This article, author unknown, was found while doing family research. I have provided it here as a bit of interesting "family history". It is good to when the information that you have in hand is truly of no value. -- Judy Smith
I've received a shipment of letters from
A group of businessmen placed ads in many American
newspapers asking Bakers everywhere to file for an estate in
The possibility of being heir to millions and owning miles
of prime land caused many of our otherwise level-headed Bakers to try for the
brass ring. These family members numbered in the thousands and much of their
life savings was spent tracing their family lineage and paying attorney fees.
The Heirs' Association required various sums of money from EACH Baker several
times a year. The money sent to the association paid the Board of Directors
salary, several staff historians, newspaper ads, and filing fees. If you had a
Baker ancestor you were welcome to send in your families' filing fee and attempt
to claim the estate. Many branch offices were opened throughout the
You have to realize the "hoax" was so well planned, many lawyers, judges, and government officials were being taken in also! The association kept in touch with the heirs and sent progress reports on a regular basis, which added to their credibility. The Bakers sending in their family histories numbered thousands at the peak of the hoax.
I won't go into the "fleecing" that went along
with this scam. Many of our ancestors lost homes, farmland, and spent their life
savings in travel expenses and attorney fees. A number of trustworthy
I do think we can be grateful to these "con artists" to a certain degree. The history of many Baker family groups were charted (some legitimately) instead of being lost.
IF you run across mention of a 99 year lease, railroad property, hundreds of acres of property in the City of Philadelphia, coal mines, or mineral rights (especially in Philadelphia; but also anywhere in Pennsylvania) you may want to check your family letters and notes more closely. Chances are good some of your Bakers were part of the "hoax". Just because the estate was a sham doesn't mean researchers can't find a gold mine of information!
Someone in Moms' Baker family wrote letters (intact) about
Fraud Convictions in
The following article was taken from an
Take it finally, from the Postmaster-General of the
"The most magnificent swindle of the 20th
In fact, it goes back into the 19th Century, for 30 years ago, or thereabouts, Bakers were York County residents who already saw them- selves rolling in riches on their shares from the huge property in the heart of the Quaker City, that would any day now, fall into the hands of the heirs of Col. Jacob Baker , whose services in that Revolutionary War had been generously rewarded by Government: grants which the course of time had transformed into gilt-edge, built-upon corner lots.
Behind the brief Farley statement, said the Record, was the
story of a gigantic racket; carried on through the
That million dollars must be a modest estimate. In 1933,
the president of
A faked will, dated December 27, 1830, was the lure which caught thousands of heirs, the Washington correspondent explains, for it provided, operators of the racket assured their victims, indisputable proof the existence of a Baker or Becker Estate in the very center of Philadelphia, worth $80,000,000 and included property on which now stand Independence Hall, Franklin Square, the United States Mint, the Broad Street Station, and the abutments of the Delaware River Bridge.
To make the proposition even more attractive, the promoters
added to those properties the grave of Benjamin Franklin and 11,000 acres of
valuable coal, lead, and zinc lands throughout
The will, claimed to have been executed by one "Jacob
", purported to dispose of the fabulously valuable properties to the Baker
heirs. Basis of the racket in the
If the person solicited was not named Baker or Becker, he was offered a "share" of the mythical estate or perhaps an "enrollment" at $10 or $20 each. Even memberships with monthly dues were collected from those who hoped eventually to collect several thousand per cent profit.
"Inspectors assigned to this work thought it very unusual that an authentic will to such valuable property should remain unprobated for almost 100 years," Postmaster-General Farley announced, " the alleged will was obtained through court proceedings and submitted to analysis by a chemical engineer and handwriting expert." As a result, post- office inspectors discovered what they suspected: The paper on which the will was written was not manufactured until 50 years after its' date. The signatures were forged.
As the will and representations of the promoters called for
property throughout Pennsylvania as part of the mythical inheritance, post
office inspectors were obliged to trace the name of "Baker" or
"Becker" and various properties in all the 67 Counties of the State,
from 1683 to the present time. (NOTE THIS FACT: THE INSPECTORS HAD TO TRACE
THE Baker AND BECKER SURNAME FROM 1683 TO MID-1920'S!
After 14 months of investigation, the inspectors
discovered: (1) None of the property mentioned was owned by a Jacob Baker
or by any other Baker at the time
the will was purported to have been executed; (2) There was no vast unsettled or
undistributed Baker or Becker estate anywhere in the State of
Ramifications of the racket, it was discovered, were almost
limitless. For example, some promoters claimed that Jacob Baker
or some other Baker executed a
99-year lease to one Martin Yates
for property upon which now stand
most of the buildings in downtown
Another method by which money was claimed, it came out in the trials, was in the compilization and sale of so-called "genealogical charts". Needless to say, they traced ancestors of the victim back to the Baker or Becker of whom they were supposed to be an heir. Charges for those charts ranged from $1 to $50.00.
"Associations or Leagues" were organized, memberships to which were sold to gullible citizens in every state from $1 to $20.00. The initial payment, however, was far from the total extracted from individual victims. The investigation revealed several whose contributions amounted to as much as $7,000.
The inspectors found promoters who had represented various
banks and trust companies in
Search of Army and Navy files produced proof, however, that
there never was a Jacob Baker
No less than 44 different organizations had been engaged in this gigantic racket at one time, it was revealed. Most of them, after conducting their schemes for a comparatively brief period, would fold up when pressure became to great.
Until the U.S. Post Office Department took a hand last year, the reproduction process had been going on for years.
"THERE IS NO Baker ESTATE AND THERE NEVER HAS BEEN SUCH AN ESTATE THAT COULD POSSIBLY BE THE SUBJECT OF SUCH SCHEMES" Farley concludes, "Something that started as a rumor grew into a gigantic fraud. Thousands of people were deceived into contributing their time and money for many years without any return or possibility of reward.
I have tried to locate the records of the "Bakers'
Heirs Association" and the trial exhibits once housed in the Library of
Congress. The records showing genealogical data from ALL Bakers and Beckers in
Several of us have spent years working on the "Baker
Hoax" trying to get researchers to forget looking for the phony estate and
to search for the only "riches" the hoax left...Baker and BECKER
Genealogical Information! The files were kept in every state in the
Every year a new crop of genealogists start searching for their Bakers and guess what? Most times, the "Baker Hoax" or a letter found in an ancestors' box of letters starts the "Hoax" all over again!
I'd like the information from the association found and also the "missing" court records! Maybe then, the "Baker Hoax" would end once and for all!
Baker information was listed in the Action Line 3-12-74
Question from: L.B. Fort
While in the process of making a family tree, I discovered that my gr-gr-gr-gr-grandfather was named Jacob Baker , born in 1731. Since then I have heard that he bequeathed a vast fortune that can still be claimed by his heirs. I have heard that this fortune includes huge pieces of Center City Philadelphia. I have also heard that many Baker heirs have made attempts to claim the fortune, and that the whole thing turned out to be a hoax. Could you tell me the facts behind this matter?
So, the great Baker Estate Swindle once again rears its ugly head. We thought we'd seen the last of it in the 1940's,when local, state, and Federal government investigators exposed it as a fraud. Conmen were bilking Baker descendants out of money from as early as 1860. What they did was promise, for a fee, to act as an agent for anyone who said he was an heir to Jacob Baker , who had allegedly left an estate- mostly real estate- valued between $200 million and $3 billion.
The story goes that Col. Jacob Baker , a surgeon in the Continental Army during the American Revolution, was rewarded by George Washington and a grateful new-born U.S. government with a grant of 11,000 acres of mineral-rich land in 17 Pennsylvania counties, plus Philadelphia, including the present day site of City Hall and John Wanamaker's department store. Baker heirs were contacted by promoters and told the old Jacob Baker will had been uncovered in the Philadelphia Orphans' Court , and that if they would contribute to the "legal fees" the promoters would seek to secure them their share of the estate. An estimated 500,000 PERSONS fell for the hoax (the Bakers were apparently a prolific clan) and paid the assorted swindlers some $25 million. Philadelphia Orphans' Court records indicate that the estate of a Jacob Baker, Revolutionary War Veteran, was disposed of around 1847. His fortune totaled a whopping $6,000.
In two trials in Federal Court in Pittsburgh, Pa., during May and June, 1937, people from: Washington, D.C.; Indiana, Pa.; Johnstown, Pa.; Davidsville, Pa.; Greensburg, Pa.; were convicted. (10 people). Also, from Pittsburgh, Pa.; Portland, Oregon; Pana, Illinois; DeSoto, Kansas; Springfield, Missouri; and Middletown, Virginia. (9 people)
At the trial that lasted from April 1, to April 16, 1937,
six were convicted from these places:
Now, these towns were a few of the places the phony
association kept their records! NOTE: There are STILL records out there from
private citizens that worked with this association. Most were innocent people
that really believed they were doing good for their family by backing the
association. They collected charts for the association and kept them on file (as
instructed) before making charts for the association to take to
The Linn, County,
Once found, they will fill in information on many Baker Family Groups. Keep in mind...500,000 or so Bakers, handed their family info. over to the paid genealogists. Actual pages from your families Bible, hand written letters, and charts filled out and signed (verified) by local doctors and judges that vouched for your ancestors' lineage. (Most filing for this estate, really felt they had to do everything by the book to have a "claim" on the estate) The estate was a hoax but the info. Bakers' used to file was real.