Two fishing boats, each owned by Spanish citizens, regularly fished off the coast of Havana, Cuba. One boat was named “The Paquete Habana” (plaintiff). Spain maintained control of Cuba until this control was challenged by the United States in the Spanish-American War of 1898. During the war, the United States created a blockade around Cuba. The owners of the fishing boats, however, had no knowledge of the war or the blockade. When they attempted to access the usual fishing port in Havana, the two ships were captured as prizes of war by the United States. Their cargo contained no arms or ammunition, but merely fresh fish. The ship owners brought suit against the United States in federal district court. The district court held the two fishing ships and their cargoes to be prizes of war. The ship owners appealed.