U.S. Supreme Court
Marlatt v. Silk, 36 U.S. 11 Pet. 1 1 (1837)
Marlatt v. Silk
36 U.S. (11 Pet.) 1
Ejectment. A tract of land situated in that part of the State of Pennsylvania which, by the compact with the State of Virginia of 1780, was acknowledged to be within the former state was held under the provisions of an Act of Assembly of Virginia passed in 1779, by which actual bona fide settlers, prior to 1778, were declared to be entitled to the land on which the settlement was made, not exceeding four hundred acres. The settlement was made in 1772. Of this tract, in the year 1786, a survey was made and returned into the Land Office of Pennsylvania, and a patent was granted for the same. The title set up by the defendants in the ejectment was derived from two land warrants from the Land Office of Pennsylvania dated in 1773, under which surveys were made in 1778, and on which patents were issued on 9 March, 1782. The compact confirms private property and rights existing previous to its date, under and founded on and recognized by the laws of either state, falling within the other, preference being given to the elder or prior right subject to the payment of the purchase money required by the laws of the state in which they might be for such lands. Held that the title derived under the Virginia law of 1779, and afterwards perfected by the patent from Pennsylvania in 1788, was a valid title, and superior to that asserted under the warrants of 1773, and the patent founded upon them and issued in 1782 chanrobles.com-red
The title derived under the Act of the Legislature of Virginia of 1779 commenced in 1772 when the settlement was made, and therefore stands as a right prior in its commencement to that originating under the warrants of 1773. The question of title between the contending parties is not to be decided by the laws or decisions of either Pennsylvania or Virginia, but by the compact of 1780.
The principles on which the case of Jackson v. Chew, 12 Wheat. 163, are decided are not affected by the decisions of the Court in this case. In the case of Jackson v. Chew, the Court said that it adopted the state decisions when applicable to the title of lands. That was in a case the decision of which depended on the laws of the state and on their construction by the tribunals of the state. In the case at bar, the question arises under and is to be decided by a compact between two states, when the rule of decision is not to be collected from the decisions of either state, but is one of an international character.
The plaintiff in error, a citizen of the State of Ohio, instituted an action of ejectment against the defendants at October term 1831 to recover a tract of land situated in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, and the case was tried before the District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania in October 1835. A verdict and judgment under the charge of the court were rendered in favor of the defendants, and the plaintiff, having taken exceptions to the charge, prosecuted this writ of error.
The case, as stated in the opinion of this Court, was as follows:
Thomas Watson, under whom the plaintiff in error claimed, on 25 April 1780, obtained from certain commissioners of Virginia a certificate entitling him to 400 acres of land by virtue of an Act of Assembly of Virginia passed in May 1779, the fourth section of which, after reciting that great numbers of people had settled in the country upon the western waters, upon waste and unappropriated land, for which they had been hitherto prevented from suing out patents or obtaining legal titles, &c., enacted
"That all persons who at any time before the first day of January in the year 1778 have really and bona fide settled themselves or their families or at his or her or their charge have settled others upon any waste or unappropriated lands on the said western waters to which no other person hath any legal right or claim shall be allowed, for every family 400 acres of land or such smaller quantity as the party chooses to include in such settlement."
This certificate was granted in right of a chanrobles.com-red
settlement which had been made by Watson in the year 1772. This evidence of right under Virginia was subsequently transferred to the Land Office of Pennsylvania (the land having, under a compact between that state and Virginia, been ascertained to be within the limits of Pennsylvania), and on the first of November 1786, a survey of his claim was made and returned to the land office of that state, and a patent issued thereon by that state in the year 1791, including the settlement made in 1772 and including the land in controversy. The defendants claimed under Edward Hand, who, by virtue of two land warrants granted by Pennsylvania, one for 300 acres dated 24 November 1773, the other for the same quantity dated 27 November, 1773, caused surveys to be made on both, on 21 January, 1778, and on 9 March 1782 obtained patents on both surveys embracing the land in controversy.
Both Pennsylvania and Virginia having claimed the territory of which the land in controversy was a part as being within their limits, the dispute was finally adjusted by a compact made between them, which was ratified by Virginia on 23 June 1780, with certain conditions annexed, and absolutely by Pennsylvania on 23 September 1780, with an acceptance of the conditions annexed by Virginia. The compact declared
"That the private property and rights of all persons acquired under, founded on, or recognized by the laws of either country previous to the date hereof shall be secured and confirmed to them although they should be found to fall within the other, and that in disputes thereon, preference shall be given to the elder or prior right, whichever of the said states the same shall have been acquired under, such persons paying to the said states in whose boundary the same shall be included the same purchase or consideration money which would have been due from them to the state under which they claimed the right. "