Terrett v. Taylor
Absent. JOHNSON, J. and TODD, J.
ERROR to the Circuit Court for the district of Columbia,
sitting in the county of Alexandria.
Taylor and others, 'members of the vestry of the Protestant Episcopal church, commonly called the Episcopal church of Alexandria in the parish of Fairfax, in the county of Alexandria and district of Columbia, on behalf of themselves and others, members of the said church, and of the congregation belonging to the said church,' filed their bill in chancery against Terrett and others, who were overseers of of the poor for the county of Fairfax, in the state of Virginia, and against George Deneale and John Muncaster, wardens of the said church, and against James Wren.
The bill charges that on the 27th of May, 1770, the vestry of the said parish and church, to whom the Complainants, together with the Defendants, George Deneale and John Muncaster, are the legal and regular successors in the said vestry, purchased of a certain Daniel Jennings a tract of land then situate in the county of Fairfax and state of Virginia, but now in the county of Alexandria in the district of Columbia, containing 516 acres, which the said Jennings and his wife, by deed of bargain and sale on the 18th of September, 1770, by the direction of the then vestry, conveyed to a certain Townsend Dade, since deceased, and the said James Wren, both then of the county of Fairfax, and the church wardens of the said parish and church for the time being, and to their successors in office, for the use and benefit of the said church in the said parish. That in the year 1784 the legislature of Virginia passed an act, entitled 'an act for incorporating the Protestant Episcopal church;' by the third section of which, power is given to the ministers and vestry of the Protestant Episcopal church to demise, alien, improve and lease any lands belonging to the church. That the act of 1786, entitled 'an act to repeal the act for incorporating the Protestant Episcopal church, and for other purposes,' declares that the act of 1784 shall be repealed, but saves to all religious societies the property to them respectively belonging, and authorizes them to appoint, from time to time, according to the rules of their sect, trustees who shall be capable of managing and applying such property to the religious use of such societies. That under this last law the Complainants conceive they have the power of requiring the church wardens of their church, who are the trustees appointed by the vestry, under the direction of the vestry comtemplated by the last mentioned act, to sell or otherwise dispose of the said land, and to apply the proceeds of the same to the religious use of the society or congregation belonging to the said church, in such manner as the vestry for the time being shall direct. That the Complainants have been, according to the rules and regulations of the said society, appointed, by the congregation, vestrymen and trustees of the said church, and have appointed the Defendants, Deneale and Muncaster, church wardens of the said church. That some of the present congregation of the church were originally members of the church when the church was built and when the land was purchased, and contributed to the purchase thereof. That some of them reside in the county of Fairfax and state of Virginia, but have pews in the church, and contribute to the support of the minister. That the lands are wasting by tresspasses, &c. That the Complainants, as well as the congregation, wish to sell the lands and apply the proceeds to the use of the church; but are opposed in their wishes by the Defendants, Terrett and others, who are overseers of the poor for the county of Fairfax, and who claim the land under the act of Virginia of the 12th of January, 1802, authorizing the sale of certain glebe lands in Virginia, which act was not passed until after the district of Columbia was separated from the state of Virginia: in consequence of which claim they are unable to sell the lands, &c. wherefore they pray that the Defendants, Terrett and others, the overseers of the poor, may be perpetually enjoined from claiming the land, that their title may be quieted and that the Defendants, Deneale, Muncaster and Wren, may be decreed to sell and convey the land, &c.
The bill was regularly taken for confessed against all the Defendants. The Court below decreed a sale, &c. according to the prayer of the bill.
The Defendants, Terrett and others, the overseers of the poor, sued out their writ of error.
The cause was argued at last term by JONES, for the Plaintiffs in error, and by E. I. LEE and SWANN, for the Defendants in error.
The opinion of the Court is so full that it is deemed unnecessary to report the arguments of counsel.
February 17th. Absent. JOHNSON, J. and TODD, J.
STORY, J. delivered the opinion of the Court as follows: