Jackson ex dem. People v. Lervey
5 Cow. 397 (1826)

The issue in this case was whether land granted by the State to a soldier who fought in the Revolutionary War could vest in his son who was born in slavery.

Peter Stringerland, a soldier who fought and died in the Revolutionary War, was survived by his wife and child. In 1790, legislation was enacted that granted land to those who had served in the Revolutionary Army, and the patent to Lot 26 in the Township of Locke was deemed vested in Peter Stringerland as of March 27, 1783. Legislation enacted in 1803 vested the interest of soldiers who had died before 1783 in their legal heirs, who, in this instance, was Stringerland's son.

Stringerland’s son sold his father's 50 acres of land to Lervey, but the Attorney General sued, claiming that the lands had escheated to the State (escheatment is a common law doctrine that vests the property of a person who dies without heirs in the State). Because Peter Stringerland had been a slave prior to his service in the Revolutionary War and his wife had also been a slave, their marriage was not legally recognized. Peter’s son was thus illegitimate, and could not inherit the land under the common law. The case came before the Supreme Court of Judicature in February 1826. Attorney General Talcott represented the State and John Porter was counsel for Lervey.

The Court held in favor of Lervey and, in his opinion, Justice Woodworth stated that "The circumstances of the case are peculiar and require a liberal construction of the grant [of the land]. The gratitude of the country was due to the defenders of our rights in the revolutionary struggle. It was directed to the men who had rendered service whether citizens, aliens, or slaves." Justice Woodworth then examined the statute of 1809 that legalized all marriages and births of slaves, and ruled that based upon the retroactive clause contained in the act, Peter Stringerland’s marriage was valid and his child was legitimate. Because, in the 1790 enactment, the Legislature intended to permit the heirs of those who served in the Revolutionary War to inherit the land, it was as if no disability (slavery) had existed with respect to Peter Stringerland’s son, and Lervey took good title to the land.



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