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Browsing: Legal Papers of John Adams, Volume 2


Docno: ADMS-05-02-02-0006-0007-0001

Editorial Note

September 1768 was a busy month for Joseph Dowse. On the night of 6 September, in which he seized the goods involved in Dowse v. Thirty-three Hogsheads of Molasses, No. 47, nineteen additional casks were allegedly landed in Salem from the schooner Neptune, which had entered on 19 August. Dowse seized them on the 7th. In November the Commissioners of the Customs asked their solicitor to consult with Jonathan Sewall about filing a libel against the Neptune and her contraband in the name of Rowland Savage, “Land waiter, Weigher and Gauger at Salem,” who had apparently seized the vessel.1 No action was taken against the Neptune, { 216 } perhaps because of legal doubts as to Savage's authority to seize. On 6 December, Sewall filed an information in Dowse's behalf against the molasses alone.2
On 14 December no claimant appeared and the molasses was decreed forfeit.3 Adams, who was then spending most of his time in the Admiralty Court as counsel in Sewall v. Hancock, No. 46, apparently contemplated making a claim in behalf of the consignee of the molasses. His notes, printed below, show that he had made a study of the statutes requiring an officer's warrant for goods to be landed, which, the information alleged, had not been obtained. He probably intended to argue that these Acts did not apply in an in rem proceeding against the goods, since they provided only for monetary fines against those involved in the landing or for the forfeiture of any small craft used. The decision not to file a claim may have been based on a desire to avoid exposure to an in personam action for these or the much more serious penalties imposed for entry without payment of duties, which were the basis of the suit against Hancock.4
1. Minutes of the Commissioners, 18 Nov. 1768, 7 Bowdoin-Temple MSS 169, MHi. See Commissioners' letter, 9 Sept. 1768, ordering seizure of molasses. Salem Custom House Record Book, 1763–1772, p. 238, MSaE. According to the notice of monition, note 2 below, the seizure was on 7 September. Dowse was informed of the entry by Thomas Rowe, tidesman. Popular displeasure at this led to a riot on 8 Sept. in which Rowe was injured. See Commissioners to Salem Customs Officers, 13 Sept. 1768, 2 Feb. 1769, Salem Record Book, 1763–1772, p. 237, 264.
2. Joseph Dowse v. 19 Casks of Molasses, Vice Adm. Min. Bk., 6 Dec. 1768. See the notice of monition in Massachusetts Gazette, 8 Dec. 1768, p. 2, col. 2. For the statutes involved, see notes 8–204–16 below. Savage had been appointed by the American Commissioners of Customs on 30 March 1768. Salem Record Book, 1763–1772, p. 61. The question of the power of such officers to seize remained open until it was apparently decided in the negative in July 1769. No. 50. There may have been doubt previously, however, in view of the decision in Folger v. The Cornelia, No. 45, against the power of an appointee of the surveyor general.
3. Vice Adm. Min. Bk., 6 Dec. 1768. See Notice of Sale, dated 3 Jan. 1769, for sale on 11 Jan. 1769. Boston News-Letter, Postscript, p. 2, col. 1. Governor Bernard received his third of the proceeds on 9 June 1769. Vice Adm. Min. Bk., 6 Dec. 1768.
4. No. 46, note 28 and text at note 83. The Commissioners sought those responsible, apparently in contemplation of such suits. See Commissioners to Salem Customs Officers, 13 Sept. 1768, 26 Nov. 1768, Salem Record Book, 1763–1772, p. 237, 258.
Cite web page as: Founding Families: Digital Editions of the Papers of the Winthrops and the Adamses, ed.C. James Taylor. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2014.
http://www.masshist.org/apde2/