Saturday, April 16, 2011

Surname Saturday: Springer Fortune: Fact or Fiction?

Everyone discovers secrets and scandals while researching their family history. We all find scallywags, extra spouses, and the occasional criminal hanging out in our tree. For most of us these are fascinating gems we love to share.

One such story, passed down to my husband from his mother, involves the "Springer Fortune." When I started this genealogical adventure Douglas recalled hearing about the family legend. Our children were even engaged when hearing about possible riches. They started encouraging me to find their inheritance!

During the initial phase of research I came across the following article from August 15, 1871 in the New York Times.

The Trouble in Store for Wilmington Land-Holders
From the St. Catherine's (Ont) Times, Aug. 11

It seems the greater SPRINGER family are likely to become suddenly rich. The lawyers are at present "working up" a case which, when successfully concluded, will give the heirs of the late CHARLES CHRISTOPHER SPRINGER, great-grandfather to MOSES SPRINGER, M. P. P. for North Waterloo, a legacy of about $90,000,000-not a bad "take", as printers would say. It appears that this CHARLES C. SPRINGER was a native of the State of Delaware, where he had large possessions. Something over 100 years ago he leased 800 acres of land to the Episcopal Church there for a term of ninety-nine years, after which it was to fall back to his legal heirs. This land now comprises the greater part of the city of Wilmington, and is of very great value. The way it happened to pass into private hands we understand is as follows: The trustees of this trust, seeing that the family had been scattered by the troublous times of the Revolution, some of whom being loyalists came to Canada, illegally sold the estate and left for Europe. The heirs are quite numerous in Canada, many of them quite well to do, and they have undertaken to investigate the matter before the United States Supreme Court. From what we hear the matter is assuming a practical, clear and plausible shape. While we admit that a matter of this kind may cause numerous hardships to those who imagine they are real estate owners, and perhaps, have the earnings of a life-time invested in this way, we must congratulate our old friend in North Waterloo, and his numerous relatives, on the bright prospect of becoming millionaires. We are sure they will make good use of the money when it comes, which can't be said of many who become suddenly rich.

Was there indeed a family fortune? Further research using clues garnered from this article lead to the "Springer Hoax".

Wikipedia has the following entry about the subject:

"The Springer Hoax was a scam starting in the mid 19th century, often using a phony genealogy in various ways to collect money based on the supposed estate of prominent colonialist Carl Christopher/Christoffersson Springer and debts said to be owed to him by various government agencies of Wilmington, Delaware and Stockholm, Sweden. The alleged estate was said to include 1,900 acres of land, 228 acres of which ran though the center of Wilmington, worth up to $150,000,000. Other claims included $100,000,000 deposited in a Stockholm bank."

Further information about the hoax:

Delaware, a guide to the First State, published 1938

Rootsweb: Springer Hoax

"Springer Estate" Papers (aka Springer Heir Hoax) from the Springer, Miller & Allied Families Website

No family fortune unearthed, just a strange and sordid bit of American history.


  1. I wonder how much it cost the family to see if they were heirs? Interesting and sad at the same time.

  2. Thanks for sharing this scam. Maybe I should feel glad that my ancestors didn't have enough money to be approached by a scammer with a story like this!

  3. My name is JOHN SPRINGER son of MARVIN LEWIS SPRINGER. Were from Illinois. Very interesting history. My dad used to say our history goes back before THE ANGLO's MET THE SAX'....

    As far as I know, I don't have any living family left so it would be very interesting to find some connection.

    Call anytime, John Springer, 773-671-4399