United States v. Weed,
72 U.S. 62 (1866)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Weed, 72 U.S. 5 Wall. 62 62 (1866)

United States v. Weed

72 U.S. (5 Wall.) 62


1. When the record presents a case in this Court which has been prosecuted exclusively as prize, the property cannot be here condemned as for a statutory forfeiture.

2. When the record presents a case prosecuted below on the instance side of the court, for forfeiture under a statute, it cannot here be condemned as prize.

3. In either of these cases, if the facts disclosed in the record justify it, the case will be remanded to the court below for a new libel, and proper proceedings according to the true nature of the case.

4. In the present case, which was prosecuted as prize of war exclusively, the facts did not prove a case of prize, nor did they show a probable case of violation of any statutes. A decree of the court below dismissing the libel and restoring the property was therefore affirmed.

5. Permits granted during the late rebellion by the proper licensing agents to purchase goods in a certain locality, are prima facie evidence that the locality is properly within the trade regulations of that department.

On the 15th of April, 1864, the steamer A. G. Brown was boarded in the Atchafalaya River while on her way to Brashear City, by the United States gunboat Wyanza, Captain

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Washburne, and after some investigation the cargo of the Brown was pronounced prize of war. She followed the gunboat into Brashear City, her cargo was landed there, and put on the railroad which connects that place with New Orleans, and sent to the latter city in charge of a person calling himself a prize master. No attempt was made to detain the A. G. Brown. About a week afterwards she landed at Brashear City, on her return from another expedition, and as soon as she touched the shore, Captain Washburne came on board of her, declared her cargo prize of war, and sent that also to New Orleans by railroad. These cargoes consisted of sugar and molasses.

At New Orleans the first cargo arrived in two installments. On the arrival of the first, a libel was filed against it, in prize, in the District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana by the attorney of the United States for that district. Shortly after this the second installment of the first capture, and all of the second capture, arrived at New Orleans, whereupon an amended or supplemental libel, equally in prize, was filed against all the goods of both seizures.

The property, on its arrival, was placed in the hands of prize commissioners, depositions in preparatorio were taken, and the litigation pursued and ended as if it were a single capture. It was only by the most diligent search of the record that one was enabled to discover what goods were taken in the first capture and what in the second.

As soon as the case was fairly begun in the district court, C. A. Weed filed his claim for the sugar and molasses of the first capture, alleging that he was the owner of it; that he was a loyal citizen of New Orleans; that he had purchased the property in the Parish of St. Mary, Louisiana, under a license from the proper Treasury agents, and was transmitting it to New Orleans, when it was seized. F. Blydenburgh filed a claim, with similar statements, for the sugar of the second capture, stating, however, that he had bought it under a license which authorized him to "transport the same from the Parish of St. Martin's." Both claims, which were sworn to, were quite full in stating the circumstances connected

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with the purchases and loyalty of the region where made and through which the property passed.

During the progress of the case, the claimant made a motion to dismiss the proceedings in prize, and transfer the case to the instance side of the court. This motion was disregarded, but, on final hearing, the district court dismissed the libel and ordered restitution of the property. From that decree the United States appealed to this Court.

The vessel on which the goods were seized was the property of the government of the United States, in the employment and control of the quartermaster's department of General Banks' army at the time of the seizure -- the government receiving $3,000 for the use of the vessel. An officer of this department accompanied the expedition, which went from Brashear City for the goods, and was on board when she was overhauled by the gunboat. The vessel was manned by officers and men in the service of the government. There was also on board a file of United States soldiers, under the command of a captain of the army, who were detailed for the expedition by order of the colonel in command. The only person known to be on board not in the service of the government was the person who acted as agent for the claimant of the goods. Brashear City was in possession of our forces, and had been for several months, and the vessel was only returning to her proper place when she was captured in the first instance, and was lying there when boarded in the second. Her voyage did not in either case extend beyond the region of country which was under the control of the military authorities of the government at that time.

As to the cargoes.

Weed's had been brought from the Parish of St. Mary. Blydenburgh's came from the Parish of St. Martin on the shore of the Grand River, a little below a place called Butte la Rose. The Grand River was apparently the boundary between the two parishes. The district is on the Gulf of Mexico, and is indented on the Gulf side by several bays, with numerous islands, creeks &c., divided by two or three

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navigable rivers, broken by swamps and lakes and traversed in every direction by numberless bayous and watercourses, facts which rendered the absence of a public enemy a fact not so easy to be ascertained.

It appeared, however, in this case that the district was in the control of the United States; that the President had designated by proclamation, on the 1st of January previous, the Parish of St. Mary and apparently the whole region through which that cargo was to pass as not in rebellion. Various places in the Parish of St. Mary had been named by the commanding general as the places where delegates from the state were to assemble on the 22d February, 1864, to appoint state officers, and on the first Monday of April following, to make a state constitution.

The licenses, which were produced in court and had all usual indicia of regularity, were to purchase within "the country known as the Parish of St. Mary, Louisiana," and both had at the top of them the words, "This permit will accompany the shipment, and be surrendered at the customhouse." No papers were found with the goods.

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