The Penobscot v. United States,
Annotate this Case
11 U.S. 356 (1813)
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U.S. Supreme Court
The Penobscot v. United States, 11 U.S. 7 Cranch 356 356 (1813)
The Penobscot v. United States
11 U.S. (7 Cranch) 356
APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT
OF THE DISTRICT OF GEORGIA
Decided: that under the nonintercourse law, a vessel, in March, 1811, had no right to come into the waters of the United States to inquire whether she might land her cargo.
This was an appeal from the sentence of the Circuit Court of the District of Georgia which affirmed that of the district court condemning the brig Penobscot and her cargo of salt for a violation of the acts of Congress interdicting commercial intercourse with Great Britain and her dependencies, viz., the Acts of March 1, 1809, vol. 9, p. 243, May 1, 1810, vol. 10, p. 186; the President's proclamation of Nov. 2, 1810, and the Act of 2 March, 1811, p. 346. By the 4th section of the Act of March 1, 1809, it was not lawful to import into the United States or the territories thereof any goods, wares, or merchandise whatever from any port or place situated in Great Britain or Ireland or in any of the colonies or dependencies of Great Britain, nor from any port or place in the actual possession of Great Britain, nor to import into the United States, &c., from any foreign port or place whatever, any goods, wares, or merchandise of the growth, produce, or manufacture of Great Britain, or Ireland, &c.
By the 5th section, such goods so imported (or put on board any vessel, &c., with intent of importing, &c.) as
well as all other articles on board, belonging to the same owner, are liable to forfeiture. And by the 6th section, the vessel is subject to forfeiture if the goods are laden on board with the knowledge of the owner or master of the vessel.
The Act of May 1, 1810, and the President's proclamation of Nov. 2, 1810, announcing that France had so revoked the edicts of Berlin and Milan as that they ceased to violate the neutral commerce of the United States. And the act of March 2, 1811, are only referred to as reviving and enforcing against Great Britain the provisions of the Act of March 1, 1809.
The claim of the owners of the vessel and cargo stated that the vessel sailed from Antigua on 12 February, 1811, and being crank and not seaworthy, put into Turk's Island for ballast, where she took in a load of salt, being informed by an American vessel that there was no law to prohibit it. That she sailed from Turk's Island for the port of Savannah, intending to stand off and on to get information to know whether she might be permitted to come in or not. That on her approach to the harbor, a gale of wind prevented boats coming to her, and forced her, for the safety of the lives of the crew and the vessel, to make a harbor at Cockspur Island. That before she got a harbor, she was boarded by a revenue cutter, who took possession of her and forcibly carried her into port. That the salt was not taken in with intent to violate the laws of the United States, but with the express intention and determination, if they found the importation into the United States to be unlawful, to bear away to some foreign port. She sailed from Castine, in the province of Maine, for Antigua, in December, 1810, and arrived off Savannah on 15 March, 1811.
There was evidence that the vessel might have called at Amelia Island in the course of her voyage, where she might have got information of the nonintercourse law's being in force. That she spoke a vessel of the U.S. just before she came in, but made no inquiry as to the law. That the agent of the owners wrote several letters to be delivered to the captain at sea informing him of the law and warning him to go to some foreign port, but they were not delivered. The evidence respecting
the necessity of coming in, by reason of stress of weather, did not seem to be sufficiently proved.
MR. CHIEF JUSTICE MARSHALL stated the opinion of the Court to be that the vessel came at her peril; that she was bound to get information, but was negligent in not calling at Amelia Island and in not inquiring of the vessel which she spoke off the port of Savannah.