Hezekiah Wood v. John Davis. Supreme Court Report


Hezekiah Wood v. John Davis, and others.

7 C. 271.

A verdict and judgment that the mother was born free, is not conclusive evidence of the freedom of her children — unless between the same parties or privies.

Error to the circuit court for the District of Columbia, sitting at Washington.

The defendants in error, John Davis and others, were children of Susan Davis, a mulatto woman, who had obtained a judgment for her freedom in a suit which she had brought against Caleb Swann, to whom she had been sold by Wood, the plaintiff in error.

The petition of the children stated that their mother, Susan Davis, had obtained a judgment for her freedom upon the ground that she was born free. The issue was joined upon the question whether the petitioners were entitled to their freedom.

Upon the trial of this issue, in the court below, the plaintiff in error, Wood, tendered a bill of exceptions which stated that it was admitted that the petitioners were the children of Susan Davis; and they produced the record of the judgment in favor of their mother, Susan Davis, against Caleb Swann, (in which case her petition stated that she was born free, being descended from a white woman; and the issue joined was upon the question whether she was free or a slave.) And it was admitted that Susan Davis had been sold by Wood to Swann before the judgment; whereupon the petitioners, by their counsel, prayed the court to direct the jury, that the record aforesaid and the matters so admitted were conclusive evidence for the petitioners in this cause; and the court directed the jury as prayed; to which direction the defendant, Wood, excepted.

F. S. Key, for the plaintiff in error.

C. Lee, contrà.

Marshall, C. J., stated the opinion of the court to be, that the verdict and judgment in the case of Susan Davis against Swann, were not conclusive evidence in the present case. There was no privity between Swann and Wood; they were to be considered as perfectly distinct persons. Wood had a right to defend his own title, which he did not derive from Swann.

Judgment reversed.