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United States Supreme Court

69 U.S. 366

The Slavers (Sarah)

LIKE the preceding case, this was a libel of forfeiture, filed in the District Court for the Southern District of New York, against a vessel and cargo, under the 1st section of the act of Congress of 22d March, 1794, [1] and the 2d of that of 20th April, 1818, [2] prohibiting persons engaging in the slave-trade.

The former declares that no person shall 'build, fit, equip, load, or otherwise prepare any ship or vessel, within any port or place of the United States, nor shall cause any ship or vessel to sail from any port or place within the same, for the purpose of carrying on any trade or traffic in slaves, to any foreign country; or for the purpose of procuring from any foreign kingdom, place, or country, the inhabitants of such kingdom, place, or country, to be transported to any foreign country, port, or place whatever, to be sold or disposed of as slaves; any ship or vessel so fitted out, &c., to be forfeited to the United States,' &c.

The latter is of an import essentially the same; its language being, 'for the purpose of procuring any negro, mulatto, or person of color.'

One Couillard intervened, on the 3d of May, 1861, as claimant and bailee of the cargo, which was stated to belong to R. J. Arguelles, who, however, did not in any way appear. Arguelles, or some person bearing that name, had sworn to it as of the value of $22,000. There was no denial that the vessel was on her voyage to the African coast. Her clearance, in fact, had been for Cape Palmas.

The Sarah was a bark of about 260 tons, 103 feet long, 25 feet broad, 11 feet 3 inches deep, with three masts, was similar to the Kate, condemned (supra, p. 366) for being engaged in the slave-trade. She was clipper-built, intended for fast sailing, with high and light spars, calculated to carry a press of canvas, and sharp. Her cooking-galley was 19 to 20 feet long, and wide in proportion. She had on deck a number of extra spars, similar to those on the Kate, and besides her ordinary boats, two large surf-boats. The manifest showed a large quantity (19,448 gallons) of what is called 'oil-cask shucks,' with a proportionate quantity of iron hoops and rivets. These would hold water as well as oil. It was proved that these casks-'oil casks'-are found in large quantities on nearly all vessels condemned as slavers. On examining the cargo, 15 or 16 barrels of beef or pork not on the manifest, also 16 barrels of bread and 6 barrels of flour, and 1 tierce of rice, marked for the homeward passage in plain letters, were found on the vessel. There were half a dozen water-casks on deck, besides the casks in shucks on manifest, which were of the same style as those on board the Kate.

The manifest showed 150 hogsheads of rum, also cases of muskets.

On the 7th of March, 1861, Augustus Head, Jr., of Boston, had purported to sell the bark to one 'C. P. Smith, of the city of New York,' for $9250, and he, on the 11th of March, sold her to Couillard, the intervener, for $10,000. No proof of actual sale was made. De Graw, a clerk in the custom-house for seven years, testified that, on the sale or transfer of slavers, he had noticed that there are usually two or three transfers made previous to the sailing; that he did not know of any P. C. Smith engaged in the trade; that he had looked in New York city directories carefully for C. P. Smith for five years; that the name was not there; and had looked (though in vain) in one Brooklyn directory. The claimant did not attempt to prove the existence of such a person. De Graw, the clerk above mentioned, stated that he knew the principal houses in New York engaged in the legal trade to the African coast, but did not know any such persons as Couillard or Arguelles.

The deputy marshal who seized the bark stated that he seized her fifteen miles down the New York bay. When approaching, and within half a mile of her, he saw through a spy-glass that several persons on board were examining the vessel he was on, and that immediately after, from the vessel which they were watching, somebody threw a box, about 2 by 3 feet in size, overboard, which sank. Couillard was on board, in command, when this occurred. He gave no explanation of the fact.

In addition to the facts already stated, it appeared that one Miller, who had shipped under the name of Reed, had authority to ship men for the voyage, and to exercise control in the absence of Captain Couillard. He stated to a seaman named Delano that he was to be the actual master of the vessel. He shipped Delano under the name of Comstock, and paid his advance-money.

Delano swore that Miller, 'on board, acted as captain, mate, and all hands,' and signed receipts for the cargo. Miller, in the act of employing Delano, represented himself as master of the vessel; said 'he was going to the coast of Africa; was going black-birding,' and sometimes used the word 'ebony,' and tried to induce the witness to go along by giving him liquor, and by promises of large profits. He said, 'If you go with me, you will be gone about four months, and have about $3000 or $4000 when you get back.' On another occasion, he said that 'he was going over to the coast of Africa, and wanted me to go as second mate.' Such, at least, was the testimony of some of these parties. There was, however, no more specific evidence against the vessel. No manacles nor unusual supply of medicines were found on her, and the cargo was one which would have suited a lawful voyage to the African coast.

The District Court condemned the bark. The Circuit Court affirmed the decree. Appeal here. After an able argument by Mr. Evarts for the appellant, and by Mr. Coffey, special counsel of the United States, contra,--

Mr. Justice CLIFFORD delivered the opinion of this court.


^1  1 Stat. at Large, 347.

^2  3 Id. 450.

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).