With Uncharted Lancaster’s real-life treasure hunt coming later this spring, I thought you might enjoy some tales of buried riches here in the region. According to York County historian Stephen H. Smith, a fortune in gold and silver lies hidden in Springettsbury Township.
The story centers on James Rankin. Rankin was one of the wealthiest landowners in York County. He was known to own at least 20 properties on both sides of the Susquehanna, including a tavern and a ferry.
The crown jewel of Rankin’s real estate empire was a 377-acre property that included a grist mill, later known as Loucks Mill.
It once stood where Route 30 presently crosses the Codorus Creek. The location is highlighted in the map below.
Rankin’s property extended from the Codorus Creek eastward to the present eastern boundaries of the Harley-Davidson property, north to Paradise Road, and south slightly past Mill Creek.
In 1777, with the American Revolutionary War hanging in the balance, the Continental Congress suggested confiscating property belonging to loyalists as a means of raising money. With this encouragement, all thirteen passed such laws targeting active loyalists who either abandoned the state or fought against the patriots.
These so-called “confiscation laws” effectively criminalized dissent against the American Revolution. The seizure and sale of loyalist property also raised revenue for the state by redistributing property from Loyalists to the rest of the community.
When Pennsylvania passed its own confiscation law, James Rankin allegedly buried a hoard of gold and silver on this property in early 1778.
Interesting side note. The William Penn family might have been the biggest losers of the American Revolution. It was during this time that Pennsylvania assumed control over more than 20 million acres belonging to the Penn family. In exchange, the state provided £130,000 in compensation only a tenth of its true value.
Rankin had a good reason to hid anything of value. He had remained a British loyalist throughout the conflict. Furthermore, Rankin had involved himself in a conspiracy to bring British troops across the Susquehanna into York. Don’t forget that Rankin was a ferry owner.
You might be wondering what strategic value York held.
It just so happened that the city was home to the Second Continental Congress. With the British poised to invade Philadephia in late September 1777, Congress had fled. They took up residence in York beginning September 30, 1777, after a brief stay in Lancaster on September 27. Congress met in York’s courthouse until June 27, 1778.
While there, they drafted and ratified the Articles of Confederation, declared the first Thanksgiving, and used the term “United States of America” for the first time.
When news of the Loyalist plot leaked, Rankin was dubbed a “traitor” and arrested. Somehow Rankin was able to escape from jail though, and he fled to the safety of British troops. He then left for England to wait out the war.
Rankin’s long-term plan was simple. Once Great Britain crushed the rebellion, he would return and reclaim his buried fortune. Unfortunately for him, George Washington had other thoughts on the matter.
If the story ended there, this could be counted as simply another tall tale of buried treasure…but it doesn’t!
In the early 1900s, an English guinea was found in a field once owned by Rankin. A 1908 article in The York Daily provides the details.
Several years ago, while plowing in a field west of the railroad at Loucks Mill, a laborer saw a small disc lying on the ground and picking it up saw that it was a coin, but was unable to tell of what value. He took the coin to a jeweler and learned that it was an English guinea, equivalent to five dollars in the United States money.
When it was learned that the coin had been found in the field, there was a rush of people, all eager to share in the supposed hidden treasure, however, none of them ever was known to have had any success in his quest.
Another rumor says Rankin’s son returned after the war and supposedly “secured the treasure his father had hidden.” People at the time provide the evidence that the son spent money before his return to England in a lavish manner, not in proportion to his means upon his arrival.
However, according to Smith, coins still sporadically appear in these fields as demonstrated in early the 1900s. Perhaps the son did not retrieve all of the Rankin Treasure.
Secret Treasure Hunt Adventure
Click here to learn more about Uncharted Lancaster’s real-life treasure hunt. This adventure ends with a loot crate filled with over a thousand dollars in $1 coins. Coming Spring 2021.