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United States Supreme Court

36 U.S. 73

The Garonne

APPEALS from the District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. The French ship Garonne, from Havre, and the ship Fortune, also from Havre, were libelled, by several proceedings, by the United States, at New Orleans, in the district court of the United States, January 1836, under the provisions of the first section of the act of congress, passed April 20th, 1818, entitled 'an act in addition to an act to prohibit the introduction of slaves into any port or place within the jurisdiction of the United States, from and after the first day of January 1808, and to repeal certain parts of the same.'

The ship Garonne had arrived in New Orleans, about the 21st of November 1835; having on board a female, Priscilla, who had been born a slave in Louisiana, the property of the widow Smith, a native of that state, and resident in New Orleans. Mrs. Smith and her daughter, being in ill health, went from New Orleans, with her family, in 1835, to Havre, taking with her, as a servant, Priscilla; having previously obtained from the mayor of the city a passort for the slave, to prove that she had been carried out of the state, and that she should again be admitted into the same. Priscilla being desirous of returning to New Orleans, from Paris, was sent back on board the Garonne, under a passport from the charg e des affaires of the United States, in which she was described as a woman of color, the servant of a citizen of the United States. On the arrival of the ship, the baggage of the girl was regularly returned as that of the slave of Mrs. Smith.

The facts of the case of the ship Fortune were as follows: Mr. Pecquet, a citizen of New Orleans, went to France, in 1831, taking with him two servants, who were his slaves, as was alleged in the testimony, with an intention to emancipate them. They remained with the family of Mr. Pecquet, in France, for some time, and returned to New Orleans, at their own instance, in the ship Fortune, in 1835, as was asserted, as free persons. The passport of the American legation represented these females as domestics of Mr. Pecquet, of New Orleans, a citizen of the United States. After their return to New Orleans, it did not appear, that they were claimed or held by the agent of Mr. Pecquet, or by any person, as slaves; but no deed of emancipation for either of them had been executed. On the arrival of the Fortune, in the list of passengers which was certified under the oath of the master, these persons, by name, were stated to be the slaves of Mr. Pecquet. The declarations of Mr. Pecquet that these persons were brought back as free, and that it was his intention that they should be free, were in evidence.

The district court of Louisiana dismissed both the libels, and the United States prosecuted these appeals.

The case was argued by Butler, Attorney-General, for the United States; and by Jones, for the defendants.

Butler stated, that in the case of the Garonne, the question was presented, whether a slave, who had been carried out of the United States by a master, could be afterwards brought back to the United States. The words of the statute are, that 'it shall not be lawful to import or bring, in any manner whatsoever, into the United States,' &c., 'any negro, mulatto or person of color,' with intent to hold, sell or dispose of 'such persons as a slave, or to be held to service or labor.' It is not claimed, that the United States have, under the constitutional power 'to regulate commerce,' a right to interfere with the regulations of states as to slaves. The powers of congress apply to foreign commerce. The words of the statute are, 'import,' or 'being,' and the case stated in the proceedings is fairly within the law. The persons were brought into the state of Louisiana as slaves, and are here held as such. If the words of the statute comprehend the case, the court will apply them; and they will not be restrained from doing so by the supposition that the case to which they apply was no intended by congress.

In the case of the ship Fortune, the attorney-general argued, that there was error in the decree of the district judge in dismissing the libel of the United States, on the ground, that as the persons of color brought into New Orleans were free, the act of congress was not violated. This was not the issue; the allegation on the part of the United States is, and the evidence establishes, that persons of color were brought into the United States by the ship Fortune, and that they were to be held to service or labor, either as slaves or otherwise. In either case, the law is broken, and the penalties are incurred by the ship.

It is not necessary ts show that the persons were held as slaves, after their arrival in New Orleans. Were they brought into the United States as slaves? This is established by the list of passengers sworn to by the master of the ship. After naming them, he states, 'these two negresses are slaves of Mr. Pecquet, and are sent to New Orleans by their master.' In the United States v. Gooding, 12 Wheat. 460; it was decided, that the declarations of the master of a ship, in the transactions of the vessel, being a part of the res gestoe, are competent evidence of the voyage. The declaration of the master in this case was in the course of his duty. If the persons were brought to the United States, not as slaves, but to be held to service or labor, the case is the same.

If the construction given by the district court of Louisiana is maintained, the act of 1807, to which this is a supplement, will be defeated. The objects and purposes of that law were, to prevent any persons of color being brought into the United States, to be held to service or labor. If evidence of intention is to acquit, the law will be null. The question is, whether not having made the persons brought in the vessel free, the intention only to emancipate them, will operate to defeat the law? Suppose, the intention of the owner, or his instructions to his agent, not carried into effect, how would the case stand? Could not the persons have been sold as slaves after their arrival? Would the intention to emancipate them give a substantial claim to freedom?

Congress had power to pass this law. They may have thought, that if an owner of slaves carried them to a foreign country, he ought not to be allowed to bring them back.

Jones, for the claimants of the Garonne, and for the claimants of the Fortune.-The government of the United States has no right to interfere with the property of the owners of slaves; nor was it the object of the law on which these proceedings are founded, to do so. The persons who were brought in the Garonne, were slaves in Paris; and when they returned, they came to a domicil they had never lost. Sojourning in France, did not deprive them of their domicil. The case may be illustrated, by supposing a Maryland gentleman shall take his slave with him, when travelling, into Virginia. He could not, according to the principles contended for by the United States, bring him back. But this is a misconception of the law. It was intended to apply to persons brought from foreign countries, and who were so imported for the purpose of their being slaves. Its whole application is to the slave-trade. To prohibit the return of slaves from a foreign country, to which they may have accompanied their owners, is a direct interference with the rights of those owners; and is against the constitution of the United States.

But if these views of the case left it in any doubt, the whole of the case of the Fortune shows that the persons of color brought from Havre, were free. They had been discharged from slavery by their master, and were entitled to be emancipated. In a court of equity, their claim to freedom could have been substantiated. All the facts of the case exclude the supposition that they were to be held to service or labor.

TANEY, Ch. J., delivered the opinion of the court.


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).