My four-times-great grandparents Staats and Anna Springsteen were people of no apparent public consequence, yet they left bits and pieces of evidence of their lives that continue to perplex me. While the very existence of this evidence is somewhat remarkable for apparently illiterate frontier farmers, it raises questions that have proven difficult to answer. Questions like ‘Am I really a Springsteen?’
Where did Staats and Anna come from?
Staats Springsteen was the son of Symeon (Simon) Springsteen and Maria Seger. Staats was probably born in late 1754, as he was christened in the First Dutch Reformed Church in Albany, New York on January 5, 1755. Maria’s brother Johannes Seger and his wife were sponsors for Staats Springsteen’s christening. Staats was apparently named after another of Maria’s brothers:
- Adriaan Seger, son of Staats Seger and Susanna Bradt, was christened on the same day as Staats Springsteen.
- Ten years earlier in 1745, Staats and Susanna Seger were sponsors for the christening of Staats Springsteen’s oldest brother Caspar.
1755 Christening Record for Staats Springsteen
Anna Springsteen’s ancestry, on the other hand, is still a mystery. I have seen indications that she might have been born in Pennsylvania or New York, but I have no substantive information about her place of birth or her parents. There have been suggestions from various sources, including descendants of Staats’ brother Caspar, that Anna might have been a native North American, but I have seen no evidence to support it.
Why was Staats a Loyalist?
Perhaps a more appropriate question would be ‘Why were so many relatives and neighbors loyal to the Crown?’ Staats’ brother Caspar, as well as various Segers, Bradts, Slingerlands and others supported the Loyalist cause. This might have been due to a desire to maintain trade and peace with the native nations who sided with the British, in part to contain the encroachment of settlers on their land. Albany was a key center in the native trade.
During the American Revolution, Staats served in John Butler’s Provincial Corps of Rangers. Unlike most of the provincial corps, Butler’s Rangers fell under the jurisdiction of the British Indian Department. Many of their operations involved native warriors. Staats was among a company of men who were able to speak at least one native language. In his book The Burning of the Valleys, Gavin Watt describes an incident at Ballstown in which Staats was instrumental in saving the scalp and probably the life of George Scott, for whom Staats had been a hired hand. It is quite possible that Staats interacted with natives before the war, and that might have influenced his loyalty.
Why did Staats have problems securing land in Upper Canada?
After the Treaty of Paris, Loyalists, particularly former militiamen, were encouraged to settle along the British frontier with the United States. Butler’s Rangers were settled on the Niagara peninsula. As a veteran, Staats received land in Stamford Township near the Niagara Escarpment.
Before land boards were set up to formalize the administration of land grants, certificates were issued for plots of land. These certificates weren’t always clearly defined. Staats apparently lost one certificate, and a land board administrator lost another. Staats at least partially developed another piece of land near Long Point without bothering to request a grant beforehand.
There is considerable evidence that Staats didn’t exercise much care for formalities. This tendency affected not only his own affairs but those of his brother Caspar, who asked in an 1807 petition ‘that his name may be inserted on the Roll of UE [Unity of Empire] Loyalists, which has been omitted thro negligence of your petitioner Brother Staats Springsteen.’ See the second page of this petition at the Library and Archives Canada web site: Upper Canada Land Petitions (1763-1865), Microform c-2809, page 805.
Staats was engaged in a series of land petitions for many years. Confusion over lot entitlements led to several appeals seeking relief from the encroachment of neighbors. Staats didn’t help his cause when his case was presented to the land board. A 1795 petition to John Graves Simcoe, Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada, asked for Simcoe’s influence to overcome ‘a spirit of animosity against your petitioner’ due to ‘your Petitioner having unguardedly suffered some expressions to fall from him which gave undesigned offense to two Gentlemen of the said Board.’ Undesigned? Really? See the second page of this petition at Upper Canada Land Petitions (1763-1865), Microform c-2806, page 882.
What is this business about illegitimate children?
In 1797 Staats submitted a petition for ‘What Quantity of Family Land your Honors thinks Meet for my Wife and two Children.’ A notation on the petition states ‘It appears that the [petitioner’s children] are illegitimate.’ See the second page of this petition at Upper Canada Land Petitions (1763-1865), Microform c-2807, page 25.
What does this mean? Was my three-times-great grandfatherJacob Springsteen’s father not Staats? Various United States censuses suggest that Jacob was born about 1794, which might make him one of the two children referenced in this 1797 petition. On the other hand, Staats was listed on a UE list in 1786 with a wife and two children. Who were they?
There are a number of plausible explanations for the notation of illegitimate children:
- Staats might not have been their father.
- Staats and Anna might not have been married. Given his service and life on the frontier during and after the American Revolution, coupled with his apparent casual regard for formalities, this might well be possible.
- Staats and Anna might have been married, but not in a recognized union. Lord Hartwicke’s Act of 1753 might have viewed their marriage outside the Anglican Church as clandestine and any children of that marriage as illegitimate. If speculation that Anna might have been at least partially of native ancestry were true, an unrecognized marriage would be quite likely. As a soldier in Butler’s Rangers, such a relationship would have been a reasonable possibility.
- Staats might have been falsely accused of having illegitimate children. He had personally offended members of the land board, and had crossed people during the war who were later influential in Upper Canada. Staats was apparently quite successful in recruiting men for Butler’s Rangers, and didn’t mind taking advantage of any opportunity. Mary Beacock Fryer relates an incident in her book John Walden Meyers: Loyalist Spy where Staats and his friend John Stoner appropriated some recruits bound for another corps while holding their recruiter as a spy. This action was protested to Frederick Haldimand and came to the attention of other leaders who were either disadvantaged or not put in good light.
Some of the potential explanations of illegitimacy are countered by other information:
- The cemetery marker for Anna Springsteen describes her as ‘Wife of Staats Springsteen.’ This might indicate that Staats and Anna were legally married, but not with certainty.
- In Staats’ will, written in 1825, he left land ‘to son Jacob.’ This indicates clearly, but again doesn’t prove, that Staats was Jacob’s father.
- Recent DNA testing reveals that my father, Ed Springsteen, shares a segment of DNA with another tester named Brett who lives in Manitoba. Brett has Loyalist ancestors who descend from Gerrit and Maritje Seger of Albany, New York. Staats’ mother Maria Seger was their daughter. Brett believes that Maritje’s mother was Barbara Springsteen, daughter of Caspar Springsteen and Geesje Jans. Caspar and Geesje were Staats’ father Symeon’s great grandparents, meaning that Symeon and Maria would have been second cousins. Staats might then have received the shared DNA from either Maria or Symeon. Either way, unless Brett and Dad share another common ancestor in a separate line, Dad could only have received the DNA he shares with Brett from Staats. Staats must then be Jacob’s father. Even if he weren’t, I would still come from generations of Springsteens, but this genetic link is interesting to note.
Dad’s DNA test results also shed light on another question: Do we have native North American ancestors? If we do, their DNA didn’t make it down the generations to us. In addition to rumors that Anna Springsteen might have been native, Dad’s maternal grandmother Loretta Green, who married Edwin Case, was thought to have recent native ancestry. While it is somewhat plausible that native DNA from Anna Springsteen might have completely fallen out of our genetic composition over the generations, it is unlikely that DNA from Amanda Brown, Loretta’s mother and a prime suspect, would not have survived a few generations.
Why did Staats and Anna return to the United States?
Staats was finally granted clear title to his Stamford Township land in 1808 after long years of dispute with neighbors and authorities. As early as 1795 he stated in a petition that he would be willing to relinquish his land to another claimant if he would compensate Staats for his improvements. See the third page of this petition at Upper Canada Land Petitions (1763-1865), Microform c-2806, page 884.
It appears that Staats was ready to make a clean break and get a fresh start. Moving to another country would serve that purpose. The Genesee country held strong attraction to many on both sides of the Revolutionary conflict who had seen that area during the war. If I never find any concrete evidence that explains Staats’ motivation for moving to western New York, this explanation at least seems plausible. It still leaves me wondering.
Why did Staats and Anna separate?
In 1980 I mailed a letter to the Clerk of Monroe County, New York asking about records pertaining to Staats Springsteen, John Smith, Staats’ son Jacob, and Jacob’s son John. The clerk’s office forwarded my letter to a local researcher, William Flint, who sent me a reply with cursory information and a description of his fees for further research. Mr. Flint noted two newspaper references from 1824 and 1825 that certainly pique one’s interest:
- Springstun, Mrs. Anna: Runs away from husband; Rochester Telegraph, May 8, 1824, 3-4
- Springstein, Staats: Operation upon his blind eye by Dr. George B. Taylor successfully restores sight; Monroe Republican, October 25, 1825, 3-3
My wife Dee has a ready explanation for this: Anna left the old fart while he couldn’t see her going.
Dee and I spent an unfortunately short period of time in the Rochester Public Library in 2006 looking for these articles on microfilm. We didn’t find either one before we had to leave. We’re overdue for another crack at it. The index cards for these two references, which Mr. Flint apparently cited, are now available online at the library’s web site: Index to Newspapers Published in Rochester, New York, 1818-1897. Staats died in 1826, making no mention of Anna in his will made the previous year.
Was Staats difficult to live with? Sketchy accounts suggest that he didn’t always make life particularly easy for himself or those close to him. If I find the newspaper article or notice of Anna’s departure, will it provide any clues of her reason for leaving?
Why no compensation for the laundry?
Staats signed his mark to a last will and testament on July 5, 1825, before the operation on his eye. His will raises many questions. It bequeathed:
- ‘to son Jacob Springstean two hundred acres of land, by him already received and to him heretofore Deeded by me.’ Was this the land that Jacob farmed in Wheatland, Monroe County, or was it land in Upper Canada? While the former seems most likely, I have not discovered any record in Monroe County land registrations.
- ‘to my son David Springstean five Dollars.’
- ‘to my younges Daughter Lana Ann Sackner ten Dollars.’
- ‘the sum of Ten Dollars to my Daughter Polly Sackner.’
- ‘to each of the Children of Abraham Blood by my Daughter Jenny Blood, five Dollars to be paid in Goods, by my Executors, out of some Merchants store.’ Why did Staats bypass Jane (Jenny) with this bequest? Unless Jane had an older child of which I am not aware, she was nearing delivery of her first-born child, Sarah Ann, at the time this will was made. Was Jane involved in her mother Anna’s departure?
- ‘to my Daughter Deborah Chambers I give one hundred Dollars, on condition, that she furnishes my son John Springstean with suitable meat, dring, clothing lodging and washing, from the time of my decease until he is sixteen years, of age, for all of which she is to be paid by my Executors, a reasonable compensation by the week, but for his washing she is to have no compensation whatever other than the legacy above given.’ My wife Dee wonders if the other children at school teasingly called him ‘Stinky John.’
- ‘all the rest residue and remainder of my property of whatever name or nature to my son John Springstean to be paid over to him by my said Executors on the day he shall arrive to the age of twenty one years.’
Staats named Philip Garbutt, a prominent citizen, and Robert Chambers, Deborah’s husband, as his executors. Staats authorized these men ‘to superintend the education of my son John until sixteen years of age at which time, it is my will that he should be bound by them to some mechanical trade of their choosing.’ John was a stone mason by trade in later years.
Where were Staats and Anna buried?
I have not yet found any record of Staats’ burial, but I think it likely that he was buried in or near Scottsville in the Town of Wheatland, Monroe County, New York. I have checked some cemetery lists for Wheatland without finding any mention of Staats but further examination might yet find him. Jacob Springsteen’s father-in-law John Smith is buried in the Oatka Cemetery in Scottsville, but I haven’t found Staats there. Perhaps Staats was buried on Jacob’s farm. For that matter, maybe Jacob was buried there.
After Staats’ death, Anna probably remained in the area until her family relocated to southeastern Michigan. The 1840 United States Federal Census for the Town of Wheatland, Monroe County, New York lists an Ann Springsteen as head of household in a residence with one female aged in her seventies and one female in her nineties. Could this have been Anna with her mother? In 1850 and 1860 Anna is listed in the household of Robert and Debby Chambers in Deerfield Township, Livingston County, Michigan. Anna was apparently buried in the Sharp (Deerfield Center) Cemetery with Robert and Debby. I need to check the cemetery sexton’s records for information about burials. In addition to Robert and Debby, Jane’s and Lana Ann’s families are also buried in the Sharp Cemetery.
Genealogy has been described as perhaps the only undertaking where every problem solved results in two more. Discovering Anna Springsteen leaves us wondering who her parents were. Given my interest in family history, not just lineage, questions proliferate. Our ancestors lived in extended families and communities, in the context of broader history. That’s what makes all of this so interesting.
In difficulties and in blessings, we should appreciate and care for our families.
And keep asking questions.