© Robin Rankin Willis
I recently spent some time in the Tennessee Archives researching Rankins who were in Gibson County, Tennessee beginning about 1830. It was a good reminder about how easy it is to conflate various families with the same surname when they live in the same general geographic area at roughly the same time. It occurred to me that I should have prefaced any Rankin posts on this website with some basic information about certain colonial Rankin lines, hoping to help you distinguish among those families when you run across them … or read the detailed Rankin articles I post. I apologize for my lack of foresight. This post is my belated remedy.
First, a caveat. If you have read my post about Scots-Irish migration, you already know that the earliest colonial immigrants from the Ulster plantation of Ireland (around 1700) settled mostly in New England. Among those were evidently some Rankins. I know absolutely nothing about New England Rankins. I know next to nothing about most of the Rankin families who settled initially in Pennsylvania or Virginia in the early to mid- 1700s, although I’m working like mad to get up that learning curve.
What I do know with a modicum of confidence is something about colonial Rankin families of North Carolina. That is my Rankin wheelhouse. When I started this hobby, I soon learned that my last conclusively proved Rankin ancestor was born in North Carolina around 1800. That was my only clue as to his origin. Searching for his parents consequently involved mucking about in North Carolina Rankin families. I acquired a ton of records in the process, because there weren’t any quick answers.
These are the Rankin families with which I became acquainted during that research: (1) Joseph Rankin of Delaware (1704-1764), two of whose sons went to Guilford Co., NC; (2) Samuel and Eleanor (“Ellen”) Alexander Rankin of Lincoln Co., NC; (3) Robert & Rebecca Rankin of Guilford Co., NC; (4) David & Margaret Rankin of Iredell Co., NC; and (5) Robert Rankin (wives Mary Withrow, Leah LNU) of Rutherford Co., NC. Here are brief descriptions of each family.
Joseph Rankin of Delaware (1704-1764) (“Joseph of Delaware”), wife unknown, two of whose sons moved to Rowan/Guilford Co., NC.
Joseph of Delaware had definitely arrived in the colonies by 1731, when he acquired a tract in New Castle County, DE. He is buried at Head of Christiana Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Newark, New Castle Co., where his tombstone survives. Joseph’s wife’s identity is unproved, despite some claims to the contrary. His place of birth is likewise unproved, although a serious gambler would put a lot of money on the Ulster Plantations of Ireland. He had at least seven children, including four proved sons, two sons established by strong circumstantial evidence, and a daughter Ann, reportedly proved by a will I haven’t yet found. Joseph’s proved sons Joseph Jr. and Thomas remained in New Castle County, where both died. Thomas, a Lieutenant in a Delaware militia company during the Revolutionary War, is buried in the same grave as his father. The DAR placed a “patriot” marker on the grave, probably giving rise to a claim by one researcher that Joseph (who died in 1764) was a Revolutionary War soldier. If so, he was a ghostly presence. It’s hard to decide whether to laugh or cry.
I have been unable to track Robert or James, Joseph’s two sons who are convincingly established by circumstantial evidence. His two other proved sons migrated to that part of Rowan Co., NC which later became Guilford Co.: (1) John Rankin (b. 1736, New Castle Co., DE, d. 1814, Guilford Co., NC, wife Hannah Carson) went to NC about 1765-68; and (2) William Rankin (b. 1744, New Castle Co., DE, d. 1804, Guilford Co., NC, wife Jean or Jennet Chambers) went to NC about 1768-70.
John and William stayed in Guilford County, had many children and grandchildren, and are buried at the old Buffalo Presbyterian Church in Greensboro, NC. Their lines were meticulously researched by Reverend Samuel Meek Rankin. His research is documented in his book, The Rankin and Wharton Families and Their Genealogy, originally published in 1931 and now available online in its entirety at at the UNC library website. For the record, Rev. Rankin’s book is dead wrong about the father of Samuel Rankin, below.
Samuel Rankin (1734 – 1816) of Lincoln Co., NC and wife Eleanor (“Ellen”) Alexander (1740 – 1802)
Thanks to a family legend and Y-DNA testing, I am confident that Samuel and Eleanor are my ancestors. I therefore tend to be a bit prissy with respect to misinformation about them, having something of a proprietary interest. Some researchers claim Samuel and Eleanor were married in Pennsylvania, which is demonstrably incorrect. Eleanor appeared in North Carolina deed and court records with her Alexander family of origin as a child in 1753 and 1755. She married Samuel about 1759-60 (their eldest son William was born in NC in January 1761), almost certainly in North Carolina. Also, some researchers assert that Samuel was born in Paxtang, PA, but none whom I have contacted have any evidence for that claim. Frankly, it is nonsense. Samuel may be the same man as the Samuel Rankin who appeared on the 1753 tax list for Sadsbury Township in Chester Co., PA. There were no other Rankins on that list.
Samuel and Eleanor lived on Dutchman’s Creek in the part of Lincoln Co., NC that later became Gaston Co. They had seven sons (William, Samuel, Robert, David, Richard, Alexander, and James) and three daughters (Jane/Jean, Anne, and Eleanor). William, Alexander, James, Jane, and Anne stayed in Lincoln, or nearby. Richard Rankin died in Mecklenburg Co., just east of the Catawba River. (You can see Richard’s headstone on Beatty’s Ford Road north of Charlotte in the left foreground in the banner photo on the home page of this website.) Three of Samuel and Eleanor’s sons (Samuel, Robert, and David) and a daughter (Eleanor Rankin Dickson) went to Rutherford Co., TN. David stayed in Murfreesboro, but his three siblings moved on to Shelby Co., IL.
Two theories about the father/parents of Samuel Rankin (Sr.) still have currency on the internet. Both of them have been conclusively disproved by Y-DNA testing, see my article at this link. I have found no credible evidence whatsoever in colonial records regarding the identity of Samuel’s parents.
Robert and Rebecca Rankin of Guilford Co., NC (“R&R”)
This family arrived in the colonies in 1750 from Letterkenny Parish, Donegal County, Ireland, where their children (or at least some of them) were born. They were in Pennsylvania for only a short while. Robert and his son George Rankin were included on the 1753 tax list for West Nottingham Township in Chester County. R&R then came to Guilford County in 1755 as part of the Nottingham Colony, a group of Scots-Irish members of Nottingham Presbyterian Church, now located in Maryland (it was then in Pennsylvania). 
R&R had at least two proved sons who died in Guilford County: George (died in 1760), whose wife was Lydia Steele, and Robert (died in 1795), whose wife’s identity is a matter of controversy among Rankin researchers. Some Rankin family trees and at least one compiled Rankin history conflate the Robert who died in 1795 with his father Robert (husband of Rebecca), who died about 1770-73. The article at this link addresses that issue.
According to Rev. S. M. Rankin, R&R also had a son John who proved to be a research dead-end for me, although the Guilford records suggest such a son. R&R also had a daughter Ann, whose husband was the William Denny who died in Guilford in 1770. Rev. Rankin identifies a daughter Rebecca, although I found no evidence on that issue, and he failed to mention Ann (a rare Rev. Rankin error). R&R probably had other children as well.
All of this is uncontroverted so far as I know, except for (1) the identity of the wife of R&R’s son Robert Rankin who died in 1795 (see discussion under David Rankin of Iredell, below), (2) Ann as a daughter of R&R, and (3) the death date of George Rankin, son of R&R. Rev. Rankin said George died in 1761, but that was probably a typo. George actually died in 1760, when his will was probated.
David Rankin of Iredell Co., NC (d. 1789), wife Margaret LNU (“Iredell David”)
David Rankin’s 1789 Iredell will and other records establish a wife Margaret and three children: Robert, James (not explicitly named in the will), and Elizabeth (ditto). Both James and Elizabeth are established by the will, even though it doesn’t provide their given names, and other records.
Iredell David’s son Robert may be and probably is the same man as the “Mystery Robert” who applied for a Revolutionary War Pension application from Gibson Co., TN in 1832. I made that argument in this article, although my opinion should be deemed **speculative.** The identity of Robert’s wife is also a matter of controversy. Some researchers believe his wife was a Jean Denny (1755-1779) from Guilford County. Some Jean Denny definitely married some Robert Rankin in Guilford County in 1775. Other researchers believe that Jean Denny of Guilford married Robert, the son of R&R who died in Guilford in 1795. I disagree, because I believe that Robert (son of R&R)of Guilford was Jean Denny’s uncle. This question requires a fairly lengthy argument which I will save for another day.
In any event, Robert and his wife Jean had two sons: (1) Denny, who married Sarah McMinn, and (2) James, who married Elizabeth McMinn. Both families remained in Iredell. Two of Denny’s sons moved to Gibson County, TN (home of “Mystery Robert”) and then to Shelby Co., TN, where they both died. Many of James and Elizabeth’s descendants remained in Iredell; some are still there today. They are nice folks.
Iredell David’s son James died in the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill in Lincoln Co. in June 1780. His wife was a Miss Alexander (probably Susannah), and they had four children who are proved by Lincoln Co. guardian records: (1) David Rankin, born by 1781, Lincoln Co.; (2) Margaret (“Peggy”) Rankin m. Thomas Witherspoon in Lincoln Co., 6 Jul 1801; (3) William Rankin m. Mary Lourance/Lawrence, 17 Jan 1810; and (4) Jane/Jean Rankin m. William Crays.
Iredell deed records suggest that Iredell David’s daughter was probably Elizabeth, wife of Samuel McCrary (or McCreary).
For a lengthy chart (including supporting records) on the line of David of Iredell, see this link.
Robert Rankin of Rutherford County, NC (b. 1748-49, d. 1816, Caldwell Co., KY), m#1 Mary Withrow, m#2 Leah LNU (“Rutherford Robert”)
Francis Gill did the definitive research on Rutherford Robert and published a book about him and others. I cannot find a copy of his book available for either purchase or loan.
Rutherford Robert married Mary Withrow in Tryon Co., NC in 1769. He owned land on Second Broad River in what ultimately became Rutherford County. He and his future Withrow in-laws may have been listed on the tax list for Aston Township, Chester Co., PA in 1768, before going to NC. Rutherford Robert and Mary Withrow divorced, and he married as his second wife Leah LNU. They wound up in Caldwell Co., KY, where Robert applied for tax relief in a document establishing his birth year as 1748-49. He left a will naming his children Margaret, James, John, Rachel and David (children of Mary Withrow) and Elizabeth, Jennet, Jesse and Elias (children of his second wife Leah). The children evidently scattered to the four winds.
Whew! This article became longer than I expected. Hope this helps a bit in keeping these families straight. One final note: a couple of people who have read my posts admit they never look at the footnotes, which just make the articles too long. I have started omitting them. However, if anyone wants a citation to a source for anything in this or any other article, please let me know and I will be happy to provide it.
See you on down the road …
 John Rankin, a Shaker preacher and grandson of R&R, hand-wrote his autobiography at age 88. These details about the migration of R&R are from that autobiography. The only reference to a full transcription of the autobiography which I can find is as follows: John Rankin, “Auto-biography of John Rankin, Sen.” (South Union, Ky., 1845), transcribed in Harvey L. Eads, ed., History of the South Union Shaker Colony from 1804 to 1836 (South Union, Ky., 1870), Shaker Museum at South Union, Auburn, Kentucky (SMSU), 29-30. For a typescript of Eads’s history, see Shaker Record A at the Special Collections Library, Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green, Kentucky (WKU). The above citation can be found at this link.