APPEALS from the Court of Claims. The facts are stated in the opinion of the court.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mr. Justice Swayne delivered the opinion of the court.
Mr. C. F. Peck, for the appellant Hall, cited Williamson v. Daniel, 12 Wheat. 568; Menard v. Aspasia, 5 Pet. 513; McCutchen v. Marshall, 8 id. 220; Fowler v. Merrill, 11 How. 375; 1 Pars. on Contr. 329; Butler v. Craig, 2 H. & McH. 216, 236; Rawlings v. Boston, 3 id. 139; Hudgins v. Wright, 1 Hen. & Munf. 134; Pallas et al. v. Hill et al., 2 id. 149; Gregory v. Bough, 2 Leigh, 686; Leiper v. Hoffman et al., 26 Miss. 623; Pepoon v. Clarke, 1 Const. Ct. Rep. (S. C.) 137; Matilda v. Crenshaw, 4 Yerg. 299; Herod et al. v. Davis, 43 Miss. 102; Morgan v. Nelson, 43 Ala. 587.
Mr. Assistant Attorney-General Edwin B. Smith for the United States.
Mr. T. H. N. McPherson for the appellee Roach.
Hall, being a slave, was not entitled to political or civil rights while subject to his condition of servitude. Amy v. Smith, 1 Litt. 326; Lenoir v. Sylvester, 1 Bail. (S. C.) 633; Catche v. The Circuit Court, 1 Miss. 608; Vincent v. Duncan, 2 id. 214; Hall v. Mullin, 5 Har. & J. (Md.) 190; The State v. Hart, 4 Ired. (N. C.) 256; Gist v. Coby, 2 Rich. (S. C.) 244; Jenkins v. Brown, 6 Humph. (Tenn.) 299. His acquisitions belonged to his master. 5 Cow. (N. Y.) 397; 2 Hill, Ch. (S. C.) 397; 1 Bail. (S. C.) 633; 2 Rich. (S. C.) 424; 6 Humph. (Tenn.) 299; 2 Ala. 320; 5 B. Monr. (Ky.) 186.
He had not the ability to contract or be contracted with (Hall v. Mullin, 5 Har. & J. 190; Gregg v. Thompson, 2 Const. Ct. Rep. (S. C.) 331; Jenkins v. Brown, 6 Humph. 299, 5 Cow. 397; Emerson v. Howland et al., 1 Mas. 45; Bland and Others v. Dowling, 9 Gill & J. 27), and could, therefore, make no binding contract with his master. 11 B. Monr. 239; 9 Gill & J. 19; 3 Bos. & P. 69; 8 Mart. 161.
Hall filed his petition in the Court of Claims.
By leave of the court, Benjamin Roach filed a petition of interpleader. Subsequently Roach died, and his executrix was made a party. Both parties are pursuing the proceeds of the same cotton. The cotton was raised, ginned, and baled on Roach's plantation, known as Bachelor's Bend, in the State of Mississippi. About the 17th of April, 1863, it was seized by Lieutenant Barlow of the United States army, and subsequently converted into money, and the proceeds paid into the treasury of the United States. About these facts there is no controversy. It is admitted that the cotton belonged originally to Roach. It is clear, therefore, that the claim on behalf of his estate must prevail, unless Hall, the adverse claimant, has shown a better title. Hence it is unnecessary to remark further in regard to the title asserted by the executrix. The United States have no interest in the controversy. The government is merely a fund-holder for the benefit of the one of the two other parties who shall succeed in this litigation. The controversy turns upon the claim of Hall, and our remarks will be confined to that subject.
In considering the case in this aspect, we must look to the findings of the court, and we cannot look beyond them. The court says, 'The evidence is not only voluminous, but exceedingly conflicting, and much of it wholly irreconcilable.'
The findings as to this part of the case are as follows:––
Hall is a man of color, of Indian and African descent, and claims to have been free born. His mother was of Indian extraction, residing at the time of his birth in the city of Alexandria as a free woman.
'8. Hall, with other slaves, was taken from a slave-market in Washington, D. C., by one Thomas Williams, to New Orleans, La.; and there he, with other slaves, was sold by a trader to the claimant Roach's father, who sent him up to the Bachelor's Bend plantation, in Mississippi. Hall was sent to the plantation in 1844, and remained there as the slave of Roach's father until the latter's death in 1847, and after that as the slave of the claimant Roach, who succeeded to the estate of his father, and remained there until after the cotton in question was seized in 1863. He was treated all the time as a slave, fed and clothed by his master, and worked with the other slaves, sometimes as a field-hand, and at others as a stock-minder.
'9. On the contrary, Hall now claims to have been a free man while living with claimant Roach, and that, as such, Roach was justly indebted to him on account of stock, hogs, pork, &c., which he had raised on Roach's plantation, and sold and delivered to him, and that the cotton now in suit was given him by Roach in discharge of his indebtedness.
'10. Hall, under this claim of title, followed the cotton, after its seizure, to the river, and made affidavit that he was the lawful owner thereof. Roach's overseer, McDowell, hearing of Hall's claim to the cotton, immediately contested his right to it before the officers of the United States having it in charge; and Hall afterward admitted to McDowell, the overseer, ...