Many of us have ancestors who served in the Civil War and may have some interest in its history. Likewise, many of us have experienced serendipity while doing family history research – namely, finding something good even though you weren’t looking for it. Having a little major league baseball thrown in with research serendipity and Civil War history is a new one for me, but this article has them all. What next? Hot dogs? Apple pie?
Here is the background
The family in this article belongs to the line of Adam Rankin who died in 1747 in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and his wife Mary Steele Alexander. An earlier article about the same line dealt with the family of William Rankin, one of Adam and Mary’s three sons. William and his wife Mary Huston Rankin (daughter of Archibald and Agnes Huston) had eight children, all named in William’s 1792 will:
- Dr. Adam Rankin, b. early 1760s – d. ?
- Archibald Rankin, b. 10 Apr 1768, d. 24 Jun 1849, Mercersburg, Franklin Co., PA
- James Rankin, b. ca. 1770, probably d. 1820-1830, Centre Co., PA
- William Rankin (Jr.), b. 5 Nov 1770, d. 29 Nov 1847, Centre Co., PA
- Betsy Rankin (dang, I wish it were easier to follow women!)
- David Rankin (still haven’t gotten around to researching David)
- John Rankin, b. 8 May 1778 or 1779, d. 22 Apr 1848, Centre Co., PA
- Jeremiah Rankin, b. 26 Nov 1783, d. 18 Feb 1874, Centre Co., PA
The earlier article on William and Mary’s family gave short shrift to their eldest son, Dr. Adam Rankin, because I had not been able to track him after 1798. Here is what that article originally said about Dr. Adam (I have now updated it to include more current research):
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 on Dr. Adam’s behalf the land his brother had inherited from their father.… in 1798, Dr. Adam Rankin was listed on a Franklin County tax list … I can find no record for him after that.”
Truth in lending compels me to admit that I didn’t look very hard for Dr. Adam, because at that time I was hot on the heels of four of his brothers in Centre County. Spoiler alert: Dr. Adam is (hang in there) a part of this narrative.
Here are the Civil War and baseball parts
Not long after publishing that article, I was exchanging emails with a Rankin family history researcher and distant Rankin cousin. He is a Civil War history expert, having taught several short college courses on the subject. We were talking about “historical” Rankins. He mentioned a Confederate Brigadier General named Adam Rankin “Stovepipe” Johnson and enclosed an article about him.
Here is Stovepipe’s photograph.
Stovepipe acquired his nickname in July of (probably) 1862, like so …
“With a mere thirty-five men at his command, he crossed the Ohio [River] – he believed it to be the first Rebel “invasion” of the North – and attacked the town of Newburgh, Indiana, on July 18. There were two hundred or more Federals in the town, though mostly convalescent soldiers in hospitals. To bluff them into surrendering, Johnson mounted two stovepipes on an old wagon and paraded it around to look like artillery. The ruse worked, the town gave up, and he became ever after Stovepipe Johnson.”
Stovepipe was born in Henderson, KY in 1834, but moved to Burnet, Texas when he was twenty. (That’s pronounced BURN’-it, with emphasis on the first syllable, for you non-Texans). He went back to Kentucky when the war broke out, made a name for himself as a scout for Nathan Bedford Forrest and as a recruiter, and evenually organized and equipped the 10th Kentucky Calvary. He was accidentally shot in the face by one of his own men in August 1864, lost his eyesight, and was captured and imprisoned at Fort Warren until the end of the war. He returned to Texas, where he founded the town of Marble Falls (nicknamed “the blind man’s town”), worked to harness the water power of the Colorado River, served as a contractor for the Overland Mail, and founded the Texas Mining Improvement Company. Oh, yeah, he also wrote an autobiography that is considered a “must read” regarding certain aspects of the Civil War. Whew!
He died in Burnet in 1922, and was reportedly a happy, cheerful man, blind or not. It sure didn’t slow him down much, did it? I’m just sorry he wasn’t fighting against slavery. He is buried in the Texas State Cemetery in Austin. There is a ton of information about him on the internet – Googling “Adam Rankin Stovepipe Johnson” will produce a wealth of hits for you. Here is a short article posted by the Texas State Historical Association, so it has some credibility (and has a citation to Stovepipe’s autobiography).
Among other things, the TSHA article tells you that Stovepipe had six children. Keep Googling, and you will find that one of them was named Adam Rankin “Tex” Johnson (1888 – 1972). He was a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals during 1914-1918. His ERA in the majors was a very respectable 2.96. Dallas Keuchal should have done as well for the Astros today (August 18, 2018). Here is a picture of Tex:
AND Tex had a son, Rankin Johnson Jr., who was also a major league pitcher — for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1941. He’s a nice-looking man, and his tombstone is inscribed “TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALLGAME,” so you’ve got to love him! Here’s his picture:
… the next time the announcers for the Houston Astros have a trivia question about father-son major league players, I’ll be ready with “Tex” Johnson and Rankin Johnson. I imagine they will be stumped.
The serendipity part
What, you may well be asking, do Brigadier General Adam Rankin “Stovepipe” Johnson, “Tex” Johnson, and Rankin Johnson have to do with the family of Adam and Mary Steele Rankin of Lancaster Co., PA? Or their grandson Dr. Adam Rankin?
The serendipity was having my Rankin cousin and friend just drop Gen. Adam Rankin Johnson in my lap. From there, it doesn’t take too much imagination to deduce that Stovepipe Johnson’s mother was née Rankin. Yes, indeed, says the Texas State Historical Association summary about Stovepipe. Her name was Julia Rankin, and she was the daughter of … Doctor Adam Rankin of Henderson Co., KY, who was originally from Pennsylvania.
Apparently, Dr. Adam Rankin (son of William and Mary Huston Rankin and brother of Archibald) was “absent” from Pennsylvania in 1792 because he was busy marrying Elizabeth Speed of Danville, KY that year. She was the first of his three wives, by whom Dr. Adam fathered thirteen children — including a daughter Mary Huston Rankin (his eldest child) and a son Archibald Rankin.
Here is a link to a biographical article about Dr. Adam’s family in an 1887 history of Henderson County, KY.
I haven’t been into the deed and probate records of Henderson Co., KY, yet. With any kind of luck, they will provide evidence tying Dr. Adam Rankin, grandfather of Adam Rankin “Stovepipe” Johnson, back to Franklin Co., PA. As for me, I consider the names of those two children to be extremely persuasive circumstantial evidence.
See you on down the road. There are more Pennsylvania Rankins on the horizon.
 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 and William devised it to his son Dr. Adam Rankin by will dated 20 October 1792. The deed also recites that Dr. Adam Rankin granted his brother Archibald Rankin power of attorney dated 29 Jun 1792. The POA is also recorded at DB 7: 392.