ROBINSON V. MINOR, 51 U. S. 627 (1850)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Robinson v. Minor, 51 U.S. 10 How. 627 627 (1850)

Robinson v. Minor

51 U.S. (10 How.) 627


By the Treaty of 1795, between the United States and Spain, Spain admitted that she had no title to land north of the thirty-first degree of north latitude, and her previous grants of land so situated were of course void. The country thus belonging to Georgia was ceded to the United States in 1802, with a reservation that all persons who were actual settlers on 27f October, 1795, should have their grants confirmed. See also 44 U. S. 3 How. 750.

On 3 March, 1803, Congress passed an act, 2 Stat. 229, establishing

Page 51 U. S. 628

a board of commissioners to examine these grants, whose certificate in favor of the claimant should amount to a relinquishment forever on the part of the United States.

Without such confirmation by the United States, a grant of land situated on the north side of the thirty-first degree of latitude, issued by the Governor General of Louisiana in 1794, would have been void. But it was confirmed by the board of commissioners, and is therefore valid.

The original grantee endorsed upon the grant that he had conveyed it to a woman whom he afterwards married, and referred to another instrument of conveyance, and in all subsequent transfers there was a reference to that same instrument, reciting its date, and that it accompanied the deeds executed. The confirmation of the commissioners followed and adopted this chain of title.

That instrument of conveyance being lost, it may be presumed under the circumstances that the original grantee intended to convey to his wife a greater estate than the law would have endowed her with upon the marriage.

Even supposing that the confirmation of the commissioners was not conclusive, yet the facts of the case show a superior equity in the title of the wife over that of the child of the original grantee; viz., the motive which led to the conveyance; the fact that the widow sold the property for its full value, saw the premises occupied by persons claiming them in fee for thirty years, and never informed her son that he had a right to the property after her decease.

The circumstances of the case were these.

On 1 July, 1794, Gayoso de Lemos presented the following petition to the Governor General of Louisiana:

"To the Governor General: Col. Manuel Gayoso de Lemos, Governor of the Town and District of Natchez, to your honor sayeth that he owns at half a league from this town a tract of land which he has bought to build thereupon a house and to raise the commodities that will do to his family, but being also in want of pasture for his horses and other quadrupeds or animals, petitioner therefore begs of your honor to give order to the deputy surveyor of this district to extend the boundaries of the said land to increase it to contain one thousand arpents, and petitioner will ever pray."


"Natchez, July 1, 1794 -- say 1794"

On 8 August following, the governor issued the following order to Carlos Trudeau, the surveyor:

"New Orleans, 8 July, 1794"

"Granted. -- The surveyor having to designate the limits in the notes of survey, which shall be exhibited to me, so that a title in a due form may be extended to the party."


A plat was accordingly made out, and returned on 3

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September, upon which a grant was issued. No translation of the old grant being in the record, the original is not inserted.

On 12 February, 1797, the following endorsement was made upon the grant:

"Recorded. Natchez, 12 February, 1795. This grant is transferred to Mrs. Margaretta Watts by a written instrument made on this day."


Soon after this, either in the year 1795 or the early part of 1796, a private marriage took place between Gayoso and Margaret Watts. The reasons for its being private are thus explained in the deposition of Judge King, and in the letters of Gayoso himself to Mr. Wikoff, the brother of Mrs. Watts.

"Judge King's Testimony"

"To the first interrogatory he saith he believes that Fernando Gayoso was born at Natchez, in the year 1796 or 1797, and that he was the legitimate son of Don Manuel Gayoso de Lemos and Margaret Watts, and witness will proceed to state, as he is requested in the interrogatory, some of the circumstances which induce his belief. Sometime in the year 1797 or 1798, Don Manuel Gayoso was made Governor of the Province of Louisiana, and arrived at New Orleans in one of those years to take charge of his government. He came to the city in a barge, and landed immediately opposite the store of witness. Witness, being acquainted with the governor, went on board the barge with others to welcome his arrival. Mrs. Gayoso Margaret Watts was with the governor, and had her son, the said Fernando Gayoso, then an infant, in her arms; witness, to the best of his recollection, took the child from his mother's arms, and carried him on shore. Witness had known the said Mrs. Gayoso as Miss Margaret Watts previous to her first marriage. Having been the bearer of a letter of introduction from General Wilkinson in 1793 to Governor Gayoso, then Governor of Natchez, witness was invited to his house, where he became acquainted with his family, then consisting of Mrs. Watts the mother-in-law, and Miss Margaret Watts his sister-in-law."

"In the year 1796 or 1797 it was currently reported and believed in the City of New Orleans, where witness then resided, that Governor Gayoso had been privately married to Margaret Watts at Natchez, which marriage could not be publicly acknowledged because it had been contracted without the permission of the King of Spain, or perhaps the dispensation of the

Page 51 U. S. 630

Pope was needed, as the former wife of Governor Gayoso had been a sister of Margaret Watts, or perhaps for both these reasons. Sometime after the arrival of Governor Gayoso at New Orleans, the Bishop of Havana happening to be there, and the impediments to the marriage, whatever they were, having been removed, the nuptial ceremony was publicly solemnized by the bishop. Witness was not present at the marriage, but the fact that it was celebrated was one of general notoriety and universally believed in the City of New Orleans. Witness was frequently at the house of Governor Gayoso in the City of New Orleans, where he saw Mrs. Gayoso Margaret Watts and Fernando Gayoso, and on all occasions the former was treated as the wife of the governor, and the latter as the child of their marriage. Mrs. Gayoso, as witness always understood, was, after the death of Governor Gayoso, treated by the Spanish government as his widow, and as such allowed during her widowhood a pension equal to half the annual salary of her deceased husband. Fernando Gayoso lived with his mother during his minority, except when at school, and was always spoken of by her as the issue of her marriage with Don Manuel Gayoso de Lemos. Margaret Watts left at her death several other children, issue of a second marriage. At the settlement of her succession, Fernando Gayoso was treated as one of her legitimate heirs, and as such received his portion. From all these circumstances, witness, who knew the parties from the dates already stated to those of their respective deaths, has always believed that Fernando Gayoso was the legitimate son of Don Manuel Gayoso de Lemos and Margaret Watts his wife."

"Letters of Gayoso to Mr. Wikoff"

"[These letters were produced and proved by Eliza Parrott, the daughter of Mr. Wikoff.]"

"New Orleans, 21 February, 1796"

"My dear friend -- I suppose that by this you and my dear sister are acquainted with my return from my long campaign, by a letter that our mamma wrote, as I arrived at the Natchez. Now this is to inform you that by the last packet I received my promotion as brigadier general for my former services, and I still hope that the ensuing packet will bring me some other good news in recompense of the successful campaign that I have finished. The last was a general promotion, in which the governor general of this province was made major general and several others promoted."

"A neighbor of yours is just going away, so this is just to repeat to you my affection, to give my love to my dear sister,

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and to embrace your sweet children. Tell Manuel that he must come to see his godfather. Indeed, my friend, we must continue to make ourselves happy with an interview of our families; our dear mamma will look upon such an event as the greatest blessing she could experience. Therefore you must begin to think how to bring it about."

"As I am assured that you have been puzzled by the news mamma wrote of our connection being brought to an issue, I must explain it; that very day our contract was signed before many witnesses, and likewise an elegant country house, with one hundred acres bordering the town that I settle on my dear Peggy, besides a very considerable allowance of my estate; however, for the public, I must wait for the King's permission, which is important to Peggy to secure her the military pension; but this will be had by the latter end of this year, and perhaps by that time some considerable alteration in my public station, which I hope may enable me to serve you."

I repeat my affectionate love to my dear sister and children, and I remain, sincerely, your truest friend and humble servant.


"Natchez, March 6, 1797"

"My dear friend -- The American commissioner, Mr. Elicot, arrived here, and in a few days I shall set off with him to have the first conference with the Baron near Clark's. Perhaps we may fix the first point immediately, but it will be some time yet before we proceed any further; therefore I shall return to this place. In this situation I am overpowered with business."

"I wait with impatience for the necessary permission to publish my marriage, which, however, is as binding now; but the public sanction is necessary; I am in hopes that it will arrive by the first packet. General Former is lately arrived here with his daughter, married to Dr. Longstreet, whom I suppose you know, though he is very young -- I mean Mr. Longstreet. He thinks of paying you a visit; it seems that he is related to you."

"My kind, affectionate regard to my sister and children, and I remain, sincerely, your most humble, obedient servant and friend."


"New Orleans, 18 August, 1797"

"My dear friend: Though as busy as you may suppose at my arrival here, I do not wish to let this opportunity pass without renewing to you and to my dear sister the sincere assurances of my affection and attachment for you. I left our

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friends well at Concord, with the addition of a fine boy that four days hence will be one month old. At the beginning of October, I shall send my galiot for your sister, whom I did not bring down on account of the excessive heat, and because she would find the house not conveniently furnished at our first arrival. The retard of the packet from Europe was the cause of the delay of the King's permission, as likewise of my promotion to the command of the province, signed by the King 20 October last; however, they both arrived at the same time and restored tranquility to our friends."

"When we are fixed at home, I shall insist on a visit from my dear sister &c., one of these days. I shall prepare a summons, which I shall send up to Concord to be signed by Lady Governante, as belonging to her department, to obtain the desirable end. The new Governor of Texas is a friend of mine. I have already wrote to him an account of your negroes, but it would be necessary to have names and description, which, if you send to me, I'll have circulated in all the outposts &c."

"If I can be of any service to you, I need not add here complimentary expressions, I shall do it cheerfully. My love to my dear sister and all the little cohort. I hope she has been happily delivered and that you all enjoy good health."

"I am, sincerely, your most humble servant and friend,"


On the 14th of July, 1797, Fernando was born, as appears from the following certificate:

"Manuel Gayoso de Lemos, brigadier of the royal armies, military and civil Governor of the Town and District of Natchez &c., on this Friday, 14 July, 1797, at seven minutes to one o'clock in the morning, my wife, Margaret Watts Gayoso, was delivered of a robust and healthy child, to whom I determined to give the name of Fernando."


On 10 December, 1797, the official ceremony of marriage was performed, as shown by the following certificate:

"No. 422. On Sunday, 10 of December, of the year 1797, the most Christian Don Luis Tenalver y Cardenas, most worthy Prime Bishop of this Diocese of Louisiana and Floridas, of the Council of his Majesty, married and imparted the nuptial benediction to Don Manuel Gayoso de Lemos, brigadier of the royal armies of his Catholic Majesty, civil and military governor of the

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aforesaid province, a native of the Kingdom of Galicia, and Margaret Watts his legitimate wife, native of Baton Rouge, district of this same government. They performed confession and communion, and to certify the above, I sign."


"The above is a true copy from the original, kept in the archives of the above church for reference. New Orleans, 23 August, 1844."


"Secretary of the Vestry of the St. Louis Church"

In July, 1799, Gayoso died, and was buried in New Orleans, being then civil and military Governor of the Province of Louisiana.

On 10 August, 1799, Margaret Watts Gayoso conveyed to Daniel Clark, Jr., for the consideration of $5,000, a certain plantation or tract of land

"known by the name of Concordia, situated, lying, and being in the Mississippi Territory, in the United States of America, about half a league northeast of the fort of Natchez, containing one thousand acres, or arpents, be the same more or less, as is fully expressed in the grant and plan of said land, No. 632, accompanying this bill of sale,"

and accompanied the sale with a general warranty.

On 15 August, 1800, Daniel Clark conveyed the property to William Lintot for ten thousand dollars. The deed contained the following recital:

"This indenture, made this 15 August in the year 1800 between Daniel Clark, of the Mississippi Territory, of the one part, and William Lintot, of the territory aforesaid, witnesseth:"

"That whereas, on 10 September in the year 1794, there was granted by the Baron de Carondelet, Governor of Louisiana, unto Don Manuel Gayoso de Lemos a tract or parcel of land, called Concord, containing by estimation, one thousand acres, with the appurtenances, situated in the district aforesaid, as per plat and grant accompanying this will more fully appear. And whereas, by an instrument of writing, which also accompanies this, dated 12 February in the year 1795, the said Don Manuel Gayoso de Lemos did, for certain considerations therein recited, convey the said land, with all the appurtenances, to Margaret Watts; and whereas the said Margaret Watts now the widow of the said Don Manuel Gayoso de Lemos, by her deed dated 10 August, 1799, which also accompanies this, did convey the said land with the appurtenances to Daniel Clark, then junior, for the valuable consideration of five thousand dollars,"


Page 51 U. S. 634

On 15 November, 1800, Lintot conveyed to Stephen Minor, the ancestor of the appellees.

In 1802, a contract was made between the United States and the State of Georgia, by which Georgia ceded to the United States all the territory in which the granted land was. But it was stipulated in the deed of cession that

"all persons who on 27 October, 1795, were actual settlers within the territory thus ceded should be confirmed in all the grants legally and fully executed prior to that day, by the former British government or the government of Spain."

This agreement between the United States and Georgia will be found in 1 Land Laws 588.

On 3 March, 1803, Congress passed an Act, 2 Stat. 229, entitled, "An act for regulating the grants of land and providing for the disposal of lands of the United States, south of the State of Tennessee." This act established a board before which all claims were to be brought, and the sixth section provided that where it shall appear to the board that the claimant is entitled to a tract of land under the articles of agreement and cession with Georgia aforesaid, in virtue of a British

"or Spanish grant legally and fully executed, they shall give a certificate thereof, describing the tract of land and the grant, and stating that the claimant is confirmed in his title thereto by virtue of the said articles, which certificate, being recorded by the register of the land office, shall amount to a relinquishment forever on the part of the United States."

In 1804, the following proceedings took place before the board:

"Monday, the 10th of September, 1804, the board met."

"No. 1220. Stephen Minor claims one thousand arpents, Spanish patent to Manuel Gayoso, dated 12 September, 1794, who assigned and transferred the same to Margaret Watts afterwards Margaret Watts Gayoso, 12 February, 1795, who conveyed the same to Daniel Clark by deed dated 10 August, 1799, who conveyed the same to William Lintot, 15 August, 1800, who conveyed the same to the present claimant on 15 September, 1800; the patent to Gayoso, assignment to Margaret Watts deed from Margaret to Clark, deed from Clark to Lintot, and deed from Lintot to Stephen Minor, were produced in evidence, filed with the register."

"Witness William Barland on oath says, that Margaret Watts Gayoso was an actual settler in the Mississippi Territory on 27 October, 1795."

And on the 18th of September, 1805, the following certificate was issued:

Page 51 U. S. 635

"A. No. 610. Mississippi Territory Register 1220"

"Board of commissioners west of Pearl River, established by a law of Congress regulating the grants of land, and providing for the disposal of lands of the United States south of the State of Tennessee."

"Stephen Minor claims a tract of seven hundred and fifty-six arpents of land, situated in Adams County, near the City of Natchez, by virtue of a grant under the authority of the Spanish government to Manuel Gayoso de Lemos for one thousand arpents, bearing date 12 September in the year 1794, having such shape, form, and marks, both natural and artificial as are represented in the plat annexed to said grant and legally conveyed to the claimant."

"We do certify that the said Stephen Minor is confirmed in his title thereto by virtue of the articles of agreement and cession between the United States and Georgia."

"Given under our hands at the Town of Washington in the County of Adams, this 18 September in the year 1805 and in the thirtieth year of the independence of the United States."




It was admitted that those who claimed under Minor had been in possession since the issuance of the certificate of confirmation.

In December, 1805, Margaret Watts Gayoso married Captain Stelle of the United States Army.

Stelle died in 1819, and Margaret in 1829.

On 9 May, 1832, Fernando Gayoso de Lemos, a citizen of Louisiana, filed a bill in the Circuit Court of the United States for the Southern District of Mississippi against Job Routh, Katharine Minor, John Minor, executor of Stephen Minor, and John William Minor, of Mississippi.

The bill charges that the complainant is the lawful son and only heir of Manuel Gayoso de Lemos, deceased, and that the said Manuel was, on 27 October, 1795, an actual settler within the Territory, now the State, of Mississippi, ceded by Georgia to the United States on 14 April, 1802; that he then held a grant legally and fully executed prior to 27 October, 1795, by the government of Spain for 1,000 arpents of land, now situated in Adams County, Mississippi; that he or his legal representatives were entitled to a confirmation of that grant by the articles of cession between the United States and Georgia, and that the said Manuel's wife, Margaret,

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the complainant's mother, survived her husband, married James Stelle in 1804 or 1805, and died in 1829, and that Stelle died in 1819.

The bill further states that Stephen Minor, deceased, late of Adams County, Mississippi, became possessed of the evidences of the said Manuel's said title, and after the death of the said Manuel, and during the infancy of the complainant, and while he resided in Louisiana, procured from the board of commissioners west of Pearl River the issual to him in his own name of a certificate for 760 arpents of said land, which certificate was so unlawfully, falsely, and by imposition procured to the said Minor in fraud of the complainant's rights and of right belonged and ought to have issued to the complainant as sole legal heir of the said Manuel; that Stephen Minor died in 1815 or 1816, leaving his wife Katharine one of the defendants devisee and trustee of all his estate, and making her and John Minor also a defendant, his executors; and that the executors on 25 January, 1829, conveyed the land to the defendant William J. Minor, the son of Katharine Minor, who, on the same day, reconveyed to his mother, in whose possession it now is, with the Spanish grant, as it was before in her husband's possession, and that before these last mentioned conveyances the parties to them were aware of the complainant's claim.

The bill further states that Job Routh, then and now a citizen of Adams County, Mississippi, procured from the same board of commissioners, in like manner as Minor, a certificate for 244 arpents of said tract under and by virtue of the said evidence of the said title of the complainant's father, and has long been in possession, and that said certificate belonged and ought to have issued to the complainant.

The bill prays that Katharine Minor and Job Routh may be decreed to convey the land to the complainant, and deliver him the evidence of the title to it, and to account for the rents and profits, and for general relief.

After sundry proceedings of demurrers, which were overruled, and bills of revivor, which it is not necessary to state, the defendants answered, in November, 1845.

The answer sets out the title at law of the appellees, beginning with the Spanish grant which lies at its foundation, tracing the assignment of that grant through its several successive holders to Stephen Minor, showing Minor's application under it to the board of commissioners, west of Pearl River, appointed by virtue of the Act of Congress of 3 March, 1803, "for regulating the grants of land, and providing for the disposal of lands of the United States south of the State of Tennessee,"

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and the certificate of the board in his favor, and thence deducing their title regularly from him. It denies that the certificate was issued to Stephen Minor unlawfully, falsely, or by imposition or fraud, and avers that the Concord Plantation has been in the possession of them and those under whom they claim since 10 August, 1799.

The answer does not admit Fernando Gayoso to be the lawful son and heir of Manuel Gayoso, or that said Manuel married Margaret Watts or that she left children, or the date of the death of the said Manuel or Margaret, or the age of the said Fernando at the time of the death of the said Manuel, and requires proof of the averment of the bill on these heads.

The answer further denies that the said Manuel Gayoso was an actual settler, within the meaning of the Act of Congress of 27 October, 1795, and that the appellees had any notice of the claim of the appellants prior to the commencement of the suit, and in addition relies on the failure of the appellants to file their bill within twenty years after the accrual of the right in virtue of which they claim.

To this a general replication was filed, and a large mass of evidence was taken.

In November, 1847, the cause was discontinued as to the heirs of Job Routh and abated as to Austin Williams, Archibald Williams, and Elias Ogden. t then came up for argument on the bill, answers, exhibits, and proof, when the circuit court dismissed the bill, with costs.

The complainants appealed to this Court.

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