The Baigorry

The citation for this case is 69 US [2 Wall.] 474. This case arises from the naval blockade of the confederacy. The schooner Baigorry, loaded with cotton, was captured by the USS Bainbridge on June 9, 1862 about a hundred miles from Havana, her destination from her departure point of Calcasieu Pass, Louisiana. She was taken to Key West where both she and her cargo were libeled as prizes of war.

United States forces under Major General Benjamin F. Butler completely occupied all of New Orleans by May 12, 1862. According to the Baigorry’s mate, its cotton was loaded between April 27 and May 3 at Calcasieu, Louisiana. “After the capture and complete occupation of New Orleans — that is to say on the 12th of May, 1862, fourteen days before the Baigorry sailed at all from Calcasieu Pass, the President issued another proclamation, in which he declared that the blockade of the port of New Orleans should so far cease and determine, from and after the 16th of June, 1862, as that commercial intercourse with it might be carried on after the 1st of June following, except as to persons and things contraband.” [69 US 474, 476] The owners fought against the charge of trying to run the blockade by claiming the blockade had been ended by President Lincoln’s proclamation. Additionally, the ship’s captain claimed he saw no blockading vessels when he went into Calcasieu and when he departed from it. “He swore ‘he knew before going to sea that the City of New Orleans had been taken by the United States before the vessel left Calcasieu, and had information that the United States had allowed vessels to go from Berwick’s Bay to Sabine after being visited.’ He knew, also, as he swore, ‘that there had been an order of blockade of the ports of the State of Louisiana, but he thought that the ports of the state were open after the capture of New Orleans. He wished to go to New Orleans for a clearance from the United States authorities, but was not allowed by the Confederates to pass through the country. He had seen blockading vessels in February, 1862, when sailing from Havana towards the coast of Louisiana without having any fixed port of destination, but saw none either when he entered or when he left Calcasieu on this last voyage, though he saw a steamer passing along at a distance from the coast once while the Baigorry was at Calcasieu.’ The mate testified that he knew that on the 26th of May, when the Baigorry set sail, ‘the ports of Louisiana were then declared to be blockaded, but he did not see any vessel then on the coast. He saw steamships at a distance off the coast twice while the Baigorry lay at Calcasieu Pass. He did not know what they were.’ ” [69 US 474, 477]

Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase delivered the opinion of the Court. He said, “The Baigorry and cargo were owned by residents of New Orleans, claiming to be subjects of Great Britain and France. She was employed in the trade of the enemy, plying between Havana and ports of Louisiana and finding entrance as she could by running the blockade. The cotton with which she was laden was shipped, according to the testimony of the mate, at Calcasieu Pass, between the 27th of April and the 3d of May, but she did not sail, if the master be credited, till the 26th of May. Calcasieu Pass and all the neighboring region was in possession of the rebels, and the establishment of the blockade was well known to the officers of the schooner.” [69 US 474, 479-480] In discussing the operative law and legal interpretation, he said, “We have already held that a blockade, once established and duly notified, must be presumed to continue until notice of discontinuance, in the absence of positive proof of discontinuance by other evidence, and we do not think that the testimony of the master and mate that they saw no blockaders when entering or leaving Calcasieu Pass supplies such proof. On the contrary, we think that positive proof that the blockade was not discontinued is made by the admissions that blockaders were seen when the Baigorry approached the coast, and that one or more steamships were seen off the coast while she lay within Calcasieu Pass.” [69 US 474, 480]

He concluded it was clear the ship had tried to run the blockade and that its officers and crew knew of the blockade’s existence. “We think also that both ship and cargo were rightly condemned by the district court as enemies’ property. It is claimed that both belonged to neutrals resident in New Orleans, and entitled to protection under proclamation, and the proof to some extent supports this claim, but both were liable to be condemned as enemies’ property because of the employment of the vessel in enemies’ trade and because of the attempt to violate the blockade and to elude visitation and search by the Bainbridge.” [69 US 474, 481]

He ordered that the decision of the lower courts condemning the vessel as a prize of war was affirmed.

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