John Willis’s Parents … A New Look

Previous articles (see links  here  and here) about John Willis who died in 1712 in Dorchester County, Maryland proposed that he was born in Wantage, Berkshire, England. That theory rested on two essential facts. First, Maryland colonists often named property after their former home in Europe. In John’s case, he named his 50-acre tract Wantage. Second, the Berkshire Parish Registers for Wantage include several marriages that might be John’s parents. One of those couples was John Willis and Elizabeth Chapman, who married in Berkshire Parish on 11 Apr 1664.[1]

New Information

One earlier article estimated John’s birth year as 1667-68, although I rounded the year to 1660 in the discussion.[2]Now I have found more precise information on the issue. Specifically, birth and christening records for Berkshire Parish show that John and Elizabeth Willis baptized a son named John on 3 Jan 1668.[3]

That record does not prove that the child born and baptized in 1668 is the same person as John Willis who died in Maryland. Nevertheless, it is significant circumstantial evidence. Importantly, subsequent parish records do not show an adult John Willis in Wantage during the period he likely would have married and had children. That at least suggests that baby John may have left Wantage when grown … perhaps for the colonies. Therefore, as a working hypothesis pending further evidence, John Willis who died in Maryland is now in my tree with a birthdate of 3 Jan 1668 and with parents John Willis and Elizabeth Chapman of Wantage, England.[4]DNA testing provides additional support for this theory. My autosomal test shows several matches with people having the Chapman surname. At least one of these has some connection to English Chapman families.

As with any unproved hypothesis, there are problems with the theory that John, son of John and Elizabeth, is the same person as John of Dorchester County, Maryland. According to the register entry, baby John Willis was baptized on the same day he was born. Most entries in the list show either a date of birth or of christening, but not both on the same date. Immediately baptizing a newborn may indicate the child was ill and not expected to survive. That might have been the situation with baby John. On the other hand, no record exists showing his death.

Children of John Willis d. 1712

The will of John Willis presented for probate in Dorchester County on 24 November 1712 proved four children: sons William and John, and daughters Grace and Elizabeth.[5]Two sons not named in the will are Andrew, proved by probate records, and Thomas, supported by circumstantial evidence. The will does not name a spouse, so we can assume that she predeceased John. Were she alive, he likely would have named her in the will with a life estate in the land or otherwise provided for her care. Further, the will does not use a married surname for either daughter, so probably they were unmarried as of 1712.

The earlier article estimated the birth years of the various children to provide a theoretical picture of the family consistent with known facts. Those estimates now need revision to account for John’s hypothetical birthdate of 3 Jan 1668/69. As mentioned in Footnote 2, son Andrew was born in about 1690, and John Jr. was born at least by 1689. I have used those two dates here. William was born between 1694 and 1700 according to a deposition.[6]I used the earlier date, which would make William 18 years old at his father’s death. Grace was named before Elizabeth in the 1712 will, possibly indicating she was the elder of the two. Since neither was married at the time of John, Sr.’s death, I have estimated birth years that would make them 16 and 14, respectively. The relative ages of Thomas and William are uncertain, but I suspect William was the youngest. Revised birthdates and their ages at 1712 are as follows:

1689 – John            age 23                           1694 – William      age 18

1690 – Andrew     age 22                           1696 – Grace            age 16

1692 – Thomas     age 20                           1698 – Elizabeth    age 14

I welcome any questions or comments about this and other articles. Please contact me at redmarker181969@yahoo.com.

[1]W.P.W. Phillimore, editor, Berkshire Parish Registers, Marriages, Volume 1, (London:Phillimore & Co., 1908), p. 41, John Willis, Junr [?] and Elizabeth Chapman, 11 Apr 1664.

[2]A 1730 deposition established that Andrew, one of John’s sons, was born in 1690, and a 1746 deposition stated that son John, Jr. was the eldest, making him born by at least 1689 to be older than Andrew. If these sons were 22 and 23 years old at the time of John Sr.’s death, a reasonable minimum age for him would be 44 or 45 when he died. In that case, John Sr. would have been born by 1667-68.

[3]Walls, Mary, transcriber, “England, Select Births and Christenings, 1538-1975,” FHL Films Number 88468, 88469, at Ancestry.com, 3 Jan 1668 (Birth and Bap), John Willis, parents John and Elizabeth Willis.

[4]Actually, the year is 1668/69. Until 1752 with the adoption of the Gregorian calendar by England and its colonies, the year began on 25 Mar. Thus, the date of 3 Jan 1668 in the register would be 3 Jan 1669 in the modern calendar.

[5]Cotton and Henry, Calendar of Wills, IV:23. Note that the date given in this source for the submission to probate is 24 Nov 1714. This date conflicts with the date John Willis, Jr., filed a protest to the will (3 Dec 1712) and the dates of activity in the Perogative Court records. I conclude the correct date for submission to probate is 24 Nov 1712. Dorchester County Will Book 14:12.

[6]James A. McAllister, Jr., Abstracts from theLand Records of Dorchester County, Maryland,Volume 10 (Liber Old No. 14, folios 374-741), (Cambridge, MD, 1963), X:74. 14 Old 658, 11 Nov 1746 to 27 May 1752, Commission to perpetuate the bounds of John Harrington’s land called “Rosses Range” and “David Ropies”, and Return. Nine men and women give depositions regarding this land on Hobson’s Creek. Among them are William Willis, age about 52; Judah (Judith) Willis, age about 50; and Mary Seward, age 68.

Part 2, Pennsylvania Rankins: William and Abigail of Washington County

Introduction

First, an inducement to persevere in this post: there are links to several online sources of information about this particular Rankin family.

Second, a rant about Rankin research in southern Pennsylvania: roughly a gazillion Rankins lived there from the mid-eighteenth century on. At least it feels that way. Rankins litter the deed books from Chester County in the east to Washington in the west. You may think you are researching only one Rankin line in only one county. Ha! Before you know it, you have worked your way through every county on the Maryland border and are sorting through gosh knows how many Rankin lines. To make it challenging, those good Scots-Irish men are all named William, James, John, David, Thomas, Hugh, or Adam.

And don’t get me started on the Pennsylvania grantor/grantee indexes. Whoever heard of arranging anything alphabetically by first name? Is William Penn to blame for this? The only good thing I can say about Pennsylvania research is that William Tecumseh Sherman didn’t torch their courthouses.

The bottom line is that undertaking Rankin family research in southern Pennsylvania involves what attorneys call a slippery slope: a course of action that seems to lead inevitably from one action or result to another with unintended consequences. Thus, the scorched-earth march through deed records from Washington to Chester County (if you started on the western end, as I did).

Okay. We’re just going to proceed one southern Pennsylvania Rankin line at a time and hope for the best. I’m grateful for the chance to vent.

William and Abigail Rankin of Frederick, VA and Washington, PA

Let’s start with William Rankin, a son of David Rankin Sr. and Jennet (who did not have the middle name Mildred) McCormick Rankin of Frederick County, Virginia. We talked about David and Jennet’s family in Part 1 of this series. Two deeds in Frederick prove that William’s wife was named Abigail and that he owned a tract of land in Frederick called “Turkey Spring.[1] William’s will proves that he and Abigail moved to Washington County from Frederick because his will names his wife Abigail and devises Turkey Spring to his son William (Jr.). Boyd Crumrine’s 1882 History of Washington County, Pennsylvania says that William and most of his family came to the area in 1774.[2]

William died there in 1793. He named ten children in his will – eight sons and two daughters – as well as some of his grandchildren.[3] Charles A. Hanna’s book on Ohio Valley genealogies identifies a ninth son James, who was killed by Native Americans while returning to Pennsylvania from a trip to Kentucky.[4] William identified himself in his will as a resident of Smith Township on the middle fork of Raccoon Creek. That location distinguishes this family from other Rankins in the county for at least a century. The Raccoon Creek area was later incorporated into Mt. Pleasant Township, and many of William’s descendants are buried in Mt. Prospect Cemetery in that township.

Four of William’s sons – John, Thomas, Jesse and Zachariah – served in the Washington County militia.[5] At least Thomas was a Revolutionary War veteran (perhaps his brothers were, as well?).[6] The brothers served in the 4thCompany, 4thBatallion. John Rankin was a Lieutenant.[7] An official list of Revolutionary War soldiers buried in Ohio names Thomas Rankin, buried in Harrison County, and identifies his three brothers and their parents.[8]

 A Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission website says the Rankins’ company was from the area of Raccoon and Millers Run, so we know that we are looking at the right family. (Best tool in genealogy: location, location, location!). I haven’t researched the history of that militia. If you are descended from John, Jesse or Zachariah, and have a yen to join the DAR or SAR, you might consider doing that.

Here’s some information about William and Abigail’s sons. In the interest of keeping an overlong post marginally less so, I have omitted their daughters Mary Rankin (married Thomas Cherry) and Abigail Rankin (married Charles Campbell), whom I did not look at. I plan to post an outline chart for William and Abigail’s descendants as part of this series.

 David Rankin, b. by 1755, d. unknown. David, probably the eldest son, inherited the tract where he lived from his father. If you followed the link to Boyd Crumrine’s 1882 History in footnote 2 of this post, you saw Crumrine’s assertion that David remained in Virginia. Not so. Charles Hanna’s Genealogies made the same mistake. Two deeds involving his inherited tract make it clear that David and his wife Grace (maiden name unknown) lived right there on Raccoon Creek in the middle of the Rankin family.[9] David arrived in Washington County no later than 1781, when he appeared on a Smith Township tax list with his father William and brothers John, Matthew and Zachariah.[10] David sold parts of his inherited land in 1799 and 1805.[11] He was listed in Washington County in the 1800 and 1810 censuses, which suggest he had (at least) three daughters and a son born between 1784 and 1810.[12] I haven’t found where David went after 1810, and don’t have any clues about the identities of his children. If anyone reading this has any ideas, I would love to hear them.

John Rankin, b. by 1760, d. 1788, Washington Co., PA. John left a will naming his wife Rebecca and minor children James and Mary.[13]T heir grandfather William Rankin left the two children 253 acres in his 1793 will.[14] In 1808, James and Polly (a common nickname for Mary) sold that tract, located “on the waters of Raccoon Cr.” The deed recited that John’s widow Rebecca Rankin had married Jonathan Jacques, a useful piece of information for tracking the family.[15] James accepted notes for part of the purchase price, and the record of the 1808 mortgage identifies him as a resident of Harrison Co., KY.[16] There is a listing in the 1810 Harrison County census for a John Jaquess and an Isaac Jaquess. The latter is listed three households down from a James Rankin, possibly the son of John Rankin and Rebecca Rankin Jacques.[17] Other members of the Frederick-Washington Rankin family also moved from Washington to Harrison County, but I will save them for another post in this series.

William Rankin (Jr.). William Sr.’s will devised to William Jr. the tract where William (Sr.) formerly lived called “Turkey Spring.”[18] I haven’t attempted to track William Jr. in Virginia. Some online trees identify him as a Revolutionary War soldier (1748-1830) buried in the Mahnes Cemetery in Morgan County, West Virginia. I believe that William belongs to another Rankin family. It may be that the only way to resolve that question is YDNA testing … any Rankin men reading this need to volunteer, please!

Matthew Rankin, b. by 1755, d. 1822, Washington Co., PA. Matthew’s wife was Charity, maiden name unknown. The couple apparently had no surviving children because Matthew willed all his property to his wife, his brother Jesse, and some nieces and nephews.[19] Matthew was clearly a family caretaker, ensuring enforcement of a family agreement to distribute the family land equally, and acting as executor of his brother Zachariah’s will.[20]

Zachariah Rankin, b. by 1760, d. 1785, Washington Co., PA. Zachariah clearly knew he had a fatal illness before he died, because he executed his will on Oct. 17, 1785 and it was proved exactly one week later.[21] Crumrine tells us that Zachariah died of hydrophobia from the bite of a rabid wolf. Oh, my goodness. His probate file would make you smile, though: his brother Matthew’s spelling (or misspelling) throughout is charming. Zachariah’s wardrobe is described in some detail in Matthew’s inventory of personal property, suggesting Zachariah was a well-outfitted frontiersman (spelling and capitalization per original):

  • 2 Shirts
  • 1 coat 1 Jacket ____ & wool
  • one coat & one Jacket of thick cloath
  • one Pair of Buckskin Briches
  • one pair of Cordoroy Ditto & Jacket Nee Buckle
  • one Pair of Leggins one Letout (?) Coat
  • one Jacket
  • one Beaver Hat & one Wool hat
  • three Pair of stockings
  • one Silk Handkerchief & one linnen Ditto

Reading between the lines, there are a couple of other interesting details in Zachariah’s estate files. The only people who bought anything at Zachariah’s estate sale were named Rankin, except for Thomas Cherry, Zachariah’s brother-in-law. That suggests that either (1) the estate sale was attended only by family, which is highly improbable, or (2) the Rankins just outbid everyone on every item. The latter is far more likely, and suggests again that this family looked out for each other. Oh, and, Zachariah’s brother Thomas bought five gallons of whiskey for Zachariah’s funeral! Either attendance at the funeral was considerably larger than attendance at the estate sale, or else the Rankin family had one hellacious capacity for alcohol.[22] Or possibly both. I’ve known a few Rankins, and there are and have been some hollow legs in our family.

Thomas Rankin, b. 16 Sep. 1760 – d. 1832, Cadiz Township, Harrison Co., Ohio.  Thomas’s wife was named Ann (nickname Nancy), maiden name Foreman according to Charles Hanna. Like his brothers, Thomas inherited land on Raccoon Cr. from his father. He is listed in the 1790 Washington County census adjacent William Sr. That census suggests two sons and one daughter born by 1790.[23] Hanna identified his children as James, William, David, Jane and Nancy.

Thomas sold his land in two deeds in 1798, which may be when he left Washington County.[24] Crumrine says that Thomas moved to Cadiz Township, Harrison Co., Ohio. Thomas appeared on the 1810 tax list and 1820 there. In the 1820 census, he is listed adjacent a David Rankin, presumably his son. Thomas is buried in the Rankin Methodist Episcopal Cemetery in Cadiz Township.[25]

Jesse Rankin, b. 1763 – d. 21 Sep. 1837, Mt. Pleasant Township, Washington Co., PA. Jesse’s probate files conclusively establish the identities of his eight surviving children: sons Matthew, William, Isaac and Jesse, and daughters Margaret (married James Futen or Tuten or Teten), Abigail (married Robert Tenan or Tinan), Jane (never married), and Maria or Mariah (married George Kelso). The probate files are full of information. Some of it suggests that members of this branch of the Rankin family also had each other’s backs.[26]

First, there was a quitclaim deed from Jesse’s widow Jane (maiden name unknown) and their four sons to their four daughters, giving each daughter personal property essential for an early 19th-century female: a bed and bedclothes, saddle and bridle, some flax yarn and flannel, and a cow and calf. Also a set of silver teaspoons, a luxurious gift in the early 1800s.

Second, the family agreed to give Isaac a share of the estate over and above what he would have been entitled to under the law of intestate descent and distribution. The family did that because Isaac had continued to live with and work for his family as an adult. The family’s agreement recites that “for and in consideration of the labours and services of … Isaac Rankin for and during the time of 6 years 9 months which he … continued with his father and family after he arrived at 21 years of age … $100 per year for the said time … to be paid by the Administrators of Jesse … over and above the legal share of the estate.” Nice!

Samuel Rankin, b. 1769, d. October 1820, Washington Co., PA. Samuel died intestate and left little trace in the records. Charles Hanna said his wife was Jane McConahey. Samuel’s brother Matthew named Samuel’s children in his will:[27] sons John, David, Samuel, James, Stephen, and Matthew, and daughters Matilda, Abigail and Jane. Charles Hanna adds a son William. Matthew’s will in Washington County Will Book 3 is now typewritten, presumably copied from the original handwritten will book. Perhaps either the clerk who first entered the will in the records, or the typist who later transcribed it, omitted William. Whatever. It’s a solid bet that Hanna was correct, and Samuel had a son William. Further, the 1850 census for Washington County has two William Rankins living in Mt. Pleasant Township, where Matthew’s land had been divided among his brother Jesse and the children of his brother Samuel. One William was likely Samuel’s son, and the other William was Jesse’s son.

With that, I’ll close: see you on down the road. I owe you a descendant chart on William and Abigail’s line, plus … more Rankins in Washington County!

[1] Amelia C. Gilreath, Frederick County, Virginia Deed Books 5, 6, 7, 8, 1757-1763 (Nokesville, VA: 1990), abstract of Deed Book 5: 343-345, lease and release dated Sept. 3 and 4, 1759, from William Rankin of Frederick to John Smith, a tract on Opeckon Cr. called “Turkey Spring,”part of a 778-acre grant from Lord Fairfax to William and David Rankin (William’s father, David Sr., see the next deed) on 30 October 1756. William and Abigel (sic) Rankin signed the release. See id.,abstract of Deed Book 5: 398-400, lease and release dated Mar. 2 and 3, 1760, from David Rankin Sr.and William Rankin, all of Frederick Co., to David Rankin Jr., 463 acres on a branch of Opeckon Cr., part of a 778-acre grant to David and William dated 30 Oct. 1756 from Lord Fairfax. David Rankin, Jannet (sic) Rankin, William Rankin, and Abigill (sic) Rankin all signed.

[2] Boyd Crumrine, History of Washington County, Pennsylvania(Philadelphia: L. H. Everts & Co., 1882). Here is a link to Crumrine’s History:: https://archive.org/details/historyofwashing00crum

[3] Bob and Mary Closson, Abstracts of Washington County Pennsylvania Willbooks 1-5 (1776-1841)(Apollo, PA: Closson Press, 1995), will of William Rankin of Smith Twp. and the “middle fork of Raccoon Creek,” dated 10 Apr 1793 and proved 21 Oct 1793.

[4] Charles A. Hanna, Ohio Valley Genealogies Relating Chiefly to Families in Harrison, Belmont and Jefferson Counties, Ohio, and Washington, Westmoreland, and Fayette Counties, Pennsylvania (New York: privately printed, Press of J. J. Little & Co., 1900). This Rankin family appears on pp. 104-105. Here is a link: https://ia801608.us.archive.org/8/items/ohiovalleygeneal00hann/ohiovalleygeneal00hann.pdf

[5] Jane Dowd Dailey, DAR, under the direction of the Ohio Adjutant General’s Department, The Official Roster of the Soldiers of the American Revolution Buried in the State of Ohio, Vol. 1, p. 300 (Columbus, Ohio, The F. J. Heer Printing Co., 1929). Here is a link: https://ia902607.us.archive.org/30/items/officialrosterof1929ohiorich/officialrosterof1929ohiorich.pdf

[6] Here is a link to an image of Thomas’s tombstone. Notice the DAR Rev War marker to the left. Crumrine (see note 2) tells us that Thomas moved to Cadiz, Ohio; the Rankin cemetery where Thomas is buried is located there. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/86229380/thomas-rankin#view-photo=59555244

[7] Pennsylvania Archives Series, Series 6, Volume II, pp. 133, 144.

[8] See note 5, Official Roster at 300.

[9] Family History Library DGS Film 8,036,008, Washington Co., PA Deed Book 1P: 232, deed dated 8 May 1799 from David and Grace Rankin of Smith Township to James Denny, a tract on Raccoon Cr. adjacent James Leach, willed by William Rankin to his son David; Film 8,036,009, Washington Co. Deed Book 1T: 12, deed of 11 Jan 1805 from David Rankin of Smith Township to William Rankin, son of Samuel Rankin, for love and affection and $100, the tract where David now resides adjacent James Leach.

[10] Raymond Martin Bell and Katherine K. Zinsser, Washington County, Pennsylvania Tax Lists for 1781, 1783, 1784, 1793 and Census for 1790(Bowie, MD: Heritage Books, Inc., 1988).

[11] See note 9.

[12] 1800 federal census, Washington Co., Smith Twp., David Rankin, 10001-01001; 1810 federal census, Washington Co., Mt. Pleasant Twp., David Rankin, 01001-20101. The census suggests that David was born by 1755, as was his wife Grace. If the children in his household were his, he had a daughter b. 1784-1790, son b. 1794-1800, and two daughters b. 1800-1810

[13] Family History Library DGS Film No. 5,537,968, Washington Co., PA Will Book 1: 81, will of John Rankin of Smith Township dated 16 Feb 1788 and proved 22 Apr 1788 naming wife Rebecca, father William, and children James and Mary.

[14] Closson, Abstracts of Washington County Pennsylvania Willbooks, 1793 will of William Rankin.

[15] Family History Library DGS Film 7,901,590, Washington Co., PA Deed Book 1U: 130, deed dated 22 Feb 1808 from James Rankin for himself and as attorney for Polly Rankin. The deed recites that James and Polly inherited the tract from their father John Rankin, who left a wife Rebecca, “now married to Jonathan Jacques.”

[16] Id., Washington Co. Deed Book 1U: 132, mortgage dated 22 Feb 1808 reciting the sale of land by James and Polly Rankin and stating that James Rankin was “of Harrison Co., KY.”

[17] 1810 federal census, Harrison Co., KY, listings for John Jaquess (32001-03100, 2 slaves), Isaac Jaquess (00100-001), and James Rankins (11000-11001). James is listed in the 10<16 age category, which is too young to be James, son of John and Rebecca. This may be an example of census error, particularly since there is a female in the 26 < 45 age category in the household.

[18] See note 3.

[19] Family History Library DGS Film 5,537,969, Washington Co., PA Will Book 3: 484, will of Matthew Rankin Sr.of Mt. Pleasant Twp. dated 20 Dec 1821, proved 25 Apr 1822. Matthew named (1) his nephew Matthew Rankin (Jr.), the 4thson of Matthew’s deceased brother Samuel Rankin (60 acres), (2) his brother Jesse (100 acres), (3) his brother Samuel’s other children John Rankin, David Rankin, Samuel Rankin, James Rankin, Stephen Rankin, Matilda Rankin, Abigail Rankin and Jane Rankin (the rest of Matthew’s land), and (4) nephews James Rankin (cash and clothes), son of Matthew’s brother Thomas, and nephew John Cherry, son of Thomas and Mary Rankin Cherry (cash).

[20] Family History Library DGS Film 8,036,002, Washington Co., PA Deed Book 1B: 374, agreement dated 13 Aug 1785 among William Rankin of Smith Twp and his sons Matthew Rankin, Zachariah Rankin, and Jesse Rankin, all of Smith Township. The three brothers gave to William Rankin all rights to lands adjacent to the settlement where William Rankin lived that “come to our hands from the office of Philadelphia.” In return, William promised to make “equal division according to quantity and quality” among William’s sons. William’s will failed to honor that agreement by devising to his sons Samuel and Jesse the share of William’s land to which Zachariah (who predeceased William) was entitled. Zachariah’s only heir, his daughter Abigail, was entitled to that land. Matthew remedied that situation with several deeds in order “to do justice and equity” according to the contract and William’s will, ensuring that Zachariah’s daughter received that land. Family History Library DGS Film 8,084,633, Washington Co., PA Deed Book 1R: 186, Deed Book 1R: 189, and DB 1R: 295. The last deed contains a conveyance from Jesse and Samuel Rankin to Abby Rankin (Zachariah’s only child and heir), “it being the share of William Rankin’s estate to which Zachariah was entitled,” all in order “to do justice and equity” according to the contract among William and his sons.

[21] Family History Library DGS Film 5,537,968, Washington Co., PA Will Book 1: 52, will of Zachariah Rankin naming wife Nancy, father William Rankin, and his unborn child (a daughter named Abigail). Zachariah named his brother Matthew executor.

[22] Family History Library DGS Film 5,558,493, Probate File # R9.

[23] 1790 federal census for Washington Co., PA, Thomas Rankin, 12201 (1 male 16+, 2 males < 16 [ b. 1774-1790], and 2 females, suggesting 2 sons and 1 daughter).

[24]F amily History Library DGS Film 8,036,007, Washington Co., PA Deed Book 1N, 665 and 754, conveyance by Rankin and wife Ann in two deeds, 100 acres and 150 acres.

[25] See note 6.

[26] Family History Library DGS Film 5,558,495 and 5,558,496, Probate Files R32, R51 and R52.

[27] Family History Library DGS Film 5,537,969, Washington Co., PA Will Book 3: 484, will of Matthew Rankin.