Flemming v. Ball (1784)

Flemming v. Ball (1748)

In 1783, Captain Sam Ball successfully helmed the Brittania from London to Charleston. Accompanying Captain Ball to the colony was a man named Flemming, a “well disposed” mariner tasked with stowing rice aboard the ship upon its arrival. After a hard day’s labor, Flemming and his coworker sought grog. They thoughtlessly entered the Captain’s cabin, either unaware or unafraid that he was “busily engaged in writing.” Upon their interruption, Captain Ball removed an iron poker from his fire and beat Flemming and his companion to serious injury. Flemming then sued for assault and battery.

Captain Ball’s attorney argued that maintenance of proper order on a ship was “essentially necessary,” and that “the safety of the ship, the lives of the passengers, and the protection of all on board” required it. Though Ball’s conduct was severe, mariners were, after all,  “a rough and turbulent set of men.” They thus required “curbing and restraint more than any other class in the community.” What’s more, the Captain’s cabin is his house, and into it no person may enter without permission.

Flemming’s attorney, on the other hand, stressed Ball’s “use of a very improper weapon,” arguing his conduct exceeded “the bounds of moderation.”

The court found that both moderation and peaceable entry were a factual question for the jury. The jury ultimately found for Flemming, awarding him five pounds for his injuries–roughly one thousand dollars today.

Judges: Henry Pendleton (b. 1750) and Aedanus Burke (b. 1743)

Plaintiff’s attorney: Charles Pinckney (b. 1757)

Defendant’s attorney: Elihu Bay (b. ~1754)

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