14 U.S. 238 (1816)

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U.S. Supreme Court

L'Invincible, 14 U.S. 1 Wheat. 238 238 (1816)


14 U.S. (1 Wheat.) 238


During the late war between the United States and Great Britain, a French privateer duly commissioned, was captured by a British cruiser, afterwards recaptured by a privateer of the United States, again captured by a squadron of British frigates, and recaptured by another United States privateer and brought into a port of the United States for adjudication. Restitution, on payment of salvage, was, claimed by the French consul. A claim was also interposed by citizens of the United States, who alleged that their property had been unlawfully taken by the French vessel before her first capture on the high seas, and prayed an indemnification from the proceeds. Restitution to the original French owner was decreed, and it was held that the courts of this country have no jurisdiction to redress any supposed torts committed on the high seas upon the property of our citizens by a cruiser regularly commissioned by a foreign and friendly power except when such cruiser has been fitted out in violation of our neutrality.

The French private armed ship L'Invincible, duly commissioned as a cruiser, was, in March, 1813, captured by the British brig of war La Mutine. In the same month she was recaptured by the American privateer Alexander, was again captured on or about 10 May, 1813, by a British squadron consisting of the frigates Shannon and Tenedos, and afterwards, in the same month, again recaptured by the American privateer Young

Page 14 U. S. 239

Teazer, carried into Portland, and libeled in the district Court of Maine for adjudication as prize of war. The proceedings, so far as material to be stated, were as follows:

At a special term of the district court held in June, 1813, a claim was interposed by the French consul on behalf of the French owners, alleging the special facts above mentioned and claiming restitution of the ship and cargo on payment of salvage. A special claim was also interposed by Mark L. Hill and Thomas McCobb, citizens of the United States and owners of the ship Mount Hope, alleging, among other things, that the said ship, having on board a cargo on freight belonging to citizens of the United States and bound on a voyage from Charleston, S.C., to Cadiz, was, on the high seas, in the latter part of March, 1813, in violation of the law of nations and of treaties, captured by L'Invincible before her capture by La Mutine and carried to places unknown to the claimants, whereby the said ship Mount Hope and cargo became wholly lost to the owners, and thereupon praying, among other things, that after payment of salvage, the residue of said ship L'Invincible and cargo might be condemned and sold for the payment of the damages sustained by the claimants. At the same term, by consent, an interlocutory decree of condemnation to the captors passed against said ship L'Invincible, and she was ordered to be sold and one moiety of the proceeds, after deducting expenses, was ordered to be paid to the captors, as salvage, and the other moiety to be brought into court to abide the final decision of the respective claims of

Page 14 U. S. 240

the French consul and Messrs. Hill & McCobb. The cause was then continued for a further hearing unto September term, 1813, when Messrs. Maisonarra & Devouet, of Bayonne, owners of L'Invincible, appeared under protest and in answer to the libel and claim of Messrs. Hill & McCobb alleged, among other things, that the ship Mount Hope was lawfully captured by L'Invincible on account of having a British license on board and of other suspicious circumstances, inducing a belief of British interests, and ordered to Bayonne for adjudication; that (as the protestants believed) on the voyage to Bayonne, the Mount Hope was recaptured by a British cruiser, sent into some port of Great Britain, and there finally restored by the court of admiralty to the owners, after which she pursued her voyage and safely arrived with her cargo, at Cadiz, and the protestants thereupon prayed that the claim of Messrs. Hill & McCobb might be dismissed. The replication of Messrs. Hill & McCobb denied the legality of the capture, and the having a British license on board the Mount Hope, and alleged embezzlement and spoliation by the crew of L'Invincible, upon the capture; admitted the recapture by a British cruiser and the restitution by the admiralty upon payment of expenses, and prayed that the protestants might be directed to appear absolutely and without protest. Upon these allegations the district court overruled the objections to the jurisdiction of the court and compelled the owners of L'Invincible to appear absolutely and without protest, and thereupon the

Page 14 U. S. 241

owners appeared absolutely and alleged the same matters in defense which were stated in their answer under protest, and prayed the court to assign Messrs. Hill & McCobb to answer interrogatories touching the premises, which was ordered by the court. Accordingly, Messrs. Hill & McCobb made answer to the interrogatories proposed, except an interrogatory which required a disclosure of the fact whether there was a British license on board, which McCobb (who was master of the Mount Hope at the time of the capture) declined answering upon the ground that he was not compelled to answer any question the answer to which would subject him to a penalty, forfeiture, or punishment, and this refusal, the district court, on application, allowed. Hill, in answer to the same interrogatory, denied any knowledge of the existence of a British license. The cause was thereupon heard on the allegations and evidence of the parties, and the district court decreed that Messrs. Hill & McCobb should recover against the owners of L'Invincible the sum of $9,000 damages and the costs of suit. From this decree the owners appealed to the circuit court, and in that court their plea to the jurisdiction was sustained, and the claim of Messrs. Hill & McCobb dismissed, with costs. An appeal was thereupon entered by them to this Court.

Page 14 U. S. 252

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