Murray v. The Charming Betsey
Annotate this Case
6 U.S. 64 (1804)
U.S. Supreme Court
Murray v. The Charming Betsey, 6 U.S. 2 Cranch 64 64 (1804)
Murray v. The Charming Betsey
6 U.S. (2 Cranch) 64
The Charming Betsey, an American merchant vessel, sailed from Baltimore on 10 April, 1800, under the name of The Jane, for St. Bartholomew with a cargo of flour, and afterwards proceeded to St. Thomas, where she was sold to J.S., who was born in the United States and while an infant removed to St. Thomas, of which place he became a burgher, and there carried on trade as a merchant, married there, and in 1797 took an oath of allegiance to Denmark. J.S. put a cargo on board of the schooner, calling her The Charming Betsey, and cleared her out for Guadaloupe. She was captured by a French privateer and ordered for Guadaloupe as prize, and was recaptured by the American frigate Constellation, Murray commander, and carried into Martinique, where the cargo was sold and the vessel was brought to the United States; the vessel and cargo being considered as having violated the law of the United States prohibiting intercourse between the United States and France, and the sale to J.S. asserted to be a cover to evade the law. Held that the recapture was illegal.
An act of Congress ought never to be construed to violate the law of nations if any other possible construction remains, and consequently can never be construed to violate neutral rights or to affect neutral commerce further than is warranted by the law of nations as understood in this country.
The cases cited at the bar and the arguments drawn from the general conduct of the United States seem completely to establish the principle that an American citizen may acquire in a foreign country the commercial privileges attached to his domicile and be exempted from the operation of an act of Congress expressed in general terms.
The American citizen who goes into a foreign country, although he owes local and temporary allegiance to that country, yet if he performs no other act changing his condition, is entitled to the protection of his own government, and if, without the violation of any municipal law, he should be oppressed, he would have a right to claim that protection and the interposition of his government in his favor.
Where the report of persons appointed to ascertain and assess damages for a marine trespass gave a gross sum, unaccompanied by explanations, to be paid by the captors who had made an illegal capture, the report was set aside. The omission of the appellant to except to the report does not cure an error apparent on the face of the record, and the omission to give the explanations is such an error.
A public officer entrusted to perform a duty on the high seas necessary to the service of his country and acting according to the best of his judgment under the orders he has received, if he is the victim of any mistake ought never to be assessed with vindictive damages. It is not only the duty of the court to relieve him from such damages, but no sentence should be affirmed where from the nature of the proceedings the whole case appears on the record unless those proceedings are such as to show on what the decree has been founded and to support that decree.
In the District Court of Pennsylvania a libel was filed by Alexander Murray, Esq., for himself and others, against the schooner Charming Betsy founded on the Act of Congress passed 27 February, 1800, 1 Story's Laws 718, entitled "An act to suspend the commercial intercourse between the United States and France and the dependencies thereof." The libel states that the schooner sailed from Baltimore after the passing of that act, owned, hired, and employed by persons resident within the United States or by citizens thereof resident elsewhere, bound to Guadaloupe, and was taken on the high seas on 1 June, 1800, by the libellant, then commander of the public armed ship the Constellation, pursuant to instructions given to him by the President of the United States, there being reason to suspect her to be engaged in a traffic or commerce contrary to the said act, &c.
The facts of the case are stated by the district judge in his decree as follows:
On or about 10 April, 1800, the schooner, now called the Charming Betsy but then called the Jane, sailed from Baltimore in the District of Maryland, an American bottom duly registered according to law, belonging to citizens of and resident in, the United States and regularly documented with American papers; she was laden with a cargo belonging to citizens of the United States; her destination was first to St. Bartholomew, where the captain had orders to effect a sale of both vessel and cargo, but if a sale of the schooner could not be effected at St. Bartholomew, which was to be considered the "primary object" of the voyage, the captain was to proceed to St. Thomas with the vessel and such part of the flour as should be unsold, where he was to accomplish the sale. Although a sale of the cargo, consisting chiefly of flour, was effected at St. Bartholomew, yet the vessel could not there be advantageously disposed of, and the captain proceeded, according to his instructions, to St. Thomas, where a bona fide sale was accomplished by captain James Phillips on behalf of the American owners for a valuable consideration to a certain Jared Shattuck, a resident merchant in the Island of St. Thomas.
Jared Shattuck was born in Connecticut before the American Revolution, and he had removed long before any differences with France, in his early youth, to the Island of St. Thomas, where he served his apprenticeship, intermarried, opened a house of trade, owned sundry vessels, and, as was said, lands, which none but Danish subjects were competent to hold and possess. About the year 1796, he became a Danish burgher, invested with the privileges of a Danish subject and owing allegiance to his Danish Majesty.
It did not appear that Jared Shattuck ever returned to the United States to resume citizenship, but constantly resided and had his domicile both before and at the time of the purchase of the schooner Jane at St. Thomas. Although the schooner was armed and furnished with ammunition on her sailing from Baltimore, and the cannon, arms and stores were sold to Jared Shattuck by a contract separate from that of the vessel, she was chiefly dismantled of these articles at St. Thomas, a small part of the ammunition, and a trifling part of the small arms excepted. The name of the schooner was at St. Thomas changed to that of the Charming Betsy, and she was documented with Danish papers as the property of Jared Shattuck. So, being the bona fide property of Jared Shattuck, she took in a cargo belonging to him, and no other, as appeared by the papers found on board and delivered to this Court.
She sailed with the said cargo from St. Thomas on or about 25 June, 1800, commanded by a certain Thomas Wright, a Danish burgher, and navigated according to the laws of Denmark, for aught that appeared to the contrary, bound to the Island of Guadaloupe.
On or about 1 July last, 1800, she was captured on her passage to Guadaloupe by a French privateer, and a prize master and seven or eight hands put on board, the Danish crew (except captain Wright an old man and two boys), being taken off by the French privateer. On the 3d of the same July, she was boarded and taken possession of by some of the officers and crew of the Constellation under the orders of Captain Murray, and sent into the port of St. Pierre, in Martinique, where she arrived on the 5th of the same month of July.
The Danish papers were on board, and except a process verbal formed by the French, there were no other papers found.
The instructions of the President of the United States to Captain Murray comprehended the case of a vessel found in the possession of the French captors, but they seemed to intend a vessel belonging to citizens of the United States.
It did not appear that Captain Murray had any knowledge of Jared Shattuck's being a native of Connecticut or of the United States until so informed in Martinique.
The cargo of the schooner was sold by order of Captain Murray at Martinique, and she was ordered to the United States for adjudication. After her arrival in the port of Philadelphia, a libel was filed in the district court.
A claim to the vessel was filed by Jared Shattuck, and he also claimed damages for the capture and for the sale of the cargo at Martinique.
The district judge ordered the vessel to be restored, and in his decree proceeded to order the amount of sales of the cargo to be paid to the claimant or his lawful agent, together with costs and such damages as shall be assessed by the clerk of the court, who was directed to inquire into and report the amount thereof. And for this purpose the clerk was directed to associate with himself two intelligent merchants of the district, and duly inquire what damage Jared Shattuck, the owner of the schooner Charming Betsy and her cargo, had sustained by reason of the premises. Should it be the opinion of the clerk and the assessors associated with him that the officers and crew of the Constellation benefited the owner of the Charming Betsy by the rescue from the French captors, they should allow, in the adjustment, reasonable compensation for this service.
On 15 May following, upon the report of the clerk and assessors, a final decree was entered for $20,594.16 damages, with costs.
From this decree the libellant appealed to the circuit court, which adjudged
"That the decree of the district court be affirmed so far as it directs restitution of the vessel and payment to the claimant of the net proceeds of the sale of the cargo in Martinique, deducting the cost and charges there, according to the account exhibited by Captain Murray's agent, being one of the exhibits in this cause, and that the said decree be reversed for the residue, each party to pay his own costs, and one moiety of the custody and wharfage bills for keeping the vessel until restitution to the claimant."
From this decree both parties appealed to the Supreme Court.