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” (“FTL”) approach to family history research, even if she didn’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 an example: FTL establishes the identity of a colonial Rankin’s wife and allows tracking a son’s family with confidence.

This post concerns some of the “Londonderry Siege” Rankins of Pennsylvania, rather than the North Carolina Rankin families often discussed on this blog.[2] You can read the Londonderry Siege Rankins’ interesting oral family history in this article. The legend includes 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] See an article about his family at this link, which includes some images of his will from the original court records.
    • Adam Rankin died in 1747. This article 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 of Cecil County, Maryland. 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 devised a 316-acre tract.[5] The 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, had left money to pay, 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 County, Delaware, married James Alexander and then Adam Rankin. Also, Mary’s marriage to Adam must have taken place between August 1718 (the conveyance from Thomas Stevenson to Mary Alexander) and September 1724 (the survey).

Adam left a will dated and proved in 1747 in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.[8] Here is a brief 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 not stated), 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.

Unfortunately, Adam didn’t identify where his land was located, the names of adjacent landowners, or any other identifying features that would help track it. Fortunately, we know that Adam obtained a warrant dated November 11, 1742 to survey 100 acres “at Conegocheague.”[9] Conococheague Creek is near Greencastle, Pennsylvania, less than 5 miles north of the current PA/MD line, in Franklin County.

A Franklin County deed provides confirmation. An 1818 deed conveying land in Montgomery Township recites that 107 acres of the land sold was part of 188 acres surveyed per a “warrant to Adam Rankin dated 11 November 1742.” The deed establishes that the 107-acre tract descended from Adam to his son James and then to his son James Jr. by James Sr.’s 1788 will.[10]

 Adam’s sons James and William fairly leap out of the records of Montgomery and Antrim Townships in Franklin County.[11]Both men were listed on the Antrim tax lists along with some of their sons in 1785, 1786 and 1787. Beginning in 1789, William was taxed in Antrim Township; James (Senior, father of the grantor in the 1818 deed) was taxed in Montgomery Township. So far as I have found, James’ and William’s brother Jeremiahnever appeared in any county records other than his father’s will.[12]

 William and James were more cooperative than Jeremiah. Not only did they appear where 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.[13]

We will leave James Sr. for another day. We’re now on the track of Adam and Mary Steele Rankin’s son William.[14] William’s wife was Mary Huston, daughter of Archibald Huston.[15] William’s will, dated 20 Oct 1792 and proved 28 Nov 1792, suggests he amassed a good bit of land.[16] 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 County and 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.
    • 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 at least 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. 1760-64, d. 1810-20) was a doctor, probably the first in his family. He moved to Henderson County, Kentucky, where he married three times and produced a large family. One of his descendants is Confederate Brigadier General Adam “Stovepipe” Rankin Johnson, a grandson. Some descendants still live in Kentucky.

Archibald Rankin (1764 – 1845) inherited part of the “old mansion place” in Antrim Township, and he apparently stayed in Franklin County until he died. His first appearance in the records was on the 1785 Antrim tax list as a “freeman.”[17] 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).[18] 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 Longon 9 Mar 1790 and that a daughter Fanny died in 1827. Church records also say Archibald died 24 Jun 1845 at age 81, indicating he was born about 1764.

David Rankin (b. 1776-1777, d. 1853) inherited part of the “old mansion place” along with his brother Archibald. His wife was Frances (“Fanny”) Campbell, daughter of Dugald (Dugal/Dongal) Campbell. David left Franklin County between 1820 and 1830 and wound up in Des Moines County, Iowa, where he died. Here is a link  to an article about David, son of William and Mary Huston Rankin, and his cousin David, son of James and Jean Rankin.

The remaining four sons are FTL exemplars. That is because William’s 1792 will devised land in Penn’s Valley, Mifflin County, some of it on Spring Creek, to his sons James, William, John and Jeremiah. The will establishes that John and Jeremiah should be located close to each other, since they shared a tract; likewise, James and William should also be located near each other for the same reason. Centre County was created in 1803 from Mifflin County, so the two Mifflin County tracts devised by William 1792 are subsequently located in Centre County. Spring Creek runs through the middle of Bellefonte, the Centre County seat.

Jackpot. There they are, all four of them in Centre County, paired off geographically just as one would expect. One page of the 1810 census for Potter Township in Centre County has James Rankin listed 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. So those birth ranges fit like a glove, with further confirmation in later census records.

There is no reasonable doubt that these four men were sons of William (died 1792, Franklin) and Mary Huston Rankin, and grandsons of Adam 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, and 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 the William Rankin who died in Franklin County in 1792. I will post the descendant chart eventually, God willing and the bayou don’t rise.

Meanwhile, here is a skeletal ancestor chart for some of the Centre County Rankins. It is relevant to an argument among some Rankin friends of mine.

1 Adam Rankind. 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. Died 1760 in Cumberland Co., PA. Wife Rhoda Craig. Four sons went to Fayette/Woodford Counties, Kentucky.

2 James Rankin Sr., d. 1795, Franklin Co., PA, see will abstracted above.

2 William Rankin (Sr.), d. 1792, Franklin Co., PA, wife Mary Huston. See 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). Proof that he was a son of William and Mary Huston Rankin per the FTL theory. Children are established, see Centre County Will Book B: 254, naming eight children, including Adam, Archibald, James, John, and …

4 Dr. William McGinley Rankin (III) (1795-1872) moved to Shippensburg in Cumberland Co.[19] He had 11 children, at least one of whom was a physician, and a Presbyterian minister …

5 Rev. William Alexander Rankin.[20]

If you want to get into a good knock-down, drag-out fight, go search for family trees that include William Jackson Rankin and William Johnson Rankin. You will find S.A.R. applications in support. You will find a totally different line than that outlined above, although it will also go back to Adam and Mary Steele Rankin through a bunch of Rankins named William. I hereby proffer my version, above.

See you on down the road.

Robin

*   *   *  *   *   *   *  

[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 an article about that  at this link..

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

[3] Lancaster Co. Will Book J: 208, will of John Rankin proved 1749, image available online here.

[4] Henry C. Peden, “Inhabitants of Cecil County, Maryland 1649-1774 (Westminster, MD: Family Line Publications, 1993), 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. this link, which has a great map..

[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 recited some provisions of the will. The will is recorded in New Castle Co., DE, where John Steele, an executor, resided. There is evidently no copy in the Cecil Co. 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.

[8] Lancaster Co. Will Book J: 208, will of Adam Rankin dated and proved in 1747.

[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 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] Franklin Deed Book 12: 28.

[11] Some speculate that James was the son of Adam’s wife prior to Mary Steele Alexander. Family oral history says that Adam was married first to an Elizabeth May, although I am not aware of any evidence in either colonial or Irish records. Adam and Mary Steele were married after 1718 but before 1724; Adam was in the colonies by no later than 1722.  There is no indication in Adam’s 1747 will that any of his sons were minors, so the three of them were probably all born by 1726. One can infer from the will that James was already living on the tract he inherited and that William and Jeremiah were still at home. Perhaps the fact that James appears to be the oldest is the rationale for thinking he was the product of an earlier marriage. That should be classified as speculation.

[12] Secondary evidence (i.e., evidence other than official records) establishes that Jeremiah Rankin, son of Adam and Mary Steele Rankin, died in 1760 in a mill accident. See the article about one of Jeremiah’s sons, Rev. Adam Rankin of Lexington, Co., here.

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

[14] Online trees sometimes give William’s name as William SteeleRankin. That would be logical, since his mother’s maiden name was Steele. However, men born in the early 1700s very rarely had middle names, e.g., George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson. Further, there is not one damn shred of evidence in actual records that William ever used a middle name. If anyone can produce any convincing evidence of any middle name, I will eat both my hat and my laptop.

[15] 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.”

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

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

[18] 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.

[19] 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.

[20] Even I will trust Findagrave when it cites to the Minutes of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America, see it at this link.

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 blog 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 is undoubtedly true.

The bottom line 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 the records.

We are about to examine the most famous Rankin family legend of all. I call the family identified in this legend the “Londonderry Siege” Rankins. Many of them wound up in Jefferson, Greene, and Blount counties, Tennessee; others went further west in Pennsylvania and into the Northwest Territories; others settled in Augusta Co., GA. This family history tradition exists in at least two different sources I have found, and probably many more: (1) a bronze tablet in the Mt. Horeb Cemetery, Jefferson County, TN; and (2) the “Republican History of Ohio,” published in 1898. 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 that repetition isn’t proof.

The Londonderry Siege story is a staple, a shibboleth, a cast-in-concrete given, of Rankin family history. YDNA results, however, create one question mark.

Let’s go with the Mt. Horeb tablet, the only family history I know 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. In fact, there are some problems with it, but we will get to that. 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: 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” in Scotland did include the year 1688, and many Presbyterian Scots were martyred in those days. Those martyrs probably included some Rankins. Also, history confirms that many Presbyterian Scots did escape to the relatively safe haven of the Ulster Plantation of northern Ireland during the Killing Times. That migration 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.  I haven’t done any research overseas, so … if anyone out there has some actual evidence, a lot of us would love to hear it.

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, a long-time Rankin researcher, 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 plenty of truth to it. I just don’t know what. Instead, let’s just see 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. According to oral family history, Adam had a wife prior to Mary Steele. No one I’ve talked to has any proof other than oral family history.

   – John Rankin died in 1749 in Lancaster Co., PA, also leaving a will naming two sons and eight daughters. Call him John d. 1749, widow Margaret. This conflicts with the Mt. Horeb table, which says that John’s wife was Jane McElwee. Some researchers resolve this conflict by giving John’s wife a middle name and calling her Jane Margaret orMargaret Jane. That is almost certainly arrant nonsense.

Here’s the rub: YDNA presentsa problem with part of the Mt. Horeb history. Two men who are descended from Adam d. 1747, wife Mary Steele, are not a YDNA match with men who are descended from John d. 1749. Barring some other explanation, John d. 1749 and Adam d 1747 were not genetic brothers. Both lines — John’s and Adam’s — claim descent from William and Alexander. If John and Adam weren’t brothers, then both cannot be correct.

We need more YDNA testing on this issue. I’m working on it. More evidence in the overseas records wouldn’t hurt, either.

See you on down the road.

Robin

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.