Samuel Rankin, b. abt. 1734, d. abt. 1816, Lincoln Co., NC, m. Eleanor (“Ellen”) Alexander: Who Was His Father? (Part II)

Let’s continue the conventions from the earlier post about the Samuel Rankin who married Eleanor Alexander and call him “Sam Sr.” To reprise Part I of this article briefly, there are two persistent theories concerning the identity of Sam Sr.’s father that are favored by Rankin family history researchers:

  • Theory #1 is that Sam Sr.’s father was Joseph Rankin of White Clay Creek Hundred, New Castle County, Delaware (1704-1764). That was the topic of the first part of this article. Y-DNA evidence establishes that Sam Sr. was not Joseph’s son. Here is a link to Part I.
  • Theory #2 is that Sam Sr.’s parents were Robert and Rebecca Rankin of Guilford County, NC. Before migrating to North Carolina in the mid-1750s, Robert appeared on the 1753 tax list for West Nottingham Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania.[1] I’m going to call him “Robert Sr.” because he was the patriarch of his Rankin line (which included many Rankins named Robert) in Guilford County.

This article asks whether Theory #2 is correct, i.e., whether Sam Sr. was a son of Robert Sr. First, we start with the probable printed origin of that theory and the merits of its argument. It may be that many family researchers have concluded that Sam Sr. was a son of Robert Sr. However, the first place I found that notion argued was in a book written by A. Greg Moore.[2] Second, we look at the Y-DNA evidence about the line of Robert Sr., which is inconclusive. The third step should be the evidence in the records establishing (or even suggesting) a connection between Robert Sr. and Sam Sr. That’s pretty easy, because I found no such evidence. The only thing even remotely resembling a connection is that Robert Sr. and some Samuel Rankin were both in Chester County, PA at the same time, although they didn’t live near each other.[3]

I have concluded that Robert Sr. is not the father of Sam Sr., although – until we get a more Y-DNA evidence – it is still a remote possibility. Moore doesn’t provide any convincing reason to conclude that Robert Sr. was Sam Sr.’s father. If I had nothing but the paper trail to go by, I would characterize the claim that Sam Sr. was a son of Robert’s Sr. as speculative. Fortunately, Y-DNA evidence can resolve the issue with a fair degree of confidence. A new volunteer who descends from Robert Sr. has just tested (January 2017) and results should be in by the end of February. Absent an NPE in his line, we should have (I hope!) some good answers. If his Y-DNA is not a match with descendants of Sam Sr., then we can kiss Theory #2 goodbye.

The origin of the Robert and Rebecca theory

Moore’s book – the first place I ran across Theory #2 – notes that Rev. S. M. Rankin argued that Sam Sr. was a son of Joseph of Delaware, and then continues:

“While this argument must be given weight, a stronger argument can be made that Samuel is actually a son of Robert and Rebecca Rankin … [who moved from Pennsylvania] to Rowan County, NC in 1755. The first instance of Samuel in the records of North Carolina occurs in Rowan County where he purchased 320 acres there on 14 July 1760 from David Alexander, probably the father of Samuel’s wife, Ellen Alexander … Samuel is thought to have been born between 1732 and 1740, the two dates most commonly attributed to this event. Thus, he is certainly of an appropriate age to be either Joseph’s or Robert’s son.”

For the life of me, I cannot see why this is “a stronger argument” than Rev. Rankin’s argument that Sam Sr. was a son of Joseph of Delaware (whose logic was discussed in Part I). Moore acknowledges that Sam Sr. was the right age to be a son of either Joseph of Delaware or Robert and Rebecca. The only new argument offered by Moore is that Sam Sr. first appeared in the records of Rowan County … and so did Robert Sr.

That’s a flawed argument. That is because location (taking into account county formation history) is equally persuasive whether one argues (1) Sam Sr. belongs to the family of Joseph of Delaware or (2) Sam Sr. was part of Robert Sr.’s family. Robert Sr. was located in a part of Rowan that became Guilford County. John Rankin and William Rankin, proved sons of Joseph of Delaware, also lived in Guilford County. All three of those Rankins – Robert Sr., John and William – attended the same church and are buried at the Buffalo Creek Presbyterian Church in Guilford County, now in Greensboro, NC.[4] They obviously didn’t live far away from each other.

So … how does one choose between Robert Sr.’s line or Joseph’s line as Sam Sr.’s family of origin on the basis of location, when both lines lived in a relatively small community in Guilford County?

Another problem with Moore’s “location” argument is that Sam Sr.’s first land purchase (and apparently his first appearance in the North Carolina records) was not in an area that became part of Guilford County. The land Sam Sr. bought from David Alexander in 1760 was located on James Cathey’s Mill Creek, also known (and shown on current maps) as Kerr Creek.[5] That creek is still in Rowan County. I have a copy of a map showing exactly where Sam Sr.’s land on Kerr Creek was located, but the copy is too poor to reproduce.

If you want to see a very rough location of Sam Sr.’s first land purchase on a current map, go to Google Maps and search for Sloan Park NC. Kerr Creek runs along the northwest side of the Park. Follow Kerr Creek southwest toward its headwaters. Sam Sr.’s land was located about where the creek crosses Caldwell Road, or NC Highway 1547. That location is a SWAG, at best. It could be off by several miles either upstream or downstream.

In any event, Sam Sr. was clearly not buying land near either the two sons of Joseph of Delaware or Robert and Rebecca, all of whom lived near Buffalo Presbyterian Church in Guilford County. Instead, Sam Sr. was buying land near his wife’s family of origin. The David Alexander who sold Sam Sr. the tract on Kerr/James Cathey’s Mill Creek was Eleanor (“Ellen”) Alexander Rankin’s brother (not her father, as Moore speculated). Eleanor’s parents James and Ann Alexander gave that tract, which was half of a 1752 grant to James, to their son David.[6] For more information on the Alexanders, see this article about Eleanor’s family of origin.

Enough of that. Let’s leave the art of family history research and turn to the science of DNA.

The Y-DNA Evidence: the line of Robert and Rebecca of Guilford County, NC

The short answer is there is no definitive evidence whether Sam Sr. was a son of Robert Sr. – so far. That is because the only proved descendant of Robert and Rebecca (Rollie B. Rankin) who has participated in Y-DNA testing and joined the Rankin DNA project is descended from their great-granddaughter Isabel Rankin and her husband Robert Rankin. It is Robert’s Y-DNA which his Rankin male descendants inherited. Isabel, of course, had no Y-DNA to pass on. Whoever Rollie’s male Rankin ancestor might be, he is definitely not related to Sam Sr., because Rollie’s Y-DNA is a total mismatch with the Y-DNA of Sam Sr.’s descendants.

The $64,000 question, of course, is who was the father of Robert ???? Rankin? That is a long story however, and I think I will save it for another day, after we have the results of the new Y-DNA volunteer. That will be a fun article to write, because there is nothing cooler than the solving puzzles at the intersection of conventional family history research and genealogical DNA.

The bottom line, however, is that the paper evidence is all we have to go on right now to answer the question whether Robert Sr. was the father of Sam Sr. Based on actual evidence in the records, the answer is probably “no.” We will be able to answer that question with confidence, I hope, when we have the Y-DNA results from the new volunteer.

Stay tuned!

[1] J. Smith Futhey and Gilbert Cope, History of Chester County, Pennsylvania (Philadelphia: Louis H. Everts, 1881), reproduction facsimile by Chester County Historical Society (Mt. Vernon, IN: Windmill Publications, Inc., 1996).

[2] A. Gregg Moore & Forney A. Rankin (as added author), The Rankins of North Carolina : A Genealogy and History of Those Who Can Trace Their Ancestry to One of the Several Rankin Families Native to the Tar Heel State (Marietta, GA: A. G. Moore, 1997) (two volumes).

[3] Robert Sr. and his proved son George Rankin appeared in the West Nottingham Township, Chester Co., PA tax list for 1753. A Samuel Rankin (who may or may not have been the same man as Sam Sr.) appeared as a freeman on the Sadsbury Township, Chester Co., PA tax list that same year. See Futhey and Cope, History of Chester County. A “freeman” was a free male age 21 and over who was not married and who did not own any land. If Samuel were a part of Robert Sr.’s family, one might reasonably have expected them to appear on the same tax list. West Nottingham Township, where Robert Sr. and George appeared, was in the very southwest corner of Chester County on the Maryland border. Sadsbury Township was roughly in the middle of Chester County on a north-south axis and on the western border of Chester with Lancaster County. Sadsbury was five townships north of W. Nottingham.

[4] Rev. S. M. Rankin, History of Buffalo Presbyterian Church and Her People (Greensboro, NC: Jos. J. Stone & Co., 1931). According to Rev. Rankin, Robert Rankin Sr. and his wife Rebecca, John Rankin and his wife Hannah Carson, and William Rankin and his wife Jennett Chambers are all buried in the Buffalo Church cemetery, although there is no extant tombstone for Robert Sr. or Rebecca. There are numerous records in Guilford County for all three men and their children (or some of them). There is no evidence that Robert Sr. and Rebecca had a son Samuel, and Rev. Rankin doesn’t name a son Samuel.

[5] Jo White Linn, Rowan County North Carolina Deed Abstracts Vol. II. 1762 – 1772 Abstracts of Books 5, 6, 7 (Salisbury, NC: 1972), abstract of Deed Book 5: 272, 14 Jul 1760 deed from David Alexander to Samuel Rankin, 320 acres on both sides of James Cathey’s Mill Creek.

[6] Anson County, NC Deed Book B: 314 et seq., five gift deeds dated 12 Jan 1753 in which James and Ann Alexander gave land and/or livestock to five of their six children: James Jr., John, David, Eleanor and Robert. See also Rowan County, NC Deed Book 3: 547, 25 Mar 1752 Granville grant to James Alexander of Anson Co., Gentleman, 640 acres adjacent Andrew Kerr (notation in the margin: “to his widow”).