November 25, 2005
Today in History: What Do You Do With a Drunken Sailor?
On this date, November 25, 1795, young Levi Wyman is born in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, the fourth son and seventh child of 38-year-old farmer and militia officer Seth Wyman and his wife, Mary Brown Wyman.
Unlike most of the Wymans, who will not settle far from home, Levi will develop a roving streak and go away to sea. And, unlike his sober siblings, he’ll become a drunkard and a spendthrift. When he lands ashore in Hartford, Connecticut, aged 25 and destitute, he’ll fall dangerously ill and into delirium -- no one knows why -- and will be tended by innkeeper Daniel Mills. Mills’s suit to claim recompense from Seth will enter the world of contracts casebooks as Mills v. Wyman in C.C. Langdell’s first edition in 1881.
The classic treatment of the case is the Tulane Law Review piece by Geoffrey R. Watson (Catholic), In the Tribunal of Conscience: Mills v. Wyman Reconsidered. The case is also the one that in law school inspired Lisa Bernstein (Chicago) with the desire to become a contracts professor.
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