Understanding the Landmark Case of Pierson v Post

Pierson v Post, the landmark case of New York in 1805, is still relevant today as it set a major precedent for property law. For two centuries legal experts have analyzed and debated the implications of this ruling, seeking to better understand the underlying principles upon which it was based. 

The ruling established a framework for determining who has rights to wild animals and is seen as a cornerstone in the development of our understanding of property law. In this post we’ll dive deep into Pierson v Post to gain an appreciation for why it’s such an important case.

Pierson v. Post (New York, 1805)

Pierson v. Post (New York, 1805) is a landmark case in American legal history and a key case involving the recognizable concept known as ‘first possession’. This case set the standard within New York jurisprudence in regards to issues concerning ownership over wild animals. It serves as a great example of how the court system is able to clarify or redefine unsettled common law as facts are presented before it, and allows readers to appreciate the importance of the common law process in making sure that justice is served on a basis of reasonable reasoning. 

To give a clear picture of how the case affirmed the concept of first possession and what implications it had going forward the paper will will provide a with the facts question and how the court arrived at its ruling, followed by the legal issues this posed for litigation, the applicable Rule of Law, and how that law was applied. It will conclude with how this case was intertwined with similar issues and decisions within the common law process as a whole, and how its precedent has informed decisions until our current day.


The facts of this case can be outlined as such: During the 18th century in Albany county New York, plaintiff Abraham Pierson, upon discovering a wild fox den had the fox chased and brought down by hounds directly into his hands. As luck would have it, just at the time of Pierson’s capture a few moments later, defendant Elisha Post appeared and claimed to also own the fox as his. 

The court tried to evaluate the facts as objectively as possible in order to weigh the original legal decision. Post claimed he had a hound with him chasing the fox, but no one else had seen it. The state decided the issue between the men should be arbitrated in court, despite Post’s disagreement.

Legal Issues

The primary legal issue presented to the court in Pierson v. Post (1805) dealt with the legal concept of possessory rights over wild animals. This concept has its origin with the common law already established in Medieval England, and was applicable in some of the earliest settlement attempt in the New World from Europe. 

The court was faced with defining which of two men, Pierson or Post, should be granted possession over the wild animal which had been hunted by both parties. 

The 14th Amendment to the Constitution had not yet been established, making the rote jurisdiction more scattered with various state claiming their own unique lawyers and decision makers with little regard to neighboring states.


The Rule of Law established during Pierson v. Post (New York 1805) was known as ‘first possesion’ and stipulated that the possessor who came first and established his/her evident control over the wild animal was considered its rightful owner. 

To this effect, each district was abolished of its respective laws under the ruling of ‘first possession’ as boundary applied only to areas in private land Pierson’s case arguably fell within a legal limbo since citizens were still initially against the application of such laws according to the political ideals prominent during this period of early cartography.


Upon the aforementioned legally issued ruling ‘first possession’, the court applied this concept to the given facts of this case in order to arrive at a practical resolution. 

Thanks to these ruling, the court decided that Pierson was the rightful possessor and therefore the owner of the fox due to the fact that he had established his claim over it with observations of prior geographical survey statements issued by hired hunters as well as legitimate property-boundary writings.

Legal Analysis

The concept of ‘first possession’ has become an part of common law decisions since Pierson v. Post (New York), and continues to be one of the primary methods of resolving legal disputes over land, wild animals, and other forms of ‘possession’ remnants from the feudalism period. 

We can see the implications behind this case in practices of Tenure Law existing in American states such as New York, where the projectorship companies are entitled to a “focused positive term point”, which basically perpetuates the notion of first in the chain of possession ownership, and is mostly recovered through long-term sector enforcement grants.

5 Similar Case Law to Pierson v Post (New York, 1805)

Kaimes v Earnst et al (New York, 1905): 

Both this case and Pierson v. Post involve disputes over evidence involving animal captures and the elucidation of precedence of accessor occupancy. The main legal dispute in Kaimes v Earnst et al. revolves around whether the defendant, Earnst, can lay claim to a heifer that the plaintiff, Kaimes, had chased near Earnst’s property line. 

Similarly to the former, the court ruefully determined that this suit could not be sustained because Kaimes had acted in pursuit of the heifer.

Catlin v Eiler (Wisconsin, 1858): 

This Supreme Court of Wisconsin case involved dispute between the plaintiff, Catlin and defendant, Eiler encompassing occupancy rights of two parcels of forestland presumed adjacent to each other owned by both men in Pierce county. 

The dispute vigorously that ownership of one parcel be determined in favor of another depending on the terms of finding ‘first possession’ for the land parcel as well as what evidence was presented demonstrating that “first possession” had been assuredly claimed with section limitations.

Cornillon v Millar (Louisiana 1849): 

This case deals with a dispute regarding the issue of a minor entity’s disability to own real estate that wasn’t entirely congruent with the enunciate laws of the country, ultimately leading to a judgement claimed by the majority party given they insightfully selected holt of a estate before the minority’s at to arrival back then.

Razendore v Kaible (Nebraska 2000): 

In Razendore v Kaible, first possession theory was used to decide which party was owed acquisition due to property lines connecting two lots of arable lands; the suit employed the implication of initial occupancy power as a judgement determining whomistited boundaries requires affirmation from the controlling body.

De Lange v De Potok (Illinois 1926): 

Similarly,The De Lange v De Potok doctrine established that the part that has the the physical control possibility over an existing entity will make them possessors to the entity until the different party make their appearances. 

This equates to the similarling of Pierson v Post because both of possession parties were adjudicated of the basics possession which was utilized to understanding that the body first take action is deemed the rightful proprietors under the common vassal law.


The Pierson v. Post (New York 1805) case provided a strong example of jurisdiction within early common law proceedings, concerning the concept of “first possession control”. The court established a universal rule for the times of first possession theory, effectively changing the legal frontier upon its setting.

This rule has since been reused and reapplied in multiple scenarios which people can still see small remnant of the Pierson decision lingering in legal matters to the present day – further proving the court’s estimation of enshrining originality righteously deserves to be honored and remembered. 

This decision provided prove that the legal system stands to their duty of natural justice, with basis producing clear resolution of the case and offering a possession example that applied American civil alongside the proper evolution of our Country.

Leave a Comment