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BEATTY v. BENTON.

decided: April 28, 1890.

BEATTY
v.
BENTON.



ERROR TO THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF GEORGIA.

Author: Blatchford

[ 135 U.S. Page 244]

 MR. JUSTICE BLATCHFORD delivered the opinion of the court.

On the 3d of May, 1854, one Carrie executed and delivered to Elijah D. Robertson, a white man, a warranty deed of a lot of land in Augusta, Georgia, 82 feet 6 inches in width by 200 feet in depth. The consideration expressed in the deed was $600, and it conveyed to Robertson, his heirs and assigns, forever, the lot in question, in trust, nevertheless, to and for the sole use benefit and behoof of the following free persons of

[ 135 U.S. Page 245]

     color, of Augusta, "to wit, Fanny Gardner, the wife of Thomas Gardner, and their daughter, Frances Gardner, and any future issue of the said Fanny by the said Thomas, and, in case of the death of the said Frances and Fanny, in trust for the next of kin of the said Thomas Gardner." The deed also authorized Robertson, in case it should be deemed advisable and to the interest of all concerned that a sale of the property should take place, to sell and make titles to it, provided the consent of the said Frances and Fanny, their guardian or guardians, should be first had and obtained.

In March, 1879, Fanny Gardner filed a bill in equity, in the Superior Court of Richmond County, Georgia, setting forth the purchase of the lot of land by Gardner from Carrie, for $600, and the making of such deed; that Gardner, who was her husband, and the father, by a former wife, of Frances Gardner, who had intermarried with one Beatty, died in 1865; that all of those persons were free persons of color; that, on the 3d of May, 1854, Gardner and the plaintiff and Frances took possession of the property; that afterwards, Frances having married, Gardner divided the lot and erected a house on a part of it for Frances; that the parties thus continued in possession of the property until the death of Gardner; that from that time Frances had remained in the possession of the portion of the lot on which the house was erected for her use, and the plaintiff had occupied the remaining part of the lot; that the deed to Robertson was void, because at that time all conveyances of real estate in Augusta to or for the use of free persons of color residing therein were prohibited by law; that the plaintiff acquired title to the property occupied by her, by actual adverse possession of the same for twenty years, and Frances had acquired title in the same way to the premises occupied by her; that the plaintiff desired to sell her part of the property, but could not do so, because Frances claimed that, under the terms of the trust deed, she owned a remainder interest in the whole of the property, and the plaintiff had only a life estate therein; and that the property could not be sold except with the consent of Frances.

The bill prayed for a decree that the plaintiff owned a feesimple

[ 135 U.S. Page 246]

     title to the portion of the lot so occupied by her; that the trust deed be cancelled; that, if the court should hold that the title of the plaintiff and of Frances was derived from seven years' possession under the trust deed, as color of title, it would decree that the terms of such deed did not bind the plaintiff or limit her title in the property; that, if the plaintiff did not have a fee simple title to the part in her possession, she and Frances might be decreed to be tenants in common of the entire property, and the same might be divided by commissions, or be sold and the proceeds divided, share and share alike, between the plaintiff and Frances, and for general relief.

The bill was afterwards amended by inserting an allegation that the plaintiff furnished to Gardner at the time of the purchase one-half of the purchase money of the property, the same being the proceeds of her labor as a free person of color; and further, that if the court held that the plaintiff acquired no legal interest under the division of the lot by Gardner, in the part which he gave to her and on which she had since lived, and no interest that could ripen by prescription, then Gardner died in possession of all of the lot, leaving the plaintiff and Frances as his only heirs; that such heirs had, by tacit consent, actually occupied, held and claimed the portions so divided to them by Gardner, from the time of his death; and that Gardner made no will and left no other heirs.

Frances, being then the wife of one Davis, answered the bill, denying that the property was ever divided between her and the plaintiff by Gardner, or since his death, otherwise than that Gardner built another house for her on the property, for convenience, because she was married and had many children; and that her title and that of the plaintiff was that of co-cestuis que trust for life, with remainder over to the children of Frances who should be living at the termination of such equitable life estate.

By way of cross-bill, the answer averred, that, before January 1, 1863, no proceedings were ever instituted to escheat the property as being conveyed for the benefit of free persons of color; ...


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