Montault v. United States
53 U.S. 47 (1851)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Montault v. United States, 53 U.S. 12 How. 47 47 (1851)

Montault v. United States

53 U.S. (12 How.) 47

APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED

STATES FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA

Syllabus

This Court again decides, as in 50 U. S. 9 How. 127, 50 U. S. 280, and 51 U. S. 10 How. 609, that with respect to the tract of country between the Mississippi and Perdido Rivers south of the thirty-first degree of north latitude, the authorities of Louisiana had no right to make grants of land after the time of signing the treaty by which it was ceded to Great Britain.

That treaty having been signed on 10 February, 1763, a grant of land in the above tract of country, issued by the French governor of Louisiana on 11 March, 1763, was void.

This was an appeal from the District Court of the United States for the Southern District of Alabama. It was a petition presented under the act of 1824, relating to land titles in Missouri

Page 53 U. S. 48

as revised and made applicable by the act of 1844 to that part of the State of Alabama below the thirty-first degree of north latitude.

The petition sets forth:

"That your petitioners are the only heirs of the Chevalier Montault de Monterault, who, many years since, departed this life intestate in the then Province, now State, of Louisiana. Your petitioners further allege that heretofore, to-wit, on the third day of January in the year seventeen hundred and sixty-three, the said Chevalier Montault de Monterault petitioned the then governor of the Colony of Louisiana for the grant of a tract of land lying south of the thirty-first degree of north latitude, and between the rivers Mississippi and Perdido, and within the State of Alabama, bounded by the rivers La Batture, now known as bayou Battre, the Gulf of Mexico, and Fowl River, extending into the interior to the sources of those rivers, and especially that branch of Fowl River, known as the Elwer or Leslay, which, approaching each other, form a tract of land or cul-de-sac."

"Your petitioners further allege that heretofore, to-wit, on the eleventh day of March in the year seventeen hundred and sixty-three, Louis de Kerlerac, then Governor of the Colony of Louisiana, and Dennis Nicholas Faucault, performing the functions of commissary ordonnateur of said province, holding their appointments under the King of France, executed and delivered to the said Chevalier Montault de Monterault a grant to said tract of land, by virtue of which he possessed it for many years and used it for the purpose of cultivation, raising horses and cattle, and making tar, and the said Montault de Monterault was, at the time of making said grant, a resident of Louisiana, and said grant is protected by the treaty between the United States and France for the cession of Louisiana. Your petitioners allege that he never aliened the said land, that it belonged to him at the time of his death, and that it has descended to your petitioners as his legal heirs, and that it contains about forty-five thousand superficial acres."

"Your petitioners allege that their claim aforesaid has not been submitted to the examination of any of the tribunals which have been constituted by law for the adjustment of land titles, nor reported on by such tribunal. Wherefore, your petitioners pray that the validity of their claim aforesaid may be inquired into and decided by the said court, and reserving the right of amending their petition, and of making other persons parties to this proceeding if necessary, they pray that a copy of this their petition be served on the District Attorney of the United States for the Southern District of Alabama. And they further pray that after proper proceedings, it may be decreed by this Court

Page 53 U. S. 49

that the title held by your petitioners to the above-described tract of land is good as against the United States and all persons claiming under them and that they may be permitted to locate elsewhere a quantity of land equal to what the government of the United States may have sold or granted within the limits of the grant aforesaid to the Chevalier Montault de Monterault, and your petitioners pray for other and further relief such as the nature of their case may require."

To this petition the district Attorney filed a general demurrer.

The district judge sustained the demurrer, and the petitioners brought the case up to this Court.

Page 53 U. S. 50

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

The appellants filed a petition in that court to establish their title to a tract of land situated south of the 31st degree of north latitude and between the Rivers Mississippi and Perdido in the State of Alabama, the boundaries of which are set out in the petition. They state that the land in question was granted to the Chevalier Montault de Monterault on 11 March, 1763, by Louis Kerlerac, then Governor of the Colony of Louisiana, and Louis Nicholas Faucault, performing the functions of commissary ordonnateur, both of them holding their appointments under the King of France, and the petitioners claim title as the descendants and legal heirs of the grantor.

The only question which arises on this record is upon the

Page 53 U. S. 51

validity of this grant. It is objected to on account of the vagueness and uncertainty of the boundaries as set forth in the petition. But it is not necessary to express our opinion upon this point, because the other objection taken on behalf of the United States is conclusive, and it is very clear that the French authorities had no right to make this grant, and that it conveyed no title to the ancestor of the petitioners. For the definitive treaty of peace between Great Britain, France, and Spain by which the territory in which this land is situated was ceded to Great Britain was signed on 10 February, 1763, and consequently the French authorities could not, after that day, grant a title to lands lying in the ceded territory. This point was decided in the cases of United States v. Reynes, 9 How. 127; Police Jury of Concordia v. Davis, 9 How. 280; and United States v. Dauterieve, 10 How. 609. And as the grant in question was not made until the 11th of March next following the date of the treaty, it was at that time the exercise of a power by the French authorities which they no longer possessed, and could convey no title to the grantee.

The decree of the district court dismissing the petition was therefore correct, and must be

Affirmed.

Order

This cause came on to be heard on the transcript of the record from the District Court of the United States for the Southern District of Alabama and was 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 this cause be and the same is hereby affirmed.

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