If a third party took possession of a hired slave and the hirer informed the owner that he did not intend to sue for recovery, then the owner could sue for recovery before the contract expired.Facts of the Case
James A. McEwen bought two slaves for the use of his mother, Mrs. John Sims. When McEwen died, his executor, Henry Boynton, hired the slaves to a Dr. Howell. Mr. John Sims took possession of the slaves without the permission of either Boynton or Howell. Howell informed Boynton that he would neither sue for their recovery nor pay hire. Furthermore, he urged Boynton to sue for them, which he did. The Barbour County Circuit Court charged the jury that, if they believed the evidence, the hiring contract did not preclude Boynton's right to sue for recovery of the slaves.Sims' Argument
Before the Alabama Supreme Court, Sims argued that the charge to the jury was faulty because Boynton had relinquished possession of the slaves under a contract that had not expired.Boynton's Argument
Boynton argued that hiring the slaves to Howell had not precluded his right to sue. "Howell's possession was that of Boynton." Furthermore, Howell had either abandoned the contract or surrendered his interest to Boynton.The Court's Decision
Chief Justice Samuel F. Rice wrote the decision of the Alabama Supreme Court. He ruled that, under the law of contracts, the owner could sue to recover a hired slave detained by a third party before the expiration of the contract, if the hirer refused to sue for recovery and asked the owner to do so.
Go to the AU Archives and
Manuscripts Department Homepage