Wiltberger (defendant) was charged with manslaughter based on conduct that occurred on an American ship that was located on the Tigris River in China. The ship was approximately 35 miles above the mouth of the river, 100 yards offshore, in fresh water, at a water depth of four and a half fathoms, and below the low-water mark. The relevant penal statute provided for the punishment of manslaughter that occurred on "the high seas." A jury in Pennsylvania Circuit Court found Wiltberger guilty of manslaughter, but the judges of the circuit court were divided on the question of whether the court had jurisdiction over the matter. The judges certified the jurisdictional question to the United States Supreme Court.