Dundas v. Hitchcock
53 U.S. 256 (1851)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Dundas v. Hitchcock, 53 U.S. 12 How. 256 256 (1851)

Dundas v. Hitchcock

53 U.S. 256

Syllabus

Where a mortgage was executed by a husband, his own name only being used in the body of the instrument, but it was signed by his wife also, who relinquished her

Page 53 U. S. 257

right of dower, and made her acknowledgment in an after part of the instrument, and there is sufficient evidence from an inspection of the whole instrument to believe that the intention of the parties was to consider the whole paper as forming one assurance, the wife will be barred of her dower as far as the mortgage is concerned.

Where a statute requires a private examination of the wife to ascertain that she acts freely, and not by compulsion of her husband, but prescribes no precise form of words to be used in the certificate, it is sufficient if the words of the acknowledgment have the same meaning and are in substance the same, with those used in the statute.

Where a widow was allowed one year after probate of her husband's will to elect whether to take under it or not, and by the will she was sole devisee for herself and children, and before the expiration of the year she released to the mortgagee all her estate, right, and claim to the mortgaged premises, styling herself widow and sole devisee, she cannot afterwards avail herself of her right of election and set up a claim to dower outside of the will; she is estopped by her deed.

This was an appeal from the Circuit Court of the United States for the Southern District of Alabama. There were two cases between the same parties, depending upon the same principles, and only differing as to the property mortgaged. The notice of one will suffice for both.

The plaintiffs in error were the trustees of the Bank of the United States, being the assignees of Cowperthwaite, Dunlap, and Cope, the original trustees.

In July, 1838, Henry Hitchcock, of Mobile, Alabama, came to a settlement of many transactions of loans and discounts with the Bank of the United States, and was found indebted to the amount of six hundred and twenty thousand, five hundred and thirty dollars, and ninety-six cents $620,530.96. He gave his bond for this sum, payable in four installments, and to secure it executed a mortgage which gave rise to one of the questions in the present suit, the point being whether or not his wife so far joined in the mortgage as to relinquish her right of dower. Her dower in the equity of redemption was not called in question, but was worth nothing.

The mortgage commenced in this way: "Know all men by these presents that I, Henry Hitchcock, of the City and County of Mobile, in the State of Alabama," &c., and concluded in this way:

"Provided always, and these presents are upon this express condition, that if the said Henry Hitchcock shall well and truly pay to the said Joseph Cowperthwaite, Thomas Dunlap, and Herman Cope, the survivors or survivor of them, the sum of six hundred and twenty thousand five hundred and thirty dollars and ninety-six cents, with eight percent interest per annum, from the first day of March, A.D. one thousand eight hundred and thirty-eight, thereon accruing, payable semiannually, according to the condition of a certain bond by the said Henry Hitchcock given, payable to the said Joseph

Page 53 U. S. 258

Cowperthwaite, Thomas Dunlap, and Herman Cope, bearing even date with these presents, then these presents shall cease, determine, and be void, otherwise to be and remain in full force and virtue. Given under my hand and seal, this fourteenth day of July, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and thirty-eight."

"H. HITCHCOCK"

"ANNE HITCHCOCK"

"Signed, sealed, and delivered in the presence of:"

"And I, Anne Hitchcock, wife of the said Henry Hitchcock, for and in consideration of the sum of one dollar to me in hand paid by the said Joseph Cowperthwaite, Thomas Dunlap, and Herman Cope, have relinquished, and hereby do relinquish by these presents, all my right and title of dower in and to the above described premises to the said Joseph Cowperthwaite, Thomas Dunlap, and Herman Cope, the survivors or survivor of them, and to the heirs, executors, and assigns of such survivor forever."

"Witness my hand and seal this fourteenth day of July, one thousand eight hundred and thirty-eight."

"ANNE HITCHCOCK [SEAL]"

"Attest: CHARLES A. MARSTON"

"THE STATE OF ALABAMA"

"Mobile County"

"Personally appeared before me Charles A. Marston, notary public in and for said county, the above-named H. Hitchcock, who acknowledged that he signed, sealed, and delivered the foregoing indenture of mortgage to Joseph Cowperthwaite, Thomas Dunlap, and Herman Cope, on the day and year therein mentioned. And also appeared personally before me Charles A. Marston, Anne Hitchcock, wife of the said H. Hitchcock, who being examined privately and apart from her said husband, acknowledged that she signed, sealed and delivered the said indenture of mortgage freely and of her own accord and without any fear, threats, or compulsion of her said husband."

"Given under my hand and seal notarial, this fourteenth day of July, A.D. 1838."

"CHARLES A. MARSTON"

The first installment of debt and interest became due in March, 1839, in the life of Hitchcock. He made default in the payment of the first installment. The Bank of the United States then filed their bill to foreclose the mortgage in the Court of Chancery at Mobile. Hitchcock resisted the payment of the debt

Page 53 U. S. 259

upon the plea of usury. There had been no decision of this suit at the date of Hitchcock's death, which took place 11 August, 1839.

In August, 1839, Hitchcock made his will, legally authenticated, and devised his property in trust to his wife for the use of his wife and children after the payment of certain legacies.

This will was admitted to probate in the Orphans' Court of Mobile County in August, 1839, but neither letters testamentary nor of administration were issued until February, 1840.

After the death of Hitchcock, his widow, Anne, took possession of the estate and executed many leases, but never qualified as executrix. James Erwin, her brother, purchased at sheriff's sale all the right and title of Hitchcock to a part of the property for fifty dollars, and procured an attornment from the tenants. This gave rise to a suit which is reported in 45 U. S. 4 How. 58.

In February, 1840, sundry negotiations took place between the parties, which eventuated in the execution of the following deeds and releases, viz.:

1. On 8 February, 1840, Anne Hitchcock executed a deed to Cowperthwaite, Dunlap, and Cope. It commenced thus:

"This indenture, made this eighth day of February, A.D. 1840, by and between Anne Hitchcock, widow and sole devisee of Henry Hitchcock, late of Mobile County, acting under and by virtue of the last will and testament, and the several codicils thereto annexed, of the said Henry Hitchcock, duly proved and of record in the Orphans' Court of Mobile County, of the first part, and Joseph Cowperthwaite, Thomas Dunlap, and Herman Cope, of the City of Philadelphia and State of Pennsylvania, of the second part, witnesseth:"

"That the party of the first part, for and in consideration of the sum of seven hundred and fifty-three thousand four hundred and fifty-two dollars and twenty-three hundredths dollars to her well and truly in hand paid at and before the ensealing and delivery of these presents by the said parties of the second part, the receipt whereof she doth hereby acknowledge, hath remised, released, conveyed, and forever quitclaimed, and doth by these presents remise, release, convey, and forever quitclaim, unto the said parties of the second part, the survivors and survivor of them, and the heirs, executors, administrators, and assigns of such survivor, all the estate, right, title, interest, use, trust, property, claim and demand whatsoever, at law as well as in equity, in possession as well as in expectancy, of, in, to, or out of all and singular the following described lands and premises; that is to say,"

&c. Then followed a conveyance of the mortgaged property, leases, and all.

2. On 10 February, James Erwin executed a deed to Cowperthwaite, Dunlap, and Cope for the property which he had bought at sheriff's sale. The consideration was one hundred and fifty thousand dollars, which, it was alleged, was to be appropriated to the payment of other debts of Hitchcock, which were not secured by mortgage.

3. A release by the bank to Anne Hitchcock. This recited the bond, the mortgage, and delivery to the bank by Anne of the lands and houses devised to her and then agreed that the bank should look only to the mortgaged property for the payment of its debt and should surrender the notes and bills given by Hitchcock to the bank.

After the execution of these deeds, but within a year from the death of her husband, viz. on 15 August, 1840, Anne refused to qualify as executrix and repudiated the provisions made for her in the will and claimed dower in lieu thereof. These papers were filed and recorded in the Orphans' Court of Mobile County, whereupon Isaac H. Erwin was appointed administrator with the will annexed.

In 1840, the bank filed a bill in the Court of Chancery at Mobile against Isaac H. Erwin, Anne, and her children, which court decided that the property was properly held by the bank under the deeds and that the defendants should be foreclosed unless the debt and costs were paid by a certain day. This decree was carried by appeal to the Supreme Court of Alabama, and there affirmed at January term, 1845.

On 23 April, 1847, Anne Hitchcock filed a bill in the Circuit Court of the United States for the Southern District of Alabama against the bank, claiming dower in the lands included in the mortgage. The bank answered, evidence was taken, and the judge of the circuit court decided that the complainant was entitled to dower and decreed that it should be set off to her. From this decree the bank appealed to this Court.

Page 53 U. S. 265

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