The Nassau,
71 U.S. 634 (1866)

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U.S. Supreme Court

The Nassau, 71 U.S. 4 Wall. 634 634 (1866)

The Nassau

71 U.S. (4 Wall.) 634


1. The jurisdiction of a court of admiralty over a vessel captured jure belli is determined by the fact of capture. The filing of a libel is not necessary to create it.

2. When, under the Act of Congress of the 25th March, 1862, for the better administration of the law of prize, 12 Stat. at Large 374, the prize commissioners authorized by the act certify to a district court that a prize vessel has arrived in their district and has been delivered into their hands, this is sufficient evidence to the court that the vessel is claimed as a prize of war and in its jurisdiction as a prize court.

3. Demands against property captured as prize of war must be adjusted in a prize court. The property arrested as prize is not attachable at the suit of private parties. If such parties have claims which, in their view, override the rights of captors, they must present them to the prize court for settlement.

4. Whether a maritime lien for work and materials alleged to have been furnished to a vessel prior to her capture jure belli is lost by such capture is a proper subject for investigation and decision by the prize court before which the captured vessel is brought for adjudication, and which the parties setting up such lien can, on presentation of their claim to that tribunal properly have decided.

Page 71 U. S. 635

5. But if such parties do not so present and ask to have it decided, the question is not properly before this Court for review, in a case where the district court has only dismissed the libel as improperly filed on its instance side.

On the 17th of June, 1862, Harlan, Hollingsworth & Co., a mercantile firm doing business at Wilmington, Delaware, filed a libel in admiralty on the instance side of the District Court for the Southern District of New York, against the steamship Nassau, then in the port of New York, for repairs done to and materials furnished for the said vessel in June, 1860. On the same day, in obedience to a monition properly issued, the marshal attached the vessel and made return that she was at the time in the custody of the prize commissioners. Afterwards, on the 27th day of June, the prize commissioners certified that the steamer, an alleged prize of war, arrived at the port of New York on the 2d day of June, and was delivered into their hands and was then in their custody. These commissioners, it may be here stated, were officers acting under the authority of an act of Congress [Footnote 1] which directs that when any property captured as prize is brought into any district of the United States for adjudication, it shall be the duty of the prize commissioners to receive and keep it until by proper process of the court it shall be placed in the custody of the marshal.

A motion having been made by the district attorney, intervening for the United States, to dismiss the libel -- on the ground that a vessel under arrest as prize of war was within the cognizance of the prize court, and could not be attached in a private action, and that all legal and equitable demands against her must be adjudicated in the prize court -- the district court sustained the motion and dismissed the libel, and the circuit court, on appeal, affirmed the decree. The case was now brought here to review that decision, the libellants insisting that the order of dismissal was without authority of law.

Page 71 U. S. 640

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