United States v. Moore,
53 U.S. 209 (1851)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Moore, 53 U.S. 12 How. 209 209 (1851)

United States v. Moore

53 U.S. (12 How.) 209


An historical account given as to what officer in Louisiana possessed the power to grant part of the King's domain.

In September, 1797, Morales, who was intendant, had not the power. And a receipt of that date given by him for the purchase money of lands sold could convey no title.

By the regulations of O'Reilly made in 1770, the front proprietors of land upon the Mississippi were bound to make mounds or levees, and also to clear and ditch the whole front of the depth of two arpents within three years from the date of their purchases. In default thereof, the land reverted to the King.

This condition not having been complied with in the present case, and the alleged proprietor not having asserted any claim from 1797 to 1835, the presumption is that he surrendered his purchase and had his money refunded.

The claim is also barred by lapse of time.

The district court decreed that

"In case any of the lands claimed by the petitioner should have been sold by the United States, he, the petitioner, should be authorized to enter, in any land office in the State of Louisiana, a like quantity of public lands."

This decree was erroneous. The act of 1844 revived the act of 1824, but did not revive the act of 1828, and the act of 1824 required the grantees of the United States to be made parties in order that they might come in and defend their title. It also intended that these grantees should produce their titles, so that the court might ascertain their boundaries and quantities, and decree accordingly. But in the decree in question, this was not done.

The Act approved 17 June, 1844, 4 Stat. 676, revived and continued for five years, and extended to the State of Louisiana the expired Act of 26 May, 1824, entitled

"An act enabling the claimants to lands within the limits of the state

Page 53 U. S. 210

of Missouri and Territory of Arkansas to institute proceedings to try the validity of their claims."

4 Stat. 52.

Under this act, Michael Moore presented his petition to the District Court of the United States for the District of Louisiana on 17 June, 1846, claiming sixty thousand arpents of land situated in the district of the Atchafalaya, in the sharp end of land or angle where the Atchafalaya and Mississippi Rivers join, or the point formed between the said rivers at the place the Atchafalaya leaves the Mississippi.

The title presented by the petitioner was the following:

"No. 2 -- Sale of Royal Lands; page 31"

"Don Juan Ventura Morales and Don Gilberto Leonard, Intendant and Comptroller Pro Tempore of the Province of Louisiana."

"We have received from Don Antonio Iriarte twenty-four thousand bits 12 1/2 cts. each, for the value of sixty thousand superficial arpents of land, at the rate of five cents per arpent, which land has been sold to him for amount of the Royal Treasurer in the District of Country of Chafalaya and the Mississippi, on the point where the two unite, which payment is entered in folio 31 of the journal of this Treasury Department, and seven hundred and eight bits 12 1/2 cents each, the amount due for the two and a half percent for the duty of half-yearly tribute, and eighteen percent for the transportation of said half-yearly tribute to Spain, have also been paid, as shown by the amount below, namely: "

Bits Bits

For the value of said land . . . . . . . . . . . 24,000

The half-yearly tribute, and eighteen percent

for its transportation to Spain. . . . . . . . 708

------ 24,708

"New Orleans, 11 September, 1797."





On the 8th of January, 1835, Don Roque Moreno, then residing in Madrid, purchased the claim from Don Antonio Iriarte for fifty thousand bits 12 1/2 cents each, and in order to obtain a formal transfer of the title, he presented a petition on 17 February, 1835, to the Lieutenant Mayor of Madrid, requesting that the acknowledgment of Iriarte to the transfer might be made in due form. Accordingly, Iriarte appeared before the Lieutenant Mayor and acknowledged the deed in the presence of three notaries.

Page 53 U. S. 211

In 1838, Roque Moreno wrote several letters to the house of Rosendo Fernandez & Co., at Havana, requesting them to sell the claim, and in May endorsed the document to them for this purpose by the following order:

"Pay to the order of Messrs. Don Rosendo Fernandez & Co., the value of the document hereto annexed, for value in account with said gentlemen."


"Madrid, 27th May, 1838"

On 15 September, 1838, Fernandez & Co. assigned the documents to Cuesta, who transferred them to Moore the petitioner, as appears by the following transfers:

"Agreeably to a letter from Don Roque Moreno of 28 July last, we transfer the above documents to Don Antonio Garcia Cuesta or order without any recourse whatsoever against us."


"Havana, 15 September, 1838"

"I hereby assign, transfer, and convey to Michael Moore all my right, title, and interest, and the interest of Roque Moreno and R. Fernandez & Co., to the foregoing title, and to the sixty thousand arpents of land herein mentioned."


The petitioner Moore also presented in evidence the following letter from Leopold O'Donnell, Governor and Captain General of the Island of Cuba, verified by Robert B. Campbell Esq., consul of the United States at Havana. The letter was addressed to the Spanish consul at New Orleans.

"In my official letter of 22 February, I communicated to your Excellency what follows: "

"His Excellency, the Intendant of the Army, Sub-Intendant-General, and Delegate of the Royal Treasury of this city, in his official letter of the 18th of this month, communicates to me what follows: "

"ESTEEMED SIR -- In order to be able to answer your official letter of the 8th inst., in which you enclosed me a letter from the consul of her Majesty in New Orleans asking certain information, I sent said letter to the general archives of the Royal Treasury, and have obtained the following information. At folio 31 of the book Journal of the Comptroller for the Army and Department of the Royal Treasury for the Province of Louisiana for the year 1797 is an entry of which what follows is an exact copy: "

Page 53 U. S. 212

"September 11th. We have received from Don Antonio Iriarte twenty-four thousand bits, for the value of sixty thousand superficial arpents of land, at the rate of five cents per arpent, which land has been sold to him for amount of the Royal Treasury in the District of Country of Chafalaya and the Mississippi, on the point where the two unite, and the seven hundred and eight bits, for the balance due for the duty of 2 1/2 percent for half-yearly tribute on the value of the land, and eighteen percent for the transportation of said half-yearly tribute to Spain, have also been paid, as appears by the account below: "

For the value of said lands . . . . . . . . . 24,000 bits

The half-yearly tribute, and 18 percent

for its transportation to Spain . . . . . . 708

------ 24,708 bits

"Antonio Iriarte, 24,708 bits."


"This is all that appears in relation to the transfer which the Spanish government made in Louisiana Don Antonio Iriarte, of the 60,000 arpents of land of which mention is made in the official letter of his Excellency the Captain General, and also in the letter of the consul of her Majesty at New Orleans, enclosed therein, whether it be in consequence of the documents appertaining to the subject matter not having been transferred to this office, now under my charge, or whether they were among those which have been lost on the way to this island, or of those which were destroyed by the moths and humidity in the place where they had been deposited since they were received here; neither can be found the decree or copy issued by the tribunal of this intendancy, ordering to be made out the calculations of the amount to be paid by the purchaser for said land, and consequently this office cannot give anything more than what has already been stated in relation to the boundaries, dimensions of the land, or furnish anything by which the parties interested may do so. The above is in answer to your letter above mentioned, and I transmit this information to you for your knowledge, and in answer to your letter of the 25th of last month having reference to this subject."

"I transmit to you the above information, in case the first communication of a similar nature should have been mislaid or lost."

"May God preserve you many years."


"Havana, 11th April, 1845"

Several witnesses were examined on behalf of the petitioner

Page 53 U. S. 213

who verified the signatures of Rosendo Fernandez & Co., of Roque Moreno, of Morales, Leonard, and Valdes. One of the witnesses, Charles Louis Blacke, being shown the original document, said,

"Cannot explain why the document A is cut, as it appears to be; believes that it must have been done in wantonness. States that documents in the intendancy department were never cut in that way."

Jose Martinez del Campo, witness for plaintiff, being recalled, states that the discolored appearance of the paper, the document A, in his opinion, arises from certain things, which he states as follows: that the officers of quarantine in Spain, in order to prevent the spreading of infectious diseases, immerse documents in vinegar, and cut them in the manner of the document A in question in order to make the vinegar penetrate more easily. This, he thinks, has been the case with the document A, and therefore its discolored and cut appearance.

States, that all the documents from Spain are cut in like manner; that he has often seen them; he has in his possession letters cut in the same way.

The petitioner also offered evidence to prove the genuineness of the letters from Roque Moreno, above mentioned.

The district Attorney put in a general denial on the part of the United States and offered sundry original documents in evidence to show Morales' habitual mode of signing officially, and also Leonard's mode of signature.

At May term, 1848, the cause came on for trial before the district court; the petitioner having entered a disclaimer as to the lands claimed by Butler and Black confining his claim, as to them, to a float from the United States. The following is the decree of the district court:

"It is hereby ordered, adjudged, and decreed that the petitioner, Michael Moore, is the true and lawful owner of, and has good title against the United States, the defendants, in and to all the lands and hereditaments claimed by him in his petition, to-wit, to sixty thousand superficial arpents of land situated in the State of Louisiana between the Rivers Mississippi and the Atchafalaya in the angle formed by the said two rivers, commencing at the point where the Atchafalaya River leaves the Mississippi and running down between the two rivers, with the said rivers as boundaries on two sides, for the above quantity."

"It is further ordered, adjudged, and decreed that in case said lands so claimed by said petitioner or any part or portion thereof, shall have been sold by the United States or otherwise disposed of, said petitioner Michael Moore shall be and is hereby authorized to enter in any land office in the State

Page 53 U. S. 214

of Louisiana, in parcels conformable to sectional divisions and subdivisions, a like quantity of public lands after the same shall have been offered at public sale."

"And it further appearing that Thomas Butler and John Black hold their lands by title acquired from the United States, it is ordered, adjudged, and decreed that they be quieted in their titles, and that the petitioner recover nothing from them."

"And that judgment pro confesso be entered against John Hagan, Charles W. Hopkins, and H.L. Williams, A. Ledoux, and A. Miltenberger, they not having answered the petition filed in this case."

"Judgment rendered June 28, 1848."

"Judgment signed June 30, 1848."

"[Signed] THEO. H. McCALEB [Seal]"

"United States Judge"

From this decree, the United States appealed to this Court.

Page 53 U. S. 217

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