Gabriel Duvall was born December 6, 1752. He was admitted to the Maryland bar in 1778. Duvall served in the militia before beginning his government career in 1783, serving on the Maryland Governor's Council from 1783 to 1784, and in the Maryland House of Delegates from 1787 to 1794.
From 1794 to 1796, Duvall acted as a representative from Maryland to the U.S. House of Representatives. He returned to Maryland as chief justice of the Maryland General Court in 1796 and remained on the bench until 1802. Duvall then returned to federal service, and from 1802 to 1811 served as first comptroller of the U.S. Treasury under President THOMAS JEFFERSON.
Duvall was appointed to the Supreme Court by President JAMES MADISON to replace SAMUEL CHASE. He served on the Court from 1811 to 1835, mainly writing minor opinions on COMMERCIAL LAW and maritime law. Though he tended to vote with chief justice JOHN MARSHALL,
Duvall was a strong opponent of SLAVERY. He wrote a memorable dissent in Mima Queen and Child v. Hepburn, 11 U.S. 290 (1813), a case argued for the plaintiffs by Francis Scott Key. The majority disallowed HEARSAY evidence to prove a purported slave was free. Duvall opined that hearsay should be admitted to prove freedom whenever the facts are so old that living testimony cannot be procured.
Duvall died on March 6, 1844.