U.S. Supreme Court Ramsay v. Lee, 8 U.S. 401 (1808)
Ramsay v. Lee
8 U.S. 401
ERROR TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA SITTING AT ALEXANDRIA
In Virginia in 1784, no gift of a slave was valid unless in writing and recorded, although possession accompanied the gift.
Error to the Circuit Court of the District of Columbia, sitting at Alexandria, in an action of detinue brought by Lee against Ramsay for a slave named Frederick.
The material facts appearing by the bill of exceptions taken by the defendant below were that Lee claimed as trustee for Kennedy under a deed from Wilson duly acknowledged and recorded, and dated 1 December, 1804. The question was whether at the date of that deed Wilson had a good title to the slave.
Mrs. Gordon, being the owner of the slave in 1784, made a verbal gift of him to the defendant Ramsay, who was then only eight years old, and possession accompanied the gift; the slave remained with the defendant and his mother, Mrs. Ramsay, in the family of Wilson until the year 1790, when Mrs. Ramsay (claiming the slave as residuary legatee under the will of Mrs. Gordon, under the idea that the parol gift to her son was void) by deed of bargain and sale conveyed the slave to Wilson in consideration of five shillings, "and divers other good causes." Wilson held possession of the slave under that deed until the year 1805, when the defendant took him away and has ever since detained him. The defendant and his mother and the slave had continued to live in the family of Wilson from the year 1784 till the year 1805.
The court below, upon the plaintiff's motion, instructed the jury
"that if such a verbal gift was made to the defendant of the said slave, and such possession given to him as aforesaid, the gift is void in law and poses no bar to the recovery of the plaintiff."
The verdict and judgment in the court below being against the defendant, he brought his writ of error.
MR. CHIEF JUSTICE MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court to the effect following:
This case is the same as that of Willison v. Spiers, just decided, except that in this case the court below gave the
instruction which the court in Kentucky ought to have given.
The opinion of the court was only that a parol gift to the defendant, accompanied by possession, did not bar the plaintiff's right to recover.
This Court gives no opinion as to the title acquired by the possession.