Robert Rankin of McNairy Co., TN and Robert Rankin of Gibson Co. TN
A comment from a reader on an earlier post illustrated how easy it is to confuse some of the Rankins who lived in North Carolina and Tennessee in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. That includes two men named Robert Rankin who fought in the Revolutionary War. They were both originally from North Carolina and then moved to Tennessee about 1825 – 1830.
I wrote about these men in two different articles on this website, which undoubtedly made it more difficult to distinguish between them. Who can remember which Robert is which? To clear up the confusion, let’s revisit each man briefly to contrast their histories and pension applications. We will look first at the man I call “Rev (for “Revolutionary,” not “Reverend”) War Robert Rankin” and then his fellow soldier “Mystery Robert Rankin.” There is no proved family relationship between these two men, although descendants are a close Y-DNA match (assuming that I am correct about Mystery Robert’s identity).
Rev War Robert Rankin of Rowan/Guilford, NC and McNairy, TN (1759 – 1840)
Rev War Robert was a son of George and Lydia Steele Rankin of Rowan/Guilford County, North Carolina. He married twice: first, to Mary (“Polly”) Cusick, probably in the early 1780s, and then to Mary Moody in 1803.
He applied for a Revolutionary War pension in McNairy Co., TN on May 20, 1833. Among other things, he testified as follows:
- He was born in Guilford Co., NC on May 29, 1759 (at the time, it was Rowan County; Guilford wasn’t created until 1770).
- He was in the battle of Guilford Courthouse on March 15, 1781.
- He lived in Guilford until 1830 and then moved to McNairy County, Tennessee, where he was residing when he applied for a pension.
Here is an online transcription of his full pension application (and additional information from his widow’s application) prepared by Will Graves. Rev War Robert died in McNairy County and is buried in Bethel Springs Cemetery, see military tombstone here. For more information on Rev. War Robert and his children, see the article at this link discussing him and three other men named Robert Rankin from the Guilford County line of Robert and Rebecca Rankin.
“Mystery Robert Rankin” of Gibson County, TN (1748 – after 1835)
I refer to the second Robert Rankin as “Mystery Robert” because his family of origin is not proved. In fact, the records of Gibson County, Tennessee, where he filed for a Revolutionary War pension, reveal very little about him. I found no probate records naming Robert, one gift deed in which he may or may not have been the grantor, and no court records other than his pension application. He only appeared in the 1830 census and a few tax records in Gibson County.
One thing, however, is certain: the Robert Rankin who applied for a Revolutionary War pension from McNairy County, Tennessee (“Rev War Robert”) was not the same man as Robert Rankin of Gibson County, Tennessee (“Mystery Robert”). Their pension applications leave no doubt about that.
Mystery Robert testified in open court on September 7, 1832 in support of his application. He said this, inter alia:
- He was 84 years old, and thus born about 1748.
- He served in the North Carolina militia. This almost certainly means that he lived in North Carolina when he enlisted.
- He was in the battle of Ramsour’s Mill, where, he testified, “I lost a brother, killed by the Tories.” That battle took place in June 1780 in Lincoln County, NC.
You can find his pension application testimony online here, also transcribed by Will Graves.
Most of the patriot troops who fought at Ramsour’s Mill were from Iredell County, NC. About forty patriots died in that battle. The Philip Langenhour papers owned by the Iredell Genealogical Society in Statesville establish that one of the dead patriots was named Rankin. Other Iredell and Lincoln County records lead to the conclusion that a James Rankin died at Ramsour’s, and that he was a son of David and Margaret Rankin of Iredell. David and Margaret also had a son named Robert, who appeared frequently in the Iredell County records through the 1820s and then disappeared without leaving any probate records. Given the real and personal property ownership of the Iredell Rankin family, it is unlikely that Robert died there. Instead, he probably moved on.
The evidence strongly suggests that Robert, son of David and Margaret Rankin, moved to Gibson County, Tennessee, where he stated in his pension application that he had a brother who died in the battle of Ramsour’s Mill. I marshaled the evidence for that conclusion in this article.
I hope you will take the time to read the pension applications of these two men. The amount of detail these old vets recalled is amazing – in 1832 or 1833, a full half-century after their service. I shouldn’t be surprised, though. My husband is a Vietnam vet, and it is abundantly clear that a war experience leaves one with very strong memories.
See you on down the road! The Rankins and I are not yet finished with each other …
 National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Vol. 25, No. 4, December 1937, Revolutionary War Pension Applications. The pension application of Robert Rankin of McNairy Co., TN gave his date of birth as May 29, 1759. His widow, in her pension application, said he died on Dec. 21, 1840.
 Rowan County, NC Will Book A: 141, will of George Rankin dated May 1760, proved Oct 1760, naming minor sons John and Robert and wife Lydia; autobiography of Rev. War Robert’s brother 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. The autobiography identifies Lydia Steele as George Rankin’s wife and the mother of John and Robert Rankin.
 See Guilford, NC Will Book B: 435, will of William Cusick naming three daughters of Robert Rankin (Lydia, Isbel and Thankful) and testator’s deceased daughter Polly Cusick Rankin; National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Vol. 25, No. 4, December 1937, Revolutionary War Pension Applications, identifying Rev. War Robert’s second wife as Mary Moody, married in Guilford County Nov. 22, 1803.
 Id., National Genealogical Society Quarterly.
 The Findagrave site claims that Rev. War Robert married Mary (“Polly”) Cusick in 1781, although there seems to be no evidence in the records for a specific year. A compiled Rankin family history by Gregg Moore and Forney Rankin makes that claim without citing any records, so far as I know.
 Gibson County Robert’s pension application states his age, establishing his date of birth as about 1748. He was on the Tennessee pension roll in 1835, and may have been the grantor in an 1837 deed and a poll on the 1838 Gibson tax list.