This answer to that question appears to be reasonably straightforward. However, it leaves another one hanging out there unanswered. Of course! This hobby wouldn’t be nearly as much fun were it not so.
Here’s the background. In January 2018, I posted an article on this website about some Rankin families I stumbled across in the records of Gibson County, Tennessee. Although the article focused on the identity of the Robert Rankin who applied for a Revolutionary War pension in 1832 while he was living in Gibson, it also mentioned other Rankin families in the county at later dates.
One of the other Gibson County families was Jesse Rankin and his wife Cynthia. Rankin researchers disagree on the identity of his parents. Some claim he was a son of Shaker Reverend John Rankin from the Guilford County, NC line of Robert and Rebecca Rankin. That John died in 1850 in Shaker Village (now “Shakertown”), Logan County, KY. Let’s call him “Shaker John.” Other researchers claim Jesse was a son of the Robert Rankin who lived in Rutherford Co., NC, Pendleton District, SC, and Caldwell County, KY. Call him “Rutherford Robert.”
Jesse of Gibson County was definitely not a son of Shaker John. Good circumstantial evidence strongly supports the notion that Jesse was a son of Rutherford Robert. See discussion of both possibilities below.
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Jesse and Cynthia first appeared for certain in the 1840 census for Gibson County and were probably also enumerated there in 1830, although Jesse’s age group is inconsistent between the 1830 and 1840 censuses. The 1850 census lists the Rankins in Jesse’s household as follows:
- Jesse Rankin, 55, farmer, born KY, District 9, dwelling #1841.
- Cynthia Rankin, 50, born KY
- James Rankin, 21, farmer, TN
- Elias Rankin, 17, farmer, TN
- Williamson Rankin, 15, farmer, TN
- Madison Rankin, 13, TN
In 1851, Jesse acquired a land grant of 48.5 acres. That was the last record I found for him until his will appeared among the Gibson probate records. The will was dated November 18, 1851 and named his wife Cynthia and “three youngest sons” Elias, Williamson and Madison. I found no record as to when the will was proved. Jesse was not listed in the 1860 census, so it is a safe bet that he died sometime between 1851 and 1860. So far as I can tell, only Jesse and Cynthia’s son Elias remained in Gibson County, where he appeared through at least the 1880 census. See footnote 2. Madison was living in Missouri by 1870. I couldn’t find either Williamson or James after 1850. Both were the right age to have been war casualties.
Knowing that both Jesse and Cynthia were born in Kentucky, the next step was to look in Kentucky marriage records. Turns out they were married on January 7, 1821, in Livingston County, KY.
Jesse was almost certainly not the son of Shaker John of Logan County. The Logan County records establish that a different Jesse Rankin was most likely a son of Shaker John. Jesse, son of Shaker John, appeared in the census in Shaker Village, Logan County, every decade from 1850 through 1880. Nine other children of Shaker John can also be identified from the Shaker Village death records and the federal census records during 1850 – 1880. Jesse Rankin died there, single, in 1882. It is unlikely that Shaker John’s son Jesse ever married or had any children, since the Shakers practiced celibacy.
Well, then … was Rutherford Robert the father of Jesse Rankin of Gibson County? The answer is almost certainly “yes,” for three reasons.
First, Rutherford Robert left a will dated 1808 and proved 1816 in Caldwell County, KY. Robert named a son Jesse. Second, Caldwell County was immediately adjacent to Livingston County in 1821, when Jesse and Cynthia married there. Jesse’s family of origin most likely lived nearby. Third, the only Rankin family appearing in Caldwell and Livingston County records in the first third of the 19th century was the line of Rutherford Robert. Here are some records in those locations:
- Elias Rankin, another son proved by Rutherford Robert’s will, was listed in the 1820 and 1830 census in Caldwell County. Elias married Matilda Herring there in 1820. Note that Jesse and Cynthia Rankin named a son Elias, which is not a common name.
- The “Widow Rankin” (presumably Leah, Rutherford Robert’s wife) was listed in the 1820 census in Caldwell County.
- Elizabeth and Jennet Rankin, identified by Rutherford Robert as his daughters in Robert’s will, married in Livingston County to James George (1806) and John Durly (1809), respectively.
The records connecting Jesse, son of Rutherford Robert, to Jesse Rankin of Gibson County probably don’t establish Jesse’s parentage as “conclusively proved.” The strong circumstantial evidence is sufficiently compelling to convince me, though.
So much for the question of Jesse’s parents. We are now left wondering to which (if any) of the other North Carolina Rankin lines originally appearing in Rowan County, NC was Rutherford Robert related? Originally, Rowan covered a substantial area, including what would eventually become Guilford, Lincoln, Iredell and Rutherford counties – home of several colonial Rankin families. There is apparently no paper evidence on the issue connecting Rutherford Robert to any of them. Francis Gill, the premier researcher on Rutherford Robert’s line, was unable to prove a connection to any other North Carolina Rankin families.
Once again, we clearly need Y-DNA testing. So … where is a living descendant of Rutherford Robert? So far as I know, no male descendant from the line of Rutherford Robert Rankin has participated yet in the Rankin Y-DNA project. We need to find one, or – better yet – several.
Is anyone reading this descended from this family? If so, I would love to hear from you!
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 1840 census, Gibson Co., TN, listing for Jesse Rankin, 2120001-010101. See also 1830 census, Gibson Co., TN, listing for Jesse Rankin, 20001-10111. The 1840 census shows Jesse in the age category born 1790-1800; the 1830 census shows him in the age category born 1800-1810. The latter appears to be incorrect.
 This footnote has information about Jesse and Cynthia’s son Elias, not Jesse — the note is in the wrong place but I can’t figure out how to move it. Techno-idiocy strikes again. 1870 census, Gibson Co., TN, “Lias” Rankin, 35, farmer, with Lizzie Rankin, 41, Sallie, 11, Mollie, 10, Thomas, 8, Divan, 6, Jeff D., 4, and Ada, 2, all born in Tennessee; 1880 census, Gibson Co., TN, E. C. Rankin, 47, wife Elizabeth, 52, daughter Mary E., 20, son Thomas J., 19, daughter L. D., 15, son William A., 14, daughter Ida C., 12, and daughter Nora, 9.
 Barbara, Byron and Samuel Sistler, Tennessee Land Grants (Nashville: Byron Sistler & Associates, 1998).
 Jordan Dodd, Kentucky Marriages to 1850, online publication at Ancestry.com.