Powhatan Stemboat Co. v. Appomatox R. Co.,
65 U.S. 247 (1860)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Powhatan Stemboat Co. v. Appomatox R. Co., 65 U.S. 24 How. 247 247 (1860)

Powhatan Stemboat Company v. Appomatox Railroad Company

65 U.S. (24 How.) 247


In the Code of Virginia, chapter 196, are the following sections, viz.:

"SEC. 15. If a free person, on a Sabbath day, be found laboring at any trade or calling, or employ his apprentices, servants, or slaves, in labor or other business, except in household or other work of necessity or charity, he shall forfeit $10 for each offense; every day any servant, apprentice, or slave, is so employed, constituting a distinct offense."

"SEC. 17. No forfeiture shall be incurred under the preceding section for the transportation on Sunday of the mail, or of passengers and their baggage. And the said forfeiture shall not be incurred by any person who conscientiously believes that the seventh day of the week ought to be observed as a Sabbath and actually refrains from all secular business and labor on that day, provided he does not compel a slave, apprentice, or servant, not of his belief,

Page 65 U. S. 248

to do secular work or business on Sunday and does not, on that day disturb any other person."

The acts prohibited by these sections are no doubt unlawful, but the following case does not fall within their operation.

The Powhatan Steamboat company was the owner of a line of steamers employed in the transportation of goods from Baltimore to Richmond, stopping at City Point to deliver goods, which were to be carried thence to Petersburg by the Appomattox Railroad Company. The steamboat company gave receipts for the goods when shipped, undertaking to deliver them at Petersburg, paying the railroad company a portion of the freight.

Leaving Baltimore on Saturday, one of the steamers arrived at City Point on Sunday morning and delivered the goods intended for Petersburg, which were received and locked up in a warehouse, belonging to the railroad company, to remain until the next day. But in the after part of the day, the warehouse and goods were destroyed by fire. The steamboat company was sued by the shippers and compelled to pay the value of the goods, to recoup which they now sued the railroad company.

The instructions of the court below to the jury were erroneous, viz., that if they found that the goods were delivered on a Sunday under a contract between the parties, express or implied, that they might be received and accepted on that day, and were destroyed by fire on the day on which they were delivered and received, their verdict should be for the defendants.

The steamboat company and railroad company each worked for itself. The railroad company, having received the goods into their warehouse, was bound to keep them in safe custody, as carriers for hire, although it could not transport them to Petersburg until the next day. To take care of them on the Sabbath day was a work of necessity, and therefore not unlawful.

The cause of action in this case is not founded upon any executory promise between the parties touching either the landing and depositing of the goods or the opening or closing of the warehouse, but it is based upon the nonperformance of the duty which arose after those acts had been performed.

If the action was one to recover a compensation for the labor of landing and depositing the goods or to recover damages for refusal to comply with the agreement to open and close the warehouse, the rule of law invoked by the defendants would apply.

The nature of the case and rulings of the court below are fully explained in the opinion of the Court.

Page 65 U. S. 249

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