A website from the Massachusetts Historical Society; founded 1791.
close
-
The Adams Papers Digital Edition is undergoing active maintenance while we work on improvements to the system. You may experience slow performance or the inability to access content. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. We will endeavor to return to full capabilities as soon as possible.

Browsing: Legal Papers of John Adams, Volume 1


Docno: ADMS-05-01-02-0005-0003-0001

Editorial Note

On 22 November 1762, Jeremiah Lee, prominent Marblehead ship owner and merchant, obtained a policy of marine insurance upon one half the cargo of the schooner Merrill for a voyage “from Marblehead to any and all the Islands in the West Indies to Windward of St. Croix, St. Thomas, Havannah and Jamaica until the cargo is sold and delivered.” The Merrill was then 79 days out of Marblehead. The eight underwriters, of whom Jonathan Bancroft was one, did not know that on October 17th, while making for Martinique, she had been taken by a Spanish privateer. When Lee subsequently presented his claim for the loss the underwriters refused payment on grounds of fraud. About a year later, the claim was submitted to arbitration in accordance with a provision of the policy. In November 1763 the arbitrators, Foster Hutchinson, John Rowe, and Melatiah Bourne, returned their unanimous report that Bancroft and six of his fellow underwriters, who had agreed to the submission, were liable in the amounts which they had subscribed.1 These seven made payment { 189 } accordingly. The eighth underwriter, William Shillaber, was less tractable. He had not agreed to the arbitration, and Lee was forced to bring suit against him on the policy. In June 1767 Shillaber finally prevailed in an action of review in the Superior Court.2
Thereafter Bancroft and two other underwriters brought actions against Lee, claiming that the policy was void and demanding return of the payments made under it.3 Bancroft's case, in which Adams was of counsel for Lee, provides some useful insights into the conduct of maritime and mercantile affairs. It also raises an interesting problem of the effect of an arbitration proceeding upon subsequent litigation between the same parties and shows bench and bar applying English authority of most recent date to this question.4
Bancroft's declaration in an action on the case in deceit alleged that Lee had induced the underwriting by his deliberate false affirmation that the insurance was a “fair chance,” and that he had knowingly concealed two circumstances which materially altered the risk: (1) that the master's sailing orders had directed him to proceed to “the Island of Martineco (if he could get in there)”; and (2) that Lee, before the policy was written, “had received certain Intelligence that the said Schooner had not arrived at Martineco ... when she had been gone from Marblehead ... by the space of thirty three days.”5 After Lee prevailed in the Inferior Court on a sham demurrer, Bancroft appealed to the Superior Court, where at Ipswich in June 1769, upon waiver of the demurrer, the case was tried to a jury. Document 1 is Adams' memorandum of authorities on the issues presented by the fact that the vessel was actually lost at the time of the underwriting. Since Lee's policy included the words “lost or not lost,” the underwriters were liable unless Lee had sought the insurance with knowledge of the loss. This question was apparently determined adversely to Lee, because the jury found for Bancroft in the amount paid out, plus interest.6
{ 190 }
Lee then obtained a writ of review, which was first brought on for trial in November 1770, but was continued on the withdrawal of a juror.7 In June 1771 at Ipswich the case came on again, but after Bancroft had put in at least a part of his evidence, it was continued on Lee's motion, the ground not appearing.8 Adams' minutes of this phase (Document II) are largely a summary of the testimony. John Lowell, counsel for Bancroft, after expounding authorities in his favor, produced evidence tending to show that the Merrill had in fact sailed for Martinique. He then sought to establish his allegations as to Lee's concealment of knowledge of the vessel's loss and as to his calling the risk a “fair chance.” The question of knowledge turned on the deposition of one Captain Howard, who had returned to Marblehead two weeks prior to the writing of the policy, reporting that he had heard nothing of the Merrill. Did this report amount to “certain intelligence” of her nonarrival, and was it known to Lee or to the underwriters?
The case was brought to trial a third time in November 1771. Here Adams' minutes (Document III) suggest that after Lowell had concluded his case the court on its own motion raised the problem of the effect of the 1763 arbitration report. In any event the jury was again dismissed and the action continued, this time by order of court.9 While Adams may have raised this question himself, it is interesting to note that this was the first occasion on which Foster Hutchinson, newly appointed to the court, had sat on the case, that he was one of the referees in 1763, and that he seemed to take the lead in dealing with the issue.10
After this continuance Adams and Jonathan Sewall, who with Lowell was of counsel for Bancroft, entered into a stipulation to the effect that if the court found that the report (which had not been pleaded) could be admitted in evidence under the general issue, and found that, if admissible, the report was a bar to Bancroft's action, then Bancroft would default. In June 1772 the court found the report admissible and once again ordered a continuance, doubtless for argument on the second point.11 At Salem in { 191 } November 1772, according to William Wetmore's minutes (Document V), Hutchinson disqualified himself, and, with the other referees, gave evidence concerning the arbitration proceedings. Their testimony as minuted by Adams (Document IV) shows that the questions of the Merrill's actual destination and Lee's knowledge of her apparent non arrival had been raised at the hearing in 1763. The court had at first held that the award without more was not a bar, but on this showing they found that the action could not be maintained, applying the doctrine known today as collateral estoppel.12 A jury which had been empaneled was dismissed, and Bancroft's default was entered in accordance with the agreement.13
1. See the papers in the case, including the policy with the arbitration agreement and report on the verso in SF 131791, 132239. As to Lee, who in dying of a chill contracted while evading the British at Lexington became surely the first politician to give his life in the patriot cause, see 2 JA, Diary and Autobiography61, 172; Samuel Roads, Jr, The History and Traditions of Marblehead 113–114, 351 (Boston, 1880); compare Oliver, Origin and Progress 120.
2. Lee v. Shillaber, Min. Bk. 77, SCJ Salem, Oct. 1764, N–2; Min. Bk. 85, SCJ Ipswich, June 1767, N–14. SF 131138, 131503.
3. The other actions were Crowningshield v. Lee, No. 11, and Goodhue v. Lee. In the Crowningshield case JA was also of counsel for Lee. In Goodhue's case JA has left us no minutes, but the Minute Book of the Superior Court indicates that he was of counsel for Goodhue on the appeal, in which the latter obtained a verdict. Lee v. Goodhue, Min. Bk. 85, SCJ Ipswich, June 1770, N–4. While this change of allegiance may not have been inconsistent with the legal ethics of the time, there is evidence to suggest that it is actually a clerical error. At the trial of the case in the Inferior Court, John Lowell, who had been counsel for Bancroft and Crowningshield, was Goodhue's lawyer, and William Pynchon, who had been Lee's counsel in the other actions, represented him in this one. SF 131923.
4. The first edition of 1 Wilson, note 353 below, did not appear until 1770. 2 Burrow, note 364 below, was first published in 1766, with a second edition in 1771. See 1 Sweet and Maxwell, Legal Bibliography 294, 310.
5. See the declaration in SF 131791, 132239.
6. Min. Bk. 85, SCJ Ipswich, June 1769, N–1. The pleadings and judgment in the Inferior Court, Salem, Dec. 1768, are in SF 131791, 132239.
7. Min. Bk. 85, SCJ Ipswich, June 1770, N–5; Min. Bk. 93, SCJ Salem, Nov. 1770, C–10. Withdrawal of a juror was a means of continuing, or terminating short of judgment, an action in which a jury had been empaneled. It was generally done with consent of all the parties, but, at least in later practice, might be done on the motion of one party on grounds of surprise and the like. The practice also might be allowed where the jury, upon deliberation, could not reach a verdict. See Wood, Institute of the Laws of England 600; cases collected in annotation, 48 L.R.A. 432 (1900). The reason for its use here and the distinction between this practice and the later continuance (note 8 below) are not known.
8. Min. Bk. 93, SCJ Ipswich, June 1771, C–9.
9. Min. Bk. 93, SCJ Salem, Nov. 1771, C–7.
10. Hutchinson first took his seat on the court at the Aug. 1771 term in Suffolk County, although he had been appointed in March. SCJ Rec. 1771, fol. 207. See 2 JA, Diary and Autobiography39.
11. Min. Bk. 93, SCJ Ipswich, June 1772, C–4. See the stipulation in JA's hand and the order (on the wrapper) in SF 132239. The decision to admit the report under the general issue seems in accord with authority. See 1 Chitty, Pleading 486–487; compare 4 Bacon, Abridgment 60–65.
12. See the opinions in Doc. V. The present case is distinguishable from Moses v. Macferlan, note 364 below, because the issues here not only were available to the underwriters, but were raised and determined. For cases in which an award was held to bar the action of the original plaintiff on the same cause of action, see Matthew Bacon, The Compleat Arbitrator 245–249 (London, 2d edn., 1744). The Harvard Law School's copy of this work is inscribed “J. Lowell, 1765.”
13. Min. Bk. 93, SCJ Salem, Nov. 1772, C–4. SCJ Rec. 1772, fol. 189.
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/