The Merino,
22 U.S. 391 (1824)

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U.S. Supreme Court

The Merino, 22 U.S. 391 (1824)

The Merino

22 U.S. 391


The technical niceties of the common law are not regarded in admiralty proceedings. It is sufficient if an information set forth the offense so as clearly to bring it within the statute upon which the information is founded. It is not necessary that it should conclude contra formam statuti.

The district court of the district where the seizure was made, and not where the offense was committed, has jurisdiction of proceedings in rem for an alleged forfeiture.

If the seizure is made on the high seas, or within the territory of a foreign power, the jurisdiction is conferred on the court of the district where the property is carried and proceeded against.

A municipal seizure, within the territory of a foreign power does not oust the jurisdiction of the- district court into whose district the property may be carried for adjudication:

The prohibitions in the Slave Trade Acts of 10 May 1800, c. 205, and of 20 April, 1818, extend as well to the carrying of slaves on freight as to cases where the persons transported are the property of citizens of the United States, and to the carrying them from one port to another of the same foreign empire as well as from one foreign country to another.

Under the fourth section of the Act of 10 May 1800, c. 205, the owner of the slaves transported contrary to the provisions of that act cannot claim the same in a court of the United States, although they may be held in servitude according to the laws of his own country. But if, at the time of the capture by a commissioned vessel, the offending ship was in possession of a noncommissioned captor who had made a seizure for the same offense, the owner of the slaves may claim the section only applying to persons interested in the enterprise or voyage in which the ship was employed at the time of such capture.

These were the cases of several vessels, and their

Page 22 U. S. 392

cargoes of African slaves. The information filed in the case of the Constitution was as well on behalf of the United States as of George M. Brooke, a Colonel in the army of the United States. The first count, after stating the seizure of this vessel with a valuable cargo on board and eighty-four African slaves by the said Brooke, on waters navigable from the sea by vessels of ten tons burden and upwards, alleges that the said vessel, being a vessel of the United States, owned by citizens of the United States, was employed in carrying on trade, business or traffic, contrary to the true intent of an act of Congress, passed on 10 May, 1800, entitled, "an act to prohibit the carrying on of the slave trade from the United States to any foreign place or country," that is to say, was employed or made use of in the transportation of slaves from one foreign country to another, viz., from Havana to Pensacola, both places belonging to the King of Spain, contrary to the form of the said act, whereby the said vessel and her cargo became forfeited.

It was admitted by the counsel for the respondents that the second and third counts were unsupported by the evidence, and they were therefore abandoned.

The fourth count charges that certain citizens of the United States did, in June, 1818, take on board or transport from one foreign place or country to another certain negroes in a vessel for the purpose of holding, selling, or otherwise disposing of them as slaves or to be held to labor or service. In the case of the Merino, the information

Page 22 U. S. 393

contains three counts, the second of which alone was relied upon by the counsel for the respondent, and this states that on the ___ day of June, 1818, certain citizens of the United States received on board of the said vessel, belonging to citizens of the United States, and transported from one foreign place or country, viz., from Cuba to Pensacola, a certain number of negroes for the purpose of holding the said negroes as slaves, and that the said vessel, with her cargo and the negroes, were, on 21 June, 1818, seized on the high seas by Capt. McKeever, commander of the United States ketch Surprise, and were brought into the District of Mobile for a violation of the laws of the United States, and particularly of the 4th section of the act of 1818.

The information in the case of the Louisa and her cargo was substantially the same as the one last mentioned, the second count being also founded on the 4th section of the act of 1818.

The evidence in these cases established the following facts, viz., that the above vessels, owned by citizens of the United States and registered as such, sailed from certain ports in the United States to Havana, where they each received on board certain goods, as also a number of slaves, newly imported from the coast of Africa, the latter belonging to subjects of Spain, residents either of Havana or Pensacola, to be transported from the former to the latter place. The Merino cleared out at Havana on 2 June, 1818, for Mobile, and the Constitution and Louisa on the 10th of the same month, for New Orleans.

Page 22 U. S. 394

The owners of these vessels, however, engaged to land the slaves at Pensacola on their respective voyages to New Orleans and Mobile. On their arrival within or near to the Bay of Pensacola, that place was found in possession of the American army under the command of Gen. Jackson. The Merino was seized by the United States ketch Surprise, commanded by Capt. McKeever, within a mile and a half of Fort Barancas, inside the bar, and within the harbor of Pensacola. The Constitution was taken possession of by Col. Brooke, of the United States army, under the guns of Fort Barancas, then in possession of the United States forces. The Louisa was captured by Capt. McKeever in the ketch before mentioned outside of the bar at Pensacola, standing in. These vessels, with their goods on board and the negroes, were sent to the District of Mobile for adjudication. The Constitution, having on board an agent of Col. Brooke, was boarded off Mobile Point by the United States revenue boat and was carried in and reported by Capt. Lewis, commanding said boat, to the collector as having been seized by him, the agent reporting the seizure as having been made by Col. Brooke.

The informations against these vessels and their cargoes were filed in the General Court for the Territory of Alabama, from whence the proceedings were removed into the District Court of Alabama, where the vessels and their cargoes were severally condemned as forfeited to the United States, but the distribution was reserved for the future order of the court. From these

Page 22 U. S. 395

sentences of condemnation the claimants of the vessels and the cargoes appealed to this Court.

Page 22 U. S. 399

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