United States v. Reynes,
50 U.S. 127 (1850)

Annotate this Case
  • Syllabus  | 
  • Case

U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Reynes, 50 U.S. 9 How. 127 127 (1850)

United States v. Reynes

50 U.S. (9 How.) 127


The Act of Congress of May 26, 1824, 4 Stat. 52, for enabling claimants to lands within the limits of the State of Missouri and Territory of Arkansas to institute proceedings to try the validity of their titles, and which was revived by the Act of Jane 17, 1844, 5 Stat. 676, did not embrace within its operation complete or perfect titles to land.

It applied to incomplete titles only, derived either from Spanish, French, or British grants, and of these provided for such only as had been legally issued by a competent authority, and were protected by treaty.

The act, as revived and reenacted as aforesaid, was not designed to invest the holders of imperfect titles with new or additional rights, but merely to provide a remedy by which legal, just, and bona fide claims might be established.

The Treaty of St. Ildefonso, between Spain and the French Republic, and that of Paris, between France and the United States, should be construed as binding on the parties thereto, from the respective dates of those treaties.

Upon no plausible pretext could it be denied that the Treaty of St. Ildefonso was obligatory upon Spain from the period of her acceptance of the provision made for the Duke of Parma, in pursuance of that treaty, viz., on 21 March, 1801, or from the date at which she ordered the surrender of the Province of Louisiana to France, viz., on 15 October, 1802.

A grant by Morales, the Spanish governor, issued on 2 January, 1804, for lands included within the limits of Louisiana, was void; Spain having parted with her title to that Province to France, by the Treaty of St. Ildefonso on 1 October, 1800; and France having ceded the same Province to the United States by the Treaty of Paris of 30 September, 1803.

Such a grant could not be protected by that article of the Treaty of Paris which stipulated for the protection of the people of Louisiana in the free enjoyment of their liberty and property; the term "property," in any correct acceptation, being applicable only to possessions or rights founded in justice and good faith, and based upon authority competent to their creation.

The circumstance that the Spanish authorities retained possession of portions of Louisiana till the year 1810 did not authorize the issuing of grants for land by those authorities, upon the ground that they constituted a government de facto, Spain having long previously ceded away her right of sovereignty, and her possession subsequently thereto having been ever treated by the United States as "wrongful," viz., after October, 1800.

The decisions of this Court in the cases of Foster and Neilson, and Garcia and Lee, sustaining the construction of the political department of the government upon the question of the limits of Louisiana, reviewed and confirmed.

On 10 December, 1803, the following certificate of survey was issued:

"I, Don Vincente Sebastian Pintado, captain of militia cavalry and deputy surveyor of this Province, do hereby certify that there has been measured and the boundaries marked of a tract of land for Don Jose Reynes, containing 40,000 superficial arpents, measured by the perch of the City of Paris, of 18 feet of said city, calculating 100 superficial perches to the arpent, according to the agrarian custom of this Province, which tract is situated 4 1/3 miles to the south of the boundary line between the domains of his Majesty and the United States of America,

Page 50 U. S. 128

bounded on the north by lands belonging to Don Jayme Jorda, Don Manuel de Sanzos, and on all the other sides by vacant lands, the River Comite, and a branch of said river, commonly called Canaveral Creek, passing in the center of said tract, all of which are clearly described in the preceding plan signed by me, in which plan said tract is represented with the dimensions of its boundaries in lineal perches of Paris, the directions of the boundaries by the compass, the declination or variation of which is in the direction northeast, the trees and mounds intended as landmarks, and all other natural and artificial limits. The said 40,000 arpents were bought by the interested party from the royal treasury, and were ordered to be measured and appraised by a decree of the General Intendancy of this Province, under date of 1 September last, sent to Carlos de Grandpre, colonel of the royal armies, civil and military governor of the post of Baton Rouge and of its dependencies, and sub-delegate of the General Intendancy, who notified me of said decree, and of its contents."

"And said Excellency, the governor and sub-delegate, having appointed Don Pedro Allen and Don Felix Bernardo Dumontier appraisers on behalf of the government, and the agent of the party, Don Antonio Gras, having named Don Philipe Hickey and Don Bernardo Dubrocar, said gentlemen being assisted by two witnesses, to-wit, Don Thomas Valentin Dalton and Juan Poret, appraised the aforesaid tract at the price and sum of six thousand dollars, or at the rate of fifteen cents per superficial arpent, the agent of the party, being informed of said appraisement, consented and approved it, receiving said tract as purchased, acknowledging the delivery thereof, and with the appraisers and witnesses, signed these presents in Baton Rouge, on 19 day of the month of November of the year 1803."










"The foregoing plan and explanations, or description, have been registered, in the office of general measuration, in book D, No. 4, folio 84, and the plan numbering 1672."

"10 December, 1803. Signed by me as Surveyor General. "

Page 50 U. S. 129

"I certify that the foregoing is a correct copy of the original filed with the documents of the case, and I give the present in virtue of a decree from the Intendant General, dated 6th of the present month of December, dated as above."

"[Signed] CARLOS TRUDEAU, Surveyor General"

On 2 January, 1804, the following grant was made:

"Don Juan Ventura Morales (contador de exercito), comptroller for the army, intendant and superintendent pro tempore of the Province of West Florida, minister commissioned with the adjustment and final settlement of the affairs of the royal hacienda (domains) in the Province of Louisiana. Whereas Don Jose Reynes, an inhabitant and merchant of this city, has presented himself before this tribunal, soliciting to purchase from the royal treasury 40,000 superficial arpents of land, of those vacant and belonging to the Crown, the value of which he offers to pay, under appraisement, in letters of credit, issued by the department of the royal treasury, I ordered, in consequence of said demand, that a certified copy should be furnished by the secretary of the official letter addressed by this intendancy to the commissioners appointed for the transfer of this Province, on the subject of a petition presented by Don Thomas Urquhart, and of the answer made by said commissioners, and that these be submitted to the Sen'r Fiscal solicitor of the Crown. Those formalities having been fulfilled, and no opposition being made to said petition from the answer given by said Sen'r Fiscal, whose opinion was favorable thereto, and who recommended that an order be issued to Colonel Carlos de Grandpre, governor and sub-delegate of the royal treasury in Baton Rouge, to appoint two citizens of experience, who in the character of appraisers, with two others whom the purchaser shall designate, and two assistant witnesses, should proceed to the appraisement, survey, and mark the limits of the 40,000 arpents of land, and make a return of the proceedings in order to carry out the object contemplated. I further ordered to be furnished a certified copy of the order under which the Auditor of War was consulted on the proceedings had in the case of the aforesaid Urquhart, with regard to a similar application, and of the opinion which he the Auditor of War expressed; and, this having been done, I approved the same, directing an order to be sent to the said governor and sub-delegate of the royal treasury, as recommended by the Sen'r Fiscal, and for the purposes which he determined, which

Page 50 U. S. 130

was accordingly done, and in virtue of said order, the operations of survey were performed, and forthwith were measured, surveyed, the limits defined, and marked with stakes, of the 40,000 superficial arpents of land solicited by Don Jose Reynes, all of which land is in one body or tract, situated in the District of Baton Rouge, and in the spot which will be named hereafter, with a description of the boundaries, by the compass, and situation."

"This tract of land was valued at $6,000, or at the rate of 15 cents per superficial arpent; which appraisement I ordered to be submitted to the Sen'r Fiscal, who approved it, and decided that, on payment being made by Don Jose Reynes in the royal coffers of said sum of $6,000, the same being the value of the land, say 40,000 superficial arpents, according to the figurative plan, also the payment of the duty of media anata half-yearly tribute, and 18 percent for the transportation of this tribute to the Kingdom of Castilla, a title of property should be given to him. That agreeably and in conformity with this order of the Sen'r Fiscal, I ordered that the Surveyor General, Don Carlos Trudeau, should examine the operations, or proceedings of survey, made by Don Vincente Pintado; and if he found them correct, that he should record in his books the plan representing the 40,000 arpents of land solicited by the aforesaid Reynes, and furnish a copy of said plan to accompany the title. That, these formalities having been complied with, I approved, by an act bearing date of 19 December last, the valuation made of said 40,000 superficial arpents, and ordered that the documents should be sent to the minister of the royal treasury for a liquidation of the value of the land; and, on its being shown that the amount due to the royal treasury had been entirely paid in the royal coffers, in certificates of credit, as proposed by said Don Jose Reynes, also with the sum for the media anata half-yearly tribute to the King, and for its transportation to Spain, that then a title of property, in due form, should be given to the party. From the receipt of payment given by the ministry of the royal treasury, bearing date 31 December last, which receipt is with the proceedings to which I refer, it appears that the said Don Jose Reynes did pay in the royal coffers 49,416 reales bits of silver: 48,000 for the price of the land, at 15 cents per arpent, and the balance, 1,416 reales, for the 2 1/2 percent for the half-yearly tribute, and 18 percent for the transportation of tribute to Spain; in consequence of which, and it being evident, from the plan and proceedings of survey furnished by the Surveyor General, Don Carlos Trudeau, bearing No. 1,672, that the said 40,000 superficial arpents are situated in the district of Baton

Page 50 U. S. 131

Rouge, at four miles and one-third south of the boundary line between the domains of his Catholic Majesty and the United States of America, bounded on the north by lands belonging to Jayme Jorda, a captain of the army, and those of an officer of the same grade, Don Manuel de Sanzos, and on the other sides by vacant lands, the River Comite passing through the center of the said 40,000 arpents, which are also intersected by a branch of said river commonly called the Canaveral."

"Therefore, and agreeably to the power delegated to me, I do hereby grant, under title of seal, to the above-named Don Jose Reynes, the 40,000 superficial arpents of land which he petitioned for, in the spot, and within the district of Baton Rouge, where they have at his instance been measured, bounded, and surveyed, under the aforesaid limits, as represented by the plan and measurement above cited, all of which, for the better understanding of what is here set forth, as well as the directions, distances, and localities, shall be annexed to this title; and I impart to him Don Jose Reynes entire and clear dominion over said 40,000 arpents of land, that, as his own lands, from having purchased and paid for them to the royal treasury, he may possess, cultivate, and dispose of them at his pleasure, and I do authorize him to take possession of them, in which possession I do hereby place him, without prejudice to any third person who might have a better right."

"In testimony whereof, I have ordered these presents to be delivered under my signature, sealed with my coat of arms, and countersigned by the undersigned, notary of the royal treasury, who, as well as the principal comptroller, will register this act."

"Given in New Orleans on 2 January, 1804."


"By order of the Sen'r Intendant."


"The above title has been registered in folio 37 to 40 of the book under my charge destined to the effect, and for titles of said class."


"Registered in the office of the principal comptroller for the army, and also in the office of the royal treasury, both of which are under our charge, at page 38 of the book destined to that effect and purpose."




On the 26th of May, 1824, Congress passed an act 4 Stat. 52, from which the following are extracts.

Page 50 U. S. 132

The first section declares:

"That it shall and may be lawful for any person or persons, or their legal representatives, claiming lands, tenements, or hereditaments in that part of the late Province of Louisiana which is now included within the State of Missouri, by virtue of any French or Spanish grant, concession, warrant, or order of survey, legally made, granted, or issued, before 10 March, 1804, by the proper authorities, to any person or persons resident in the Province at the date thereof, or on or before 10 March, 1804, and which was protected or secured by the treaty between the United States of America and the French Republic, of 30 April, 1803, and which might have been perfected into a complete title under and in conformity to the laws, usages, and customs of the government under which the same originated, had not the sovereignty of the country been transferred to the United States,"

to present a petition to the district court of Missouri, setting forth their claim, and praying that the validity of such title of claim might be inquired into and decided by the said court. The United States were to put in their answer by the district Attorney, and the proceedings in the cause, were to be conducted according to the rules of a court of equity.

By the second section it is enacted:

"And the said court shall have full power and authority to hear and determine all questions arising in said cause relative to the title of the claimants; the extent, locality, and boundaries of the said claim, or other matters connected therewith fit and proper to be heard and determined; and by a final decree to settle and determine the question of the validity of the title, according to the law of nations; the stipulations of any treaty, and proceedings under the same; the several acts of Congress in relation thereto; and the laws and ordinances of the government from which it is alleged to have been derived; and all other questions properly arising between the claimants and the United States."

The Act of 17 June, 1844 5 Stat. 676, entitled

"An act to provide for the adjustment of land claims within the states of Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana, and in those parts of the States of Mississippi and Alabama south of the thirty-first degree of north latitude, and between the Mississippi and Perdido Rivers,"

revived and reenacted so much of the Act of 26 May, 1824, entitled

"An act to enable claimants to land within the State of Missouri and Territory of Arkansas to institute proceedings to try the validity of their claims,"

so far as the same related to the State of Missouri, and extended the same to the States of Louisiana and Arkansas, and to so much

Page 50 U. S. 133

of the States of Mississippi and Alabama as is above described,

"in the same way, and with the same rights, powers, and jurisdictions, to every extent they can be rendered applicable, as if these states had been enumerated in the original act hereby revived, and the enactments expressly applied to them as to the State of Missouri, and the district court, and the judges thereof, in each of these states, shall have and exercise the like jurisdiction over the land claims in their respective states and districts, originating with either the Spanish, French, or British authorities, as by said act was given to the court and the judge thereof in the State of Missouri."

The Treaty of Cession by Spain to France is dated 1 October, 1800, and its terms will be found stated in the Treaty of Cession by France to the United States, dated 30 April, 1803 8 Stat. 200. The act of delivery by Spain to France took place on 30 November, 1803, and by France to the United States on the 20 December, 1803. State Papers, Foreign Relations, Vol. II., page 582 et seq.

On 13 March, 1846, Reynes filed the following petition:

"To the Honorable the district court of the United States in and for the District of Louisiana."

"The petition of Joseph Reynes, who resides in the City of New Orleans, respectfully represents: "

"That by inheritance, being the sole heir of his father, Joseph Reynes, now deceased, he is the owner of forty thousand arpents of land, situated in what was formerly called, under the government of the King of Spain, the District of Baton Rouge, four miles and one-third south of the boundary line between the then Territory of the King of Spain and the Territory of the United States of America, being bounded on the north by lands the property of Jaymes Jorda and by property of Manuel de Sanzos, and on the other sides by vacant lands, as will more fully appear by an authentic copy of the original act of sale and grant by Juan Ventura Morales, commissary of the army, Intendant and Superintendent ad interim for the Province of West Florida, minister charged with the final settlement of all affairs relating to the royal treasury of the King of Spain in Louisiana, to the said Joseph Reynes, deceased, and to the documents, plans, and surveys appended to the same, all of which are authentic, and are referred to and made a part of this petition."

"Petitioner further alleges that said land is believed to be situated in the Parishes of East Feliciana and St. Helena, according to the present territorial divisions of this state. "

Page 50 U. S. 134

"Petitioner alleges, that his said father acquired the said land by purchase and grant from said Juan Ventura Morales, the duly authorized officer and agent of the government of Spain, the sovereignty over the territory in which the said land is situated at the time of the aforesaid purchase and grant. That said Morales had full authority from the government of Spain to sell the said land, and to grant a good and perfect title thereto."

"All of which more fully appears from the annexed documents, and also from the original grant from Morales, which has been mutilated by robbers, who entered and robbed the dwelling house of the petitioner. The said original act in the form in which it now exists is hereunto annexed, together with the plan of the original survey."

"Petitioner alleges, that the survey was made and returned by the duly authorized officers of the government of Spain, on 19 November, A.D. 1803, and that on 31 December, A.D. 1803, the money was paid by his said father to the government of Spain for the land, and that the above-mentioned grant was made to his father on 2 January, A.D. 1804."

"That at the date of the said sale and grant to his father, he was a resident of the Province of Louisiana. That the said grant was protected by the Treaty between the United States and the French Republic of 30 April, 1803. And that said grant might have been perfected into a complete title under and in conformity to the laws, usages, and customs of the government of Spain, had not the sovereignty of the county been transferred to the United States."

"Petitioner further alleges, that the said grant did convey to his said father a full and complete title to the said land, under the laws, customs, and usages of the government of Spain."

"Petitioner alleges, that his claim to the above-mentioned land was presented to the commissioner of the United States for confirmation, and the same was refused, as will be more fully seen by reference to the report of Jaymes O. Cosby, the said commissioner, to be found in the 18th volume of the American State Papers at pages 59 and 66."

"That the United States government has refused, and still refuses, to recognize and confirm the said claim, and has asserted a claim to the same. And that various persons have pretended to set up claims to said land adverse to the rights of the petitioner, to-wit, the following persons: L. Saunders M. Harris H. Hardesty, Ira Bowman, John Morgan, Josiah Benton, Z. S. Lyons, and Henry Hawford. "

Page 50 U. S. 135

"Wherefore petitioner prays, that the District Attorney of the United States, in behalf of the United States, and the said L. Saunders M. Harris H. Hardesty, Ira Bowman, John Morgan, Josiah Benton, Z. S. Lyons, and Henry Hawford, be cited to answer this petition, and that, after all due proceedings had, the validity of petitioner's claim be inquired into, and that he be decreed to be the true and lawful owner of the said forty thousand arpents of land. And that for so much of said land as shall be ascertained to have been sold by the United States, the petitioner shall be allowed a like quantity of the public lands belonging to the government of the United States, as provided for by law, and for all other relief in the premises &c."

"[Signed] ELMORE & KING, Solicitors for Complainant"

"Joseph Reynes, being duly sworn, deposeth that the allegations of the above petition are true."

"[Signed] REYNES"

"Sworn to and subscribed before me, this 13 March, 1846."

"[Signed] L. E. SIMONDS, Deputy Clerk"

Annexed to this petition were the above-recited certificates of survey and grant.

In June, 1846, sundry witnesses were examined on behalf of the petitioner, for the purpose of verifying the signatures &c.

The district attorney appeared on behalf of the United States, and traversed the petition. The other defendants allowed judgment to go against them by default.

On 3 November, 1846, the court pronounced the following decree:

"The court having heretofore taken this case under consideration, and having maturely considered the same, doth now order, adjudge, and decree that the petitioner recover the land claimed in his petition, and described in the survey of Pintado, revised by Trudeau, appended thereto, and if it should happen that any portion of said land has been sold or otherwise disposed of by the United States, it is ordered that for such portions the petitioner have the right to enter other lands belonging to the United States, at any land office in Louisiana, according to the provisions of the eleventh section of the act of 1824. And it appearing by reference to the order of this Court, dated 17 June, 1846, that petitioner's petition has

Page 50 U. S. 136

been heretofore taken pro confesso, against L. Saunders M. Harris H. Hardesty, Ira Bowman, John Morgan, Josiah Benton, Z. S. Lyons, and Henry Hawford, and the said defendants not having entered their names to the said petition, or taken any steps to set aside the said order taking the petition pro confesso, it is further ordered and decreed that the petitioner recover the above-described land from the said defendants, unless the portions they may claim shall have been sold to them by the government of the United States, or otherwise disposed of by the said government to the said defendants, in which event the petitioner is to obtain relief in the manner above pointed out, where the government of the United States have sold or otherwise disposed of any portion of the land he claims."

"Judgment rendered November 3, 1846; judgment signed November 12, 1846."

"[Signed] THEO. H. McCALEB, U.S. Judge"

From this decree the United States appealed to this Court.

Page 50 U. S. 143

Disclaimer: Official Supreme Court case law is only found in the print version of the United States Reports. Justia case law is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect current legal developments, verdicts or settlements. We make no warranties or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained on this site or information linked to from this site. Please check official sources.