John Smith vs James Biays, Nathaniel Thompson
Baltimore City, 1807
unrecorded Chancery Case, 4883
Introduction from:

The Archivists’

Vol. 14 No. 13, July 10, 2000

by Pat Melville

A state Chancery Court case heard between 1807 and 1809 provides detailed financial information on trade between Baltimore and the West Indies. Chancery Papers 4883 concerns a suit filed by John Smith, a master mariner, against James Biays, a merchant in Baltimore. Smith stated that he and Biays were partners involved in shipping goods between Baltimore and the West Indies from 1799 to 1806. Smith classified himself as master, supercargo, and part owner of vessels and their cargo. He claimed that much of the income from the sale of merchandise was deposited with Biays who “produced such a complicated account as rendered it impossible for your orator to define accurately the sum due to him.” After dissolution of the partnership in 1806 the two men tried to settle their accounts. Smith alleged that accounts worth $90,000 remained unsettled and wanted the court to make a determination.

Biays offered a different version of the transactions with Smith. Biays said he employed Smith as a ship’s master for the years 1799-1801 and paid him monthly wages. The partnership supposedly existed only between January 1801 and May 1805. During that time Biays claimed that he bore most of the expenses, sometimes meeting them by borrowing money at a high interest rate. He filed several accounts, one of which showed Smith indebted to Biays for $10,000. Most of the papers found in the twenty-one folders consist of exhibits detailing shipping expenses, cargo values, and merchandise sales. The documents included wage agreements with crew members, cargo invoices, insurance policies, letters, bills of lading, and other account statements. An auditor appointed by the Chancellor analyzed the documents and filed an initial report and subsequent ones after the litigants rendered comments. The reports basically confirmed Biay’s version of events and transactions.

Inventory of Contents:  See James Biays biographical file on

Cataloging information:

Maryland State Archives, Guide to Government Records-

ID: S512-5035

Series Information
(Chancery Papers)



John Smith vs James Biays, Nathaniel Thompson
Baltimore City, 1807
unrecorded Chancery Case, 4883