BALFOUR'S LESSEE v. MEADE, 4 U.S. 363 (1803)

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U.S. Supreme Court

BALFOUR'S LESSEE v. MEADE, 4 U.S. 363 (1803)

4 U.S. 363 (Dall.)

Balfour's Lessee

Circuit Court, Pennsylvania District.

April Term, 1803

THIS was an ejectment for four tracts of land, lying north and west of the Ohio and Alleghany rivers, and Conewango creek, in Pennsylvania. The plaintiff's title rested upon settlement rights, surveys, and warrants. In 1793, the plaintiff was a surgeon in the army in garrison at fort Franklin. He took some of the soldiers, went out, cut down a few trees, and built up five pens, or cabins, about 10 feet square, and, without putting covers on them, returned back to the fort in six or seven days. In April 1795, he had these five tracts surveyed in the name of himself, Elizabeth Balfour, and three others, each four hundred acres. The deputy surveyor had, upon application of the plaintiff, directed one Wilson to make the surveys, but something preventing him from doing it, the plaintiff employed one Steel to do it; and upon returning the surveys to Stokely, the deputy surveyor, he prevailed upon him to write an authority to Steel to make the surveys, which Stokely says he did, and antedated it, in order to make it appear to precede the surveys. In May 1795, he obtained warrants of acceptance for two of the surveys of two of the tracts, having paid the consideration money for all.

In autumn 1794, Meade, the defendant, finding no person settled upon these tracts, built cabins upon the four tracts in controversy, covered them, or some of them, and then went off, not returning again until November 1795, when he came, with his family, to reside in one of the cabins, and fixed settlers upon the other tracts. In July 1795, the plaintiff gave notice to the defendant,

Page 4 U.S. 363, 364

that he claimed the tracts in question, that he intended to settle them, and forewarned him to proceed no further with his improvements thereon. In January 1796, the defendant caveated the plaintiff in form, and the same being tried before the board of property in March 1800, the caveats were dismissed, and warrants were ordered to issue, but they never did issue, in consequence of doubts afterwards existing respecting the plaintiff's title. In April 1796, the plaintiff made engagements with some persons to settle these lands for him; but, after they had seen and approved the lands, they declined going on them on hearing of the defendant's claim. It was in proof, by many witnesses, that the war with the Indians rendered it dangerous to settle that country, during the years 1793, 1794, and 1795, and that but few attempted before the spring or autumn of 1796. E. Tilghman and Dallas contended, that the plaintiff had acquired a good right by settlement, survey, and warrant, to the lands in question, under the laws of Pennsylvania, and particularly the act of the 3d of April 1792, 3 vol. p. 209.; that the settlement of Meade, in 1795, was in violation of the plaintiff's prior right, and, of course, void; that the plaintiff had been prevented, by the Indian hostilities, from settling, or fixing settlers, until the treaty of fort Grenville, made in August 1795, and ratified in December 1795; and that he had attempted to settle it in a reasonable time after that event. 1 Dall. 6. 2 Dall. 98. 3 Dall. 457. Addison, 216. 354. 218. Ingersoll and M'Kean contended, that the plaintiff never had made a settlement within the meaning of the law, not having accompanied it with actual residence, or an intention to reside; that of course, he never had an inceptive title to be protected by the proviso in the 9th section of the act of the 3d of April 1792. They cited Addison, 248. 335. The case of the Holland company v. Coxe, in the Supreme Court of this state (ante, p. 170.) and the decisions of the judges of that Court, in a feigned issue, tried at Sunbury, ante, p. 237.

WASHINGTON, Justice. The importance of this cause, led the Court to wink at some irregularities in the argument at the bar, which have tended to protract it to an unreasonable length. Depending on the construction of laws of the state, and particularly on that of the 3d of April 1792, it had, at first, the appearance of a difficult, and very complicated, case. It is not easy at the first reading of a long statute, to discover the bearings of one section upon another, so as to obtain a distinct view of the meaning, and intention, of the legislature. But the opinion I now entertain, was formed on Saturday, before we parted; open, however, ever, [4 U.S. 363, 365]

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