The Cornelius
70 U.S. 214 (1865)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

The Cornelius, 70 U.S. 3 Wall. 214 214 (1865)

The Cornelius

70 U.S. (3 Wall.) 214


1. Presumption of an intent to run a blockade by a vessel bound apparently to a lawful port may be inferred from a combination of circumstances, as ex. gr. the suspicious character of the supercargo, the suspicious character of the master, left unexplained, though the case was open for further proof; the fact that the vessel, on her outward voyage, was in the neighborhood of the blockaded place and within the line of the blockading vessels by night, and that her return voyage was apparently timed so as to be there by night again; that the vessel (though in a leaking condition, that condition having been known to the master before he set sail), paid no attention to guns fired to bring her to, but on the contrary crowded on more sail and ran for the blockaded shore; and that one witness testified in preparatorio that the master, just before the capture, told him that he intended to run the blockade from the first.

2. Although in such cases it is a possible thing that the intention of the master may have been innocent, the court is under the necessity of acting on the presumption which arises from such conduct and of inferring a criminal intent.

The schooner Cornelius and her cargo were captured by the government vessel Restless and condemned as prize of was by the district court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania for an attempt to run the blockade established by

Page 70 U. S. 215

our government, during the Southern rebellion, of the port of Charleston, by putting into a neighboring inlet called Bull's Bay, from which Charleston was easily to be reached. Simonson, the master and owner of the schooner, and several claimants of the cargo, appealed to this Court from that decree.

The facts, as assumed by this Court from the evidence, were essentially these.

The master and claimants of the cargo were citizens of the United States. The vessel had been chartered by M. H. Vandyke for a voyage from New York to Port Royal -- a place near Charleston, but in possession of the government, and, at the moment, open to trade -- and back; to be terminated at Port Royal, at the option of the charterer. It was pretty clear that the cargo was entirely got up by Vandyke, was partly owned by him, and the remainder, if not owned, was controlled by him. Nothing appeared as to Vandyke's residence, his place of business, his character or standing in reference to the government and the rebellion, or where he was from the time the vessel left New York, which was June 15, until he appeared at Port Royal, October 8, two days before the vessel set out again for some point from that place. And although the case was open for further proof and Vandyke made the test oath to his own claim, the court was left in the dark as to these particulars.

A supercargo of his selection was placed on board who had not recently come from the states in rebellion.

The vessel cleared for Port Royal and reached that place July 1, 1862. She passed Bull's Bay on her voyage to this place in the night, and stood off and on all night until daylight next morning, being fired at twice by the Restless, one shell reaching the schooner, and she leaving the neighborhood only when daylight and the shells of the Restless made it necessary. She remained at Port Royal without unloading until October 10, when she cleared for New York. She set off from Port Royal again at an hour which would have brought her opposite Bull's Bay in the night, but in consequence of her leaking a good deal, she did not come

Page 70 U. S. 216

in sight of the blockading vessels watching that inlet till daylight of the 11th. About that time, she saw the Restless, who fired at her twice, the shots falling short. She took no notice of these except to crowd on more sail. Acting master Griswold, of the navy, was then dispatched in an armed boat after her. His account was as follows:

"I proceeded towards Bull's Bay with all possible speed, hoping to reach the mouth of the narrow channel by which the schooner was trying to run the blockade, but she was too fast for us, for finding that the boat gained, she set her mainsail and gaff-topsail. As there was a strong breeze blowing at S.S.W., she went through the water at a furious rate, the pilot evidently well acquainted with the channel. On reaching Bird's Island passage, she entered it beautifully, and under all sail fairly flew through the water towards Harbor Creek, seeing which, I tried to cut her off by crossing the shoals close to the island (Bird's), but it was of no use. Suddenly, however, she took the ground, and by the time she floated again, I was within a quarter of a mile of her; fired a rifle a her, but no notice was taken of it. She still, under all sail, tried to reach the main land; again she took the ground. Those on board finding that she was hard and fast and the boat close on them, gave it up and hoisted an American ensign in the fore-rigging, port side, union down. The captain said that the flag had been there all the morning, but we could not see it till close on her. It might have been there, however, as they could not have chosen a better place to have hidden it from us. On boarding her, I found the water up to the cabin floor; but on trying the pumps, found that she could be kept free by pumping ten minutes in the hour."

The steward, in his deposition taken in preparatorio, stated that ten or fifteen minutes before the vessel ran aground, the master told him that he had intended to run the blockade from the first.

The claimants of the cargo asserted under oath that they had never parted with the ownership of the goods, that they were sent on an honest venture to Port Royal, which had then been opened to trade, and that they had no intention to violate the blockade and knew of none on the part of the

Page 70 U. S. 217

master. The master asserted in the same way that the bottom of his vessel became so worm-eaten during his long stay at Port Royal that she began to fill by the time he was fairly out to sea, and that, with no intention to break the blockade, he was compelled to run into Bull's Bay, and, in order to avoid expense of salvage, to beach his vessel to save her and her cargo from sinking. The schooner was much worm-eaten, and leaking badly at the time she was beached. But the master had had her bottom examined, and knew her leaky condition before leaving Port Royal, though not perhaps the full extent of it; "completely honeycombed," said one witness -- "so much so that the mystery was how the vessel could float at all."

The master, Vandyke, and the other claimants were very explicit in their denial of any intention to violate the blockade.

Before making its decree of condemnation, the district court submitted to two nautical experts, whom it invited to hear the case as assessors, the question whether the facts of the voyage on which the vessel was captured were consistent with a destination in good faith from Port Royal for New York continuing without willful deviation until the time of capture, and whether, if a willful deviation occurred, it was under circumstances reasonably consistent with innocence of intention with reference to the blockade. The assessors reported it as their belief that the deviation, under both these propositions, was made by the master with a fraudulent intent to run the blockade at Bull's Bay.

Page 70 U. S. 223

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