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Tarleton v. M'Gawley

King’s Bench
170 Eng. Rep. 153 (K.B. 1793)


Tarleton (plaintiff) owned a ship anchored off the coast of Africa. The ship was loaded with provisions to engage in the slave trade with African nationals. By keeping the ship in that location, Tarleton intended to establish a trade relationship with the Africans. To accomplish this, Tarleton planned to have Thomas Smith approach the Africans about this relationship. A canoe of Africans approached Thomas Smith’s ship and discussed trading. Seeing this, M’Gawley (defendant), a rival trader fired a cannon ball at the canoe and killed one of the Africans. He did so for the purpose of scaring the Africans and making them unwilling to trade with Thomas Smith. M’Gawley’s tactic was successful, and Tarleton lost its trading relationship. Tarleton brought suit against M’Gawley for interfering with its trading relationships. M’Gawley claimed he shot the cannon ball because the Africans owed him a debt, and that he would not permit the Africans to trade with another person until that debt was satisfied. However, at trial, it was established M’Gawley had not paid the required fees for beginning a trade with the Africans. M’Gawley defended himself against Tarleton’s suit by seeking to establish that Tarleton was planning to engage in an illegal trading relationship.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Lord Kenyon)

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