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United States Supreme Court

15 U.S. 327

The Anna Maria

APPEAL from the circuit court for the district of Maryland.

This cause was argued by Mr. Harper and Mr. Swann, for the appellants; and by Mr. Winder and Mr. Jones, for the respondents.

THE schooner Anna Maria, belonging to citizens of the United States, sailed from Alexandria, on the 27th of September, 1812, laden with a cargo also belonging to American citizens, and bound to St. Bartholomews, a neutral island. On the 16th of October, the schooner made the Virgin islands, where she continued, it being calm, until the 19th. About mid-day, on the 19th, light breezes sprung up from the eastward, and [[../]], as stated by her master, was nsing her utmost endeavours to make St. Bartholomews. It appears, however, that the vessel headed towards St. Thomas's, an island in possession of the British. In this situation a sail, which proved to be the Nonsuch privateer, of Baltimore, was discovered bearing east northeast from them, which gave chase under English colours, and soon overtook them. [[../]] was boarded about four in the afternoon, and her master, with all her papers, sent on board the Nonsuch. A search for other papers was commenced and continued for about two hours. The boarding officer, who had appeared in the disguise of a British officer, then returned to the Nonsuch, being succeeded by another officer, who kept possession of [[../]] with two men, and was ordered to continue under the lee of the Nonsuch till the succeeding day, when it was intended, as alleged, to continue the search. The whole crew of [[../]] were taken out, and, with her master, put in irons. The next morning, about nine, two other vessels were descried, and, as stated by the master of [[../]], and by one of the officers of the privateer, were chased by the Nonsuch. In the chase she lost sight of [[../]], and soon afterwards fell in with her. The officer, with the two men on board her, attempted, as they say, to bring her into the United States; but, being in want of water, wood, and candles, they went into St. Jago del Cuba, and sold a part of the cargo to enable them to purchase these necessaries. In attempting to bring the vessel out of port, she was run aground and injured; after which she was sold with the residue of her cargo, and the proceeds remained in the hands of the American consul for those who may be entitled to them.

The Nonsuch soon afterwards returned to the United States, and a libel was filed by the owners of [[../]] and cargo, against the owners of the Nonsuch, in the district court of Maryland, claiming compensation in damages for the injury they had sustained. This libel was dismissed by the district court, and the decree affirmed by the circuit court on which the cause was brought, by appeal, to this court.

Mr. Swann and Mr. Harper, for the appellants, admitted, that the owners of the captured property could not come into a court of prize, unless with clean hands, to claim restitution in damages. If the original seizure was justifiable, and there was no subsequent misconduct on the part of the captors, they could not be compelled to make restitution. But it is the duty of captors to send in the captured vessel immediately for adjudication before the proper tribunal, and to the most convenient port. This they had not done; and were, therefore, responsible to the owners in damages. Even if the commander of the privateer acted bona fide, he acted with gross negligence and unskilfulness, and the authority of the case of the Der Mohra is enough to charge him with restitution in value.

Mr. Winder and Mr. Jones, for the respondents, argued, upon the facts of the case, that the real destination of the captured vessel was to supply the enemy, and that there was probable cause of seizure. If so, damages could not be recovered. There was sufficient ground for carrying in for adjudication, or ground of condemnation as prize; either would be sufficient to justify the captors in the seizure; the only question is, whether the right of seizure was

3 Rob. 129. 4 Rob. 314. properly exercised. The prize law does not prescribe any particular mode of exercising the right of visitation and search, nor when, nor into what particular port the prize is to be sent for adjudication. It is the exercise of a military discretion; and the case of the Der Mohr shows that the captors are not responsible for an accidental loss after the capture, if there is probable cause of seizure and carrying in for adjudication.

Mr. Chief Justice MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the court, and after stating the facts proceeded as follows:


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).