The Frances and Eliza Coates

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The Frances and Eliza Coates by Gabriel Duvall
Syllabus
Court Documents
Opinion of the Court

United States Supreme Court

21 U.S. 398

THE FRANCES AND ELIZA COATES

APPEAL from the District Court of Louisiana. This was an allegation of forfeiture, against the British ship Frances and Eliza, in the Court below, for a breach of the act of Congress, of the 18th of April, 1818, c. 65. the first section of which is in these words: 'That from and after the 30th day of September next, the ports of the United States shall be and remain closed against every vessel, owned wholly, or in part, by a subject or subjects of his Britannic Majesty, coming or arriving from any port or place in a colony or territory of his Britannic Majesty, that is or shall be, by the ordinary laws of navigation and trade, closed against vessels owned by citizens of the United States; and such vessel, that, in the course of the voyage, shall have touched at, or cleared out from, any port or place in a colony or territory of Great Britain, which shall or may be, by the ordinary laws of navigation and trade aforesaid, open to vessels owned by citizens of the United States, shall, nevertheless, be deemed to have come from the port or place in the colony or territory of Great Britain, closed, as aforesaid, against vessels owned by citizens of the United States, from which such vessel cleared out and sailed, before touching at and clearing out from an intermediate and open port or place as aforesaid; and every such vessel, so excluded from the ports of the United States, that shall enter, or attempt to enter the same, in violation of this act, shall, with her tackle, apparel, and furniture, together with the cargo on board such vessel, be forfeited to the United States.'

The libel set forth, in the words of the act, that the Frances and Eliza was owned, wholly or in part, by subjects of his Britannic Majesty, and had come from the port of Falmouth, in the island of Jamaica, a colony of his Britannic Majesty, which port was closed against citizens of the United States, and that she attempted to enter the port of New-Orleans, in the United States, contrary to the provisions of the act before recited. To this libel, William Coates, master of the vessel, put in an answer, denying the allegations in the libel, and claiming her as the property of Messrs. Herring & Richardson, of London. The material facts appearing on record, are these:

The Frances and Eliza sailed from London, in the month of February, 1819, for South America, having on board about 170 men for the service of the patriots. They arrived at Margaritta, in April, where the troops were disembarked. The vessel remained on the coast of Margaritta until November, when Captain Coates, by order of Mr. Gold, agent of the owners, took command of her. Captain Storm, who originally was the master, died on the passage, and was succeeded by the first mate, who died at Margaritta. Captain Coates was directed by the agent to proceed with the Frances and Eliza to New-Orleans, and there to procure freight to England, or the continent. The death of the agent, in the month of October, obliged him to remain some time at Margaritta, to arrange his affairs in the best manner he could. Having a scanty supply of salt provisions, and being without fresh provisions, which were not to be had at Margaritta, he did not sail from that port until the 8th of November. Proceeding on the voyage, he met an American schooner, off the west end of St. Domingo, the master of which supplied him with a cask of beef. He had at this time, 29 souls on board; and in the prosecution of the voyage, being off the coast of Falmouth, in the island of Jamaica, the Frances and Eliza hove to, within four or five miles of the shore, and the master went into Falmouth in his boat for provisions, of which they were much in want, having only three days' supply on board, and to get his name endorsed on the ship's register: on the day following, he returned with a small supply, which being insufficient, he went again the next morning, to endeavour to increase his stock, and succeeded in getting enough to enable him to proceed to New-Orleans. That he landed one passenger at Falmouth, and took two from thence to New-Orleans: the passenger landed, was a physician, who had sailed from London with the troops, but left the service in distress, and took his passage in the Frances and Eliza to New-Orleans. When at Falmouth, he found his professional prospects there favourable, and determined to remain; and George Glover, a mariner, had leave of the agent of the owners to work his passage from Margaritta to New-Orleans. Upon leaving Margaritta, the master took with him a letter of recommendation from the agent of the owners, to R. D. Shepherd & Co. of New-Orleans, which letter he presented on his arrival. When he had proceeded about half way up the Mississippi, the Frances and Eliza was hailed by an officer on board the revenue cutter, the answer was, that she was from Jamaica; the captain being asked 'what he was doing off Jamaica,' answered, that he 'went in to get his name endorsed on the register, and to obtain a freight for England;' to which the officer replied, that he was under the necessity of seizing his vessel for a breach of the navigation act; he then said he went in to get provisions.

Upon this testimony the District Court condemned the vessel, as forfeited to the United States; and the claimant appealed to this Court. Feb. 24th.

Mr. D. B. Ogden, for the appellant, argued, that the vessel, on sailing from Margaritta, was really bound to New-Orleans, and not to Falmouth, in the island of Jamaica; that even supposing she was bound to Falmouth, it was a mere alternative destination, depending on her being able to procure freight there; and that, as she in fact embraced the other branch of the alternative, and went to New-Orleans, this must be considered as her original destination. That the real object of touching at Falmouth was to obtain provisions, of which she was in want, and not to procure freight; and that even if touching there for the purpose of procuring freight, could bring her within the operation of the act, it was impossible to attribute that effect to a mere touching to get necessary provisions. That the act, according both to its policy, and its true legal construction, makes the clearing out, and sailing from a prohibited port, the criterion of illegality, and not the mere touching at it for whatever purpose; and that the touching at Falmouth, be its purpose what it might, did not make it the terminus a quo of the supposed illegal voyage, and, consequently, did not bring the vessel within the purview of the act. He also insisted on the defectiveness of the libel, in alleging an attempt to enter a port of the United States, when, in fact, the vessel did actually enter.

The Attorney General, contra, insisted, that the allegation was sufficient to support the sentence, in stating, that the vessel 'attempted to enter the port of New-Orleans, contrary to the provisions of the act,' &c. She did actually enter the river, and was attempting to get up to New-Orleans. But an attempt is included, necessarily, within the actual entry, and the prohibition is in the alternative, 'shall enter, or attempt to enter.' As to the British port, from which the vessel came or arrived, the statute does not require, that the vessel should actually enter infra fauces portus, or that she should take a cargo on board in the closed port. To insist upon an actual entry of the harbour, or an actual trading, would make the law wholly ineffectual. The first destination of the vessel was evidently to Falmouth, there to seek for a cargo. Failing in that, her destination was changed to the United States. Such a course of navigation is manifestly against the policy of the law, which was intended to cut off all trade or intercommunication with the closed ports. The legislative intention must be regarded in the construction of laws of trade and revenue, and it is the habit of all maritime Courts to regard it. [a]

Mr. Harper, for the appellant, in reply, insisted, that the object of the act being to counteract the exclusive system of Great Britain in favour of her colonial monopoly, and the carrying trade connected with it, the circumstance, that a vessel, in the course of a voyage not prohibited, touched at a prohibited port, was not sufficient to bring it within the mischief intended to be avoided. The language of the act is, 'coming or arriving from a port,' &c. This cannot apply to a port where she never entered. She never came to anchor, but stood on and off. The port of Falmouth could not, therefore, be regarded as the terminus a quo of the voyage. The prohibitions of this statute are not like the belligerent prohibitions to enter a blockaded port, and the intention of the master has nothing to do with it. Even supposing that he went to seek for a cargo, he would not have brought it to the United States, and, consequently, did not go for the purpose of violating the law. The criterion of a breach of the law is the clearing out and sailing from a closed port. The touching at an intermediate open port, will not, certainly, break the continuity of a voyage which has been commenced at an interdicted port. But then it must have been actually commenced there; and, in this case, the terminus a quo was an innocent port. March 5th.

Mr. Justice DUVALL delivered the opinion of the Court, and, after stating the facts, proceeded as follows:

Notes[edit]

^a  The Eleanor, Edw. Adm. Rep. 158.

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).