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De Lane et al. v. Moore et al.
In this case, the slave was sold in 1821 ; the coverture termi. nated in 1823; the husband survived to 1834, with the right of possession and enjoyment only. In 1834, complainants' right was complete, if they had any. The youngest must have been of full age in, or before, the year 1837. They are all children of the widow DeLane, before her marriage with Yancey, in 1816. A suit in Equity against these defendants was pending in 1843, for this very property, and dismissed for want of prosecution. It was as if it had never existed. In 1847, when this suit began, more than twice the period of limitation had elapsed since the right, if any, accrued.
Courts of Equity will not encourage such demands. There must be some diligence, some activity, some movement, by the party. Piatt v. Vattier, 9 Pet. 405; McKnight v. Taylor, 1 How. 161.
V. Such activity was peculiarly necessary in this case. It is a suit against executors, bound to close their office with reasonable despatch. A suit pending against them in 1843, had been dismissed. They had gone on to settle their trust; the debts had been paid, and the assets distributed, when this suit was brought, and courts of equity will protect them. The claim should have been presented within eighteen months. Aik. Dig.; Clay's Dig. 195, $ 17.
VI. Finally, the presumptions of fact are all against the claim set up.
The marriage contract authorizes a sale by the husband, with the consent of the wife. They are residing together, apparently in not a very prosperous condition, and both purchase, for their own support and the support of their family, (of these very complainants,) the goods of the defendants' testator. They are unable to pay for them, and one or both of them sell the slave to him for these very things. Honesty and fair dealing required that the wife should out of her means aid the husband in supporting the children of her prior marriage, and this court will presume that she did what common honesty required of her, and that she did unite in the sale. At all events, it was a sale and delivery of possession made in her lifetime for her benefit, and this court could compel her to ratify it now if she had not done so before.
This contract was made in South Carolina in 1816; the parties removed to Alabama before 1820. It is to be interpreted by the laws then in force in South Carolina.
In 1811, (Ewing v. Smith, 3 Dess. 417, 455, 457, 462, 463,) the Court of Appeals of that State declared the common law of England was not applicable to cases of married women having separate estates in that State. This was followed by Carter v. Eveleigh, 4 Dess. 19, and James v. Maysant, Ib. 591.
De Lane et al. v. Moore et al.
From these cases it appears - 1st. That a married woman, having a separate estate, can only change, encumber, or dispose of it, strictly according to the provisions of the settlement. 2d. That an estate limited to the joint use of husband and wife during coverture, with power to her to dispose of it by deed or will, and to go to her sole and absolute use in case of her surviving him, is a separate estate. 3d. The separate estate will be liable for debts contracted for the purposes for which it was created.
In this case the conditions necessary to raise a separate estate to her out of the joint estate, do not exist.
1. There is no power of disposition given to her, but it is given to the husband only with her consent.
2. There is no sole and absolute use reserved to her; but the right of survivorship, without any power of disposal, is mutual.
3. The debt in this case was contracted for the purposes of the trust, and on the credit of the trust estate.
The cases of Cooke v. Kennedy and Smith, (12 Ala. 42); Bender v. Reynolds, (15 Ala. 416,) are directly in point, that such an estate, with the property in the possession of the husband, is subject to the husband's debts. See also Moss v. McCall, 12 Ala. 630.
Here acquiescence may be inferred. Square v. Dean, 4 Bro. C. C. 326 ; Beresford v. Ar. Bis. Armagh, 13 Sim. 643.
Mr. Justice DANIEL delivered the opinion of the court. • The appellants, in the year 1847, filed their bill in the court aforesaid against the appellees, seeking of them a discovery as to certain slaves charged to have come to the possession of their testator, and also an account and a recovery of the value, increase, hires, and profits of those slaves, and claiming by name a negro woman named Linda or Linder, together with her children.
The bill charges that in the year 1816, Mrs. Ann Wood De Lane, a widow lady residing in the State of South Carolina, and possessed of valuable real estate, and of sundry slaves, being about to intermarry with one John Yancey, an antenuptial contract was entered into and executed between these parties. The stipulations in this contract, which is made an exhibit with the bill, are to the following effect: That “all the estate of the said Ann, real and personal, should be and remain for the joint use, support, and enjoyment of the said John and Ann during their joint lives, and to the survivor of them during his or her life; that the same should be free from any debts, dues, demands, or contracts of said Yancey, unless it should be under the following restrictions: That the said John Yancev
De Lane et al. v. Moore et al.
should not have the right to dispose of any portion of the estate or property, real or personal, unless the said Ann should consent thereto. That the said John should have the right to dispose of the property upon his obtaining such consent. That the said Ann should have the right of granting or withholding her consent without resorting to the aid of a court of equity, or to the intervention of a trustee. That all transfers by the said John of any portion of the property with the consent of the said Ann, should be valid, whether made for his separate use and benefit, or for the joint use of himself and wife ; and that the said John should not be compellable to settle any equivalent for property so transferred, unless there should be a stipulation between the parties to that effect. That all of the estate, real or personal, which should remain undisposed of during the joint lives of the parties, should be for the use and benefit of the survivor; and at his or her death should be equally divided amongst all the children of the said Ann, both of this and of the fornier mar. riage. That none of the aforesaid estate, real or personal, should be liable for any debts, judgments, or executions, that might be in existence at the date of the contract, or at any time thereafter against the said John, unless by mutual consent of the parties. The bill further charges that the inarriage having taken place between the said Ann Wood De Lane and John Yancey, they removed to the State of Alabama, where the said Ann having died, the said Yancey, who survived her, sold to James ļ. Goree, deceased, either during the lifetime or after the death of the said Ann, but without her consent, and in violation of the antenuptial agreement, several of the slaves mentioned in that agreement. That the said Philip H. De Lane, Martha Chiles, and Grace Lykes, who are the children of Am W. De Lane, by her first marriage, and her only heirs, were, at the date of the sale aforesaid by Yancey, infants of tender years.
The bill makes no persons defendants, and seeks relief against none others, except the said Andrew B. Moore, and James L. Goree, the executors of James L. Goree, deceased.
The respondents deny all personal knowledge of a purchase of slaves by their testator, of Yancey, but state that they have been informed, and believe, that the decedent did, in his lifetime, and in the lifetime of Ann W. Yancey, obtain from the said John Yancey, in the year 1822, a negro woman slave, named Linly, and her child Becky, in payment of a store account contracted with the decedent, whilst a merchant in Alabama, by said John and Ann Yancey, for sugar, coffee, pork, butter, clothing, and other necessaries for the support of the said John and Ann, and of the complainants, the children of the said Am,
De Lane et al. v. Moore et al.
and of the slaves conveyed in the marriage settlement. The respondents deny that any slave mentioned in that agreement, except the woman Lindy, ever came to the possession of their testator, and after naming the offspring of Lindy, they aver that this female slave and her offspring were never held by the respondents in any other right than as the executors of James L. Goree, deceased; that long before the institution of this suit, the respondents, as such executors, had delivered over to the distributees of their testator, all the slaves held by them, had settled their account as executors, and received a discharge, viz., on the 2d day of January, 1846. Having made the above statements in answer to interrogatories put by the bill, the respondents propound these separate averments, and claim to be allowed the benefit of them as if specially pleaded.
1. That their testator was a bona fide purchaser of the slave Lindy for valuable consideration, without notice of the alleged marriage settlement.
2. That more than six years had elapsed between the death of Yancey, who survived his wife, and the commencement of this suit, and therefore the suit is barred by the statute of limitations.
3. That the said marriage settlement was made in the State of South Carolina, and was not recorded according to the laws of that State, and is therefore void, both as to the respondents and to their testator, who was a bona fide purchaser without notice.
4. That if the marriage settlement had been properly recorded, or was otherwise valid the sale of the slave Lindy was made with the assent of the said Ann Yancey.
5. That the respondents received the said slaves as the executors of the last will and testament of decedent, as a part of his estate, and had, before this suit was commenced, disposed of them according to the provisions of said will, by distribution and delivery to the legatees of said estate, and that long before the commencement of this suit, had made a final settlement of said estate, and had been discharged from said executorship.
To the answer of the respondents, the complainants filed a general replication, and upon the pleadings and proofs in the cause, the District Court, on the 7th of December, 1849, pronounced a decree, dismissing the bill of the complainants, with costs. The correctness of that decree we will proceed to consider.
The first question which presents itself, in the natural order of investigation of the proceedings of the District Court, is that which was raised upon the admissibility in evidence, of an authenticated copy of the antenuptial contract, upon the suffi
De Lane et al. v. Moore et al.
ciency of the cause assigned for the non-production of the original. The cause so assigned, was this. The three children of Mrs. De Lane, with the husbands of the two daughters, depose that they never possessed, nor ever saw the original contract; that they have made diligent inquiry for it, but have been unable to learn either its present existence, or place of existenceand believe that it has been lost or destroyed. And the son, Philip De Lane, states farther, that he had made inquiry for it, first of John Partridge, his guardian, who informed him that he had never been in possession of it, and did not know where it was; that deponent had also made inquiry for it at the Office of Mesne Conveyances, and at the Office of the Secretary of State, of South Carolina, but upon search and inquiry it could not be found at either of those places; and he believes that this instrument was either destroyed by said Yancey, or by fire when the court house in Monroe county, in Alabama, was burned in 1833 — that the subscribing witnesses to the agreement, he believes, after diligent inquiry, are dead. That Yancey died in 1836, in Mississippi, utterly insolvent, and no person ever administered on his estate. În disregard of these affidavits, the District Court refused to consider the copy of the antenuptial contract as legal or admissible in the absence of the original, and in this refusal, we think that court has erred. Upon the most obvious principles of reason and justice, we think, that the complainants could not have laid a stronger foundation for the introduction of the secondary proof. The custody of the original document, or the duty of preserving it, could in no view be brought home to them. And its absence, therefore, over which they could have had no control, and produced by no default of theirs, should not have deprived them of the effect of that document to avail for whatever it might be worth. This view of the question before us, is strengthened by the obvious considerations, that no suspicion justly attaches to the complainants from the non-production of the original agreement, and that its exhibition was calculated rather to corroborate, than to weaken their claims. The instances in which secondary evidence is to be admitted, and the requisites demanded by the courts to warrant its introduction, are treated of in the elementary works on evidence, as for instance, in 2 Saunders on Pleading and Evidence, 833, et seg. But in a decision of this court, this subject has been dealt with in a manner so strikingly apposite to the question now before us, as to warrant particular notice thereof, as being in all respects, decisive of that question. We allude to the decision of Tayloe v. Riggs, reported in 1 Peters, 591. That case presented by no means so strong, a a claim for the introduction of seconuary evidence as does the