The Slavers
69 U.S. 383

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

The Slavers , 69 U.S. 2 Wall. 383 383 (1864)

The Slavers (Reindeer)

69 U.S. (2 Wall.) 383




1. A vessel begun to be fitted, equipped &c., for the purpose of a slave voyage in a port of the United States, then going to a foreign port, in order evasively to complete the fitting, equipping &c., and so completing it, and from such port continuing the voyage, is liable to seizure and condemnation when driven in its subsequent course into a port of the United States.

2. In libels for the alleged purpose of violating the acts of Congress prohibiting the trade in slaves, a wide range of evidence is allowed. Positive proofs can seldom be bad, and a condemnation may be made on testimony that is circumstantial only if the circumstances be sufficiently numerous and strong, and especially if corroborated by moral coincidences.

Page 69 U. S. 384

3. Libels in rem may be prosecuted in any district of the United States where the property is found.

The bark Reindeer, Cunningham, master, was forced by stress of weather into Newport, R.I., July 11, 1862, where the collector of the port immediately placed her in custody of a revenue officer. On the 1st of August, he made a formal seizure of her for violating the laws relating to the slave trade. On the 7th of August following, the United States filed a libel and information in the district court for Rhode Island, against the bark, her tackle, cargo &c., in a case of seizure and forfeiture, alleging,

First. The fitting and other preparation of the vessel within, and causing her to sail from, the port of New York, by a citizen or resident &c., of the United States, for the purpose of carrying on a trade in slaves, contrary to the provisions of the first section of the Act of Congress of 22 March, 1794, [Footnote 1] &c.

Second. The employment and making use of the said vessel by a citizen or persons &c., residing in the United States, in the transportation or carrying of slaves &c., contrary to the provisions of the first section of the Act of 10 May, 1800, [Footnote 2] and,

Third. The fitting &c., of said vessel within, and causing her to sail from, the port of New York, by a citizen or citizens of the United States, or other person or persons, for the purpose of procuring negroes, mulattoes, or persons of color &c., to be held, sold, or otherwise disposed of as slaves &c., contrary to the provisions of the second section of the act of 20 April, 1818, [Footnote 3] &c.

On the 28th of August, 1861, one Gregorio Tejedor, said to be a Spanish subject, residing at Havana, and alleging himself to be owner of the cargo and charterer of the bark, intervened, averring that he was the bona fide owner of the cargo and charterer of the vessel.

On the 2d of September, 1861, D. M. Coggeshall, Sheriff of the County of Newport, and H. P. Booth, J. E. Ward,

Page 69 U. S. 385

and Samuel Shephard, alleging themselves to be attaching creditors of one Pearce of New York, owner of the vessel, filed a claim and answer denying the allegation of the libel that the vessel was a slaver. They also averred that Coggeshall, as sheriff, on the 20th July, 1861, again on the 26th July, 1861, seized and attached the bark by virtue of attachments duly issued out of the Supreme Court of Rhode Island; that by virtue thereof he then became possessed of her, and ever since has held, and, by reason thereof, that this Court has no jurisdiction of the vessel &c. They also averred that the acts charged were stated to have been done at New York, and not within the District of Rhode Island, and therefore denies jurisdiction.

During the progress of the cause, the vice-consul of the Queen of Spain, at Boston, filed a claim, professing to intervene "for the government of her Catholic Majesty," and claiming the bark and cargo as the property of Gregorio Tejedor, a Spanish citizen. But there was no sufficient evidence that he was authorized to do this by the government of Spain or that the government participated in the controversy in the court below.

The district court condemned the vessel, cargo &c., from which decree, Coggeshall, sheriff, and Booth, Ward, and Shephard appealed to the circuit court. Tejedor also prayed an appeal, but did not take it.

So far, therefore, as the interests and rights of Tejedor were concerned, the decree of the district court was final, and could not be here disturbed.

The circuit court ordered a sale of the vessel &c., and cargo, and on the 20th of January, 1862, the marshal sold her for $3,000 and the cargo for $7,756.52.

The circuit court heard the case on the appeal of Coggeshall, Ward, Booth, and Shephard and affirmed the decree of the district court, from which decree the said Coggeshall, Ward, Booth, and Shephard appealed to this Court.

This case therefore came before this Court neither on the claim or appeal of the alleged owner of the vessel nor on the claim or appeal of the alleged owner of the cargo, but

Page 69 U. S. 386

on the appeal of persons who had attached -- legally or otherwise -- the vessel &c., and cargo, at Newport, as judgment creditors of P. L. Pearce, of New York, by virtue of process of attachment issued out of the Supreme Court of Rhode Island against Pearce.

The facts on which their claim arose, as derived from a full and accurate printed statement prepared by Mr. Coffey, late Assistant Attorney General and now special counsel of the United States in the matter, were essentially as follow:

The bark, then on a voyage somewhere, was forced by weather, as already mentioned, into Newport, July 11, 1861.

On the 27th of June, 1861, Pearce, of New York, confessed judgment to H. P. Booth, in the Supreme Court, City and County of New York, for $11,128.56.

On the 19th of July, 1861, after the arrival of the bark at Newport, Ward, Shephard, and Booth, partners, trading as Ward & Co., of New York, the appellants in this case, issued a writ out of the Supreme Court of Rhode Island, at Newport, against Pearce, also of New York, for his arrest and, for want of his body, for the attachment of his goods &c., to the value of $500. On the 20th of July, 1861, the sheriff returned that on that day he had attached the bark and cargo, the goods and chattels of Pearce. The account for which this suit was brought was for $300 cash furnished Captain Cunningham, of bark Reindeer, to pay off crew, on 13 July, 1861, and $50 cash to Captain Cunningham, on 15 July, 1861, in all $350, advanced after the arrival of the vessel at Newport. On the third day of August Term 1861, the plaintiffs obtained judgment by default for $350 debt, and costs taxed at $9.90.

The Reindeer was a vessel of 248 tons, with one deck and three masts, 100 feet long, 35 feet 3 inches broad, and 11 feet deep. She was owned by Pearce, of New York, and was commanded by W. H. Cunningham, of the same place. Pearce was a ship chandler and commission merchant in New York during the winter of 1860-1861, and had the vessel stripped, calked, resheathed, and refitted previous to her

Page 69 U. S. 387

departure on a projected voyage. She was also built with a rider -- an arrangement for laying an extra deck. Pearce employed J. E. Ward & Co., of New York (the claimants in this case, by virtue of their attachment of the vessel and cargo as above stated), to advertise and dispatch her. Under these auspices, she cleared and sailed for Havana on the 26th of January, 1861, where she arrived about the 20th of February following, consigned to Perez & Martinez of that place.

J. E. Ward & Co. shipped on her to Havana, among other things, 14,700 lbs. of tasajo, or dried beef, and a box of hardware. Her outward manifest exhibited, besides, twenty-two packages of hardware.

The shipping articles, signed at New York, dated 26th of January, 1861, described the bark Reindeer as

"now bound from the port of New York to one or more ports in Cuba; from thence to one or more ports in Europe, if required, and back to a port of discharge in the United States, or from Cuba back to the United States."

The crew list appended showed the captain, two mates, and seven men, of whom four deserted in Cuba, whose places were there filled. The captain and the rest of the crew remained all the time with the vessel, and were on her when she arrived at Newport.

The four sailors shipped in Cuba were shipped "to go a voyage to Falmouth, from thence to one or more ports of Europe, and back to a port of discharge in the United States."

Pearce, the owner of the vessel, arrived in Havana about the middle of March and remained there until the 6th of May following.

The history of the vessel at Havana was thus: she laid at Havana from the 20th of February to the 22d of June, 1861. One of the consignees, Martinez, stated that Pearce went there to sell the vessel; that he made a contract to sell her to Tejedor for $7,000, which Tejedor did not carry out; but that on the 10th of May, Tejedor chartered the vessel, by charter party, from Perez & Martinez, after Pearce had left Havana, for the sum of $8,500, of which Tejedor paid $4,000. Of this, Martinez testified that $1,500 was for detention of the vessel from 23d of March until 10th of May. A charter party

Page 69 U. S. 388

was produced dated 23 March, 1861, signed by Captain Cunningham, "on behalf of P. L. Pearce, owner of the said vessel, and Perez & Martinez, according to instructions handed to them by said owners," chartering the vessel to Gregorio Tejedor for three years, for which Cunningham acknowledges "to have received this day from Gregorio Tejedor" $8,500, giving Tejedor exclusive disposal of vessel, master, and crew, and right to place his own supercargo on board, he to bear all expenses and pay repairs.

On the 22d of June, 1861, the Reindeer cleared at Havana "for Falmouth, England, and for orders."

Having set sail from Havana on that day, the captain, in his protest, swore,

"That on Tuesday, the 2d day of July, 1861, at sea, in about latitude 31

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