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Maryland Insurance Company v. Woods, 11 U.S. 7 Cranch 402 402 (1813)

Maryland Insurance Company v. Woods

11 U.S. (7 Cranch) 402




Decided: that the letter of Mr. Merry to the Secretary of State of 12 April, 1804, extended to the Island of Curracoa the order of the lords commissioners of the admiralty of 5 January, 1804, respecting the blockade of Martinique and Guadaloupe.

Error to the Circuit Court for the District of Maryland in an action of covenant on a policy upon the schooner William and Mary

"at and from Baltimore to Laguira, with liberty of one other neighboring port, and at and from them or either of them back to Baltimore -- warranted by the assured to be an American bottom, proof of which to be required in the United States only."

The former judgment of the circuit court in this case having been reversed see ante, 10 U. S. 10 U.S. 29, and the cause remanded for a new trial, the verdict and judgment were again in favor of the original plaintiff. The defendants took only one bill of exceptions which stated the execution of the policy, the sailing of the vessel with proper documents as an American bottom from Baltimore on 8 March, 1805, upon the voyage insured; her arrival off Laguira on the 24th of the same month, where she remained three days laying off and on, vainly endeavoring to obtain permission to enter the port, and on the 31st sailed towards the port of

Page 11 U. S. 403

Amsterdam, in the Island of Curracoa, by the direct and accustomed route, with a view and intention of ascertaining by inquiry of British ships of war, or other vessels, whether the port of Amsterdam was then in a state of blockade, and to enter it if it should not be blockaded, but if it should be blockaded, not to attempt to enter it, but to proceed to St. Thomas or Porto Rico. That Amsterdam was a neighboring port to Laguira, being distant about 147 miles. That when she approached Amsterdam, being distant about 30 miles, the master discovered a British vessel at the distance of 21 miles, whereupon he altered the course of the schooner and stood directly towards the British vessel for the purpose of inquiring whether Amsterdam was still in a state of blockade; that while so standing for the British vessel, which was a frigate then actually supporting the blockade of the port of Amsterdam, the schooner was captured by the frigate and sent into Jamaica and there condemned for breach of the blockade of the port of Amsterdam, whereby she was wholly lost to the plaintiff. That on 16 May, 1805, the plaintiff, having received intelligence of the capture, abandoned the vessel in due time to the underwriters, who refused to accept the abandonment.

That on 27 October, 1803, the government of the United States made to the British government, through its charge d'affaires in the United States, a representation on the subject of a blockade, then recently notified, of the Islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe, which representation is set forth at large in the bill of exceptions, being a letter from Mr. Madison, then Secretary of State, to Mr. Thornton, the British charge d'affaires, dated 27 October, 1803.

That on 5 January, 1804, the British government, in consequence of that representation, issued an order to its commanding naval officer in the West Indies and to its courts of vice-admiralty there, relative to the blockade of Martinique and Guadeloupe; which order is as follows:

"Admiralty Office, 5 January, 1804"


Having communicated to the lords of the admiralty, Lord Hawkesbury's letter of the 23d ult. enclosing the

Page 11 U. S. 404

copy of a dispatch, which his lordship had received from Mr. Thornton, His Majesty's charge d'affaires in America, on the subject of the blockade of the Islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe, together with the report of the advocate general thereupon. I have their lordships' commands to acquaint you for his lordships' information that they have sent orders to Commodore Hood not to consider any blockade of those islands as existing unless in respect of particular ports which may be actually invested, and then not to capture vessels bound to such ports unless they shall have been previously warned not to enter them, and that they have also sent the necessary directions on the subject to the judges of the vice-admiralty courts in the West Indies and America.

"I am, &c."


"George Hammond, Esq."

That on 12 April, 1804, the British government, by its minister plenipotentiary in the United States, communicated the aforesaid order to the government of the United States, who caused it to be immediately published in the public newspapers.

That on the same 12 April, 1804, the said British minister plenipotentiary officially made known to the government of the United States that the siege of the Island of Curracoa had been converted into a blockade, which communication was as follows:

"Washington, April 12, 1804"

"Mr. Merry to Mr. Madison."


"I have the honor to acquaint you that I have just received a letter from Rear Admiral Sir John Duckworth, commander in chief of His Majesty's squadron at Jamaica, dated the second of last month, in which he desires me to communicate to the government of the United States that he has found it expedient for His Majesty's service to convert the siege, which he lately attempted of Curracoa into a blockade of that Island. "

Page 11 U. S. 405

"I cannot doubt, sir, that this blockade will be conducted conformably to the instructions which (as I have the honor to acquaint you in another letter of this date) have been recently sent on this subject, to the commander in chief of His Majesty's forces, and to the judges of the vice admiralty courts in the West Indies, should the smallness of the Island of Curracoa still render necessary any distinction of the investment being confined to particular ports."

"I have the honor to be, &c."


That Travers, the master of the schooner William and Mary, heard a report at Baltimore, before he sailed, that Amsterdam was in a state of blockade, and that he was informed, before he sailed from Baltimore, by the master of an American vessel, that about four months before the time of giving that information, he arrived with his vessel near the port of Amsterdam, and there met with a squadron of British ships of war then blockading that port, and was warned off by the commander of the squadron, with his register endorsed in the usual manner.

That Travers, in the course of his voyage, fell in with a strong French squadron in lat. 15, long. 63, which was sailing westward. That the port of Amsterdam is in lat. 11 deg. 55 min., long. 68.

That while laying off Laguira to endeavor to obtain permission to enter the port or to anchor his vessel, he was informed by a merchant at Laguira, to whom he had been introduced by a letter and through whom he made application for permission as aforesaid, that the port of Amsterdam was then free from blockade, and was advised by the said merchant to proceed thither with his vessel -- that the port of Laguira and all the ports on the Spanish main were then shut against foreigners, whereby he was prevented from going on shore and from making inquiries otherwise than by writing from his vessel to some person on shore.

That the Island of Buenos Ayres was then a dependency of Curracoa, distant from it about twenty miles east, and

Page 11 U. S. 406

is a small island having no port, except a roadstead about the middle of its length on the east side, where there was a small battery and military post. That the cruising ground of vessels blockading Curracoa was between that Island and Buenos Ayres, which latter was included in the blockade, as were also all the other ports of the Island of Curracoa. That Travers did not attempt to enter the port of Amsterdam, nor sail towards it with an intention of entering it if blockaded, but merely for the purpose of ascertaining by any lawful and proper means in his power whether it was still in a state of blockade, of entering it if it was not, and of proceeding elsewhere if it was.

That when he sailed from Laguira as aforesaid he had, from the facts and circumstances above mentioned, reasonable ground of belief that the blockade had ceased, and had no means of obtaining any further information on the subject at any neighboring port or place.

Whereupon the plaintiff prayed the court to instruct the jury that if they believed the matters so given in evidence by him, then his right of recovery in this action is not affected by the conduct of Travers in proceeding as aforesaid from Laguira towards Amsterdam for the purposes aforesaid, which instruction the court gave, and also the further direction that if they should believe that Travers intended, while at Laguira, to violate the blockade of Amsterdam, and attempted it by sailing towards that port and within the limits of the cruising ground, in such case his conduct was unlawful, and the defendants were thereby discharged from any responsibility upon the policy.

To this instruction the defendants excepted and brought their writ of error.

Page 11 U. S. 407

LIVINGSTON, J., afterwards delivered the opinion of the Court in writing as follows:

It is the opinion of the Court that the communication of the British minister to the American government on 12 April, 1804, relative to the blockade of Curracoa furnished a sufficient excuse for the assured's proceeding

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towards that island for the purpose of inquiring as to its continuance, and that his doing so was no violation of his neutrality.

The Court does not mean to be understood as giving any opinion on the effect of such conduct if no such communication had been made.

The judgment of the circuit court is

Affirmed with costs.

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