THE SLAVERS , 69 U. S. 375 (1864)

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U.S. Supreme Court

The Slavers , 69 U.S. 2 Wall. 375 375 (1864)

The Slavers (Weathergage)

69 U.S. (2 Wall.) 375


The general principle declared in The Kate and of The Sarah, supra, pp. <|69 U.S. 366|>366, <|69 U.S. 372|>372, acted on in a case of the same general type, but where the facts were more close.

Where the size, build, equipment, and cargo of a vessel -- the nonappearance and doubtful existence of her asserted owners, the nonproduction by the claimant of important witnesses, and other circumstances -- lead to a presumption that her purpose is to engage in the slave trade and no attempt is made to repel that presumption by explaining the suspicious circumstances, the vessel may be condemned as a slaver. The fact that she is cleared for China does not of itself repel the presumption, the clearance being vita Ambriz, a Portuguese port on the west coast of Africa, and that port being within about one hundred miles of the slave coast.

Thus, like the two preceding cases, was a libel filed in the District Court for the Southern District of New York against

Page 69 U. S. 376

a vessel in the port of that city, under acts of Congress [Footnote 1] prohibiting the equipment, loading, and other preparation of the vessel for the purpose of carrying on a trade in slaves and like fitting &c., and causing the vessel to sail for the purpose of procuring negroes, mulattoes, and persons of color to be held, sold, or otherwise disposed of as slaves &c. The libel was served October 23, 1860. On the 30th, John Morris,

"intervening for the interest of himself as owner of the vessel and carrier of the cargo, appears before the honorable court and makes claim to the said vessel &c.,"

and averred himself to be true and bona fide owner &c. The district court condemned the vessel. On appeal, the circuit court affirmed the decree. Appeal here. The facts were thus:

On the 5th of September, 1860, one J. T. Woodbury purported to sell the vessel to John Morris of New York "for the sum of $12,000."

The vessel was a bark of about 365 tons, 114 feet 8 inches long, 26 feet 6 inches wide, 13 feet 3 inches deep, with two decks and three masts.

The outward foreign manifest, sworn to by Edward Mitchell, who purported to be captain, on the 12th of September, 1860, represented her as bound for Hong Kong via Ambriz, with a crew of fourteen men and a cargo valued at nearly $19,000. The captain swore that this manifest contained "a full, just, and true account of all the goods, and then actually laden on board said vessel," that he will report any additional cargo, and also, that "said cargo is truly intended to be landed in the port of Hong Kong, via Ambriz."

The shipper's manifest purported to report of cargo shipped by Anthony Tuero, embracing the same goods &c., contained in the manifest sworn to by the captain, and the oath, taken on the 12th of September, 1860, was that "the said merchandise is truly intended to be exported to Ambriz." Tuero himself, whose deposition was taken in the district court, though he was not examined in the circuit,

Page 69 U. S. 377

stated the same thing -- namely that the cargo was to be discharged at Ambriz and that he was not to have anything to do with the vessel afterwards.

The bark had a between-deck made of rough boards, about 5 1/2 feet below the main deck; two surf boats, besides four other small boats, which were manifested, with oars, rudders, tillers &c. The surf boats were covered and had hatches. A lot of lumber was stowed between decks, manifested as 100 pieces 4 by 6 timber and 762 pieces pine boards, 17 coils of rope, 3 bolts of sail duck, 8 anchors, coopers' tools, nails, and a variety of things, usual in fitting a slaver, but not unusual in fitting any vessel. She had 12 swivels, and quantities of muskets and powder.

The cargo included 80 barrels of bread, 85 barrels and 100 half barrels of rice, 57 barrels mess beef and pork, 10 barrels of flour, beans, meal &c., 3 barrels of vinegar, sixty fathoms of chain, 40 kegs of paint, 10 cans of linseed oil, 4 cans of spirits of turpentine, 96 bundles of white oak shooks, 4 hogsheads of shucks for heads of casks, 2 boxes of coopers' tools, 114 casks filled with water, 10 furnaces and boilers, and a large lot of firewood, and 375 sheets of copper. Other portions of the cargo were blankets, coarse cotton goods, muskets, powder, rum, wine &c. All this cargo was perfectly suited to the slave trade.

As respected Morris, it appeared that no man of that name was, on the 6th September, when the bill of sale was made, known to be in the shipping business of New York. No person, indeed, of the name was known by clearing clerks, some of whom were examined, or others at the custom house at all. Nor had he been ever heard of by one Machado, a man extensively engaged in the African trade. The vessel was appraised by the custom house appraisers at $9,000, the cargo at $11,681. The partner of Woodbury -- the alleged vendor of the vessel and confessedly a real person, one Schmidt, a ship broker -- did not know Morris, or what his business was, or whether he lived in New York, or whether he was "an owner or go=between." He had only seen him once, in the street, two months before.

Page 69 U. S. 378

Woodbury was at the hearing in the district court in town, but was not called by the claimant, nor was the witness to the execution of the bill of sale examined or produced. When appeal was taken to the circuit court in Morris' name on the 7th of February, 1861, the petition was signed by his counsel, and the bond then given for appeal. It was executed by one Fogerty, surety for Morris, but not by Morris himself. Fogerty swore that he had never heard of such a person as Morris till that morning, and that he had signed the bond because the counsel requested him.

Ambriz is a Portuguese town on the west coast. It was testified that there is no regular trade to Hong Kong via that port and that vessels never clear from New York for China via any such place, though they do sometimes from South America. It was testified also that the ordinary size of vessels in the trade, on the west coast of Africa is from 200 to 400 tons, that of those trading to China averaging from 800 to 1,200.

On the other hand, it seemed, if the testimony of Schmidt was to be received as true, that the $12,000 purchase money of the vessel was actually paid by Morris to his partner Woodbury. No manacles nor any unusual supply of medicines was found on the vessel, which was unladed carefully. Her size and equipments, though fitting her for a slaver, were not unfit for a lawful voyage to the region where she purported to be going. All articles found on the vessel were entered on the manifest. Both vessel and cargo were consigned to one Lievas, superintendent of the English mines at Ambriz, who it was not suggested had been concerned at any time in the slave trade. Ambriz itself was a town of about 3,000 inhabitants, having a certain amount of commerce, but not any considerable amount; the same trade as the Congo River -- palm oil, ivory, hides, pepper and gum being shipped from the district. It is about 100 miles from any point where slaves are got. It has a custom house, and exacts duties. It appeared that one house in Salem, Massachusetts, testified to be "respectable," traded there, that barks of about the same size with the Weathergage and

Page 69 U. S. 379

of a structure not essentially different made voyages to the place; that temporary decks were sometimes highly convenient, and were used accordingly in lawful voyages to Africa, and surf boats also, these last being useful in loading and unloading. Large quantities of water, too, is sent out in casks, "the water being pumped out and oil from the region being poured in, just as the casks stand." The cargo, generally, would be "as likely to go for legal as illegal purposes." The witness, however, who testified to this, and that $20,000 would not be an excessive value for a cargo bound to Ambriz, had never known "just such a cargo" sent there as the one on the Weathergage, nor known of any vessel sent to Hong Kong via Ambriz, while neither knew he of any slave trade via China. He had been established for ten years trading to the western coast of Africa and Gulf of Guinea, and had sent from seventy eight to one hundred vessels there.

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