It’s all about the Benjamins …

… but we aren’t talking $100 bills. Our subjects are four eighteenth-century Virginians named Benjamin who hail from the Northern Neck Rankin Cluster. Two of these men will qualify a descendant for DAR or SAR membership. If that is your thing and you may have a Rankin ancestor in the right area, they might be worth a closer look.

But this Virginia Rankin family is a tough nut to crack. Only one of the Benjamins has proved parents. Precise birth years are nonexistent; we mostly have to settle for a likely decade. I’m hoping for a reader who has a Bible or other evidence to help us with these men …

  • Benjamin Rankin of King George County, Virginia, a proved son of the Robert Rankin who died there in 1747/48. Benjamin was probably born in the 1720s.
  • Benjamin Rankin of Frederick and Berkeley Counties, Virginia (later part of West Virginia). DAR information is that Capt. Benjamin was born circa 1740.
  • Benjamin Rankin of King George/Fauquier/Loudoun Counties, Virginia and Fayette County, Kentucky. He was a Revolutionary War soldier, suggesting he was born in the 1750s or early 1760s.
  • Benjamin Rankin of Loudoun and Frederick Counties, Virginia and Mason County, Kentucky. He was probably born in the 1760s. His probable or possible brothers were Lt. Robert, William, John, Moses, Reuben, and George Rankin.[1]

Here’s what county records reveal about them.

Benjamin Rankin of King George County, Virginia, son of Robert Rankin who died 1747/48

Benjamin first appeared in the Virginia records in 1747/48 when he was named a beneficiary of his father Robert’s will.[2]Benjamin and his siblings Mary Rankin Green, Moses, George, and Hipkins each inherited only one shilling. Sons William, John, and James, probably the three eldest, inherited Robert’s land.[3] Robert’s estate was appraised at less than one hundred pounds sterling, so he didn’t have much wealth to spread among his children.[4] As a general rule, that means his sons weren’t likely to be wealthy, either.

After his father’s will was proved, Benjamin didn’t appear again in the King George records until 1753.[5] He must have been of legal age by then, born by 1732. After 1753, he appeared regularly in the court order books through 1767. In at least two records, Benjamin was involved with one of his brothers. In 1753, Benjamin and Hipkins sued the same man for trespass, assault and battery.[6] In 1763, Benjamin was security for Moses Rankin, a defendant in a suit for debt.[7]Benjamin was a carpenter, as was his brother John.[8]

The King George court slapped Benjamin hard on the wrist once — on the record — for presenting what the justices called a “very extravagant” charge for building several structures at Gibson’s tobacco warehouse.[9] The justices instructed that Benjamin be paid a lesser amount than he charged. Benjamin, bless his heart, didn’t take it lying down. He sued, was awarded a judgment, and obtained a writ of execution against the warehouse. The court instructed that the judgment be paid from the county levy.[10] Score: Little Guy 1 – City Hall 0.

Benjamin was moderately respectable by the norms of the day, something one can’t say with confidence about his brothers. They appeared in grand jury presentments for “failing to attend divine services,”[11] swearing,[12] “vagrancy” (failing to appear for militia drills),[13] or in court records as defendants in lawsuits for debts.[14] Benjamin did not belong to the top tier of the social order, though. He was never identified with the honorific “gent.,” nor did he serve in a county leadership position — justice, vestryman, tobacco warehouse inspector, someone who took tithes, or the like. He was, after all, a carpenter.

Benjamin did appraise at least one estate, a court-ordered position of moderate respect and trust.[15] He served on a couple of juries.[16] He was appointed overseer of a road, an indicator of both probable land ownership and public trust.[17] However, I found no record of any land acquisition in the deed books or Northern Neck grants. I also found no evidence of Benjamin’s family, if any.

After 1767, Benjamin disappeared from King George records. Because I found no probate records for him, I assumed he had moved. Then I started digging into the online images of King George order books. It turns out that there are very few surviving court records from the 1770s, or at least I had limited luck in the FamilySearch.org microfilms. Court records for King George are disorganized after the 1760s. Benjamin may have remained there and died intestate in the 1770s. Or he may have moved away. I don’t know. !!%&@!**&%!!

Capt. Benjamin Rankin of Frederick/Berkeley County, Virginia

Benjamin of Frederick/Berkeley first appeared in the records witnessing a 1765 Frederick County lease.[18] He lived in the Bullskin Creek/Bloomery area in the northern part of Frederick that became Berkeley County.[19] He was a Captain in the Berkeley County militia. The DAR deems him a Revolutionary Patriot, apparently for furnishing supplies.[20] The DAR estimates he was born circa 1740, probably based on information provided by a descendant.

He resigned his Berkeley militia commission in 1779.[21] That same year, he purchased more than 700 acres and thirty-seven enslaved persons.[22] He was clearly a wealthy man. In 1786, he was a trustee of the city of Charlestown, indicating he was also well-respected.[23] He died in 1787, leaving a will naming his wife Judith MNU and daughters Molly (Mary) Rankin and Margaret Helm, wife of William Helm.[24] George Rankin, who was surely a relative, witnessed Benjamin’s 1787 will.[25]

I had a notion that Capt. Benjamin of Frederick/Berkeley might be the same man as Benjamin, son of the Robert Rankin who died in King George County in 1747/48.[26] However, a birthdate circa 1740 for Capt. Benjamin, if close to accurate, precludes that possibility. Robert’s son Benjamin was of legal age by at least 1753, and thus born well before 1740.[27] Also, I have since learned from microfilm of court records in King George that Benjamin, son of Robert, was still appearing in records there in 1767, while Capt. Benjamin of  Frederick/Berkeley was in a Frederick County record two years earlier.

I also wondered whether Capt. Benjamin of Frederick/Berkeley might be the father of Lt. Robert, William, John, Benjamin, Moses, George, and Reuben Rankin.[28] Those seven men were almost certainly brothers.[29] Capt. Benjamin was in the right place at the right time to have been their father. However, his only proved children are the two daughters named in his will. Further, a birth date circa 1740 makes him highly unlikely as a father of at least Lt. Robert, born in 1753.

If you are looking for an entrée to the DAR or SAR, Benjamin’s son-in-law William Helm is a sure bet. The Helms children were identified in the SAR application of a descendant.[30]

Revolutionary War Soldier Benjamin Rankin of King George/Fauquier/Loudoun Counties, Virginia and Fayette, Kentucky

This Benjamin lived as a young man in King George County and died in Fayette County, Kentucky. In between, he spent at least some time in Loudoun and Fauquier Counties, because he signed a letter from each county assigning his benefits as a Revolutionary War soldier to a Francis Peyton.[31] One of the letters states that Benjamin served for three years as a dragoon — a cavalry soldier — in Lt. Col. William Washington’s Regiment.

Col. Washington signed Benjamin’s discharge papers as follows: “Benjamin Rankins soldier in the 3d Regiment of Light Dragoons having served faithfully three years is hereby discharged.”[32] The discharge was dated May 17, 1781, suggesting that Benjamin entered the service about May 1778. He was definitely with the unit by July 1778, when he was on furlough. On that date, the regiment was located in Fredericksburg, less than thirty miles west of the King George county seat.[33] I have no idea why he was on furlough so soon after enlisting, which seems unusual.

In September 1778, the regiment was billeted in barns and houses around Old Tappan, New Jersey.[34] The soldiers’ presence was betrayed by loyalist townspeople to British troops in the area. They were attacked during the night in an event known as “Baylor’s Massacre,” named after Col. George Baylor, who was then the regiment’s commander. More than sixty of the Third Regiment men were bayoneted and died.

Benjamin obviously survived the Massacre, unless he was still absent on a pretty long furlough. He was definitely serving in the cavalry regiment when it made mounted charges at the Battles of Cowpens and Guilford Court House, both of which were major patriot victories in the Carolinas.[35]

According to depositions given in the pension application of Benjamin’s widow Jane Hickey, he was a resident King George County when he enlisted.[36] He may have appeared in King George records in the 1770s, although that is the period when court records are apparently lost. Given his military service during 1778-1781, he was probably born in the 1750s or early 1760s.

The first records I have for him are the two 1783 letters from Loudoun and Fauquier Counties assigning his Revolutionary War benefits to a third party. He moved from that area to Fayette County, Kentucky along with another Rankin, relationship unknown. John Rankin of Clark County, Kentucky gave a deposition in connection with the pension application of Benjamin’s widow. John did not (!!) define his relationship to Benjamin, although they were surely related in some fashion. John merely said that his father, not named, and Benjamin moved to Kentucky in 1784 from Fauquier County.[37]

Jane Hickey testified that she and Benjamin married in 1785. They had more than six children, some of whom were named in the depositions supporting her pension application. Children included Sarah (the eldest, born about 1786, married Charles Hall), William, Frances, John, James, and Thomas. Jane gave her deposition from Jefferson County, Indiana. She and her children probably all moved there. Jane, her daughter Sarah Rankin Hall, and two probable sons of Jane and Benjamin can be found in the 1850 census for Indiana in Clark County (Sarah Rankin Hall and Jane) and Jefferson County (William and James).[38]

It is a reasonable bet that Revolutionary War Benjamin was a grandson of the Robert Rankin who died in King George in 1747/48.[39] As to which of Robert’s sons might have been Benjamin’s father, I haven’t found a scrap of evidence. That is par for the course with the Northern Neck Rankin Cluster.

Benjamin Rankin of Loudoun/Frederick, Virginia and Mason, Kentucky

Lt. Robert, William, and John Rankin — three proved brothers who lived in Mason County at one time — definitely had a brother Benjamin. There is evidence for that in two records, which appear conclusive:

  • In July 1783, William Rankin executed a power of attorney authorizing delivery of William’s Certificate of Service to Robert Rankin in order for the latter to obtain William’s land warrant. William’s military service was certified by Capt. William Brady. Both Lt. Robert and William had enlisted in Brady’s company of Stephenson’s Independent Rifle Regiment in 1776, so it is clear we are dealing with those two brothers. Benjamin Rankin witnessed the power of attorney, good circumstantial evidence of a family relationship.[40]
  • In August 1792, the Northern Neck Proprietor executed a lease to Benjamin Rankin of Loudoun County for the life of Benjamin and his brothers Moses and Robert Rankin. George Rankin, relationship unknown, witnessed the lease. William Rankin, Lt. Robert’s proved brother, had a nearby lease for his life and the lives of his wife Mary Ann and son Harrison.

Benjamin and his brothers Moses, Robert, and William were not sons of the Robert Rankin who died in 1747/48 in King George. That Robert did not name a son Robert in his will. More importantly, Lt. Robert was born in 1753; William was born in 1758. If the Robert who died in 1747/48 was their direct ancestor, he was their grandfather.

Benjamin of Loudoun/Frederick did not leave probate records in Frederick, so he evidently moved on. I believe he is the same man as the Benjamin Rankin who appeared in Mason County along with Lt. Robert, William, John, Moses, and George. Benjamin owned a number of town lots in Williamsburg, name later changed to Orangeburg.[41] My notes also indicate he appeared on a tax list with 100 acres on Cabin Creek and an enslaved person.[42] He married Catherine Stubblefield in 1796.[43] His bondsman was George Rankin, who plays a variety of supporting roles in records concerning the Northern Neck Rankin Cluster.[44]

The last appearance in the Mason County records that I found for Benjamin was in 1803. He was not in the 1810 census there. In 1817, a Catherine Rankin — possibly his widow? — married. I found no probate records for Benjamin.

Need I say that Benjamin and Catherine’s children, if any, are a total mystery? We cannot even be positive that the Benjamin Rankin of Williamsburg/Orangeburg, Mason County is the same man as the Benjamin who leased a tract in Frederick County in 1792. They probably were the same man, since families often migrated together, several other Rankin siblings lived in Mason County, and, of course, the appearance of George Rankin in both Benjamin’s Mason County marriage bond and the Frederick County lease for life.

And that’s all the news that is fit to print about the Benjamins of the Northern Neck Rankin Cluster.

See you on down the road.

Robin

                  [1] There are a number of articles on this website about Lt. Robert, his brothers, and their possible parents. They include Part 1, an introduction to Lt. Robert Rankin’s family, Part 2, relevant military information for Lt. Robert and his brother William, Part 3, William’s war story, Part 4, Lt. Robert’s war story, and Part 5A and Part 5B, two articles seeking to identify their parents.

                  [2] Abstract of King George Co. VA Will Book 1-A: 201, George Harrison Sanford King, King George County Virginia Will Book A-I 1721-1752 and Miscellaneous Notes (Fredericksburg, VA: 1978), undated will of Robert Rankin proved 4 Mar 1747/48. Wife Elizabeth. Sons William, John, and James, all of Robert’s land to be equally divided. Daughter Mary Green and sons Moses, George, Benjamin, and Hipkins, one shilling each.

                  [3] William was definitely the eldest because he was summoned to court to object, if he desired, to the noncupative will of Robert’s widow Elizabeth Rankin. King George Co., VA Order Book 1754-56: 470, order dated 3 Apr 1755. The right to object was accorded only to the eldest son under the rules of primogeniture. The fact that William was the first-named child in the will suggests Robert named his children in birth order. Hipkins, the last-named, was almost certainly the youngest. Order Book entry dated 6 Apr 1753 regarding the lawsuit Hipkins Rankins by Richard Green his next friend v. Thomas Burnett. That is the only court record in which one of Robert’s children was proved to be under legal age.

                  [4] King George Co., VA Order Book 1746 – 1751: 577, inventory and appraisement of the estate of Robert Rankins, dec’d, presented and recorded. His inventory is recorded in Deed Book 6: 28. The estate included one enslaved person, who probably accounted for most of the estate’s value.

                  [5] King George Co., VA Order Book 1751-54: 212, May 1753, Benjamin Rankins was a plaintiff in a lawsuit.

                  [6] Id. Benjamin and Hipkins both sued Thomas Burnett for trespass, assault and battery. The suits almost certainly arose out of the same events.

                  [7] King George Co., VA Order Book 1751-1765: 1065, entry for April 1763, Benjamin Rankins was security for Moses Rankins in a suit for debt.

                  [8] Id. at 781, entry of March 1758 binding Henry Jones as an apprentice to Benjamin Rankins to learn the trade of house carpenter. As for John, see King George Co., VA Deed Book 4: 36, 9 May 1753, a mortgage by John Rankins, carpenter of Hanover Parish, to William Bruce, an enslaved person named Sall or Sarah, witnessed by Richard Green, Mary Green, and Joana Pool. Mary Green was John’s sister, see Note 2.

                  [9] Id. at 903, Jun or July 1760 order concerning Benjamin Rankin’s “very extravagant” account for building several structures at Gibson’s tobacco warehouse.

                  [10] Id. at 1078, court order to pay from county funds to discharge Benjamin Rankin’s execution against Gibson’s warehouse.

                  [11] Moses, George, John, and Hipkins were all summoned by a grand jury at least one time for missing church. King George Co., VA Order Book 1754-56: 594 (Moses and John); Order Book 1751-65: 823 (George); Id. at 924 (John and Hipkins).

                  [12] King George Co., VA Order Book 1746-51: 610, grand jury presentment against James and Moses Rankins for “swearing an oath”.

                  [13] King George Co., VA Deed Book 4: 283, Moses Rankin “vagrant,” not appearing for militia drills. I don’t know whether that was one offense or two.

                  [14] E.g., King George Co., VA Order Book 1754-56: 583 (money judgment granted against James Rankins and George Rankins), 580 (judgment against William Rankins for suit on an account), 582 (default judgment against John Rankins). All of those records were in November 1755. There are more.

                  [15] King George Co., VA Order Book 1751-1765: 971, Benjamin Rankins et al. to appraise the estate of Richard Strother.

                  [16] E.g., King George Co., VA Order Book 1751-1765: 903, Benjamin Rankins on a jury. I have always thought that only freeholders could serve on colonial juries, although both Benjamin and Moses did so. Order Book 1751-54: 143, Moses on a jury. Neither inherited any land from their father Robert, and I found no deed or grant in which either one acquired land.

                  [17] Id. at 694, Benjamin Rankins appointed overseer of a road in place of Samuel Kendall.

                  [18] Amelia C. Gilreath, Frederick County, Virginia Deed Books 9, 10, 11, 1763-1767 (Nokesville, VA: 1989), abstract of Frederick Co., VA Deed Book 11: 12, Benjamin Rankins witnessed a lease dated 5 May 1765.

                  [19] Virginia Genealogical Society, Frederick County [Virginia] Road Orders 1743-1772 (Westminster, MD: Heritage Books, 2007), abstract of Frederick Co., VA Order Book 13: 383, entry of 7 May 1767 appointing Benjamin Rankin overseer of the road “from Bullskin to the Bloomery.”

                  [20] You can search for Benjamin Rankin on the DAR website here. See also William & Mary Quarterly, Series 1, Vol. 13, No. 1 (July 1904), “Soldiers of Berkeley County, W. Va.” 29-36.

                  [21] Berkeley Co., WV Order Book 3: 401, 20 Apr 1779, Benjamin Rankin personally appeared in court and resigned his commission as a captain in the Berkeley Militia.

                  [22] Berkeley Co., WV Deed Book 5: 744, deed of 8 Dec 1779 from Richard and Francis Willis to Benjamin Rankin.

                  [23] William Thomas Doherty, Berkeley County, U.S.A.: A Bicentennial History of a Virginia and West Virginia County, 1772 – 1972 (Parsons, WV: McClain Printing Co., 1972) 36 note 9.

                  [24] Larry G. Shuck, Berkeley County, Virginia Deeds and Wills, Abstracts Deed Books 1-5 (1772-1781), Will Books 1-3 (1772-1805), abstract of Berkeley Co., VA Will Book 1: 441, will of Benjamin Rankin of Berkeley proved 16 Jan 1787. Mentioned land on Bullskin. Witnessed by George Rankin.

                  [25] Benjamin, son of Robert d. 1747/48, had a brother named George. See Note 2. That is one reason I had speculated that Benjamin of Frederick/Berkeley was the same man as Robert’s son Benjamin, although I no longer believe that to be the case. I don’t know for sure who George Rankin might be.

                  [26] See Note 2.

                  [27] See Note 5.

                  [28] See Part B of an article about the possible parents of Lt. Robert here  and one identifying Lt. Robert’s siblings here. The only evidence for Benjamin Rankin as a possible father, so far as I found, is that Lt. Robert Rankin and his brother William enlisted in Col. Hugh Stephenson’s Maryland and Virginia Rifle Regiment from Berkeley County, which typically means they resided there. Benjamin lived near the Stephensons. In other words, he was in the right place at the right time.

                  [29] The first four men (Lt. Robert, William, John, and Benjamin) can be deemed proved. Moses, Reuben, and George are possible.

                  [30] See the SAR application of Standiford Helm, a descendant of William Helm, 1755-1806. His first wife was Margaret Rankin, daughter of Capt. Benjamin of Berkeley. William served in the 3rd VA Regiment of the Continental Line. He lived at “Helms Hill” in Berkeley Co. Standiford’s SAR application identifies the children of William and Margaret Rankin Helm as (1) Benjamin Helm, (2) Thomas Helm m. Eliz. Mort 8 Jan 1806, (3) Elizabeth Helm m. John Mort, (4) John Helm, (5) William Helm, (6) Lucy Helm m. Mr. Jennings, (7) George Helm, (8) Ann Helm m. Mr. Williams, and (9) Erasmus Helm m. Lavinia Oliver. Some of the Helms went to Mason Co., KY, as did Lt. Robert Rankin and his brothers.

                  [31] The originals of Benjamin Rankin’s two letters are in the records of the Library of Virginia, although my links to the online images no longer work. Instead, see Annie Walker Burns, Revolutionary War Pensions of Soldiers Who Settled in Fayette County Kentucky (Washington, D.C.: 1936), available online here. The two letters are at p. 52, and are included in the pension applications of “Hickey, Daniel and Jane.” Jane was Benjamin’s widow; Daniel Hickey was her third husband.

                  [32] Christine L. Langner, Baylor’s Regiment: The Third Continental Light Dragoons (Berwyn Heights, MD: Heritage Books, Inc., 2015) 149.

                  [33] Id.

                  [34] Id. at ix.

                  [35] See a brief history of the 3rd Continental Regiment of Light Dragoons here.

                  [36] Burns, Revolutionary War Pensions 49-52, applications for Daniel and Jane Hickey at this link. One deposition identifies a Benjamin Rankin as the deponent, but that was clearly an error. Ms. Burns transcription indicates that a John Rankin signed the deposition.  The only way the testimony makes sense is if the deponent was a John Rankin who came to Kentucky with his father in 1784.

                  [37] Id.

                  [38] Benjamin’s widow Jane Hickey gave her deposition in Jefferson Co., IN in 1847. Their eldest daughter, Sarah Rankin, married Charles Hall and lived in Bourbon Co., KY briefly before also moving to Indiana. Sarah Hall and her mother Jane Hickey are listed in the 1850 census in Clark Co., IN: Sarah Hall, 64, b. KY, with Jane Hicky, sic, 82, b. NC. William Rankin, age 65, and James Rankin, age 51, were enumerated in Jefferson Co., IN in the 1850 census. They may well be and probably are sons of Benjamin and Jane. Both were born in Kentucky and were the right age.

                  [39] I don’t believe Benjamin, the Revolutionary War Soldier, was a son of John and Sarah Woffendale Rankin, although that is possible. John and Sarah’s son Reuben was born between 1736 and 1741. Benjamin was probably born circa 1760. With this crowd, of course, it is anyone’s guess.

                  [40] See a transcription of the power of attorney letter here. It is not clear from the letter where William was living when he wrote it. Knowing that might help determine which of the several Benjamins was the witness. I believe Benjamin the witness was William’s brother, the grantee in the 1792 lease for life, although he might well have been Capt. Benjamin of Berkeley.

                  [41] Mason Co., KY Deed Book C: 73, 75, deed dated March 1796, Benjamin Rankins of Mason Co. bought three lots in Williamsburg; deed dated March 1794, Benjamin purchased Lot #10 in Williamsburg. My notes also have Benjamin on a tax list showing him taxed on 100 acres on Cabin Cr. and one enslaved person. I failed to note the FamilySearch Film number and now cannot find such an entry.

                  [42] My notes say that FamilySearch films of Mason County tax lists were the source of that information. I cannot find it again. Doing so will require going through the films page by page, a commitment I am not ready to make after my adventures in the King George court order book films.

                  [43] Mason County, Kentucky Marriage Records 1789 – 1833 (Kokomo, IN: Selby Publishing, 1999), marriage bond for Benjamin Rankin and Catherine Stubblefield, 20 Apr 1796, bondsman George Rankin.

                  [44] George, the supporting actor (or some other man named George Rankin), also witnessed the 1787 will of Capt. Benjamin Rankin of Berkeley and Benjamin Rankin’s 1792 lease for life in Frederick.

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