The 34th in a series on my family tree
“There are more questions than answers
And the more I find out the less I know.”
What a fun idea, I thought, to explore an ancestor’s life through their timeline. And so I went for a look-see up through the family tree as presented on FamilySearch. After scouting a number of ancestors I landed on my sixth great grandfather, Rev. David Springer (1732-1777) or, rather, the man demonstrated to be his father, Charles Springer (1692-1759) of Wilmington, Delaware. Why do I say demonstrated? Because no one knows for sure just who brought David into the world. This elusive character has proven a conundrum to the litany of family history researchers endeavouring to find him a solid branch upon which to perch on the ancestral tree. We can trace back to him, but beyond that his story is a mystery.
Now, in terms of plotting the family tree ~ any family tree ~ a loose end is not unusual in and of itself. Plenty of “orphans” pepper the branches until a link can be made to the next stem. What’s baffling here is just how tangled this particular family branch appears to be.
It is not my aim here to resolve the deep mystery around the parentage of the Rev. David Springer. Rather to illustrate how divided the camp is on his origins.
First a little background on David who, within the context of his many descendants, was not an insignificant figure. He was, after all, the loyalist who spurred the family migration to Canada following the American Revolution.
It’s generally known and accepted among researchers that David Springer was a travelling Methodist Episcopalian preacher. He married Margaret Benoit Oliver (1735-1820) in 1754 and they lived in the Albany, NY area where all 10 of their children were born. David is most remembered for the following:
David was killed as a result of attempting, according to his wife, “to join the army of General Burgoyne at Still-Water accompanied by several other Loyalists, having been overtaken and attacked by the Rebels in superior numbers.” Another account, by the author of a local history published in 1845: “On the 13th of August (1777)…Lt. Col. Schermerhorn proceeded to Norman’s Kill with a body of Schenectady Militia and 40 Rhode Island troops…in all about 100 men…to root up a tory gathering at that place. The expedition was very successful. David Springer, a noted royalist, was killed, thirteen of his comrades captured [including his son, Richard], the remainder dispersed...“Source: David Springer … Springer Genealogy
As a result of this episode two sons, Richard and Daniel (my 5th great grandfather), followed their father’s lead and joined the loyalist movement as members of Butler’s Rangers. (Who were Butler’s Rangers?)
Still, what of his parentage?
Theories, conjecture and guesswork, oh my!
My curiosity was piqued when I looked at Charles Springer’s (1692-1759) timeline and noticed that of the “13” children he had with his wife, Margareta Robinson (1701-1798) David, the sixth child, was the only one not born in Wilmington. Indeed, New York State is indicated. What was that about? And from here the tree fell into a rabbit hole.
Identifying David’s parentage has been complicated somewhat by the “Springer Hoax” ~ a fraud set up by a couple of ne’er-do-well lawyers:
… 1882: the enterprising duo of George W. Ponton and Charles H. Bierce–both aliases, it turned out–devised an inheritance scam in London, Ontario. This is it, in a nutshell: they drew up papers saying that Charles Christopher Springer’s estate was valued at $100,000,000 and that the city of Wilmington, Delaware, had agreed to pay his heirs $20,000,000 to release itself from the claim. One of these men (Ponton) claimed to be an agent representing the Springer heirs, each of whom would receive $90,000; the other man (Bierce) claimed to be an heir. The whole scheme unraveled when it was revealed to be a scam to get people to loan money to the pair, with the promise of repayment once Bierce got his settlement. So, the men were arrested and that’s the end of that story. (“The Fabulous Springer Estate” from the New York Times, December 23, 1883)Source: Springer Hoax … Springer Genealogy
But it really hasn’t been the end of the story since the tracing of the Springer lineage has since proven a challenge.
As fate would have it my great grandmother, Mary Lewis (Belton) McDonall, a third great granddaughter of David Springer was, like so many drawn into the fraud. She bought shares which, of course, never materialized into anything. Still, to prove her lineage she had gone to the trouble of having a legal document prepared outlining her descent from the Delaware Springers. Notably, the document lists Christopher Springer (1696-1755) as David’s father. (See below)
And here we go … this is just one of several theories regarding David’s parentage. Of course, I don’t know where Mary got her information. Was it passed down word-of-mouth through the family? There are no supporting official documents in our archives, but we know Mary’s character so it would have been beneath her to bear false witness. Still, this document says Christopher Springer is David’s father. So far in my search there’s been no evidence to bear this out one way or the other.
Six ways of thinking …
Here are just a few of the theories with which family researchers are working:
1) That David is the son of Charles Springer (1692-1759) and Margareta Robinson (1701-1798) of Wilmington, Delaware, as noted above.
2) That David is the son of Charles’ brother, Johannes Springer (1698-1772)) and his wife, Maria Hendrickson (1710-1738) This theory was posited by family historian, J. Ross Springer (See David Christopher Springer at Geni.com)
Further discussion can be found on this theory through another family historian, Ronald Springer (Source: RootsWeb). It goes on further to suggest why Christopher could not be David’s father, and suggests that since David became a Methodist Episcopalian his birth record was essentially wiped from the original Lutheran records. (See below).
3) That David is the son of Dennis Springer (1675-) and Mary (Unknown), his second wife. According to family historian, Ray Springer via WikiTree:
“My feeling is that Dennis(2) had more than one child. In fact I believe that Dennis(2) was married twice; first to Abigail Pack and second to a Mary (maiden name unknown). Further, I believe that Dennis(2) is the same Dennis who shows up in Albany NY in the 1730s.
“I believe that Abigail Pack Springer died following the birth of daughter Abigail. Dennis then married Mary (MNU) and had children: David (about 1727), Mary (about 1729) Deborah (1731), Abigail (1737) Dennis (1738) and Benjamin (1740).”Ray Springer … Email March 10, 2018 re: Dennis Springer (1675-1722) … at WikiTree.com
More support of this argument … via Springer Genealogy
“April 21, 1754 Mr. David Springer, To your accepting to pay me for acco’t of your Sister Abiegel in the presence of fath’r & Catlyntje. 1/3/10. [1 pound, 3 shillings, 10 pence]
This entry provides the record that Springer researchers have been looking for: the record showing that David Springer is Dennis and Mary’s son. David is referenced as Abigail’s brother, and we know from the baptismal records of the Reformed Dutch Church of Albany, New York, that Abigail was Dennis and Mary Springer’s daughter …”Source: David Springer, 2019 update … Springer Genealogy
Further support for this theory can be found at Descendents of Dennis Springer by Donna J. McCourtney at Genealogy.com.
5) That David, as noted in my family’s legal document, is the son of Christopher Springer (1696-1755) and wife Catherine (Johansdotter Henderickson) (1694-42).* Also a theory posited by Ronald Springer …
*As per FamilySearch.
6) That David and a brother, Benjamin, were adopted by Richard Oliver, father of Margaret Benoit Oliver whom David married in 1854. Posited by Ronald W. Springer on RootsWeb …
And these examples are not the end of it. Until David’s birth parents can be substantiated these are the types of conundrums Springer family researchers will continue to face. It’s enough to make your head spin.
The Final Word
Truthfully, making headway through this quagmire just for the purpose of writing this post has been somewhat daunting. I suppose the Dennis and Mary theory, given the document stating David helped to pay for his sister Abigail’s debt, is pretty convincing. Still, as far as I can tell definitive proof that he is their son is yet to be found.
And so, I return to the original document in our family archives stating that Christopher Springer was David’s father. Because it’s where our family research began we’ll stick with it for now while keeping an open mind to anything else substantive that may come along. I’m all for solving this mystery and giving David Springer a branch upon which to hang his hat. ❦
And there’s always this … a portrait of Christopher Springer found a few decades ago by my mother in a book of American art. She insists that it proves we carry the genetic imprint of the Swedish Springers. After all, look at that chin …
Left to right: Christopher Springer in a portrait by American painter, Gilbert Stuart ~ about 1780-82; Mary Jane (Crouse) Belton (1850-1932), a second great granddaughter of Rev. David Springer; Frank Belton (1883-1974), and Mary Lewis (Belton) McDonall (1881-1966), two of Mary Jane (Crouse) Belton’s children.
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