Martin v. Hunter’s Lessee, 14 U.S. 304 (1816)

Author: U.S. Supreme Court

Show Summary

Martin v. Hunter’s Lessee, 14 U.S. 304 (1816)

Martin v. Hunter’s Lessee

14 U.S. 304


This was a writ of error to the Court of appeals of the state of Virginia, founded upon the refusal of that Court to obey the mandate of this Court, requiring the judgment rendered in this same cause, at February Term, 1813, to be carried into due execution. The following is the judgment of the Court of appeals, rendered on the mandate:

The Court is unanimously of opinion that the appellate power of the Supreme Court of the United States does not extend to this Court under a sound construction of the Constitution of the United States; that so much of the 25th section of the act of Congress, to establish the judicial courts of the United States as extends the appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court to this Court is not in pursuance of the Constitution of the United States. That the writ of error in this cause was improvidently allowed under the authority of that act; that the proceedings thereon in the Supreme Court were coram non judice in relation to this Court, and that obedience to its mandate be declined by the Court.

The original suit was an action of ejectment, brought by the defendant in error in one of the district courts of Virginia, holden at Winchester, for the recovery of a parcel of land, situate within that tract, called the Northern Neck of Virginia, and part and parcel thereof. A declaration in ejectment was served (April, 1791) on the tenants in possession, whereupon Denny Fairfax (late Denny Martin), a British subject, holding the land in question under the devise of the late Thomas Lord Fairfax, was admitted to defend the suit, and plead the general issue, upon the usual terms of confessing lease, entry, and ouster, &c., and agreeing to insist, at the trial, on the title only, &c. The facts being settled in the form of a case agreed to be taken and considered as a special verdict, the Court, on consideration thereof, gave judgment (24th of April, 1794) in favour of the defendant in ejectment. From that judgment the plaintiff in ejectment (now defendant in error) appealed to the Court of Appeals, being the highest court of law of Virginia. At April term, 1810, the Court of appeals reversed the judgment of the district Court and gave judgment for the then appellant, now defendant in error, and thereupon the case was removed into this Court.

Statement of the facts as settled by the case agreed.

1st. The title of the late Lord Fairfax to all that entire territory and tract of land called the Northern Neck of Virginia, the nature of his estate in the same, as he inherited it, and the purport of the several charters and grants from the Kings Charles II. and James II., under which his ancestor held, are agreed to be truly recited in an Act of the Assembly of Virginia, passed in the year 1736, [Vide Rev.Code, v. 1. ch. 3. p. 5] "For the confirming and better securing the titles to lands in the Northern Neck, held under the Rt. Hon. Thomas Lord Fairfax," &c.

From the recitals of the act, it appears that the first letters patent (1 Car. II.) granting the land in question to Ralph Lord Hopton and others, being surrendered in order to have the grant renewed, with alterations, the Earl of St. Albans and others (partly survivors of, and partly purchasers under, the first patentees) obtained new letters patent (2 Car. II) for the same land and appurtenances, and by the same description, but with additional privileges and reservations, &c.

The estate granted is described to be,

All that entire tract, territory, or parcel of land, situate, &c., and bounded by, and within the heads of, the Rivers Rappahannock, &c., together with the rivers themselves, and all the islands, &c., and all woods, underwoods, timber, &c., mines of gold and silver, lead, tin, &c., and quarries of stone and coal, &c., to have, hold, and enjoy the said tract of land, &c. to the said [patentees], their heirs and assigns forever, to their only use and behoof, and to no other use, intent, or purpose whatsoever.

There is reserved to the crown the annual rent of 6l. 13s. 4d. "in lieu of all services and demands whatsoever;" also one-fifth part of all gold, and one-tenth part of all silver mines.

To the absolute title and seisin in fee of the land and its appurtenance, and the beneficial use and enjoyment of the same, assured to the patentees, as tenants in capite, by the most direct and abundant terms of conveyancing, there are superadded certain collateral powers of baronial dominion; reserving, however, to the Governor, Council and Assembly of Virginia the exclusive authority in all the military concerns of the granted territory, and the power to impose taxes on the persons and property of its inhabitants for the public and common defence of the colony, as well as a general jurisdiction over the patentees, their heirs and assigns, and all other inhabitants of the said territory.

In the enumeration of privileges specifically granted to the patentees, their heirs and assigns, is that

freely and without molestation of the King, to give, grant, or by any ways or means, sell or alien all and singular the granted premises, and every part and parcel thereof, to any person or persons being willing to contract for, or buy, the same.

There is also a condition to avoid the grant, as to so much of the granted premises as should not be possessed, inhabited, or planted, by the means or procurement of the patentees, their heirs or assigns, in the space of 21 years.

The third and last of the letters patent referred to (4 Jac. II) after reciting a sale and conveyance of the granted premises by the former patentees, to Thomas Lord Culpepper, "who was thereby become sole owner and proprietor thereof, in fee simple," proceeds to confirm the same to Lord Culpepper, in fee simple, and to release him from the said condition, for having the lands inhabited or planted as aforesaid.

The said act of assembly then recites that Thomas Lord Fairfax, heir at law of Lord Culpepper, had become "sole proprietor of the said territory, with the appurtenances, and the above-recited letters patent."

By another act of assembly, passed in the year 1748 (Rev.Code, v. 1. ch. 4. p. 10), certain grants from the crown, made while the exact boundaries of the Northern Neck were doubtful, for lands which proved to be within those boundaries, as then recently settled and determined, were, with the express consent of Lord Fairfax, confirmed to the grantees, to be held, nevertheless, of him, and all the rents, services, profits, and emoluments (reserved by such grants) to be paid and performed to him.

In another Act of Assembly, passed May, 1779, for establishing a land office, and ascertaining the terms and manner of granting waste and unappropriated lands, there is the following clause, viz. (vide Chy.Rev. of 1783, ch. 13. s. 6. p. 98.)

And that the proprietors of land within this Commonwealth may no longer be subject to any servile, feudal, or precarious tenure, and to prevent the danger to a free state from perpetual revenue, be it enacted, that the royal mines, quit-rents, and all other reservations and conditions in the patents or grants of land from the crown of England, under the former government, shall be, and are hereby declared null and void; and that all lands thereby respectively granted shall be held in absolute and unconditional property, to all intents and purposes whatsoever, in the same manner with the lands hereafter granted by the Commonwealth, by virtue of this act.

2d. As respects the actual exercise of his proprietary rights by Lord Fairfax.

It is agreed that he did, in the year 1748, open and conduct, at his own expense, an office within the Northern Neck for granting and conveying what he described and called the waste and ungranted lands therein, upon certain terms, and according to certain rules by him established and published; that he did, from time to time, grant parcels of such lands in fee (the deeds being registered at his said office, in books kept for that purpose, by his own clerks and agents); that, according to the uniform tenor of such grants, he did, styling himself proprietor of the Northern Neck, &c., in consideration of a certain composition to him paid, and of certain annual rents therein reserved, grant, &c., with a clause of reentry for non-payment of the rent, & c.; that he also demised, for lives and terms of years, parcels of the same description of lands, also reserving annual rents; that he kept his said office open for the purposes aforesaid, from the year 1748 till his death, in December, 1781; during the whole of which period, and before, he exercised the right of granting in fee, and demising for lives and terms of years, as aforesaid, and received and enjoyed the rents annually, as they accrued, as well under the grants in fee, as under the leases for lives and years. It is also agreed that Lord Fairfax died seised of lands in the Northern Neck equal to about 300,000 acres, which had been granted by him in fee, to one T. B. Martin, upon the same terms and conditions, and in the same form, as the other grants in fee before described, which lands were, soon after being so granted, reconveyed to Lord Fairfax in fee.

3d. Lord Fairfax, being a citizen and inhabitant of Virginia, died in the month of December, 1781, and, by his last will and testament, duly made and published, devised the whole of his lands, &c., called, or known by the name of the Northern Neck of Virginia, in fee, to Denny Fairfax, (the original defendant in ejectment), by the name and description of the Reverend Denny Martin, &c., upon condition of his taking the name and arms of Fairfax, &c., and it is admitted that he fully complied with the conditions of the devise.

4th. It is agreed that Denny Fairfax, the devisee, was a native-born British subject, and never became a citizen of the United States, nor any one of them, but always resided in England, as well during the Revolutionary War as from his birth, about the year 1750, to his death, which happened some time between the years 1796 and 1803, as appears from the record of the proceedings in the Court of appeals.

It is also admitted that Lord Fairfax left, at his death, a nephew named Thomas Bryan Martin, who was always a citizen of Virginia, being the younger brother of the said devisee, and the second son of a sister of the said Lord Fairfax; which sister was still living, and had always been a British subject.

5th. The land demanded by this ejectment being agreed to be part and parcel of the said territory and tract of land called the Northern Neck, and to be a part of that description of lands within the Northern Neck, called and described by Lord Fairfax as "waste and ungranted," and being also agreed never to have been escheated and seised into the hands of the Commonwealth of Virginia, pursuant to certain acts of assembly concerning escheators, and never to have been the subject of any inquest of office, was contained and included in a certain patent, bearing date the 30th of April, 1789, under the hand of the then Governor, and the seal of the Commonwealth of Virginia, purporting that the land in question is granted by the said Commonwealth unto David Hunter (the lessor of the plaintiff in ejectment) and his heirs forever, by virtue and in consideration of a land office treasury warrant, issued the 23d of January, 1788. The said lessor of the plaintiff in ejectment is, and always has been, a citizen of Virginia; and in pursuance of his said patent, entered into the land in question, and was thereof possessed, prior to the institution of the said action of ejectment.

6th. The definitive treaty of peace concluded in the year 1783, and the treaty of amity, commerce, and navigation, of 1794, between the United States of America and Great Britain, and also the several acts of the Assembly of Virginia concerning the premises are referred to as making a part of the case agreed.

Upon this state of facts, the judgment of the Court of appeals of Virginia was reversed by this Court, at February term, 1813, and thereupon the mandate above mentioned was issued to the Court of appeals, which being disobeyed, the cause was again brought before this Court.


Related Resources

None available for this document.

Download Options

Title: Martin v. Hunter’s Lessee, 14 U.S. 304 (1816)

Select an option:

*Note: A download may not start for up to 60 seconds.

Email Options

Title: Martin v. Hunter’s Lessee, 14 U.S. 304 (1816)

Select an option:

Email addres:

*Note: It may take up to 60 seconds for for the email to be generated.

Chicago: U.S. Supreme Court, "Syllabus," Martin v. Hunter’s Lessee, 14 U.S. 304 (1816) in 14 U.S. 304 14 U.S. 305–14 U.S. 323. Original Sources, accessed May 27, 2024,

MLA: U.S. Supreme Court. "Syllabus." Martin v. Hunter’s Lessee, 14 U.S. 304 (1816), in 14 U.S. 304, pp. 14 U.S. 305–14 U.S. 323. Original Sources. 27 May. 2024.

Harvard: U.S. Supreme Court, 'Syllabus' in Martin v. Hunter’s Lessee, 14 U.S. 304 (1816). cited in 1816, 14 U.S. 304, pp.14 U.S. 305–14 U.S. 323. Original Sources, retrieved 27 May 2024, from