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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Delespine's Heirs, 37 U.S. 12 Pet. 654 654 (1838)

United States v. Delespine's Heirs

37 U.S. (12 Pet.) 654




A translation, by the Secretary of the Board of Land Commissioners of Florida, whose duty it was to translate Spanish documents given in evidence before the board of commissioners, of a certified copy of a Spanish grant of land in Florida, which had been produced to the board, was properly admitted as evidence of the grant, satisfactory proof having been given to the court that the original grant could not be found in the records of East Florida and that this was the best evidence, from the nature of the case, which could be given of the existence of the original paper, lost or destroyed.

The heirs of Joseph Delespine and others, purchasers from Joseph Delespine, filed a petition to the Supreme Court of East Florida, praying confirmation of a grant to Joseph Delespine, made by Don Jose Coppinger, on 9 April, 1817, he being then the Spanish Governor of East Florida. The grant was for forty-three thousand acres, under which surveys were made by George J. F. Clarke, then surveyor of the province, according to the terms of the grant.

The petitioners exhibited, in support of their claim, the original translation, certified by Francis I. Facio, of the certified copy by Thomas de Arguilar, the government secretary of the province, which was brought into court by the keeper of the public archives of East Florida. Evidence was given that the original grant by Governor Coppinger had not been found among the archives, or any where. It was also in evidence that a copy of the memorial of Joseph Delespine and of the concession thereupon for the forth-three thousand acres of land, purporting to have been certified by Thomas de Arguilar as secretary of the government, was exhibited to the Board of Land Claims of East Florida, which was before the board proved to have been in the handwriting of the government secretary and signed by him. This document had been mislaid or lost.

The Superior Court of East Florida gave a decree in favor of the petitioners, and the United States prosecuted this appeal. chanrobles.com-red

Page 37 U. S. 655

MR. JUSTICE WAYNE delivered the opinion of the Court:

In this case it is conceded by the Attorney General that the only ground upon which it can be taken out of the decisions of this Court confirming the decrees of the courts of Florida upon grants and concessions of land made by the authorities of the King of Spain to his subjects before 24 January, 1818, was that the Superior Court of East Florida, in adjudicating upon this claim, received as evidence the copy of a copy of a concession or grant to Joseph Delespine. We think the copy in this instance was properly received by the court. The first copy was made from the original, filed in the proper office, from which the original could not be removed for any purpose. That copy, it is admitted, would have been evidence in the cause. It is shown by the affidavit of Mr. Drysdale to have been lost whilst the claim was under examination by the board of commissioners established by Congress for ascertaining land claims in Florida, and that the copy received as evidence is a translation of chanrobles.com-red

Page 37 U. S. 656

the first, certified by the secretary of the board of land commissioners, whose duty it was to translate Spanish documents given in evidence before the board of land commissioners, and is a part of the papers in this claim, transferred, according to law, to the keeper of the public archives of East Florida. And it appears also by proofs in this cause that the papers in the office from which the first copy was taken, and the original of which is also sufficiently proved to have been on file, have been, by accident or otherwise, mutilated since the first copy was taken; that the original could no longer be found, and consequently that the copy in this case was the best evidence, from the nature of the case, which could be given of the existence of an original paper lost or destroyed.

The decree of the superior court of East Florida was


This cause came on to be heard on the transcript of the record from the Superior Court for the District of East Florida and was argued by counsel. On consideration whereof it is now here decreed and ordered by this Court that the decree of the said superior court in this cause be and the same is hereby affirmed.


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