73 U.S. 642 (1868), Gaines v. City Of New Orleans

Citation:73 U.S. 642, 18 L.Ed. 950
Case Date:April 06, 1868
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 642

73 U.S. 642 (1868)

18 L.Ed. 950




United States Supreme Court.

April 06, 1868


THIS case came here upon appeal from the Circuit Court of the District of Louisiana.

It was a bill in equity, filed by Mrs. Myra Clark Gaines,

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December 22d, 1856, against certain defendants, in which she sought to recover very valuable real estate, situated in New Orleans, which belonged, as she alleged, to Daniel Clark, her father, who died in New Orleans, in August, 1813, Mrs. Gaines claiming title as universal legatee under a last will of his made in 1813.

The bill alleged,----

1st. That the complainant was the only legitimate child of Clark.

2d. That all the property sought to be recovered belonged to Clark at his decease.

3d. That at his death he left a valid last will and testament in which the complainant was declared his only legitimate child, and made his universal legatee, subject to certain payments.

4th. That this will of 1813, having been lost or destroyed, it was duly recognized and admitted to probate by the Supreme Court of Louisiana in 1856, and ordered to be executed.

5th. That Clark had made a provisional will in 1811, in which he made his mother, Mary Clark, his universal legatee and sole heir, and appointed Richard Relf and Beverly Chew the testamentary executors thereof; which will of 1811 was revoked by the will of 1813, but that Relf & Chew wrongfully obtained the probate of the will of 1811, and illegally administered the estate under it; making sales fraudulently and with notice of the complainant's equities, &c.

6th. That the complainant was a minor until 1827, and ignorant of her parentage and rights in her father's estate until 1834, and that from that time to the present she had persistently claimed this estate, and diligently sought its recovery by all the legal means in her power.

The bill sought a discovery from the defendants, and prayed a delivery of the property, and an account of the rents and profits, and for general relief.

THE ANSWER of the defendants admitted the possession in them of the property claimed in the bill, and that the legal

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title thereof was in Clark, at the time of his death in 1813; but they set up----

That Clark's title passed to them or their grantors by virtue of sales made by Relf & Chew, as testamentary executors of the will of 1811.

That this title passed also under sales made by Relf & Chew, as attorneys of Mary Clark, 'sole heir and legatee' of the will of 1811.

That the estate of Clark was insolvent.

That the accounts of Chew & Relf reporting the sales had been duly approved by the Probate Court of New Orleans; and that this was binding on the complainant.

That an equitable title to two-thirds of the property was in Relf & Chew, and creditors of Clark, by virtue of certain partnership articles, of June 19th, 1813.

They also pleaded the prescription of five, ten, twenty, and thirty years; and that they are 'purchasers in good faith, without notice, for a valuable consideration;' and that they are purchasers from 'purchasers in good faith, without notice, for a valuable consideration.'

They also relied upon the nullity of the probate of the will of 1813, by the Supreme Court of Louisiana, in 1856, there having been no decree of nullity of the prior will of 1811.

Upon these issues judgment was rendered against the complainant, and from such judgment it was that the present appeal was taken.

The case with two accompanying it constituted the seventh, eighth and ninth appeals to this court of a controversy known as the 'Gaines case.' For more than one-third of a century, in one form and another, it had been the subject of judicial decision in this court, and the records now--complicated in the extreme--reached nearly eight thousand closely printed pages. If this court, when the case was last heard before it, 1 spoke of it as 'one which, when hereafter some distinguished American lawyer shall retire from his

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practice to write the history of his country's jurisprudence, will be registered by him as the most remarkable in the records of its courts,' the present reporter will surely be excused, if, in that haste which a speedy publication of current decisions requires, he shall, from such records as he has described,--and in a matter where as to facts, simply, this high tribunal has been always largely divided on the evidence,--have attained much less than perfect accuracy of detail or even than the truest form of presentation generally. As far as he has himself conceived the case from the huge volumes in which it was imbedded--but deprecating reliance upon his statement in any matter affecting property involved in these issues if, contrary to the hope expressed by this court, further question about property is anywhere to be made--the subject, in its outlines and general effect, seemed thus to present itself:

The close of the last century found residing at New Orleans, then but a small town, a person named Danied Clark. He was a native of Ireland, born at Sligo about the year 1766, but had received an education in England, at Eton and other places there. Before reaching the age of 21 he had come to New Orleans by invitation of an uncle already resident there; a person of some consideration, and to whose property he succeeded in 1799. He is described as having been a man of much personal pride and social ambition, of high intellignece, full of enterprise, and though 'very peculiar in some respects' (and, in at least one, censurable), to have been characterized by numerous chivalric and honorable dispositions. His pecuniary integrity was unquestioned. He became early an actor in the events of his day and region, a leader of party there, and connected either by concert or by opposition with many public men of the time. To him more than to almost any one, as it seemed, was to be attributed the acquisition by our country of the State of Louisiana. He had been consul of the United States there before the acquisition, and in 1806-8, represented the Territory in Congress; its first representative in

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that body. Everywhere his associations were of a marked kind, and with people of social importance. Up to 1808 or 1810 he was engaged in commercial affairs on a considerable scale, and extending from New Orleans to Montreal; being associated at New Orleans with two gentlemen, both long known there as occupying positions of public trust, Messrs. Richard Relf and Beverly Chew, as partners, and in Philadelphia with the late Daniel W. Coxe, a person of distinguished standing in that city. With Mr. Coxe his relations began so far back as 1791. Mr. Clark died in New Orleans August 16th, 1813, at the age of 48, and, as was commonly reputed, a bachelor; but as was testified, engaged to be married to a lady of that place, Madame -----, previously married and now divorced. No will but one, dated in 1811, was found after his death. It left his property to his mother, who with her husband had followed Daniel Clark to this country, and was now resident at Germantown, near Philadelphia; but of any wife or child, or children, lawful or illegitimate, it said nothing. That document had been made on the eve of a voyage from New Orleans to Philadelphia, and was in these words:

'IN THE NAME OF GOD, AMEN! I, Daniel Clark, of New Orleans, do make this my last will and testament: Imprimis, I order all my just debts to be paid; second, I leave and bequeath unto my mother, Mary Clark, now of Germantown, in the State of Pennsylvania, all estate, whether real or personal, which I may die possessed of; thirdly, I hereby nominate and appoint my friends, Richard Relf and Beverly Chew, my executors, with power to settle everything relating to my estate.


'NEW ORLEANS, 20th May, 1811.'

A few hours after Clark's death allegations were made by one Chevalier Dusuau De la Croix,--who represented that he had 'strong reasons to believe, and did verily believe, that such a will was executed,' and that he was interested in it,--of a later will, and a petition was presented to the Court of Probate, in New Orleans, setting forth the probable

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existence of such a will, and praying that each one of the different notaries of the city might appear before the court immediately, 'in order to certify if there does or does not exist in his office any testament or codicial or sealed packet deposited by the said late Daniel Clark.' None such was produced. The will above quoted was therefore proved before Judge Pitou, Judge of Probate, hereafter mentioned, and under it Relf and Chew, the persons named in it as executors--his already mentioned partners in trade--disposed of Clark's estates.

Soon after the time that Clark first found himself at New Orleans, was living there also a native of Clermont, France, named Jerome Des Granges. Des Granges made some pretensions to family importance at home, but in New Orleans was a confectionr; making and vending syrups and liquors also, and having a distillery. He had married in 1794, with the ceremonies of the Roman church, a young person of New Orleans, Zulime de Carriere, not then, as it seemed, above fourteen or fifteen years old, a native of New Orleans, from French parents in Gascony and Bordeaux, and was living with her as his wife: a person whom various testimony proved to have been remarkable for beauty.

With Zulime, Clark became acquainted, and formed an illicit connection in or prior to 1801.

In the spring of the year just named Des Granges sailed for France, his apparent purpose there being the recovery of some property, to which his wife and her sisters, two of whom were Madame Despau and...

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