THIS was an appeal from the Circuit Court of the United States for the eastern district of Tennessee. It was a bill filed by Lea for the purposes stated in the opinion of the court, where the facts of the case are also given. It was argued by Mr. Campbell and Mr. Stanton for the appellant, and by Mr. Smith and Mr. Lyon for the appellees, on which side there was also a brief by Mr. Maynard. The points made by the counsel are noticed and commented on in the opinion of the court.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mr. Justice Catron delivered the opinion of the court.
There stood on the record book an entry for 80 acres, in the name of William P. Lea, No. 5,446, dated April 5, 1842.
A patent issued, founded on this entry, dated 21st August, 1842, No. 5,744.
This patent is in the name of William Park Lea. It was signed by the Governor, countersigned by the Secretary of State, and sealed with the great seal of the State.
As originally filled up, it was in the name of William P. Lea, and was altered to William Park Lea, by adding the letters 'ark' to the P. This was done by the register of the land office, whose duty it was to prepare the patent for the signatures of the Governor and Secretary; and the act of affixing the great seal to it, which gave it validity as against the State, divested her title, and vested it in the grantee, on the patent thus executed being delivered to him.
William Park Lea and William Pinkney Lea wrote their names alike, William P. Lea; the latter always, and the former frequently, although he often signed his name William Park Lea. The register added the letters 'ark' to the middle name, to distinguish between them, as both had entered lands in the entry taker's office, and confusion prevailed as to who was the proper owner. This is the effect of the register's evidence. In filling up grants Nos. 6,260, 6,258, and 5,764, they were made out in the name of William Park Lea; but the register scraped out the letters 'ark,' and issued the patents in the name of William P. Lea, because the lands had been entered by William Pinkney Lea.
No. 5,764 of these patents was filled up on the same day (21st August, 1842) that the one (No. 5,744) here in dispute was filled up, and the letters 'ark' added to the letter P; the the other two (Nos. 6,260 and 6,258) were filled up December 8th, 1842. Five other patents were filled up properly in the name of William P. Lea. This was all done in the latter six months of 1842, and the grants were founded on entries made in April of that year, in the Ocoee land office. The respective claimants were related to each other, and familiarly known to the register. The entries had all been made and were recorded in the name, 'William P. Lea.'
That this was honestly done by the register, is not open to dispute. He has given a deposition in great detail, and accounts for his course of proceeding entirely to our satisfaction, so far as his integrity is concerned.
This patent (No. 5,744) the bill seeks to have reformed so as to stand in the name of William P. Lea, the complainant, and to be used in an action of ejectment pending in the court below, by the complainant, against the respondents; and, secondly, if said grant shall be found to have been issued to the person not entitled to the land, that then the court will divest the title of the respondents, and vest it in the complainant, so that he may use the decree on the trial of his action of ejectment.
3. The bill also prays, that the court may remove impending clouds from the complainant's title by declaring all the alleged titles of the respondents, or either of them, void, and direct the possession of said lands to be surrendered to the complainant, together with a prayer for further and general relief.
To the relief sought, among other defences, (set up in their answers,) the respondents rely on the fact that they claim under one John Davis, who purchased from William Park Lea, and took title by a deed in fee with a general warranty of title for the land in dispute, and that Davis, their vendor, purchased and paid for the land to said William Park Lea, without any notice or knowledge that the complainant had any equity in the land, or set up claim thereto.
This deed is produced, dated June 18th, 1846, and appears to have been duly executed by William Park Lea, and the consideration money was paid to him by John Davis. It is not pretended that John Davis had any notice of the complainant's claim when the deed was executed; the complainant had then no knowledge himself that he had any interest in the land.
One objection to this deed is, that it was not duly proved, and could not be lawfully registered according to the laws of ¢Tennessee. In the certificate of probate of Elias Davis, one of the subscribing witnesses, the clerk does not say the witness swore that the grantor acknowledged the same on the day it bears date. The other witness so proves. Now, as the deed shows the date, and the certificate of probate says the grantor acknowledged it for the purposes therein contained, the probate is covered by the provisions of the act of 1846, (ch. 78, Nicholson's Statute Laws, 242.)
Caldwell, Keith, & Mastin, purchased from John Davis in the year 1852, paid the purchase-money, ($6,000,) and took a deed in fee simple, with a covenant of general warranty of title for the land in dispute; and they also rely on the plea that they were bona fide purchasers of the legal title, or what purported to be so; and this allegation is established by the proof, unless it be true that the letters 'ark,' crowded after the letter P, in William Park Lea's name, at the various places that this alteration is found in the patent, was sufficient to put the purchasers on inquiry. Now, if they had inquired of the register, he could only have told them that he put the letters there in the course of his official duty; but when, he could not say, this being what he proves here. Then the presumption comes in, that, as a public officer, the register did his duty, and he who impeaches the act as illegal must prove the allegation. On this assumption, the register filled up the patent as it is now found, before the Governor signed it, and the seal of State was attached–that is to say, when the patent bears date.
Then, again, all the incipient steps authorizing the register to issue the grant, the Governor to sign it, and the Secretary to attach the great seal, are presumed as having been regular; nor was the purchaser required to look behind the patent. (Bagnell v. Broderick, 13 Peters, 448.)
The bill of necessity admits that the legal title was vested in William Park Lea by the grant as it now stands; as, on any other assumption, the complainant would have his remedy at law, and must be turned out of court. The title has thus stood since 1842; important rights have grown up under it, with which a court of equity cannot interfere, on general principles of justice. (1 Story's Com. on Equity, sec. 64, c. 64, d.) We mean to say, that if the equity conferred by the entry was in William Pinkney Lea, and the patent issued in the name of William Park Lea, and the Mining Company, or those under whom they claim, have innocently and ignorantly purchased and paid for the property, and took legal conveyances for it, with an honest belief that they were dealing for and acquiring a legal title from the true owner, then the complainant cannot be heard to set up his equity behind the grant to overthrow the purchase. (1 Story's Equ., 454.) And so the respondents, the Mining Company, might buy in the legal title of William Park Lea after they had notice, if they were innocent purchasers, holding under John Davis, and Mastin, Keith, & Caldwell. (1 Story Equ., s. 411.)
But it is insisted that the deed from Lea to Davis was not registered, and fraudulently concealed from the complainant, so that he could not proceed to assert his rights. Davis had possession of the land when he took William Park Lea's deed, claiming for himself, and adversely to all others; and he so continued in possession till he sold the land in December, 1852. This adverse possession was in itself notice that he held the land under a title, the character of which the complainant was bound to ascertain. (Landis v. Brant, 10 How., 375.)
Furthermore, Caldwell, Keith, & Mastin, purchased from Davis in December, 1852; they caused the deed from William Park Lea to Davis, and the one from the latter to them, to be duly registered, without having any knowledge of the complainant's claim, and without the existence of any circumstance to put them on inquiry respecting it. They were clearly bona fide purchasers of a legal title, that the complainant cannot assail in equity.
2. The respondents rely on the act of limitations of the State of Tennessee as a protection to their title and possession. The act declares 'that where any person shall have had seven years' possession of any lands which have been granted by this State, holding or claiming the same by virtue of a deed of conveyance or other assurance, purporting to convey an estate in fee simple, and no claim by suit in law or equity, effectually prosecuted, shall have been set up or made to said lands within the aforesaid time, then, and in that case, the person or persons, their heirs or assigns, so holding possession, shall be entitled to keep and hold possession of such quantity of land as shall be specified and described in his deed, &c., in preference to, and against all, and all manner of person or persons whatever.'
By the settled construction of the foregoing act, an unregistered deed is a sufficient title on which the bar can be founded; and when John Davis's deed from William Park Lea was recorded, it related to its date, and was good to draw the better title to it by force of the statute.
The possessions of John Davis, and Caldwell, Keith, & Mastin, made one possession; and if the two were continuous for the whole term of seven years, then the bar was formed, and the defence complete. This brings us to the fact of actual possession held by Davis, for after he sold to Caldwell, Keith, & Mastin, no one disputes their actual possession.
Davis purchased the improvements on the land from Wallace, 25th February, 1842, for the sum of forty dollars; and by the agreement, Wallace was to hold under Davis and occupy the premises for three years, which Wallace proves he did. He then left the place, and Wilson Abercrombie went into possession under Davis, and occupied the cabin one year. It being in the midst of a small field which was annually cultivated in grain crops, Davis removed the cabin beyond the field, and put it up again on the forty-acre lot, and Abercrombie occupied it another year. He was succeeded by Bailey McCoy as tenant of the cabin under Davis; McCoy occupied it for a year or more. Wallace's field could not have included more than some three acres, and had an orchard of peach trees on it. After the cabin was removed, Davis enlarged the field, and extended it across the southern line of the forty-acre lot, and also enlarged it, from time to time, by small clearings at the other end, (which were made for turnip patches,) until the field included about twelve acres, and which was annually cultivated by Davis, whose residence was within a few hundred yards of the field, on the adjoining section of land. This field was obviously an important part of his plantation. That portion of the twelve-acre field lying on the forty-acre lot embraced, when this suit was brought, about five acres. Mann, the county surveyor, who run the lines of the forty-acre lot, in September, 1855, so states. He proves that the debris and ground plan of the cabin Wallace built and occupied were quite apparent; that the peach trees were there, and that the old and worn land was plainly distinguishable from that more recently cleared up, and which was on its different sides.
To overcome the evidence of continued possession on the part of Davis, two witnesses were produced by the complainant, to wit: Crawford Braswell and Jesse Shubird. The former swears that he resided in Ducktown from June, 1845, to October, 1850; that he knew John Davis, and the place Wallace improved. 'I at one time (says he) purposed purchasing that eighty acres where the Wallace improvement was. Davis told me that he had only the occupant of Luther Wallace; that he did not own the land, and that he had moved the improvements off to another place; and, having asked him who owned the land, he stated it was entered by a man by the ...