same reservation is made as is above stated.

On 10 October, 1811, the board of commissioners rejected the claim.

On 17 February, 1815, Congress passed an act declaring that any person or persons owning lands in the County of New Madrid, in the Missouri Territory, with the extent the said county had on the tenth day of November, 1812, and whose lands had been materially injured by earthquakes, should be and they were thereby authorized to locate the like quantity of land on any of the public lands of said territory authorized to be sold.

On 28 November, 1815, Frederick Bates, recorder &c., issued a certificate that a lot of one arpent, in the Village of Little Prairie, in the County of New Madrid, owned by Eustache Peltier or his legal representatives, was materially injured by earthquakes, and that said Eustache Peltier, or his legal representatives, was entitled to locate any quantity of land not exceeding 160 acres on any of the public lands in the Territory of Missouri the sale of which was authorized by law.

On 24 October, 1816, an entry was made of land in conformity with the above certificate. This entry covered forty-seven acres and twenty-one hundreths of the concession to Bell, and the defendant claimed under it.

In 1817, 1818, and 1819, the township in which the land in controversy lies, was surveyed under the authority of the United States, and not offered at public sale by the authority of the President until 1823.

In March, 1818, the certificate which had been issued in favor of Peltier was surveyed by Brown, the deputy surveyor, and the location made. It may here be remarked that evidence was given upon the trial, showing the possession of Peltier's location to have been in him and his assignees from 1819 down to the occupancy of the defendant, accompanied by deeds.

Page 43 U. S. 288

On 29 May, 1818, Martin Coontz made an entry under a New Madrid certificate, which was surveyed in July, 1818. This survey clashed with Bell's concession, and included one acre and sixty-three hundredths, which the defendant, Chambers, claimed under Coontz's title. Coontz did not obtain a patent for it.

On 26 May, 1824, Congress passed another act,

"enabling the claimants to lands within the limits of the State of Missouri and Territory of Arkansas to institute proceedings to try the validity of their claims."

It allowed any persons claiming lands under old grants or surveys, under certain circumstances, to present a petition to the district court of the State of Missouri, which court was authorized to give a decree in the matter, reviewable, if need be, by the Supreme Court of the United States. The 5th section provided that a claim not before the district court in two years, or not prosecuted to final judgment in three years, should be forever barred both at law and in equity, and the seventh section directed that where a claim, tried under the provisions of the act, should be finally decided against the claimant, or barred by virtue of any of the provisions of the act, the land specified in such claim, should, forthwith, be held and taken as a part of the public lands of the United States, subject to the same disposition as any other public land in the same district.

On 26 May, 1826, an act was passed continuing the above act in force for two years.

On 24 May, 1828, another act was passed, by which the act of 1824 was continued in force for the purpose of filing petitions, until 26 May, 1829, and for the purpose of adjudicating upon the claims until 26 May, 1830.

On 9 July, 1832, Congress passed an "act for the final adjustment of private land claims in Missouri," which authorized commissioners to examine all the unconfirmed claims to land in that state which had been filed prior to 10 March, 1804. The commissioners were directed to class them, and at the commencement of each session of Congress, during said term of examination, lay before the commissioner of the general land office a report of the claims so classed. The first class was to include the claims which ought, in their opinion, to be confirmed according to the laws and usages of the Spanish government; the second, those which ought not to be confirmed. The third section provided that the lands included in the first class should continue to be reserved from sale, as heretofore, until the decision of Congress should be made against

Page 43 U. S. 289

them; and those in the second class should be subject to sale as other public lands.

On 2 March, 1833, Congress passed another act, directing the commissioners to embrace every claim to a donation of land held in virtue of settlement and cultivation.

On 16 July, 1832, a patent was issued to Peltier for the land described in his survey.

On 8 June, 1835, the commissioners decided that 350 arpens of land ought to be confirmed to Mordecai Bell, or his legal representatives, according to the survey.

On 4 July, 1836, Congress passed an act confirming claims to land in the State of Missouri, by which it was declared that the decisions in favor of land claimants, made by the above commissioners were confirmed, saving and reserving, however, to all adverse claimants, the right to assert the validity of their claims in a court or courts of justice, and the 2d section declared that if it should be found that any tract or tracts thus confirmed or any part thereof had been previously located by any other person or persons under any law of the United States, or had been surveyed or sold by the United States, the present act should confer no title to such lands in opposition to the rights acquired by such location or purchase.

The cause came on for trial at April term, 1842, in the circuit court. After the evidence was closed the counsel for the defendant prayed the court to instruct the jury

1. That the plaintiffs are not entitled to recover in this action any land included in the patent issued to Eustache Peltier or his legal representatives.

2. That the plaintiffs are not entitled to recover in this action any land which the jury may find, from the evidence, to be embraced in the location made in favor of Martin Coontz, or his legal representatives.

Both of which instructions the court gave. Whereupon the counsel for the plaintiff excepted.

Page 43 U. S. 313

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