United States v. The Kitty

The citation for this case is 26 Fed. Cas. 791, Case No. 15,537.

This is a forfeiture case arising from the slave trade. It’s from February 1, 1808 in the Federal Court for the District of South Carolina, with Federal Judge Thomas Bee presiding.

Judge Bee begins by giving us the facts of the case: “This suit is instituted by Captain McNeil of the revenue cutter Gallatin, against the schooner Kitty, for a breach of the first and seventh sections of the act of congress passed 2d March last, entitled ‘An act to prohibit the importation of slaves into any port or place within the jurisdiction of the United States after the 1st of January, 1808.’ It appeared in evidence, that the Kitty sailed from Charleston on the 19th November, 1806, bound to the coast of Africa. She arrived there on the 1st January following, at which time her crew consisted of the captain, two mates, one steward, and seven seamen. The second mate and one seaman died in February; another seaman died in August following. The steward ran away, and the first mate was discharged as an incorrigible drunkard; so that, in the month of August, the captain only and five of the crew remained. At this time they had purchased no more than thirty-two slaves; and such was the scarcity of provisions on the coast, that, till the beginning of November, they were threatened with famine. In July, the captain was taken ill, and continued so till the vessel sailed In August, the ship’s papers were seized by the governor, and detained for a fortnight. In September a report of war with Great Britain obliged the vessel to run up the river to avoid being captured. In October, only two of the crew were fit for duty, and the vessel was so leaky as to be three weeks under repair; provisions for their return could not be procured till November; on the 16th of that month she sailed, and on the 16th January, 1808, was seized in Stono Inlet, near Charleston, by the captain of the revenue cutter. The libel prays condemnation of the vessel, as coming within the act of congress.” [26 Fed. Cas. 791, 791-792]

Judge Bee ruled that since the voyage began while the slave trade was still legal and there is no proof the captain of the Kitty knew the slave trade had been outlawed he dismissed the suit.

By way of background on the Kitty, this was the vessel’s third voyage out of South Carolina to bring slaves back to Charleston. The schooner’s home port was Charleston. Interestingly, the Kitty was involved in another case, Cary et al., v. The Kitty, which was also heard by Judge Bee. [See both cases also here.]

This case is useful because the next time some neoconfederate numbskull makes the claim that only “the North” was involved in trading slaves, you can show them the Kitty, owned by southerners and operating solely out of South Carolina.


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