The Heirs of Joshua Willis Sr. – Proved by Petitions, Patents, Depositions, and Deeds

John Willis bought land on Marshy Creek in 1717 in what became Caroline County, MD. One of his sons Joshua was born about 1720 and died in 1797. Joshua left a 1790 will that has not been located. However, several legal documents … petitions, patents, deeds, and depositions … combine to identify accurately Joshua’s children and provide other details about the family. These records emphasize the need in genealogy to “Follow The Land.”

Joshua acquired during his lifetime several hundred acres of land. He devised all the land he possessed at the time he made his will. Thankfully for us, Joshua did not amend the will to devise the tracts he acquired subsequent to 1790. The tracts not disposed of in the will fell to Joshua’s heirs at law under the law of intestate descent and distribution. This led to petitions, patents, deeds and depositions that identify those heirs. Since the will is lost, those other records relating to two specific tracts of land are the only evidence we have. Luckily, they are all we need.

Willis’s Landing

Joshua acquired land he called Willis’s Landing in two transactions in 1793. On 8 Jan 1793, John Nicolls assigned to Joshua 7½ acres of a 26-acre tract that Nicolls had acquired under a special warrant. Pursuant to a special warrant dated 20 Apr 1793, Joshua surveyed 69 ¾ adjacent acres, and named it Addition to Willis’s Landing. Petitions and subsequent land sales prove that Joshua’s will did not devise these parcels acquired after 1790. Further, his will clearly did not contain a “residuary clause” whereby property not specifically devised or bequeathed would fall to an identified beneficiary. In effect, Joshua’s estate was “intestate” as to this particular land.

Joshua Willis Jr. cited those facts in a petition seeking a patent for the land in the names of the heirs. He showed that his father properly acquired and paid for the tracts and that he died intestate as to those lands, leaving “Elizabeth Everngham, Joshua Willis (your petitioner), Frances Baker, Deborah Lucas, Charles Willis, Peter Willis, Thomas Willis, James Willis, John Willis, Annaretta Fleming, and Mary Willis his only children and heirs at law.” The filing stated that Charles Willis and Thomas Willis had died without issue and that Annaretta also died, leaving Mary Fleming and Robert Fleming her only children and heirs at law. Note that Joshua Sr.’s wife must have predeceased him, otherwise the petition would have named her as an heir.[1]

Joshua Jr. filed this petition on 14 May 1805, and an order issued the same day naming the living heirs. The order called for a patent to be issued to the ten named individuals, with the first eight (the living children of Joshua Sr.) each having an undivided one-ninth interest in the property and Mary Fleming and Robert Fleming to share the remaining ninth.[2]

An earlier deposition also names Joshua’s eleven children and notes that four of the five daughters had married, identifying their husbands:

  • Elizabeth married William Everngham
  • Frances married Charles Baker
  • Deborah married Joshua Lucas
  • Annaretta married Silas Fleming

That deposition also stated that Charles and Thomas Willis had died intestate and without issue, and that Annaretta and Silas Fleming had died leaving children Mary and Robert.[3]

A short aside … Annaretta’s husband made a will dated 1 Feb 1804 naming his brother-in-law Peter Willis executor. This will reveals that Annaretta predeceased Silas because she was not named, as well as the fact that the two Fleming children were minors.[4]

On 17 Jun 1805, the heirs sold Willis’ Landing and recorded the sale in Dorchester County (the tract fell partly in Caroline and partly in Dorchester). The signatories were William Everngham and his wife Elizabeth, Joshua Willis, Frances Baker, Joshua Lucas and his wife Deborah, Peter Willis, and John Willis.[5]

We are missing a few signatories in this list: Frances’ husband Charles Baker; James Willis; the two Fleming children; and Mary Willis. What does this tell us? Likely the following:

  • Frances’s husband Charles Baker must have died before this sale. A husband represented a wife’s interest in legal transactions. Frances would only represent herself if no longer married.
  • James Willis made up for his absence by filing in the Dorchester County Court acknowledging and recording the sale on 9 Dec 1805.[6]
  • Regarding the Fleming minors, we can assume that Peter Willis probably signed on their behalf. I have not found a record of an official guardianship, but the children lived in his household.
  • The mystery is Mary Willis. Where is her signature? I believe that Mary was still a minor at the date of this sale (therefore born after 1784). I find no official guardian appointed, but there is not one for the Fleming children either. The lost will of Joshua Sr. may have designated one of the siblings to be her guardian.

The record related to Willis’s Landing proves the children of Joshua Willis. However, we can learn a bit more by examining the documents surrounding a second tract called Willis’s Luck.

Willis’s Luck

Joshua Sr. acquired 229½ acres he named Willis’s Luck under a special warrant in 1763. He sold 100 acres shortly thereafter, simultaneously buying a small tract named Bank of Pleasure that provided access to Hunting Creek for the larger tract. A 1793 resurvey of his land defined 136½ acres that he called Addition to Willis’s Luck. The resurvey included 25 vacant acres, which turn out to be genealogically significant.

Joshua Sr.’s 1790 will devised Willis’s Luck, Addition to Willis’s Luck, and Bank of Pleasure to his son Charles. Sons Joshua and Peter were contingent beneficiaries and would share the land if Charles died without issue. Several records confirm this provision of the lost will.

  • On 28 Feb 1799, Joshua Jr. sold to Peter Willis 150 acres, part of Bank of Pleasure and part of Addition to Willis’s Luck. The record states this was half the land that fell to them at the death of their brother Charles.[7]
  • On 7 Aug 1804, Joshua Jr. sold to Peter Willis 150 acres, parts of Bank of Pleasure, Willis’s Luck, and Addition to Willis’s Luck. This record recites that the land fell to Joshua by the demise of his brother Charles.[8]

Charles clearly received this land through the will, and when he died without children, Joshua and Peter inherited under the terms of the will. Absent such a contingency provision, the death of Charles would have entitled all his heirs — his siblings — to a share of the land. An 1800 petition confirms those facts but with an interesting twist. The vacant land added through the 1793 resurvey was notcovered by Joshua Sr.’s prior ownership of the tracts. The will could not devise those added acres. Here we go with another petition, since these “intestate” acres descend to Joshua Sr.’s heirs at law.

In 1800, Joshua Willis and Peter Willis petitioned for a patent related to the vacant land. They cited their father’s acquisition and patent history of the tract. They specifically stated their father Joshua made his will in 1790. They stated that the land was devised to their brother Charles and fell to them divided equally should Charles die without issue. Finally, they noted that the vacant land added to the tract in 1793, subsequent to the date of the will, was not covered by the devise of land in that document. The estate was intestate as to that extra 25 acres. They therefore asked that a patent issue for that land in the name of the heirs at law. On 10 Dec 1800, the Chancellor of Maryland ordered the patent issued as requested, which happened on 20 Feb 1801.[9]

Nine years later the heirs sold that small acreage for $87. William Everngam and his wife Elizabeth, Deborah Lucas, Peter Willis, James Willis, John Willis, and Matthew Hardcastle and his wife Mary signed the 25 Jan 1810 deed of sale. The deeds and petition related to Willis’s Luck reveal some details about these people other than just their names:

  • Charles Willis obviously died before the first sale from Joshua Jr. to Peter in February 1799.
  • In the 1810 sale, only six of the nine shares appear to be represented. The three missing shares are as follows:
    • Joshua Willis did not participate in the 1810 sale. Joshua must have died before 1810 and left no issue, or he transferred his interest to one of the other heirs. There is no record of a conveyance from Joshua to an heir or anyone else. Since there is no such record, Joshua must be deceased.
    • Frances Willis Baker did not participate and was likely also dead.
    • The Fleming children did not sign. If alive, they must still be minors and therefore born after 1789. In that case, Peter still represented them.
  • Mary Willis was by then married to Matthew Hardcastle.[10]Her absence as a signatory on the 1805 sale of Willis’s Landing established she was born after 1784. She might have married Hardcastle as early as age 16, which would mean she was born by 1790, when her father wrote his will. I put her likely birth range at 1785-1789.

It would have been nice if Joshua Sr.’s 1790 will survived and had been updated over time to cover all his property. Had that occurred, however, we might not be privy to these additional details about this family. The lesson, as always, is “Follow The Land.

[1]Joshua outlived two wives, Susannah LNU, mother of his first three children, and Deborah Greenhawk whom he married 20 May 1774.

[2]Maryland State Archives Online, Dorchester County Circuit Court, Patented Certificates, MSA_S1196_3662

[3]This deposition by Captain William Haskins states the will was made in 1797. The petition seeking a patent in the name of Joshua’s heirs at law filed in 1800 gives the date as 1790. The earlier date is correct based on the subject matter of the petition, that is, to provide proper title to lands acquired in 1793. If the will were made in 1797, it likely would have devised those lands making the new patent unnecessary.

[4]Keddie, Leslie and Neil, Caroline County, Maryland, Register of Wills, 1800-1806, Liber JR Bi, Transcript& Liber LR C, i,(The Family Tree Bookshop, 2001), 48.

[5]Maryland State Archives online, Dorchester County Land Records, MSA_CE 46-48,(Liber HD No. 23: 181

[6]IdatHD 23:183

[7]Leonard, R. Bernice, Caroline County Maryland Land Records, Volume F, 1797-1799, (St. Michaels, MD: Helen E. Seymour), F:448.

[8]Leonard, Volume I, 1804-1809, I:090.

[9]Maryland State Archives Online, Caroline County Circuit Court, Patented Certificates, MSA_S1192_18.

[10]Marriage records indicate she married in Caroline County on 17 Sep 1806.

Adam Rankin d. 1747, Lancaster PA, & Mary Steele Rankin’s son William: “Follow the Land”

Every genealogist has used the “Follow The Land” approach to family history research, even if she/he doesn’t call it by that name. The idea is that an identifiable tract of land can prove family connections via deed, probate, and other records.[1] This post is a good example. FTL establishes the identity of a colonial Rankin’s wife and helps track a son’s family with evidence that qualifies as conclusive.

This post deals with some of the “Londonderry Siege” Rankins, rather than the North Carolina Rankin families often discussed in this blog.[2] You can read the Londonderry Siege Rankins’ interesting oral history here. It mentions two immigrants identified as brothers who came to Pennsylvania in the 1720s. Both men died in Lancaster Co., PA in the 1740s:

  • John Rankin died in 1749. His will named his wife Margaret, sons Richard and Thomas, six daughters, and 2 sons-in-law.[3] Here is a post about him, including a not-quite-successful attempt to reproduce images of the original.
  • Adam Rankin died in 1747. This post is about Adam’s line, particularly his son William.

Adam’s earliest appearance in the colonies was about 1722, when an Adam Rankin signed a petition to Lord Baltimore from landowners in the so-called “New Munster” tract. The petition said the signatories believed that they resided in Maryland rather than Pennsylvania.[4] One particular New Munster tract conclusively proves the identity of Adam’s wife. Here is the evidentiary trail …

  • The 1717 will of James Alexander of New Munster, Cecil Co., MD devised a 316-acre tract.[5] His will says he had bargained for the land, but hadn’t paid for it or obtained a deed. He instructed his executors to sell as much of his moveable estate as necessary to pay for the tract. James also instructed that three “honest men … of the neighborhood” divide the land into three equal parts for his family. James named as executors his wife Mary Alexander and his father-in-law John Steele, establishing that his wife was née Mary Steele.
  • Next, a Cecil County deed dated August 1718 completed the purchase of the tract as James had instructed. Thomas Stevenson conveyed 316 acres to Mary Alexander, “widow and relict of James Alexander of New Munster” and sons Joseph, John and Francis Alexander. Echoing James Alexander’s will, the deed recites that James had bargained with grantor for the land but didn’t pay for it before he died, but had left money to pay it, and instructed that it should be divided into three equal parts.[6]
  • Finally, the tract was divided into three parts by survey of September 29, 1724. The survey identifies the tract as 316 acres in New Munster and states that James Alexander’s widow Mary married Adam Rankin.[7]

Thank you, 316-acre tract … the will, deed and survey leave no reasonable doubt that Mary Steele, daughter of John Steele of New Castle Co., DE, married James Alexander first, and then Adam Rankin. Also, her marriage to Adam must have taken place between August 1718 (the conveyance from Thomas Stevenson) and September 1724 (the survey).

Adam’s will, dated 4 May 1747, was proved 21 Sep 1747 in Lancaster County, PA.[8] Here is an abstract:

To son James Rankin, £ 5 “pencelvaney currancy,” plus the “place he is now in possession of being fully given over to him.” Daughter Esther Rankin Dunwoody, £ 5. Wife (name omitted), two-thirds “of all my worldly substance.” To sons William and Jeremiah, the residue of my estate, including the plantation to be equally divided between them. Witnesses James Pettigrew, John McMath?

So far as I know, there is only one record concerning Adam’s land aside from the New Munster tract petition. Adam obtained a 1742 warrant (thank you, Floyd Owsley) to survey 100 acres “at Conegocheague.”[9 ] Conococheague Creek is near Greencastle, PA, less than 5 miles north of the current PA/MD line. I don’t know whether the warrant ripened into a grant. I haven’t seen anything in the PA Patent Book records for Adam. However, it seems to be the best evidence available about his location.

Three years after Adam died, that Conococheague acreage would fall in Cumberland County, created in 1750 from Lancaster. Beginning in 1784, it would be located in Antrim Township, Franklin County, created from Cumberland in 1784.[10]

Adam’s land warrant thus tells us exactly where to begin looking for his family after he died.

Adam and Mary’s sons James and William fairly leap out of the records of Antrim Township in Franklin County. Both men were listed on the Antrim tax lists (along with some of their sons) in 1785, 1786 and 1787. Beginning in 1789, Wiliam was taxed in Antrim Township; James was taxed in Montgomery Township.

So far as I have found, their brother Jeremiah never appeared in any county records other than his father’s will. There is a bit of a controversy about Jeremiah’s line, because some Rankin men who claim descent from Adam are not YDNA matches with each other. If anyone reading this post has evidence of Jeremiah Rankin’s wife and children other than trees posted on Ancestry.com or FamilySearch.org, a 1901 essay written by Henry Whyte, or a letter purportedly written by John Mason Rankin in 1854, please post a comment! Those sources all contain the same conventional wisdom about Jeremiah, probably all sourced originally from the 1901 essay. Fine. Surely there must be primary evidence regarding Jeremiah’s family somewhere. I just haven’t found it yet.

William and James were more cooperative than Jeremiah. Not only did they appear in the exact geographic location Adam’s 1742 grant led us to expect, they both left wills. The will of James Rankin Sr. of Montgomery Township, Franklin County, was dated 25 March 1788 and proved 20 October 1795. It names his wife Jean; sons William, Jeremiah, James (Jr.) and David; daughter Ruth Rankin Tool; son-in-law Samuel Smith; and granddaughter Mary Smith. James named his son Jeremiah Rankin and friend David Huston/Houston as executors.[11]

We will leave James Sr. for another day. We’re now on the track of Adam and Mary Steele Rankin’s son William because there are more contradictory views of that line than one can count. Some claims are relevant to “Lineage 2” of the Rankin DNA Project, which is near and dear to my heart — because that’s where my Rankin cousin’s YDNA places my Rankin family.

William’s wife was Mary Huston, daughter of Archibald Huston.[12] William’s will, dated 20 Oct 1792 and proved 28 Nov 1792, suggests he amassed a good bit of land.[13] William described himself as “of Antrim Township” in Franklin County and “advanced in age” in 1792.

Here are his devises and bequests:

  • Wife Mary received one-third of profits from “the mansion place.”
  • Son Adam Rankin inherited 200 acres on the waters of the Kiskimetatas River in Westmoreland Countyand an enslaved person.
  • Son Archibald Rankin received 200 acres off “the mansion place.”
  • Sons James and William inherited 990 acres in Penns Valley, Mifflin County, “150 acres of which is sold for taxes if it can be purchased nearly at what it was sold for,” purchase money to be equally “taken off” sons Archibald, James, William, David, John and Jeremiah. I take that to mean that a portion of the Penn’s Valley tract had been sold for taxes, but William wanted his estate to buy it back. There is a Mifflin County deed which may prove that repurchase, although I don’t have access to either film or an abstract of it.[14] Dang it. Need.To.Go.To.PA.
  • Daughter Betsy, £ 400 and an enslaved person. She was less than 21.
  • Son David, old mansion place, 300 acres.
  • Sons John and Jeremiah, 408 acres on Spring Creek in Penns Valley in Mifflin County, plus £ 400 from son David starting when they reach 21.
  • Sons Archibald Rankin, James Rankin, and William Rankin, executors. Witnesses William Beaty, John Woods, John McLanahan.

“Follow the land” is pretty straightforward for some of William and Mary’s children, thanks to that will. Here is a little bit about his sons. I don’t know who his daughter Betsy married, if she married at all.

Adam Rankin (b. ca 1760 – ?) was a doctor, probably born in the early 1760s. In 1792, he granted his brother Archibald a power of attorney for “as long as I am absent” to “transact all my business.” I don’t know where Dr. Adam went when he was “absent.” In 1796, Archibald sold Adam’s inherited Westmoreland tract pursuant to the power of attorney. The deed recites the date the tract was originally granted to William Rankin of Antrim Township and that it was devised to Doctor Adam Rankin by his father’s 1792 will.[15] In 1798, Dr. Adam Rankin was listed on a Franklin County tax list in the “6thDivision, 4thAssessment Dist.” I can find no record for him after that. He was most likely the first physician in his family, which is positively awash with doctors in the next two generations.

Archibald Rankin (1764 – 1845) inherited part of the “old mansion place” in Antrim Township, and he apparently stayed right there until he died. His first appearance in the records was on the 1785 Antrim tax list as a “freeman.”[16] He was a head of household in the federal census of Franklin County from 1790 through 1840 (I could not find him in 1830, although he was still alive).[17] I haven’t tried to trace his line, although he had a number of children. He belonged to the Presbyterian Church of the Upper West Conococheague. Church records show that he married Agnes Long on 9 Mar 1790 and that their daughter Fanny died in 1827. Church records also say Archibald died 24 Jun 1845 at age 81, indicating he was born about 1764. He and Agnes are reportedly buried in the Church Hill Graveyard AKA White Church Cemetery in Mercersburg, Franklin County. Findagrave is losing its credibility with lots of unsourced stuff being posted on its sites, making it hard to know what to trust absent a tombstone photo.

David Rankin inherited the rest of the “old mansion place.” I must put off talking about David pending additional research. Both James d. 1795 and his brother William d. 1792 had sons named David. I cannot confidently distinguish between the two without further digging. At some point, you just stop and write what you know. This post is an example.

The remaining four sons are FTL exemplars. That is because William d. 1792 left land in Penn’s Valley, Mifflin County, some of it on Spring Creek, to his sons James, William, John and Jeremiah. The will suggests that John and Jeremiah would be located close to each other, since they shared a tract; likewise, James and William shared a tract, and should be located near each other.

An old book titled History of Centre and Clinton Counties by John Blair Linn (Philadelphia: Louis H. Everts, 1883) has a section titled “Discovery of Penns Valley.” It also has a map of the original survey of Bellefonte, the county seat of Centre County, with “Spring Creek” running right through the middle of it. I have tried to post an image of that lovely map here, with no luck. Techno-idiocy. Sorry.

Centre County, by the way, was created in 1803 from Mifflin County, so the two tracts devised by William were located in Mifflin County when he wrote his will in 1792, and in Centre County after 1803.

Jackpot. There they are, all four of them in Centre County, paired off geographically just as one would expect. The 1810 census for Potter Township in Centre County has on one page James Rankin enumerated two households down from William Rankin. Another page has listings for Jeremiah Rankin and John Rankin. All four men are in the age 26 < 45 category, born during 1765 – 1784. We know that Jeremiah and John were underage in 1792 when their father wrote his will, so they would have been born after 1771. We know that Archibald, an elder brother, was born in 1764. Those birth ranges fit like a glove, with further confirmation in later census records.

These men are undoubtedly sons of William Rankin (Sr.) d. 1792, Franklin, and Mary Huston Rankin, and grandsons of Adam d. 1747 and Mary Steele Alexander Rankin. A conventional descendant chart for the Centre County Rankins is under construction. It grows every time I search the census records. The number of physicians on this family’s tree is incredible. If you are descended from a Dr. Rankin who lived in Pennsylvania in the mid 1800’s, you might want to look at this line. If you are interested in joining the D.A.R., this is an admission ticket, because the D.A.R. has admitted at least two women based on the service of William Rankin d. 1792, Franklin Co. I will post the descendant chart soon, God willing and the creek don’t rise. It would help if the heat index here would drop below three digits (Houston, July 2018).

Meanwhile, here is a skeletal ancestor chart that is relevant to the Rankin DNA Project:

1 Adam Rankin d. 1747 Lancaster Co., PA. Wife Mary Steele Alexander, widow of James.

2 Jeremiah Rankin, whose only known appearance in primary records was Adam’s 1747 will. Conventional wisdom abounds. Still trying to find primary evidence.

2 James Rankin Sr., d. 1795, Franklin Co., PA, see will abstracted above. More on his line later.

2 William Rankin (Sr.), d. 1792, Franklin Co., PA, wife Mary Huston. See above will devising land in Penns Valley, Mifflin County, including a tract on Spring Creek.

3 William Rankin (Jr.), b. 1770 Cumberland Co, PA, d. 1847, Centre Co., PA. Two wives, Abigail McGinley and Susanna (reportedly Huston). See Centre County Will Book B: 254, naming eight children, including Adam, Archibald, James, John, and …

4 Dr. William McGinley Rankin (III) (1795-1872), who moved to Shippensburg in Cumberland Co.[18] He had 11 children, at least one of whom was a physician, and a Presbyterian minister …

5 Rev. William Alexander Rankin.[19]

On that note, I will close. If you want to get into a good knock-down, drag-out fight, go do some searches for family trees that include William Jackson Rankin and William Johnson Rankin. You will find S.A.R. charts in support. You will find a totally different line than that outlined above, except that both the S.A.R. version and my outline above have at least four William Rankins in a row. I hereby proffer my version. Expanded descendant chart to come with citations to evidence.

*   *  *   *   *  *   *  

[1]For example, a series of deeds concerning land in Tishomingo Co, MS conclusively proved almost all of the children of Lyddal Bacon Estes and “Nancy” Ann Allen Winn,  see article here. Only two deeds in colonial Halifax Co., NC identified the common ancestor of several different family lines belonging to Lindsey/Lindsay DNA Group 3.

[2]For a brief primer on some of the NC Rankins, see this article.

[3]Lancaster Co. Will Book J: 208, image available at this post or online at Familysearch.org.

[4]Henry C. Peden, “Inhabitants of Cecil County, Maryland 1649-1774 (Westminster, MD: Family Line Publications, 1993) at 33. Actual hostilities (called “Cresap’s War”) broke out between Maryland and Pennsylvania during the 1730s over competing land claims by the two states; check out this link, which has a great map. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cresap%27s_War.

[5]Will of James Alexander of New Munster, Cecil Co., MD dated 12 Jul 1717, probate date unknown but before August 1718 when a deed recites some provisions of the will. It is recorded in New Castle Co., DE (where John Steele, an executor, resided), but no copy apparently remains in the Cecil County records. I don’t know whether the will is preserved in the PA Archives. Floyd Owsley, an administrator of the Alexander Family DNA Project, provided a transcription of the will to me.

[6]Cecil Co., MD Deed Book 3: 212.

[7]Cecil County Circuit Court Certificates, No. 514, survey of 316 acres for the heirs of James Alexander dated 28 Sep 1724. Floyd Owsley provided a copy of the original and a transcription. The copy is too poor to post online, although I will be happy to share it with anyone who wants to see it.

[8]Lancaster Co. Will Book J: 208. Image available online at FamilySearch.org.

[9]Floyd Owsley, a descendant of the New Munster tract Alexanders, emailed an image of the original document to me. It is labeled “No. 111” and is dated 11 Nov. 1742. It appears to be a warrant to survey 100 acres “situate at Conegocheage between the lands of Samuel Owen, James Swaffer, Samuel Brown, and the Blue Mountains.”

[10]Here is a link to an interactive county formation map for PA: https://www.mapofus.org/pennsylvania/

[11]Franklin Co., PA Will Book A: 345 (estate #354).

[12]Virginia Shannon Fendrick, American Revolutionary Soldiers of Franklin County, Pennsylvania(Chambersburg, PA: Historical Works Committee of the Franklin County Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, 1944), citing Pennsylvania Archives 5thSeries, Vol. 6, at 576 and 583. “WILLIAM RANKIN of Antrim Twp., appears as a private under Capt. James Poe, 1782, and [on] an undated roll. He married Mary Huston, daughter of Archibald, as shown by the will of Agnes Huston, widow of Archibald.”

[13]Franklin Co. Will Book A-B: 256.

[14]William Rankin’s execs from James Potters’ execs, 1797, Mifflin Co., PA Deed Book D: 15.

[15]Westmoreland Deed Book 7: 392. The deed recites that Archibald Rankin was of Antrim Township, Franklin Co., that the 274-acre tract in Westmoreland was originally granted to William Rankin of Antrim on 27 July 1773; it was devised to Dr. Adam Rankin by his father’s will dated 20 October 1792. The deed also recites that Dr. Adam Rankin granted his brother Archibald Rankinpower of attorney dated 29 Jun 1792. The POA is also recorded at DB 7: 392.

[16]That means Archibald was age 21 or over, not married, and not a landowner.

[17]1790 census, Franklin Co., Archybald Rankin, 1-0-2-1-0; 1800 census, Burough of Greencastle (Antrim Twp.), Archd Rankin, 20110-20010; 1810 census, Montgomery Twp., Franklin Co., Archibald Rankin, 01101-12110; 1820 census, Montgomery Twp., Franklin Co., Archibald Rankin, 000101-02300; 1840 census, Peters Township, Franklin Co,. Archibald Rankin, age 70 < 80, the sole member of the household.

[18]John Blair Linn, History of Centre and Clinton Counties (Philadelphia: Louis H. Everts, 1883), at 222. Identifies some of the children of William Jr., including a Dr. William Rankin who moved to Shippensburg in Cumberland Co. and died before the book was published.

[19] Even I will trust Findagrave when it cites to the Minutes of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/146523201/william-alexander-rankin

PA/TN Rankins: correction & additions, 1749 will of John Rankin

My most recent post (yesterday, July 18, 2018) contained a one-sentence summary of the 1749 will of John Rankin of Lancaster Co., PA. The original post had an error about the will, so I feel compelled to correct it … and add a bit to it. This post will contain images of John’s original will, an abstract, and a start of a chart for his family. As always, the facts are accompanied by opinion and commentary (or, as one relative described it, highly opinionated commentary).

Given that my reference to John Rankin’s will arose in the context of a post of the Mt. Horeb tablet in Jefferson Co, TN, we will focus on what we know about John’s son Thomas, rather than Thomas’s brother Richard or any of his eight sisters. Thomas was the patriarch of the Mt. Horeb/Jefferson Co., TN Rankins. A disclaimer: all of this is conventional wisdom, so this post doesn’t add one iota to the accumulated knowledge of this Rankin family. All it does is add a tiny bit of evidence here and there for those who like that kind of foolishness.

Here are images of John Rankin’s original will — in case you really love these old documents. These are screenshots from an online image of the original. That image is available at FamilySearch.org. at this link. You may need an account at the Family History Library to view it, but accounts are free and very worthwhile. The original will, dated 1 Jan 1749 and proved 25 Feb 1749/50, is recorded in Lancaster Co, PA Will Book J at page 211. It is the absolute dickens to find online, since the people who photographed these documents apparently didn’t give a whit about making sure page numbers were clearly photographed.

Here is image #1 of 3:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Images #2 and #3 …

Here are the genealogically important parts of John Rankin’s will:

  • John named his wife Margaret. Conventional Rankin wisdom identifies John’s wife as Jane McElwee. I don’t know how the conventional wisdom reconciles the name Jane with the will. Some people claim her name was Margaret Jane McElwee, although that runs counter to the fact that virtually no one of that era had a middle name. That approach seems a real cop-out. I would call her Margaret, period. Anyone have any record evidence of her maiden name, I hope? They were reportedly married in Ireland, where I have done no research.
  • John named his two sons Richard and Thomas. Richard inherited his father’s clothes. Thomas inherited half of the plantation immediately and the other half at his mother’s death. Reading between the lines, Margaret was Thomas’s mother.
  • John identified six of his daughters as Elizabeth, Ann, Margaret, Catrin, Rebecca and Agness. He also named two sons-in-law — William White and John Waugh, although he didn’t mention the given names of their wives. Interestingly, one of John’s grandsons — John, a son of John and Margaret’s son Thomas Rankin — married a Waugh in Pennsylvania. Perhaps she was his cousin? More on him in another post.
  • Son Richard and wife Margaret were executors. Witnesses were James Crokett (sic, Crockett), Richard Rankin, and Jane Steel. First time I’ve ever seen a beneficiary witness a will. These days, and most days, that is/was a no-no.

I haven’t tracked any of John and Margaret’s daughters, although that’s on my Rankin to-do list. As for the sons, Richard (says the Mt. Horeb tablet, reproduced in yesterday’s post), went to Augusta Co., VA. So, apparently, did Thomas, at least for a time.

Here is some of the evidence concerning Thomas (other than the information contained in oral family history traditions) …

First, there is a deed dated 20 Nov 1779 (Cumberland Co., PA Deed Book E-1: 511), from Thomas and Isabel Rankin of Cumberland Co., PA to John Rankin of same … 100 acres in Fermanagh Township on the north side of the Juanita River. The deed is signed by Thomas Rankin and Isabel (her mark) Rankin. In light of multiple family oral history traditions that Thomas (son of John Rankin d. 1749) married Isabel Clendennon/Clendenin — plus recurring names in the line — there is little doubt that this was Thomas, son of John. Also, the grantee John Rankin was probably the John Rankin who remained in PA at least long enough to marry either Martha or Jane Waugh and have a couple of sons before moving to TN.

Thomas and Isabel moved to Augusta County, VA, where his brother Richard lived. I haven’t found them in the records in Augusta (have only looked in Chalkey’s), although their presence there is proved by the Revolutionary War pension application of Thomas and Isabel’s son William. It is an extraordinary application because it proves so much. Here is Virgil White’s pension application abstract:

William Rankin, wife Sarah, PA and VA line. Born 27 Jan 1759 “some 5 miles below Carlisle in Cumberland Co., PA” and he lived at Juniata in that county at enlistment. In Jun 1780 he moved with his father to Augusta County, VA and also enlisted there. Soldier married Sarah Moore 29 Aug 1787 in Greene Co., TN and she was b. Jul 1763. Soldier d. 13 Dec 1833, widow applied 25 Mar 1844 in Green Co., TN. Children were (1) Thomas b. 13 Jul 1788, (2) Peggy b. 1 Jan 1790, (3) John Moore Rankin b. 10 Apr 1792, (4) Anthony b. 23 Aug 1794 (see Greene Co. TN records for Anthony) (5), Isabel Clindinon Rankin b. 30 Aug 1796, (6) William b. 23 Mar 1799, (7) Ginny b. 17 Nov 1801 and (8) David b. 10 Feb 1804.

Note that the Mt. Horeb tablet identifies Thomas and Isabel Clendennon Rankin’s son William as having married Sarah Moore. So … the pension application gives us a nice link between the Rankins of Cumberland and the Rankins of Greene/Jefferson.

OK, so let’s stop right here and draw a conventional chart containing what is supported by the evidence:

1  John Rankin b. unknown, d. 1749, Lancaster Co., PA. Wife Margaret.

2 Eight daughters. I apologize for giving them short shrift here.

2 Richard Rankin, to Augusta Co., VA.

2 Thomas Rankin, m. Isabel or Isabella Clendennon/Clendinnin, Cumberland Co, PA to Augusta Co., VA to East TN (Greene/Jefferson counties).

3 William Rankin, b. 27 Jan 1759, Carlisle, Cumberland Co., PA, to Augusta Co., VA in 1780, then to Greene Co, TN by 1787. Wife Sarah Moore.

This extraordinary family has a history that is, for the most part, very easy to trace. Some of it is inspiring, some heartbreaking, such as the descendant of John and Margaret Rankin whose family perished (or at least half of then did) in the 1918 flu epidemic.

Stay tuned. If you don’t wind up loving this East Tennessee family, I will not have done my job. And I’m not even descended from them (although we clearly share YDNA).

 

 

 

 

PA/TN Rankins: the most famous Rankin legend of all

My last post was about evidence and proof, a sidetrack from a series of Rankin family articles. Fortunately, there is a convenient segue to return us to a Rankin family history legend: I ended that post with the comment that all family histories contain important truths, and also – inevitably – some errors.

My irreverent husband adds that traditional family histories are usually also sacred cows. This may be true.

The fact is that oral family traditions are conclusive evidence of only one thing: what the family believes its history to be. As evidentiary sources, they don’t have as much weight or credibility as, say, county records, and they certainly don’t trump YDNA. However, family histories are nevertheless at least secondary evidence. I have learned a great deal from my own family history “legends,” as I’ve written a couple of times on this blog. But please don’t make the mistake of thinking that an oral family history actually proves anything in the absence of confirming evidence in actual records.

We are about to take on the most famous Rankin family legend of all. I call the family identified in this legend the “Londonderry Siege” Rankins. Many of them spread across Pennsylvania from Chester County to the west. Many of them wound up in Jefferson, Greene, and Blount counties, Tennessee. Some wound up in Augusta County, VA. This family history tradition exists in at least three different sources I have found, and probably many more: (1) a metal tablet in the Mt. Horeb Cemetery, Jefferson County, TN; (2) the “Republican History of Ohio,” published in 1898; and (3) an alleged 1854 letter written by John Mason Rankin of San Augustine, County, Texas, to a relative. The Londonderry Siege Rankin family history can probably be found in many other county books with titles such as “Heritage of ____ County, Tennessee,” not to mention a zillion cut-and-paste histories at Ancestry.com. Keep in mind, of course, that repetition isn’t proof.

The Londerry Siege story is a staple, a cast-in-concrete given, of Rankin family history. YDNA results, however, create a couple of interesting question marks.

Let’s go with the Mt. Horeb tablet, the only one of these family histories that is actually cast in a permanent metal. Just for the record, I am not presenting this as a correct factual statement of Rankin family history. I am presenting it as a correct statement of this particular Rankin family’s oral history. Here it is, verbatim:

THIS TABLET IS TO COMMEMORATE
THE MEMORY OF

RICHARD RANKIN 1756 – 1827         SAMUEL RANKIN 1758 – 1828

THOMAS RANKIN 1762 – 1827        JOHN BRADSHAW 1743 – 1818

FOUR PIONEER SETTLERS OF DUMPLIN VALLEY

GENEALOGY OF THE RANKIN FAMILY

GENERATION 1

ALEXANDER RANKIN, BORN IN SCOTLAND, HAD THREE SONS, TWO WERE MARTYRS TO THEIR RELIGION. OF THESE ONE WAS KILLED ON THE HIGHWAY, THE OTHER SUFFOCATED IN A SMOKEHOUSE WHERE HE HAD TAKEN REFUGE TO ESCAPE HIS PURSUERS. THE THIRD BROTHER, WILLIAM, TOGETHER WITH HIS FATHER AND FAMILY ESCAPED TO DERRY COUNTY, IRELAND IN 1688. WILLIAM AND HIS FATHER, ALEXANDER RANKIN, WERE PARTICIPANTS IN THE SIEGE OF LONDONDERRY, WHICH TOOK PLACE IN 1689.
 ALEXANDER RANKINS NAME IS SIGNED TO THE PETITION OF THANKS TO ALMIGHTY GOD, AND WILLIAM, KING OF ORANGE, FOR HIS TIMELY ASSISTANCE IN RAISING THE SIEGE IN AUGUST, 1689.

GENERATION 2

WILLIAM RANKIN HAD THREE SONS, ADAM, BORN IN SCOTLAND, 1699. JOHN AND HUGH BORN IN IRELAND.
 ADAM AND HUGH CAME TO AMERICA IN 1721, LANDING IN PHILADELPHIA. PA., AND SETTLED IN CHESTER COUNTY, HUGH WAS KILLED IN A MILL ACCIDENT. ADAM MARRIED MARY STEELE.

GENERATION 3

JOHN RANKIN MARRIED JANE McELWEE, IN IRELAND, CAME TO AMERICA IN 1727. HE HAD TWO SONS, THOMAS AND RICHARD, AND EIGHT DAUGHTERS. RICHARD MARRIED A MISS DOUGLASS AND SETTLED IN AUGUSTA COUNTY, VA.

GENERATION 4

THOMAS RANKIN, 1724 – 1828, MARRIED ISABEL CLENDENON OF PA. AND SETTLED IN THAT STATE. THEIR CHILDREN WERE:

JOHN 1754 – 1825 MARRIED MARTHA WAUGH

RICHARD 1756 – 1827 MARRIED JENNETT STEELE

SAMUEL 1758 – 1828 MARRIED – PETTY

WILLIAM 1760 – 1834 MARRIED SARAH MOORE

THOMAS 1762 – 1821 MARRIED JENNETT BRADSHAW

JAMES 1770 – 1839 MARRIED MARGARET MASSEY

JANE MARRIED WILLIAM GILLESPIE

MARGARET MARRIED SAMUEL HARRIS

ANN MARRIED LEMUEL LACY

ISABEL MARRIED ROBT. McQUISTON

NANCY MARRIED SAMUEL WHITE

MARY MARRIED JAMES BRADSHAW

THOMAS RANKIN OF GENERATION 4, WAS A CAPTAIN IN THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR. HIS FOUR ELDEST SONS WERE PRIVATES IN SAID WAR.

THIS TABLET WAS ERECTED IN 1930 BY
 CHRISTOPHER HOUSTON RANKIN
 COURTLAND THALES RANKIN, ATTY
 REV. JOHN GRANT NEWMAN, D.D.
 MRS. ALMYRA-RANKIN-McMURRAY
 MRS. ROZEE- RANKIN TAYLOR 
FRANK WALTER RANKIN
 HARRY JAY RANKIN 
SAM HULL RANKIN

End of transcription.

There is only one obvious error on the Mt. Horeb tablet: Adam Rankin, if born in 1699, couldn’t have been born in Scotland if, in fact, his family had escaped from the Killing Times in Scotland to be present for the Siege of Londonderry in 1689. Otherwise, the dates are credible. The “Killing Times” did include the year 1688, and many Presbyterian Scots were martyred in those times (they probably included some Rankins). Also, history confirms that many Presbyterian Scots did escape to the relatively safe haven of the Ulster Plantations of northern Ireland during the Killing Times (and this probably also included some Rankins). Finally, the Siege of Londonderry did occur in 1689, and there were undoubtedly Rankins there, at least one of whom was definitely named Alexander Rankin. I haven’t done any research overseas, so … if anyone out there has some actual evidence … please let me know!

The specific proof of the Alexander/William/ Adam.Hugh.John history is problematical, and I’m just not going to take on that issue. My friend Hazel Townsend, probably the premier Rankin researcher since Flossie Cloyd died, says this: she has not been able to prove to her own satisfaction that William was a son of Alexander or that William had sons Adam, John and Hugh.

Never mind all that – it’s a lovely legend, and I’m sure there is some truth to it. I just don’t know what. I would rather address what we can prove on this side of the ocean.

First, start with Adam and John Rankin, reportedly immigrants to Pennsylvania. For the record, these two men (assuming they were brothers, which may be an issue) both died in Lancaster County, PA:

– Adam Rankin died in 1747  and left a will naming three sons and one daughter. His proved wife was Mary Steele (widow of James Alexander). Let’s call him Adam d. 1747, wife Mary Steele.

– John Rankin died in 1749 in Lancaster Co., PA, also leaving a will naming two sons, six daughters and two sons-in-law. Call him John d. 1749, wife Margaret McElwee. John’s will identifies his wife as Margaret; family tradition gives her name as Jane McElwee.

Here’s the rub: YDNA presents something of a problem with the Mt. Horeb history. Different men who claim descent from Adam d. 1747, wife Mary Steele, are not a YDNA match. Somebody’s family history is in error, although both are perfectly credible (in the opinion of this researcher). Both rely heavily on family history, and who is to say which is wrong? This is a classic problem that YDNA is perfectly suited to resolve. Clearly, the Rankin DNA project needs to find more proved descendants of Adam to participate in a YDNA test.

Secondly, depending on which of the non-YDNA-matching descendants of Adam d. 1747, wife Mary Steele, actually descends from Adam, then the descendants of Adam d. 1747 may not be a YDNA match with descendants of John d. 1749.

This is GREAT STUFF FOR YDNA TESTING! If there are any Rankin researchers reading this, for gosh sake’s get out there, find a man named Rankin, throw him down, and swab his cheek! Seriously … Rankin history research needs some more descendants of Adam d. 1747 and John d. 1749 in Lancaster to test. If you FIND a likely candidate, please let me know!!!!! I will find someone to convince him to test, hopefully without wrestling him to the ground. <grin>

*   *   *   *  *   *   

Sources: (1) Joseph Patterson Smith, History of the Republican Party in Ohio Volume 1 (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1898). (2) online transcription of 1854 letter written by John Mason Rankin of San Augustine, TX, see complete letter here. I have seen only this transcription — not a copy of the original — and have no proof that it is genuine. It does contain many objectively verifiable facts. (3) Will of John Rankin dated 1 Jan 1749, proved 25 Feb 1749/1750, recorded in Lancaster Co., PA Will Book J: 211. Online image available at FamilyHistorySearch.org.

What is “proof” of family history?

I’m going to divert briefly from my research slog through various Rankin families of Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Ohio long enough to address this issue: what constitutes genealogical proof and what does not.

I have a distant cousin (seventh cousins, maybe?) named Roberta Estes. We “met” online via Estes research some twenty years ago.  We finally met in person, spending a week together in Halifax County, VA doing nitty-gritty research among records in the basement of the Halifax courthouse. I knew I had found a kindred spirit when I learned she likes tax and deed records as much as I do.

Roberta writes an excellent blog called “DNA Explained.” A great many of her posts are about DNA “science.” When I have a question about DNA, the first place I go is to her blog and search her Archives.

Roberta’s post today is on a topic that will interest all family history researchers: what is, and what is NOT, genealogical proof. Here is a link to   her post.

What resonated most with me was her list of things that do NOT constitute “proof.” I have copied part of it below, with my comments and modifications in italics (the numbering has changed from her original list since I deleted a few items):

  1. Proof is not an oral history, no matter how much you want to believe it or who said it. Oral history is a good starting point, not an end point.
  2. Proof is notnot, 1000 times NOT someone else’s tree. A tree should be considered a hint, nothing more.
  3. Proof is not a book without corresponding evidence that can be independently corroborated. Being in print does not make it so. People make mistakes and new information surfaces. Unfortunately, there are also genealogical frauds – see, e.g., Gustave Anjou.
  4. Proof is not a man by the name of Jr. [taken to mean] that he is the son of a man by the same name with the suffix of Sr. “Sr.” often means older and “Jr.” means younger, but not necessarily related. In fact, the suffix can change over time for the SAME MAN: a Robert Rankin who initially showed up in Guilford, NC records as “Robert JUNIOR.” became “Robert SENIOR” after Robert the elder (his father) died.
  5. Proof of a father/son relationship is not just two men with the same name in the same location.
  6. Proof is not just a will or other document … without evidence that a person by the same name as the child named in the will is the RIGHT person.

The lawyer in me, retired though she might be, feels compelled to expand on Roberta’s discussion of “proof.” Namely, I want to draw a distinction between “proof” and “evidence,” and the amount of evidence that is needed to produce a certain standard of proof. 

The definition of “evidence” takes up a full page in Black’s Law Dictionary. Fortunately, the essence of the meaning of “evidence” as it relates to genealogical research is pretty easy to distill. Try this on for size: EVIDENCE is anything that is offered to prove the existence or nonexistence of a fact. In genealogy, evidence might be a deed, a will, tax records, church birth and death records, census records, tombstone inscriptions, and so on.

Notice that the word “prove” appears in that definition. Here is what Black’s has to say about that: PROOF is the effect of evidence.

Boiling both definitions down, evidence is what supports a belief that a fact is proved (or disproved).

If you have ever served on a jury, you already know there are different “standards of proof.” In a Texas criminal trial, the standard of proof requires a defendant’s guilt to be established “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In a Texas civil case, the standard of proof is usually “preponderance of the evidence.”

Another standard of proof lying somewhere between those two is “great weight and preponderance of the evidence.” Law students, who like to boil things down to something understandable, may view it like this:

  • Beyond a reasonable doubt: at least 95% of the facts compel a certain conclusion.
  • Great weight and preponderance: about 65-85% of the evidence supports a conclusion.
  • Preponderance of the evidence: a conclusion is more likely than not – it has the weight of 51% of the evidence.

Naturally, there are parallels in family history research, or I wouldn’t be talking about this.

You frequently see the phrase “conclusively proved” in family history articles. This is roughly equivalent to “beyond a reasonable doubt.” For example, my paternal grandmother’s identity – Emma Brodnax Rankin – is conclusively proved by my birth certificate, my father’s birth certificate, his mother’s will naming him as a son, census records naming him as a son, ad infinitum. Not to mention my recollection of all those awful holiday dinners in her grotesquely overheated house in Gibsland, Bienville Parish, Louisiana. A court would call my testimony about those dinners “direct evidence” based on personal knowledge. If I’m a credible witness, THAT case is closed.

When you see the phrase “conclusively proved,” it means there is really no reasonable argument to the contrary. That is how I use the phrase on this blog.

Use of the word “probably” in family history articles seems to equate with “preponderance of the evidence.” Namely, a conclusion is more likely than not.

Similarly, the phrases “most likely” or “almost certainly” are somewhere in between the other two. There may be a reasonable doubt, but the weight of the credible evidence strongly points one way.

We also need to talk about“circumstantial” evidence, because sometimes there is no other proof of a family relationship. That is particularly true in counties where records have been lost and documentary evidence is limited. “Circumstantial evidence” just means facts that lead to a reasonable inference.

For example, the fact that a 65-year old man named Jedediah Rankin is listed in the 1860 census in a household immediately adjacent to 40-year old Jacob Rankin constitutes circumstantial evidence of a relationship. You can reasonably infer some family connection between the two men because such an inference accords with common sense and experience. If Jacob and Jedediah witness each other’s deeds, that would provide additional circumstantial evidence of a family relationship. If Jacob named his eldest son Jedediah, and Jedediah Sr. was security on Jacob’s marriage bond, those facts would also be circumstantial evidence.

Circumstantial evidence can establish a compelling web of family connections which suggest that only one conclusion seems reasonable: Jacob was Jedediah’s son. It is a powerful tool in serious research.

One last red flag about “proof:” beware the passive voice, a grammatical form that frequently signals lack of evidence. Keep an eye out for these phrases, which appear in many compiled family histories: “it is thought that …” or “it is believed that.”  Hmmmmm…. who believes? And what is his or her evidence? Those phrases rightfully justify a jaundiced eye unless the writer provides evidence supporting the “belief.”

Now, back to Roberta’s list of “not proof,” item #2, someone else’s tree. It may be a fact that “many online trees” show Jedediah as Jacob’s father. That is not even evidence of a relationship between those two men. All it might prove is that many online trees are copies of other online family trees.

Finally, Roberta’s item #1, family oral history, is near and dear to my heart right now. Family legends/family oral traditions nearly always reveal important truths. They usually also contain errors. And we’ll begin my next post with what is probably the most well-known and firmly established oral tradition in Rankin family history.

*   *   *  *   *   *  *   *   *

Revised – A Surprising Willis – Quaker Connection

Subsequent to the original posting of this article, significant new information came to my attention requiring a substantial rewrite. I have deleted the original and post this revised version in order to clear the record of incorrect information. 

During the 18thand 19thcenturies, several Willis families on the Eastern Shore of Maryland were Quakers. I have long believed that the John Willis family who lived on land called Wantage in Dorchester County was not one of them.[1]The evidence I had found to date supported that conclusion.

For example, Wantage John’s eldest son John, Jr. lived on Marshy Creek in what became Caroline County. Several Quaker Meetings and the Anglican St. Mary’s White Chapel Parish served the region. The Anglican records do not survive, so whether John Jr.’s family attended there is lost to history. On the other hand, numerous Quaker Meeting records of the period exist. John, Jr.’s family does not appear in any of them. Apparently, the family was not Quaker.

The record for Wantage John’s son Andrew is more straightforward. Andrew lived in Dorchester County. Three of his four sons appear in the records of Old Trinity Church near Church Creek at the baptism of several children between 1754 and 1775.[2]No Quaker record names any of these people. This family was clearly Anglican and not Quaker.

The elder John had two other sons, Thomas and William. Thomas lived adjacent John Jr. on Marshy Creek. William inherited Wantage from his father and lived there until moving close to his wife’s family on Hodson’s/Hudson’s Creek in the Neck Region of Dorchester County. Neither of these sons appears in any religious record, Anglican or otherwise. Therefore, no evidence suggests a connection to Quakerism for anyone in the Wantage John family for the first couple of generations. And, there is evidence that one family group was Anglican.

Beyond these first generations, descendants of John of Wantage and related families were prominent in Methodism. Barratt’s Chapel in neighboring Kent County, Delaware was the birthplace of Methodism in America.[3]Lydia Barratt, granddaughter of Philip Barratt who built the chapel in 1780 is the great grandmother of Henry Fisher Willis, a direct descendant of Wantage John. Henry was a significant supporter of the Bethesda Methodist Church in Preston, Caroline County, Maryland, with a stained glass window honoring his service in the late 1800s. Henry’s father Zachariah Willis was a trustee of the Methodist Church whose twin brother Foster gave land for a church in 1831.[4]

I concluded from this data it highly unlikely that any of Wantage John’s descendants belonged to the Society of Friends. In fact, I used membership in the Society as a screening tool to eliminate various Willis lineages as being related to John of Wantage. For example, there is a Quaker Willis line in eastern Dorchester County and in the Federalsburg region of Caroline County.[5]Another Willis line in Talbot and Caroline County attended the Tuckahoe Monthly Meeting. Indeed, many researchers have conflated a Richard Willis in that line, who married Margaret Cox, with a Richard Willis in Wantage John’s line. A third line of Willises who lived in Kent County, Maryland were also Quaker. None of these families are related to John Willis of Wantage at least on this side of the pond.

With a high level of confidence in the religious affiliation of the John Willis family, or at least its lack of affiliation with the Quakers, imagine my surprise when I came across the following entries reportedly from the birth records of the Wilmington Monthly Meeting, New Castle, Delaware.[6]Oops:

  • Richard Willis 24 of 1 mo 1794    Son of Richard Willis and Britanna his wife
  • Ann Willis 2 of 6 mo 1799      Daughter of Do & Do
  • Senah Willis 19 of 4 mo 1802    Son of Do & Do
  • Zachariah Willis and Foster Willis     27 of 12 mo 1804   Sons of Do & Do
  • Peter Willis 21 of 4 mo 1811    Son of Do & Do

The same document contains the following burial records:

  • Richard Willis 27 of 5 mo 1820    in 26thyear
  • Richard Willis 2 mo 14 1823        63rd
  • Britanna Willis 1 mo 2 1826          in the 59th

The listed parents Richard Willis and Britanna (Britannia Goutee) are well known to me, but I had no inkling they were Quakers. Richard, born 8 Aug 1759, is the son of Richard Willis, died 1764, and the great grandson of John of Wantage.  Richard and Britannia, born about 1765, married in Caroline County on 22 Jan 1788.[7]She is descended from John Gootee and Margaret Besson/Beeson, who came to the colony from France with Margaret’s father and became naturalized citizens in 1671.[8]So, have I been wrong all along about this Willis line and Quakerism?

Well, I don’t know. Certainly, I was wrong about Richard and Britannia, however, these seem to be the only Quaker records online for the family … no marriages, no grandchildren’s births, no deaths recorded after Britannia’s in 1826.

This particular record does reveal some other information. First, the record is handwritten … an Index plus a section of Births and one of Burials. However, the cover page is typewritten, stating that it is from the Wilmington Monthly Meeting.[9]An examination of the contents reveals, however, that the cover page is incorrect. The record is actually from the Northwest Fork Meeting in Federalsburg based on the following. For one thing, the record noted that two of the listed people were “Elders in the NW Fork Monthly Meeting.” Additionally, surnames in the record, such as, Charles, Dawson, Kelley, Leverton, Noble, and Wright, are of Quaker families known to have lived near the Northwest Fork of the Nanticoke River. Finally, the record indicates the residence of a few of the listed persons. The record mentions only three counties: Caroline and Dorchester, Maryland, and Sussex, Delaware. Federalsburg is located at the intersection of those counties. Clearly, the record is from that Meeting and not Wilmington.

The second thing apparent from this register is that it is a copy and not the original register. The handwriting is identical throughout, both in the index and the birth and death entries. Had the entries been made at the times the events occurred from 1790 to 1828, the person making the entries surely would have changed from time to time. Therefore, the handwriting would have varied. Furthermore, many entries relating to a single family are grouped together regardless of date. For example, all the Willis birth entries are on a single page.[10]The same is true of some other families. One would expect the original register to be in chronological order with the family names mixed together. Apparently, a clerk prepared a copy of the original register, reorganized and indexed it. Likely, this document was intended for the files of a Quarterly or Yearly Meeting to which the Northwest Fork Meeting was subordinate. That would have been the Southern Quarterly and the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting during the years in question.[11]

One additional Quaker reference to this family is Kenneth Carroll’s Quakerism on the Eastern Shore.That source lists under the Northwest Fork Monthly Meeting the birth of Ann Willis, daughter of Richard and Britannia and the death of Ann Willis “daughter of Richard.”[12]If this is the same Ann, she died unmarried at age 35. Interestingly, Carroll’s work does not include the other data found in the mislabeled Northwest Fork record. Obviously, he did not have access to that register.

In conclusion, it is clear that Richard and Britannia Willis affiliated with the Quakers. Apparently, the Friend’s connection ended with Ann’s death. Possibly she was the motivating factor for the family’s involvement in the sect.

_____________________

[1]John Willis, died 1712, patented a 50-acre tract named Wantage in Dorchester County in 1702.

[2]Palmer, Katherine H., transcribed Baptism Record, Old Trinity Protestant Episcopal Church, Church Creek, MD, (Cambridge, MD), 19, baptisms of son Richard’s children Mary (1754), John (1755), Elizabeth (1758) and Richard (1761); son John’s child Jarvis (1758); son Andrew’s children Keziah (1770) and George (1775).

[3]See www.barrattschapel.org

[4]Caroline County, MD Land Records, Liber JR-R, Folio 115, 29 Oct 1831 deed for ½ acre from Foster Willis and Wife Ann to trustees of the Methodist Church, proved 31 Jan 1832.

[5]Actually, this family were Nicholites, or New Quakers, until that sect reunited with the Quakers in 1798. See Carroll, Kenneth Lane, Joseph Nichols and the Nicholites: A Look at the “New Quakers” of Maryland, Delaware, North and South Carolina (Easton, Maryland: The Easton Publishing Company, 1962), 78, Births of the children of Andrew and Sarah Willis: Andrew, 3 Nov 1774; Mary, 5 Dec 1770; Rhoda, 18 May 1766; Roger, 14 May 1768; and Shadrick, 15 May 1772. Births of children of Thomas and Sina Willis: Anne, 5 Dec 1770; Elic, 1 Feb 1785; Jesse, 15 Feb 1773; Joshua, 15 Dec 1774; Milby, & Aug 1768; Milley, 3 Feb 1784; Thomas, 28 Oct 1776; and William 20 Sep 1771.

[6]Ancestry.com, U.S., Quaker Meeting Records, 1681-1935: Births & Deaths, 1790-1828, Wilmington Monthly Meeting, New Castle, Delaware. Birth records are all at p. 19; Burial records at pp. 7, 8, and 10, respectively.

[7]Cranor, Henry Downes, Marriage Licenses of Caroline County, Maryland, 1744-1815(Philadelphia: Henry Downes Cranor, 1904), 18.

[8]Browne, William Hand, Archives of Maryland v.2, Proceedings and Acts of the General Assembly of Maryland, April 1666 – June 1676(Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society, 1884), 270, Naturalization of John Gootee and Margarett Gootee his wife of Dorchester County and Stephen Besson of Dorchester County all born in the Kingdom of France. Act read as being passed by the Assembly at 19 Apr 1671 closing of the session on the General Assembly, which began 27 Mar 1671 in St. Mary’s County.

[9]The typewritten text on the cover page reads, “II Department of Friends’ Records, 302 Arch Street, Phila., PA, Wilmington Monthly Meeting, Del., Births and Deaths, 1790-1828, Births 22 pp.; Deaths 11 pp.; Index 32 pp.”

[10]This record, however, does not include the couple’s two eldest daughters, Rebecca, born 9 Nov 1788, and Dorcas, born between 1790 and 1793.

[11]Jacobsen, Phebe R., Quaker Records in Maryland(Annapolis: The Hall of Records Commission, State of Maryland, 1966), 78, In 1800, by permission of the Southern Quarterly, a Monthly Meeting was established at Northwest Fork, consisting of Marshy Creek [Note: later named Snow Hill and then Preston], Centre, and Northwest Fork Preparative Meetings … When the Separation occurred within the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting in 1827, the Southern Quarterly Meeting was simply dissolved by the Orthodox.”

[12]  Carroll, Kenneth Lane, Quakerism on the Eastern Shore(Baltimore: The Maryland Historical Society, Garamond/Pridemark Press, 1970) 255, Ann Willis daughter of Richard and Britana [sic] born 19 Apr 1799; 260, Ann Willis daughter of Richard died 22 Sep 1834.