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Gray v. Gardner

Citation. 17 Mass. 188 (Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, 1821)
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Brief Fact Summary.

This suit involved a written contract to pay the Plaintiff $5198.87 “on the condition that if a greater quantity of sperm oil should arrive in the whaling vessels at Nantucket and New Bedford” in a time period, then the obligation was void.  The promise was supported by consideration, and Plaintiff sought to enforce it against the Defendants.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

A promise to pay, to be defeated by the happening of an event, is like a bond with a condition; if the obligor would avoid the bond, he must show performance of the condition.


At issue at trial was whether a vessel, called the Lady Adams, with a cargo of oil, arrived at Nantucket.  The judge ruled that the burden of proof was on the Defendants to demonstrate that the ship arrived within the time frame of the contract; but that it was unnecessary that the ship have come to anchor or be moored, in order to have arrived, within the meaning of the contract.  Verdict was found for the Plaintiff


Judgment on the verdict.

·         The words of the contract show a promise to pay, which was to be defeated by the happening of an event (arrival of a certain quantity of oil, within a certain time). 

·         The burden was on the Defendants; and if they failed to show the event happened, the promise remained good. 






The vessel came within sight, but never came to harbor.  In no sense could the ship have been said to arrive, and Defendants were held strictly to their contract to pay the Plaintiff.  

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