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The Slavers(Weathergage)

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United States Supreme Court

69 U.S. 375

The Slavers(Weathergage)

THIS, like the two preceding cases, was a libel filed in the District Court for the Southern District of New York, against a vessel in the port of that city, under acts of Congress, [*] prohibiting the equipment, loading, and other preparation of the vessel, for the purpose of carrying on a trade in slaves, and like fitting, &c., and causing the vessel to sail for the purpose of procuring negroes, mulattoes, and persons of color, to be held, sold, or otherwise disposed of as slaves, &c. The libel was served October 23, 1860. On the 30th, John Morris, 'intervening for the interest of himself as owner of the vessel and carrier of the cargo, appears before the honorable court, and makes claim to the said vessel, &c.,' and averred himself to be true and bon a fide owner, &c. The District Court condemned the vessel. On appeal, the Circuit Court affirmed the decree. Appeal here. The facts were thus:

On the 5th of September, 1860, one J. T. Woodbury purported to sell the vessel to 'John Morris, of New York,' 'for the sum of $12,000.'

The vessel was a bark of about 365 tons, 114 feet 8 inches long, 26 feet 6 inches wide, 13 feet 3 inches deep, with two decks and three masts.

The outward foreign manifest, sworn to by Edward Mitchell, who purported to be captain, on the 12th of September, 1860, represented her as bound for Hong Kong, vi a Ambriz, with a crew of fourteen men, and a cargo valued at nearly $19,000. The captain swore that this manifest contained 'a full, just, and true account of all the goods, and then actually laden on board said vessel;' that he will report any additional cargo, and also, that 'said cargo is truly intended to be landed in the port of Hong Kong, vi Ambriz.'

The shipper's manifest purported to report of cargo shipped by Anthony Tuero, embracing the same goods, &c., contained in the manifest sworn to by the captain, and the oath, taken on the 12th of September, 1860, was, that 'the said merchandise is truly intended to be exported to Ambriz.' Tuero himself, whose deposition was taken in the District Court, though he was not examined in the Circuit, stated the same thing, namely, that the cargo was to be discharged at Ambriz, and that he was not to have anything to do with the vessel afterwards.

The bark had a between-deck, made of rough boards, about 5 1/2 feet below the main deck; two surf-boats, besides four other small boats, which were manifested, with oars, rudders, tillers, &c. The surf-boats were covered and had hatches. A lot of lumber was stowed between decks, manifested as 100 pieces, 4 by 6 timber, and 762 pieces pine boards; 17 coils of rope, 3 bolts of sail-duck, 8 anchors, coopers' tools, nails, and a variety of things, usual in fitting a slaver, but not unusual in fitting any vessel. She had 12 swivels, and quantities of muskets and powder.

The cargo included 80 barrels of bread, 85 barrels and 100 half-barrels of rice, 57 barrels mess-beef and pork, 10 barrels of flour, beans, meal, &c., 3 barrels of vinegar, sixty fathoms of chain, 40 kegs of paint, 10 cans of linseed oil, 4 cans of spirits of turpentine, 96 bundles of white oak shucks, 4 hogsheads of shucks for heads of casks, 2 boxes of coopers' tools, 114 casks filled with water, 10 furnaces and boilers, and a large lot of firewood, and 375 sheets of copper. Other portions of the cargo were blankets, coarse cotton goods, muskets, powder, rum, wine, &c. All this cargo was perfectly suited to the slave-trade.

As respected Morris, it appeared that no man of that name was, on the 6th September, when the bill of sale was made, known to be in the shipping business of New York. No person, indeed, of the name was known by clearing clerks, some of whom were examined, or others, at the custom-house at all. Nor had he been ever heard of by one Machado, a man extensively engaged in the African trade. The vessel was appraised by the custom-house appraisers at $9000; the cargo at $11,681. The partner of Woodbury,-the alleged vendor of the vessel, and confessedly a real person, one Schmidt, a ship-broker,-did not know Morris, or what his business was, or whether he lived in New York, or whether he was 'an owner or go-between.' He had only seen him once, in the street, two months before. Woodbury was at the hearing in the District Court in town, but was not called by the claimant, nor was the witness to the execution of the bill of sale examined or produced. When appeal was taken to the Circuit Court in Morris's name, on the 7th of February, 1861, the petition was signed by his counsel, and the bond then given for appeal. It was executed by one Fogerty, surety for Morris, but not by Morris himself. Fogerty swore that he had never heard of such a person as Morris till that morning, and that he had signed the bond because the counsel requested him.

Ambriz is a Portuguese town on the west coast. It was testified that there is no regular trade to Hong Kong vi a that port; and that vessels never clear from New York for China vi a any such place, though they do sometimes from South America. It was testified, also, that the ordinary size of vessels in the trade, on the west coast of Africa, is from 200 to 400 tons; that of those trading to China, averaging from 800 to 1200.

On the other hand, it seemed, if the testimony of Schmidt was to be received as true, that the $12,000 purchase-money of the vessel was actually paid by Morris to his partner Woodbury. No manacles, nor any unusual supply of medicines, were found on the vessel, which was unladed carefully. Her size and equipments, though fitting her for a slaver, were not unfit for a lawful voyage to the region where she purported to be going. All articles found on the vessel were entered on the manifest. Both vessel and cargo were consigned to one Lievas, superintendent of the English mines at Ambriz, who it was not suggested had been concerned at any time in the slave-trade. Ambriz itself was a town of about 3000 inhabitants, having a certain amount of commerce, but not any considerable amount; the same trade as the Congo River,-palm oil, ivory, hides, pepper and gum being shipped from the district. It is about 100 miles from any point where slaves are got. It has a custom-house, and exacts duties. It appeared that one house in Salem, Massachusetts, testified to be 'respectable,' traded there; that barks of about the same size with the Weathergage, and of a structure not essentially different, made voyages to the place; that temporary decks were sometimes highly convenient, and were used accordingly in lawful voyages to Africa; and surf-boats, also; these last being useful in loading and unloading. Large quantities of water, too, is sent out in casks; 'the water being pumped out, and oil, from the region, being poured in, just as the casks stand.' The cargo, generally, would be 'as likely to go for legal as illegal purposes.' The witness, however, who testified to this, and that $20,000 would not be an excessive value for a cargo bound to Ambriz, had never known 'just such a cargo' sent there as the one on the Weathergage, nor known of any vessel sent to Hong Kong vi a Ambriz, while neither knew he of any slave-trade vi a China. He had been established for ten years trading to the western coast of Africa and Gulf of Guinea, and had sent from seventy-eight to one hundred vessels there.

Mr. Beebee, for the appellant; Mr. Assistant Attorney-General Ashton, contra.

Mr. Justice CLIFFORD delivered the opinion of the court.


^*  Acts of 22d of March, 1794, and 20th of April, 1818.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).