Subscribe to Cases that cite 54 U. S. 261

U.S. Supreme Court

Heirs of de Vilemont v. United States, 54 U.S. 13 How. 261 261 (1851)

Heirs of de Vilemont v. United States

54 U.S. (13 How.) 261




In 1795, Baron de Carondelet, the Governor-General of Louisiana, made a grant of land on the Mississippi River upon condition that a road and clearing should be made within one year and an establishment made upon the land within three years.

Neither of these conditions was complied with, nor was possession taken under the grant until after the cession of the country to the United States.

The excuses for these omissions, namely that the grantee was commandant at the post of Arkansas, and that the Indians were hostile, are not satisfactory, because the grantee must have known these circumstances when lie obtained the grant.

According to the principles established in the preceding case of Glenn v. United States, the Spanish authorities would not have confirmed this grant; neither can this Court confirm it.

Moreover, in this case, the land claimed cannot be located by a survey.

This was a petition filed by the heirs of Don Carlos de Vilemont, under the act of 1824 as revived by the act of 1844, praying the confirmation of a grant of land issued by the Baron de Carondelet in 1795.

The circumstances attending the grant are set forth in the opinion of the Court.

The district court decided against the claim and the petitioners appealed to this Court.

In the district court, Horace F. Walworth, Mary B. Miles, and James B. Miles, were made defendants with the United States.

Page 54 U. S. 266

MR. JUSTICE CATRON delivered the opinion of the Court.

The heirs of Don Carlos de Vilemont filed their petition in the District Court of Arkansas to have a confirmation of a grant for two leagues of land front by one league in depth lying on the right descending bank of the Mississippi at a place called the Island del Chico, distant twenty-five leagues below the mouth of the Arkansas River, the cypress swamp of the island being called for as the upper boundary of said tract.

The governor-general granted the land on the express conditions

"that a road and regular clearing be made in the peremptory space of one year, and this concession to be null if, at the expiration of three years' time, the said land shall not be established, and during which time it cannot be alienated, under which conditions the plat and certificate of survey shall be made out and remitted to me in order to provide the interested with the corresponding title in form."

The concession was made June 17, 1795. No possession was taken of the land by De Vilemont, nor any survey made or demanded, during the existence of the Spanish government. The petition alleges that possession was first taken in 1807, and as an excuse for the delay, it is stated that the grantee was commandant at the post of Arkansas up to the end of the year 1802, and confined to his official duties there; and 2dly, that so hostile were the Indians in the neighborhood of the land, that no settlement could be made on it. The proof shows that De Vilemont first took possession in 1822 or 1823. The 2d regulation of O'Reilly of 1770, required that roads should be made and kept in repair, in case of grants fronting on the Mississippi River, and that grantees should be bound within the term of three years to clear the whole front of their lands to the depth of two arpens; and, in default of fulfilling these conditions, the land claimed should revert to the King's domain; nor should proprietors alienate until after three years' possession was held, and until the conditions were entirely fulfilled. In this instance, the time was restricted to one year, for making the improvements required by the regulations, and three years were allowed for making an establishment on the premises. In this case where a front of six miles was granted, a clearing to the whole extent was of course not contemplated; yet to a reasonable extent it certainly was, but it was undoubtedly necessary that an establishment should be made within three years -- such being the requirement of the concession, in concurrence with the regulations.

The Act of March 26, 1804, prohibited any subsequent entry on the land, and declared void all future acts done to the end of obtaining a perfect title even by an actual settler, if the settlement was not made before the 20th of December, 1803;

Page 54 U. S. 267

De Vilemont's title must therefore abide by its condition when the act of 1804 was passed. For further views on this subject, we refer to our opinion expressed on Clamorgan's title at the present term in the case of Glenn v. United States.

We are asked to decree a title and to award a patent on the same grounds that the Governor-General of Louisiana or the intendent would have been bound to do, had application for a perfect title been made during the existence of the Spanish colonial government. The only consideration on which such title could have been founded, was inhabitation and cultivation either by De Vilemont himself or his tenants, and having done nothing of the kind, he had no right to a title; nor can an excuse be heard that hostility from Indians prevented a compliance with the conditions imposed, as Vilemont took his concession subject to this risk; and the alleged excuse that he was commandant of the post of Arkansas, and bound to be constantly there in the performance of his official duties, is still more idle, as he held this office when the concession was made, and knew what his duties were.

The petition was dismissed by the district court because the land claimed could not be located by survey. The concession is for two leagues front by one in depth, with parallel boundaries, situate at Chicot Island, the cypress swamp on the island being the upper boundary. Chicot Island is represented in the concession as being twenty-five leagues below the mouth of the Arkansas River. The land now claimed by the petition is represented to lie five leagues below the mouth of that river at a place known as Chicot Point, being a peninsula included in a sudden bend, and surrounded on three sides by the Mississippi River.

It is difficult to conceive that Chicot Point, lying in fact nearly twenty-five leagues below the mouth of the Arkansas, is the Chicot Island to which the concession refers, but admitting that the Point was meant, which we believe to be the fact, still no cypress swamp is found there to locate the upper boundary; nor is it possible to make a decree fixing any one side line or any one place of beginning for a specific tract of land.

Our opinion is that on either of the grounds stated, the petition should be dismissed and the decree below



This cause came on to be heard on the transcript of the record from the District Court of the United States, for the District

Page 54 U. S. 268

of Arkansas, and was argued by counsel. On consideration whereof, it is now here ordered, adjudged, and decreed by this Court that the decree of the said district court in this cause be and the same is hereby affirmed.

ChanRobles Legal Resources:

ChanRobles On-Line Bar Review

ChanRobles Internet Bar Review :

ChanRobles MCLE On-line

ChanRobles Lawnet Inc. - ChanRobles MCLE On-line :