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United States Supreme Court

72 U.S. 710

Bates  v.  Brown

THIS was a writ of error to the Circuit Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

Kinzie Bates, the plaintiff in error, brought an action of ejectment in that court against Brown, the defendant in error, to recover certain premises. The cause was submitted upon an agreed statement of facts, which, so far as it was necessary to consider them, were as follows:

1. On the 29th of September, 1830, Alexander Wolcott bought of the State of Illinois certain lands, of which those in controversy were a part. At the time of the transaction he paid the purchase-money, and received the usual certificate.

2. He died on the 30th of October, 1830, leaving a daughter, Mary Ann Wolcott, his only child, and his wife, Eleanor, him surviving. He left a will, duly executed, which contained the following provision:

'I further give and devise to my said wife, Eleanor M. Wolcott, and my said daughter, all my freehold estate whatsoever, to hold to them, the said Eleanor M. Wolcott and Mary Ann Wolcott, their heirs and assigns forever.'

3. Mary Ann Wolcott, the daughter, died on the 16th of January, 1832, aged seven years, intestate and without issue.

4. On the 13th of May, 1833, Eleanor M. Wolcott conveyned to David Hunter, his heirs and assigns, with a covenant of general warranty, the premises in controversy.

5. On the 5th of July, 1833, a patent was issued by the Governor of Illinois for the land purchased by Alexander Wolcott, as before stated, to his 'legal representatives, heirs, and assigns.'

6. Eleanor M. Wolcott, his widow, married George C. Bates on the 26th of May, 1836.

7. The plaintiff, Kinzie Bates, was the issue of that marriage, and was born on the 13th of April, 1838, and was the only child of his parents.

8. His mother died on the 1st of August, 1849, leaving her husband, George C. Bates, then and still surviving.

The plaintiff claimed title as the heir at law of his deceased half sister, Mary Ann Wolcott, under the rule of the common law, generally known as that of 'shifting inheritance;' maintaining that although at the time of the decease the mother was the presumptive heir of the said Mary Ann, yet that by his own birth a nearer heir was created, and that the estate thus placed in the mother was divested from her, and vested in him, the son.

To understand the matter fully it may be well to state that the Congressional Ordinance of 1787 for the government of the Northwestern Territory, of which Illinois was originally part, created a court which it declared should have 'common law jurisdiction;' and the Ordinance guaranteed also to the people of the territory 'judicial proceedings, according to the course of the common law.' This Ordinance declared that the estates of persons dying intestate.

'Shall descend to and be distributed among their children, and the descendants of a deceased child, in equal parts; the descendants of a deceased child or grandchild to take the share of their deceased parent in equal parts among them; and when there shall be no children or descendants, then in equal parts to the next of kin, in equal degree; and among collaterals the children of a deceased brother or sister of the intestate shall have, in equal parts among them, their deceased parent's share; and there shall in no case be a distinction between kindred of the whole and half blood.'

In 1819, after Illinois had become a State, a statute adopted 'the common law of England' in general terms; and in 1845 another statute declared that the common law of England, 'so far as the same is applicable and of a general nature, shall be the rule of decision, and shall be considered as in full force until repealed by legislative authority.'

At the time of the decease of Mary Ann Wolcott, the statute of Illinois governing the descent of the real estate of persons dying intestate was as follows:

'Estates, both real and personal, of resident or non-resident proprietors in this State, dying intestate, or whose estates, or any part thereof, shall be deemed and taken as intestate estate, and after all just debts and claims against such estate shall be paid as aforesaid, shall descend to and be distributed to his or her children, and their descendants, in equal parts; the descendants of a deceased child, or grandchild, taking the share of their deceased parent in equal parts among them; and when there shall be no children of the intestate, nor descendants of such children, and no widow, then to the parents, brothers, and sisters of the deceased person, and their descendants, in equal parts among them, allowing to each of the parents, if living, a child's part, or to the survivor of them, if one be dead, a double portion, and if there be no parent living, then to the brothers and sisters of the intestate and their descendants; when there shall be a widow, and no child or children, or descendants of a child or children of the intestate, then the one-half of the real estate, and the whole of the personal estate, shall go to such widow as her exclusive estate forever, subject to her entire and absolute disposition and control, to be governed in all respects by the same rules and regulations as are, or may be, provided in cases of of estates of femes sole; if there be no children of the intestate or descendants of such children, and no parents, brothers, or sisters, or descendants of brothers and sisters, and no widow, then such estate shall descend in equal parts to the next of kin to the intestate, in equal degree, computing by the rules of the civil law; and there shall be no representation among collaterals, except with the descendants of the brothers and sisters of the intestate; and in no case shall there be a distinction between the kindred of the whole and half blood, saving to the widow, in all cases, her dower of one-third part of the real for life, and the one-third part of the personal estate forever.'

The court below gave judgment for the defendant.

Mr. Beckwith, for Bates, plaintiff in error; Mr. Fuller, contra.

Mr. Justice SWAYNE delivered the opinion of the court, having first stated the case, and quoted the statute relating to descents just above set out:


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).