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SPIERS V. WILLISON, 8 U. S. 398 (1808)

U.S. Supreme Court

Spiers v. Willison, 8 U.S. 4 Cranch 398 398 (1808)

Spiers v. Willison

8 U.S. (4 Cranch) 398




In this case it was decided:

By the act of assembly of Virginia of 1758, no gift of a slave was valid unless in writing and recorded, but parol evidence may be given of the existence of a deed of gift to show the nature of possession which accompanied the deed.

Page 8 U. S. 399

Error to the District Court for the District of Kentucky in an action of detinue for certain slaves.

The plaintiff below, Rebecca Willison, claimed title to the slaves under her grandmother, and at the trial offered parol proof that the grandmother, while Kentucky was a part of Virginia, had given them to her by a deed, which was lost. To this testimony the defendant below (the plaintiff in error) objected and prayed the court to instruct the jury that the said deposition was not legal evidence in this cause, and that at the time this gift was supposed to be made, no gift of a slave in Virginia was valid unless made in writing, which writing was afterwards reduced to record, which motion was overruled by the court, and the defendant excepted.

Page 8 U. S. 400


The error assigned consists in both the admission and the operation of the testimony. So far as evidence of the existence of a deed went to show the nature of the possession which accompanied the deed, so far it was admissible, but it was not in itself evidence of any title in the plaintiff. There was no error, therefore, in admitting the testimony as to the deed.

But in overruling the prayer to instruct the jury "that at the time the gift was said to be made, no gift of a slave was valid unless made in writing, which writing was afterwards reduced to record," the court below is to be considered as having given an opinion that a parol gift was good. This Court is therefore of opinion, that the court below erred in refusing to give the latter part of the instruction prayed by the defendant.

This Court gives no opinion as to the validity of title acquired by possession.

Judgment reversed and the cause remanded.

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