The Mysterious Robert Rankin of Gibson County, TN

Thanks to a winter storm and black ice on the road, Gary and I abandoned a January 2017 road trip to the North Carolina Archives. Instead, we impulsively turned north at Birmingham and went to the Tennessee State Library and Archives in Nashville. With no research plan for Tennessee, I began mucking about aimlessly in various books. When I accidentally stumbled over a passel of unfamiliar Rankins in Gibson County, I had a mission.

What got me started was the Revolutionary War pension application  of a Robert Rankin.[1] He applied in Gibson County in September 1832. His sworn statement is replete with military detail. It reads as though he had a sharp mind and memory. He was in the North Carolina militia. Unfortunately, he did not identify the county where he enlisted, which would probably have led quickly to his family of origin.

I didn’t have a clue who Robert was, which meant he was a puzzle to be solved.

The Gibson County records don’t reveal much. He was born about 1748 and lived in North Carolina at some time when he was an adult.[2] He first appeared in Gibson County in 1827 when he was almost seventy years old.[3] He had no land but owned one enslaved person.[4] He had a daughter named Margaret Finley.[5] He probably died between 1837 and 1840.[6]

None of that was much help in figuring out his family of origin.

The thing about Robert that caused me to sit up and take notice was this: his pension application says that his brother (not named) was killed by Tories at the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill.[7] Robert also fought in that battle, which took place in June 1780. About 40 Whig patriots died there, although it was not easy to determine which dead soldiers fought for which side. That is because the combatants wore no uniforms. Loyalist Tories stuck a spring of greenery in their hats; the patriot Whigs had a piece of white paper in theirs. Those identifiers were sometimes missing from the bodies.

The largest number of patriot troops came from Iredell County. About thirteen of the forty dead patriots were members of Capt. Sharpe’s 4thCreek Company, Statesville, Iredell County.

Family history research rarely involves certainty, especially when dealing with 200-year-old records, which may be faded, illegible, or missing entirely. Sometimes one must play the odds. The obvious bet here is that Robert Rankin of Gibson County was originally from Iredell County.

A possibility appears as soon as you hit the Iredell records. Probate records include the will of a David Rankin. It was dated 1781 and proved in 1789, when David presumably died.[8] It names his wife Margaret,son Robert, and three grandchildren: (1) David McCreary, (2) James Rankin, expressly identified as the son of Robert Rankin, and (3) David Rankin. The will does not say that grandson #3 David Rankin was Robert’s son, implying that #3 David had a different fatherThus, David and Margaret probably had a second son who died before David wrote his will.

It wasn’t hard to find a candidate in the area. There was a James Rankin who died before January 29, 1782. James owned land in Burke County,[9] where his estate was administered. He had four minor children for whom a guardian was appointed in Lincoln County.[10] Here are some relevant records:

    • A Lincoln county guardian’s bond identifies John Alexander as guardian of minors David Rankin, Jane Rankin, Margaret Rankin and William Rankin, orphans of James Rankin.[11]
    • A Burke County administrator’s bond dated 29 January 1782 names Robert Rankin asadministrator of the estate of James Rankin.[12] John Alexander was one of the securities on the bond.

On those facts, Robert and James Rankin were close kin, probably brothers. John Alexander was surely part of the same extended Rankin family. Either (1) John Alexander married a Miss Rankin, or (2) John Alexander had a sister who married James Rankin. My friend Jody Thompson, a descendant of John Alexander’s brother, says that John Alexander was not married to a Rankin. Thus, John Alexander probably had a sister who married James Rankin and was the uncle of his four wards.

Here is a fun and critical piece of evidence. The Iredell County Genealogical Society has a collection called the “Philip Langenour papers.” They contain Mr. Langenour’s collections of stories about local families. His papers mention a Miss Alexander (no given name stated) who married a Mr. Rankin (ditto) who died in the 1780 Battle of Ramsour’s Mill.

This is the only evidence I have found that a Rankin died at Ramsour’s Mill … other than the Gibson County pension application of Robert Rankin, whose patriot brother was killed in that battle.

The pieces of this puzzle fall together nicely. It is as good a bet as you can find in genealogy that it was James Rankin who died in 1780 at Ramsour’s Mill, his wife was Miss ______ Alexander, and they had a son named David Rankin. John Alexander was guardian for David Rankin and his siblings. The James Rankin who died at Ramsour’s Mill was a son of David and Margaret Rankin of Iredell and a brother of Robert Rankin who was administrator of James Rankin’s estate.

Here is where we take a plunge off the high diving board without, we hope (as Jody puts it) “forcing Cinderella’s shoe to fit.” Please forgive the mixed metaphors.

Robert Rankin of Gibson County, Tennessee, who fought at Ramsour’s Mill and lost a brother there (and had a daughter named Margaret), is almost certainly the same man as Robert Rankin, son of David and Margaret Rankin of Iredell and brother of James Rankin who died at Ramsour’s Mill.

Thanks to Philip Langenour, the shoe fits quite nicely.

There is a tiny bit more to the evidentiary trail. Robert Rankin, son of David and Margaret, disappeared from the Iredell records after February 1826 without leaving a will or estate administration.[13] Robert Rankin of Gibson County made his first appearance on the tax list there in 1827. Jody and I long wondered where the heck Robert went after he left Iredell. Had it not been for some black ice on I-20 a few miles east of Oxford, Alabama, we would probably still be in the dark.

There is one more small connection between Gibson and Iredell County Rankins. Robert (proved son of David and Margaret) had two sons who remained in the Iredell/Lincoln area. One of them was Denny Rankin, who married Sarah McMinn. Robert A. Rankin and Samuel Rankin were Denny and Sarah McMinn Rankin’s sons.

 Robert A. Rankin began appearing in the Gibson County records in 1838. Samuel Rankin was there by 1837, when he was security on the administrator’s bond of a John McMinn. In the 1840 census for Gibson, neither Robert of Iredell/Gibson, Robert A., nor Samuel Rankin were enumerated there. Robert A. and his brother Samuel had moved on to Shelby County, where both died; Samuel was Robert A.’s administrator.

Finally, please note that there were two other Rankin lines in Gibson County. I found no evidence to connect any of them to the Rankins from Iredell County. Briefly, here are the other Rankin families:[14]

    • David F. C. Rankin(1823 – 1885) and his wife Susan Young. David was a son of David Rankin and Anne Moore Campbell of Rutherford County, Tennessee. The senior David Rankin was a son of Samuel and Eleanor (“Ellen”) Alexander Rankin of Lincoln/Gaston County, North Carolina.
    • Jesse Rankin, who was born in Kentucky about 1795, and his wife Cynthia Sellers. Some researchers think Jesse was a son of Robert Rankin of Rutherford County, NC and Caldwell County, KY. Other researchers think Jesse was a son of “Shaker Reverend” John Rankin of Guilford County, NC and Logan County, KY. Both Robert of Rutherford and Shaker John had sons named Jesse.

On that note, it must be time to write an article about Jesse and Cynthia …

See you on down the road.

Robin

[1] See a transcription of his pension application at this link: http://www.revwarapps.org/s4042.pdf.

[2] Id. Robert Rankin was 84 when he applied for a pension in 1832 and was thus born about 1748. He was in the North Carolina militia, so there is little doubt that he lived somewherein North Carolina when he enlisted.

[3] Family History.org, Gibson Co., TN, “Tax Lists, Box 1, 1824-1835,” DGS #102863906, 1827 tax list included Robert Rankin with 1 black poll, no land.

[4] Id. The 1820s and 1830s tax records usually include Robert Rankin, although he does not appear on the lists consistently each year. He was never taxed on any land. The tax lists show a black poll with Robert in at least 1827, 1828 and 1830. I haven’t checked thereafter.

[5] The 1830 census for Gibson County had Robert as a head of household in the 80 < 90 age bracket, born 1740–50. His household included a female born 1780–90, a male born 1815–20, and one male slave born 1800-06. Robert gave a slave named Solomon to his daughter Margaret Finley in 1837.  SeeGibson Co., TN Deed Book F: 55. Robert’s daughter may be the Margaret D. Fenly listed in the 1840 census for Madison County, Tennessee, born 1780-90, with a male slave born 1785-1804.

[6] Robert was not enumerated in the 1840 federal census for Gibson Co. and probably died between the 1837 gift deed to Margaret Rankin Finley and the census. I found no probate records for him.

[7] You can find information here  Ramsour’s Mill, also spelled Ramseur or Ramsaur.

[8] NC State Archives and Library Search Room, File Box No. C.R.054.801.11, file folder for Rankin, David, 1789. David’s will is recorded in Iredell Will Book A: 200.

[9] North Carolina Grant No. 211, Grant Book 28: 211, Patent Book 98: 211. Grant dated 14 Mar 1780 to James Rankin, 450 acres on the south side of the Catawba River.

[10] Burke was adjacent to Lincoln County on the northwest when James Rankin obtained a grant in 1780. Iredell was created in 1788, adjacent to Lincoln on the north. See NC county formation maps  here.

[11] Anne William McAllister & Kathy Gunter Sullivan, Civil Action Papers 1771-1806 of the Court of Ps & Qs, Lincoln County, North Carolina(1989). Bond of John Alexander dated 4 July 1793.

[12] NC State Archives and Library Search Room, File Box No. C.R.014.508.45,Burke County Estates Records, 1776 – 1934, Queen – Ritchel, file folder for Rankin, James, 1782. The file contains the original bond of Robert Rankin as administrator of the estate of James Rankin, dec’d, securities John Alexander, Joseph Steele, and Francis Cunningham. See also Family Search.org, “North Carolina Estate Files, 1663-1979,” Burke County, Rankin, James, 1782. If you look closely, you can see the notation “Robert Rankins Admin Bond” penciled in to the left of the signatures on the second page of the bond.

[13] Iredell Co., NC Deed Book M: 271, bond witnessed by Robert Rankin. That is the last “in person” appearance by Robert I have found in the Iredell records.

[14] Some Rankin researchers think that Robert Rankin and his wife Isabel(maiden name Rankin) of Guilford Co., NC, McNairy Co., TN and Pope Co., AR may have also lived in Gibson County. I disagree. One of their descendants says she has seen no evidence the couple lived in Gibson, and I don’t see any room for them in the records.

 

2 thoughts on “The Mysterious Robert Rankin of Gibson County, TN”

  1. Robin: When I see how carefully you have laid out the step-by-step evidence, I see an excellent case built by circumstantial evidence. I did say excellent!! This is probably as good as we will ever get.

    Maybe someday one of Mystery Robert’s descendants will come forward with his diary which will explain all! We can dream – meanwhile keep up the good work! And THANK YOU!

    1. You’re right, it is all circumstantial.You are also right, it is probably the best we can do. It would be nice if the descendants of Robert, son of David d. 1789, could (if they wish) prove their descent from a Rev War vet and join the DAR. Who knows what else might turn up!

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