Same Name Confusion: Thomas Rankin of East Tennessee … and What the Heck IS “Depreciation Pay?”

My Aunt Bettye’s name came up in a whining session with a friend about family tree errors. That’s because Bettye’s bogus ancestral claims are the stuff of legend. E.g., she once  floated the notion that we are descended from Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings. That claim didn’t gain any traction, even among our family’s wannabe believers.

She also maintained that our German immigrant ancestor, a tailor whose mother was a milliner, was minor royalty in the old country. However, Von Huenefeld – Bettye added the “Von” – is not a name you will find among known baronets. You get the drift. Bettye, bless her heart, was heavily invested in having a fabulous family history.

Most family tree errors are honest mistakes, or perhaps the result of copying someone else’s tree without verifying it. Others, like some of Bettye’s claims, are wishful thinking – or just plain fiction. Whatever. All one can do is analyze the evidence concerning each fact, claim, or piece of conventional wisdom. I often conclude that I just don’t know. That’s where I am with some of the oral family history of the John Rankin who died in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania in 1749.[1]

A big “just don’t know” about that Rankin line is what I call the “Londonderry Siege” legend.[2] It is inscribed on a bronze tablet in the Mt. Horeb Presbyterian Church cemetery in Jefferson County, Tennessee. I reproduced the inscription in full in this article.  Is the legend true? There seems to be no evidence for most of its claims. That doesn’t mean they aren’t true. It just means they aren’t proved. A second “just don’t know” factoid about John Rankin who died in 1749 is that he had a brother Adam Rankin who died in 1747, also in Lancaster County. So far, Y-DNA testing suggests that is probably not correct.

The questions for this article are whether John’s son Thomas Rankin was a Captain in the Revolutionary War, and whether Thomas’s four eldest sons also served in the war. I concluded that three of Thomas’s four eldest sons were Revolutionary soldiers. I just don’t know about the other son, but doubt he was a soldier. I also believe that Thomas, son of the John who died in 1749, was not a Revolutionary War Captain, or even an enlisted soldier. Thomas has probably been conflated with another Thomas Rankin who was a Captain in a Pennsylvania militia in the Revolutionary War. That is the error called “same name confusion,” an easy mistake to make.

One source for these claims is the Mt. Horeb tablet. It says this about Thomas and his four eldest sons (I have omitted his other children, who aren’t relevant to this article):

“THOMAS RANKIN, 1724 – 1812,[3] 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 RANKIN … WAS A CAPTAIN IN THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR. HIS FOUR ELDEST SONS WERE PRIVATES IN SAID WAR

The question of the four sons’ service is comparatively easy, so let’s begin with them, starting with the youngest.

Son number four in that list, William, filed a Revolutionary War pension application.[4] It detailed the family’s migration from Carlisle to Juniata in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania when he was twelve years old. He testified that his father and their family moved from Pennsylvania to Augusta County, Virginia in June 1780. His wife Sarah Moore filed a claim for a widow’s pension, so there is no doubt William’s pension application was by the William Rankin named on the Mt. Horeb tablet. His service as a private is conclusively proved. I’ve transcribed his application at the end of this article.

The Revolutionary War service of Richard and Samuel, sons number two and three, is established by excellent secondary evidence: a detailed family history written by Richard D. Rankin, who apparently went by his middle name, Duffield.[5] He was a grandson of Thomas and Isabel Clendenon Rankin and great-grandson of the John who died in 1749. Duffield said that Samuel was in the battle of Cowpens and that William and Richard both served in the war. He noted that William was at the Siege of York, which is confirmed by William’s pension application.[6] The Pennsylvania Archives also lists Richard as a Cumberland County militiaman.[7]

As for John, son number one, the Pennsylvania Archives proves that some John Rankin was a member of a militia company from Cumberland County.[8] However, Duffield’s meticulous history does not say that his Uncle John was a revolutionary soldier. It is likely that the John Rankin who was in a Cumberland County militia moved to Butler County, Pennsylvania. John’s pension application from Butler County stated that he lived in Cumberland County when he enlisted.[9] He was not a son of Thomas, whose son John moved to Blount County, Tennessee.[10]The Mt. Horeb tablet assertion that Thomas’s eldest son John was a private may be another “same name confusion” error.

That addresses the four sons. What about their father Thomas? Here are some reasons that Thomas, son of John d. 1747, was not a revolutionary soldier.

  1. Duffield did not say that his grandfather Thomas had served in the war or held the rank of Captain.[11] The omission is significant because Duffield clearly knew a great deal about his ancestors, including the fact that his great-grandfather John had two sons and eight daughters. Duffield also expressly mentioned the service of three of Thomas’s four eldest sons.
  2. The Mt. Horeb tablet says Thomas was born in 1724. Thomas’s father John’s will, dated January 1, 1749, named Thomas executor.[12] That means Thomas was almost certainly born by at least 1728, confirming the general accuracy of the birth date on the tablet. By the time the war started, Thomas would have been 52 if the tablet is correct, or in any event no less than 48. Thomas was thus a bit long of tooth to have been a revolutionary soldier.
  3. A man whose father was a Captain and company commander typically served in his father’s unit. Thomas’s son Richard served in companies commanded by Captains McClelland, Hamilton, and Gibson.[13] Likewise, Thomas’s son William couldn’t remember the names of his commanders other than an Ensign George Dickey. It is clear that neither Richard nor William served in a company commanded by their father Thomas.
  4. The Pennsylvania Archives lists of militia soldiers do not include a Captain or a Private Thomas Rankin in Cumberland County. Neither does History of Cumberland County, Pennsylvania.
  5. Ironically, the most compelling argument that Thomas was not an officer is a source cited in an application for the D.A.R. by Miss Mary Rankin, a descendant of Thomas Rankin and his son Richard. She cited only the Pennsylvania Archives, 5th Series, Volume IV, as proof of Thomas’s service.[14] The relevant section in Volume IV is titled “Soldiers Who Received Depreciation Pay.” Miss Rankin cited page 494 of that section, which is part of a list of “Miscellaneous Officers” who received depreciation pay. It includes the name Thomas Rankin.[15]

As usual, the devil is in the details. “Depreciation Pay” was deferred pay to compensate Pennsylvania soldiers who served during 1777-1780. Those soldiers were originally paid in “Continental bills of credit,” which quickly lost value.[16] The Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission website says this:

“To make amends for such depreciation, each of these men who in 1781 yet remained in line service was awarded a substantial sum in Depreciation Pay Certificates, which were both interest bearing and negotiable.”

Emphasis added. Thomas Rankin, husband of Isabel Clendenon and father of three Revolutionary War soldiers, was in Augusta County, Virginia by mid-1780. He was not in service in a Pennsylvania unit in 1781, and was not eligible to receive Depreciation Pay Certificates awarded that year. He was thus not the same man as the Thomas Rankin listed among “Miscellaneous Officers” who received Depreciation Pay Certificates.

That leaves us with a big loose end: who was the Thomas Rankin who was an officer in a Pennsylvania militia and remained in service in 1781, long enough to receive a Depreciation Pay Certificate?

Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission Website to the rescue. In 1781, a Thomas Rankin was Captain of the 5th Company in the 2nd Battalion (later the 4th  Battalion) of Washington County Revolutionary War Militia, Cecil Township.[17] The 1781 tax list for Cecil Township confirms his residence and rank, naming a “Capt. Thomas Rankin.”[18] There are also several 1782 returns of classes in “Capt’r Thos. Renkon’s Compy.” of the 4th Battalion of Washington County Militia. Each is signed “Thomas Rankin, Cpt. 4 B.M.”[19]

In short, there is no doubt there was a militia Captain named Thomas Rankin in Cecil  Township, Washington County, who was still in service in 1781. He is surely the Thomas Rankin listed in the Pennsylvania Archives as having received Depreciation Pay. Thomas Rankin and his four sons on the Mt. Horeb tablet never lived in Washington County.

To which Rankin family did Captain Thomas of Cecil Township belong? That’s a tough question that I haven’t sorted out yet. Washington County was awash with Rankins in the latter part of the eighteenth century. There were four (I think) different men named Thomas Rankin in records from 1769 through 1781: one in Strabane Township, one in Nottingham Township, and two in Cecil Township, including Captain Thomas. I will leave that question for another article because this one is already overlong.

In sum, Thomas, son of the John Rankin who died in 1749 in Lancaster, was almost certainly not a Captain in the Revolutionary War. The pension application of Thomas’s son William establishes that the family did not live in Washington County, where a Thomas Rankin was Captain of a militia company. Having left Pennsylvania in June 1780, Thomas (son of John) was not eligible to receive a Pennsylvania Depreciation Pay Certificate. “Same name confusion” about the Thomas Rankins probably explains the erroneous information about Thomas on the Mt. Horeb tablet.

And that’s it from me on this topic. See you on down the road. But first, here is William Rankin’s pension application.

Robin

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *   

Source: Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, NARA M804. Images of application for Pension Number W.1,081, pages 11-15. https:www.fold3.com/image/13615051 through 13615054.

I have transcribed the application verbatim except for correcting obvious misspellings, ignoring some capitalization, and adding occasional punctuation for clarity. When I could not read a word, I substituted underscores.

“State of Tennessee               §

Greene County                         §                      October Session 1832

On this 23rd day of October 1832 personally appeared in open court before the Justices of the Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions for the county aforesaid William Rankin a resident citizen of Greene County aforesaid aged seventy four years the 27th of January  arriving who being first duly sworn according to law doth on his oath make the following declaration in order to obtain the benefit of the Act of Congress passed 7th June 1832.

That he was born in Cumberland County Pennsylvania five miles below Carlisle and raised there til twelve years of age and then moved to Juniata in the same county where he continued until the war of the revolution had progressed some time.

He entered the service of the United States under the following named officers and served as herein after stated. To wit, in the year 1779 in the month of August he volunteered and served a campaign against the Indians and British who had taken Freelands Fort and committed much depredation in that quarter of the country and pursued the enemy some fifty and more miles and after considerable scouting and fateague (fatigue?) returned to the place from whence he started and was out two weeks and perhaps three weeks or more.

Shortly after that campaign perhaps in one month or less he was drafted to serve two months in the same section of the state against the same enemy and was stationed at or near Freelands Fort and was continued in that campaign his full time ranging the country and guarding the frontier settlements. His officers names on the campaigns he cannot state except he believes Ensign George Dickey was in command who was from the neighborhood of Carlisle.

In the summer of 1780 in the month of June his father Thomas Rankin and family and this applicant moved to Augusta County Virginia near Staunton and soon after perhaps in the fall he was drafted to serve three months and after they rendezvoused he was selected to drive and take charge of a baggage wagon and team and was then marched to Richmond with the troops the officers and men all being strangers to him and for which reason he cannot now name the officers under whom he entered the service at that time. When the troops marched to Richmond Virginia this applicant was present and continued in the baggage wagon department and performed a trip with warlike stores to Staunton River on the border of North Carolina and after unloading at Staunton River they returned to Richmond and then were discharged and returned home having been out seven weeks or more. He remembers he arrived home on Christmas day.

In the summer of 1781 he was again drafted for twenty days and during that time was the battles of Hot Water and Jamestown in June and July. He was one of the detached party who made the assault on the British picket at Jamestown and brought on the battle under Major Ruckard a continental officer tho his name may have been Rickard and after the battle was brought on he was during the battle on the right wing and he was one of the last men who left the ground. Genls Lafayette and Wayne commanded in that battle.

About the first of September 1781 he was appointed by Quarter Master Hunter at Staunton a quarter master to take charge of the baggage wagons to take provisions to Richmond and after conducting the wagons with provisions to Richmond he was then reappointed to the same command by Major Claiborne Quarter Master at Richmond to continue on with the provisions to the Army having had eight wagons under his command. From Richmond he went with his wagons to Williamsburg where he received fresh orders from Colo. Carrington.

He then loaded his wagons with military stores and marched to Yorktown and was then in the main army at the siege of Yorktown with his wagons and was then under the command of Capt. Stuart wagon Master General and remained there in that service until eight days after the surrender of Ld Cornwallis after the surrender he assisted to haul the munitions _____ to the Wharf from there he was sent in charge of a wagon loaded by Major Claiborne to Richmond and then returned to Staunton which ended his military career having served in that service two months or more.

Near Yorktown Genl Washington halted say about five miles from the town and the wagons under the command of this applicant and ammunition lay within about ten rods of his tent until the Army droves in the British outposts. He served nine and a half months altogether to the best of his knowledge.

He has no witness to prove his service except the affidavits of Francis A. McCorkle & James McGill hereto annexed and he has not any documentary evidence to prove his service as he never recd any written discharges and he hereby relinquishes every claim to a pension whatever except the present and declares that his name is not on the pension roll of any state or its agency.

Sworn to and subscribed in open court this 23rd day of October 1832. Signed William Rankin and M. Payne.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *   

[1] John Rankin d. 1749 in Lancaster is the earliest proved Rankin ancestor for Lineage 2A of the Rankin DNA Project. https://www.familytreedna.com/groups/rankin/about/results

[2] The “Londonderry Siege” legend begins with Rankin Presbyterian martyrs in Scotland’s “Killing Times” during the 1680s. Surviving family members supposedly escaped to Ireland in time for the 1689 Siege of Londonderry. Three sons of a survivor, allegedly including John d. 1749, reportedly migrated to Pennsylvania in the early 1700s. A descendant of John’s has found no supporting evidence for the legend’s basic facts and family relationships, despite having done research overseas. There were probably Rankins among the Presbyterians who died in the Killing Times. Many Scots Rankins undoubtedly migrated to the Irish Province of Ulster. At least one of them, an Alexander Rankin – the purported but unproved patriarch of the Londonderry Siege family – is confirmed as a survivor of the Siege.

[3] The Mt. Horeb tablet actually says that Thomas died in 1828, which would have made him 104. His death date was corrected to 1812 in a second bronze marker.

[4] Image available at Fold3.com. See transcription, above.

[5] Richard D. Rankin, “History of the Rankins” in Chapter IX, “Ancestors of Jane Rankin Magill,” in Robert M. Magill, Magill Family Record (Richmond, VA: Whittet & Shepperson, printers, R. E. Magill, publisher) 129. Online at this link: at this link.

[6] See the transcription of William Rankin’s pension application, above.

[7] Thomas Lynch Montgomery, Pennsylvania Archives, 5th Series, Vol. VI (Harrisburg, PA: Harrisburg Publishing Co., 1906) 27, 243, 250, 260, 472, and 619.

[8] See id., Vol. IV  242-43, 260.

[9] Virgil D. White, Genealogical Abstracts of Revolutionary War Pension Files, Volume III: N-Z (Waynesboro, TN: The National Historical Publishing Co., 1992); Paul W. Myers, Revolutionary War Veterans Who Settled in Butler County, Pennsylvania (Apollo, PA: Closson Press, 1985) 11. For his information about John Rankin, Myers cites the History of Butler County, the Pennsylvania Archives, and NARA Federal Pension Application, Soldier S5965. See History of Butler County, Pennsylvania, Volume II (R. C. Brown & Co., Publishers, 1895) (Apollo, PA: reprint published by Closson Press, 2001),  “John Rankin, a native of Ireland, settled here in 1804 or 1805. He came from Maryland, raised a large family, and lived to a ripe old age.” A descendant of Butler County John is a participant in the Rankin DNA Project and belongs to Lineage 2U. The line of John d. 1749 and Butler County John are genetically related, although their most recent common Rankin ancestor is almost certainly in Scotland or Ulster.

 [10] Richard D. Rankin, “History of the Rankins,” see Note 6.

[11] Duffield did not mention the Londonderry Siege legend, either. He described what he wrote as “a history of our family.” It contains considerable verifiable detail. It is hard to imagine he would have omitted the story of the Killing Times and the Siege of Londonderry if those had been a part of his oral family tradition.

[12] Will of John Rankin dated 1 Jan 1749. Lancaster Co., PA Will Book J: 211.

[13] Montgomery, Pennsylvania Archives 5th Series, Vol. VI, 27, 243, 250, 260, 472, and 619.

[14] Daughters of the American Revolution (Indiana), Roster of Revolutionary Ancestors of the Indiana Daughters of the American Revolution, Vol. II (Evansville, IN: Unigraphic, Inc., 1976) 263. Mary Rankin’s D.A.R. application cites as her only proof of Thomas’s service a page in the Pennsylvania Archives. See Montgomery, Pennsylvania Archives, 5th Series, Vol. IV 494.

[15] Montgomery, Pennsylvania Archives, 5th Series, Vol. IV. The list on p. 494 states neither the county militia in which the named officer served nor his rank.

[16] You may have heard the expression “not worth a Continental.” It refers to the Continental Bills of Credit. The Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission Website discusses “depreciation pay” under the Archives tab  at this link.

[17] See http://www.phmc.pa.gov/Archives/Research-Online/Pages/Revolutionary-War-Militia-Washington.aspx. Thomas was the Captain of 5th Co., originally 2nd Battalion, then 4th Battalion, Washington Co. Militia. Cecil Township. See also Pennsylvania Archives, 6th Series, Volume II 129.

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

[19] Montgomery, Pennsylvania Archives, 6th Series, Volume II at 130, 136, 143, 145. “Cpt. 4 B.M.” likely stands for “Captain 4th Battalion Militia.”

Honoring the Blighters in the Trenches

Instead of genealogy, I have been working on the 2nd edition of my book about the Air Force unit with which I served in Vietnam. That detachment of forward air controllers – call sign Red Marker – supported an elite group of American and Vietnamese soldiers. I am publishing this first chapter of the book in honor of those people on the ground. That seems appropriate  because tomorrow is the 246th birthday of the United States Army. So here is a snappy salute from Red Marker 18 to those whom Snoopy called the “poor blighters in the trenches.”

_______________

THE CAMBODIAN INCURSION

Before dawn on the 1st of May 1970, two C-130B Hercules aircraft from the 463rd Tactical Airlift Wing rumbled down the runway at Cam Ranh Bay Air Base and roared into the night sky. They turned out of traffic and headed west toward the Fishhook region of Cambodia.

Two hours earlier, crews from the 14th Aerial Port Squadron, using cranes and muscle power, loaded a 15,000-pound bomb into a cradle on a rolling pallet. They shoved the four-and-a-half-foot diameter, eleven-foot long behemoth nose first up the tailgate ramp and into the belly of each C-130. On board the aircraft, personnel from the 2nd Detachment, 834th Air Division rigged the Commando Vault bomb for deployment, attaching a drogue parachute pack and static lines to the tail of the bomb. Ordinance specialists installed the complex fusing … an extended fuse on a three-foot pipe attached to the nose of the bomb and a tail fuse that would trigger simultaneously, or serve as a backup if the nose fuse failed.[1] With this massive piece of ordinance locked in place, the pilots took off and climbed toward 20,000 feet at 180 knots.

Approaching Dalat, the navigator on each plane contacted a precision radar site known as MSQ-77.[2] The controller at the site gave each a heading direct to a target coordinate in the Fishhook, which the navigators repeated to the pilots over the aircraft intercom. Controllers at Dalat fed into their computers the desired aircraft airspeed and altitude, the ordinance ballistics, and target location with its reported wind direction, wind speed, and atmospheric temperature. From this data, the computer calculated when and where to release the bomb to hit within a ten-meter square target. The controllers directed the navigators to the required airspeed, altitude, and heading, and monitored their progress, issuing corrections as needed. As the aircraft cleared the 6,500 foot mountainous terrain of II Corps and approached Song Be, the controllers directed them to slow to 150 knots and descend gradually to 8,000 feet above the rice paddies of III Corps.

Instant Landing Zones

Six minutes prior to the scheduled 0630 drop, the controller advised the navigator to prepare to drop. In response, the loadmaster in each plane lowered the rear loading ramp and released one of two cargo locks holding the pallet in place. On the controller’s signal 30 seconds prior to the drop, the co-pilot remotely deployed the slotted 24-foot drogue parachute attached to the tail of the bomb. The chute fluttered out the open ramp and inflated in the slip stream of the aircraft. The navigator repeated over the intercom the controller’s count down, “Five, four, three, two, one, Mark!” at which point the loadmaster released the second cargo lock. The trailing parachute pulled the skid from the plane. The pilots advanced full throttle as the enormous explosive fell in a silent arc through the sky, stabilized by the drogue parachute. The bomb took 26 seconds  to reach the ground from 8,000 feet. A brush deflector on the extended fuse penetrated the jungle canopy without triggering the bomb. The C-130 was about a mile away when the bomb disintegrated just above the ground in a blinding flash of light and heat. The force of the blast vaporized surrounding vegetation and created a mushroom cloud that blossomed six thousand feet in the air. The crew in each plane heard the explosion and felt the concussive shock wave. The pilots then made a climbing turn toward home.

The first bomb landed very near the Vietnam/Cambodian border at XU552012.[3] The second exploded on its target several klicks to the west.[4] Each created an instant Landing Zone (LZ) soon to be assaulted by Vietnamese Airborne troopers.

There were no casualties from the two explosions. Two hours earlier, B-52 Arc Light missions began pounding the southern Fishhook, dropping 81 tons of bombs from each three-ship cell.[5] One hour behind the B-52s, 8-inch and 175 millimeter artillery from the 2nd Battalion, 32nd Field Artillery Regiment took over the pre-invasion bombardment, firing from bases along the northern border of Tay Ninh Province. The 105 and 155 millimeter howitzers of an artillery battalion of the Vietnamese Airborne Division poured in shells from Katum.  By the time the Commando Vault “instant Landing Zone” bombs had dropped, the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong had long since taken shelter.[6]

Shortly thereafter, three battalions of Vietnamese airborne infantry air assaulted into the new landing zones. At the same time, the American 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment stormed across the southern border of the Fishhook with the mechanized forces of the 3rd Brigade of the 1st Air Cavalry Division on their left flank. Later, the Vietnamese 1st Armored Cavalry Regiment rolled across the eastern Fishhook boundary. All were part of Task Force Shoemaker in an operation known as the Cambodian Incursion. Brigadier General Robert M. Shoemaker, Assistant Division Commander of the 1st Air Cav, created the plan to attack the NVA/VC sanctuary in the Fishhook to destroy their basecamps, supplies, and the enemy. Under his plan, the Vietnamese Airborne landed in the new LZs about six klicks north of  the American forces and began ground sweeps. The Americans passed through the Vietnamese positions on Day Two and continued driving to the north. It all began with creating and securing the LZs.

Red Marker Crew Chiefs

As the C-130s dropped their payloads, two Red Marker Forward Air Controllers (FACs) supporting the Vietnamese Airborne Division took off in their O-1E Bird Dogs from Quan Loi, east of the Fishhook. Red Marker crew chiefs Sergeant Jim Stokes and Airman 1st Class Jim Hoppe rolled out of their bunks at 0500, grabbed a cup of coffee at the mess hall, and drove a Jeep to the flight line. The night before, they tied down six Bird Dogs in three steel revetments. If a mortar round landed in one revetment, hopefully the planes in adjacent enclosures would escape damage. They found their planes safe and by the headlights of the Jeep moved two aircraft out of one revetment. The lightweight Bird Dog was easy to move. Each man pulled a retractable hand-hold, a steel tube, from the side of the rear fuselage in front of the horizontal stabilizer. They picked the tailwheel off the asphalt and rolled the O-1 forward on its main gear, maneuvered it into position for startup, and placed wooden chocks in front and behind the main wheels.

Before they bedded down the planes the previous night, Hoppe and Stokes topped off the fuel tanks. With one boot on a wing strut and the other on a footstep below the engine cowling, the crew chiefs opened the fuel filler caps on the top of each wing and pumped in high octane Avgas.[7] This morning, the chiefs rechecked the fuel level in each plane and used the push-valve under the wings to drain the fuel sump on each tank. Overnight, water vapor in the tanks condensed into a small amount of water. The lighter gasoline floated on top, and water collected in the tanks’ sump. Draining the sump ensured no water found its way to the engine. As a double check, pilots also drained the sump on their preflight check.

The crew chiefs checked the oil level in the planes, refilling as necessary, and left the engine cowling unlatched so the pilots could take a quick look at the engine before buttoning up. The Bird Dog was pretty easy to maintain. About the biggest pain in the butt for the crew chiefs was changing oil. And that was only a pain because they had to catch the first oil out of the crankcase in a small test tube. Invariably, the oil went everywhere besides the tube. However, this messy step was vital. A lab at Bien Hoa Air Base tested the captured oil for minute metal filings that warned of abnormal engine wear and potential failure.

Stokes and Hoppe then loaded white phosphorous rockets into the four tubes under each wing, installing red-ribboned safety pins in each tube. The pins held spring-loaded electrical contacts away from the ignitor on the tail of each rocket, preventing inadvertent firing. As the crew chiefs finished their tasks, First Lieutenants Dave Blair, Red Marker 16, and Lanny Mayberry, Red Marker 19, arrived to preflight the plane each would fly.

Red Marker FACs

First Lieutenant Terry Weaver, Red Marker 17, was the most experienced O-1 Forward Air Controller in the unit. Logically, he could have flown one of the first cross-border sorties. However, Terry was “short,” with less than a month to complete his tour in Vietnam. Major Bob Drawbaugh, the detachment’s commander and the Air Liaison Officer for the Vietnamese Airborne put Weaver in the second group of sorties. His decision may have been influenced by the unknown amount of air defenses they might encounter. The previous night, Drawbaugh gave his FACs a multi-page list of reported enemy antiaircraft sites. The FACs dutifully marked the locations on their maps with a “donut” … a pencil dot with a circle around it. The enemy often built an emplacement for their .51 caliber and larger weapons that from the air looked like a donut. They dug a circular trench a few feet deep, leaving the middle of the circle untouched at ground level. The gunners set the tripod of their weapon on the center section and stood in the circular trench. By moving around the circle, they could aim the gun up and in a 360 degree arc. When the FACs finished marking their maps, the Cambodian border was solid gray with penciled circles.

Instead of Weaver, Drawbaugh scheduled Blair and Mayberry, the next most experienced, to fly the first sorties of the invasion. The two wore camouflage fatigues with their name, rank, and pilot wings embroidered in black. A cloth tape above their left pocket read US AIR FORCE in black block letters. The uniforms bore the insignia of the Vietnamese Airborne, the division patch on the left shoulder … a red square with an eagle and a parachute canopy in the middle, and the sword of St. Michael patch on the left breast pocket … a white sword clenched in a yellow-gold winged fist. The FACs also wore the unit’s distinctive red beret. Local tailors had modified their uniforms slightly. They added two zippered pockets to the trousers on the outside of the lower legs. An O-1 checklist fit comfortably in one. The other held a pair of flight gloves when the FAC was not flying, and his red beret when he was in the air. The tailors added three small slotted pockets on the left shoulder that held grease pencils and a ball point pen, and a pocket on the right shoulder for a pack of cigarettes and a Zippo lighter.

FAC Gear

Each FAC slung a CAR-15 rifle over his shoulder and wore a web belt carrying a holstered .38 caliber revolver, leather pouches of extra ammo, a sheathed hunting knife, and a canteen of water. They stashed the rifle in their assigned aircraft, securing the barrel to a clasp on the right side of the cockpit. They draped a bandolier of loaded 5.56 mm magazines over the muzzle of the gun and retrieved their helmets, parachutes, and survival vests from the secure Conex in the revetment.[8] Each put the helmet and parachute on the seat of his plane, donning the vest. It contained a UHF radio, extra batteries, a flashlight, a first aid kit, a map printed on silk, and an emergency ration of high protein bars. The vest also held the airman’s emergency bailout knife. This orange-handled knife had a U-shaped blade with the cutting edge on the inside of the curve. The FACs carried the knife in the vest with the curved blade open. They could use it to cut parachute shroud lines if the lines tangled on bailout or hung up in a tree. At least, that was the theory. An emergency bailout from 1,500 feet above the ground with a manually opened parachute did not give a lot of time to deal with fouled shroud lines before hitting the ground. The knife also had a three-inch blade that opened with a push-button … yes, FACs carried a switch-blade. Several feet of para-cord secured the knife to the vest. The cord was long enough that the FAC could reach above his head to cut the parachute shroud lines. If the FAC dropped the knife while trying to use it, it would not fall to the ground.

Each FAC also had a bulky flak jacket that could be worn under the survival vest. Blair and Mayberry chose like most to sit on the flak vest, hoping it provided extra protection from ground fire. The last thing they loaded into the front cabin was a cloth map case containing a series of 1:24,000 topographic maps of the area of operations. These maps were overprinted with the 10,000 meter squares of the UTM Coordinate grid system as well as regular latitude and longitude. Fast moving fighter-bombers, B-52s, and cargo planes had fancy electronic systems and radar for navigation. However, the UTM grid system was the common denominator for locating and communicating positions among all other elements on the battlefield — ground troops, artillery units, helicopters and FACs.

After Blair and Mayberry completed the preflight inspection of their respective plane, they climbed into the cockpit, strapped on the parachute that was sitting in the seat, and buckled the seatbelt and shoulder harness. Meanwhile, the crew chiefs closed and latched the engine cowling. Each FAC removed his red beret, stuck it into the leg pocket of his fatigues, put on his flight gloves and OD Green ballistic helmet with a boom mike, and plugged the mike cord into the Bird Dog’s intercom/radio system. The FACs confirmed all switches were off and placed their hands in sight, gripping the support braces above the glare shield. Once the crew chiefs saw the pilots could not accidentally arm a rocket, Stokes and Hoppe pulled the safety pins from the rocket launchers and handed the red streamers and pins to each FAC through his open cockpit window. The windows in the front cabin were large rectangles, about 24” wide by 18” high, and were hinged at the top. Both could swing outward and snap to the underside of the wing on each side of the plane. That was the normal configuration when flying in the heat of southern Vietnam. When lowered, the windows were excellent writing surfaces for grease pencil notes.

The crew chiefs stood by with wheeled fire extinguishers as the FACs turned on the battery, adjusted the throttle and mixture levers, shouted “Switches On, Prop Clear,” and cranked the starter.  The propellor moved in fits and starts for a few seconds as the starter whined its typical grinding sound. The engine fired up in a belch of smoke and an unmuffled roar that settled into a muted puttering. The FACs checked oil pressure, engine rpm, and all instruments and radios.

With their engines running smoothly, Blair and Mayberry in turn contacted Quan Loi Tower for permission to taxi. Hoppe and Stokes pulled the chocks as the FACs signaled they were ready to go. Trading a salute with their crew chiefs, each taxied carefully toward the takeoff end of the runway in the predawn light. The chiefs headed back to the mess hall for a quick breakfast before returning to the flight line to roll two more O-1s out for the next sorties. On the taxiway, Blair and Mayberry paused to runup the engine to full power while holding the brakes. They checked that both the right and left magneto were functioning and all engine instruments were normal. With flaps set at 30 degrees, each rolled onto the runway individually, advanced the throttle, held it full open with their left hand, and took off. As they climbed above the ground fog and jungle mist clinging to the treetops, they retracted the flaps, turned west, and headed toward the site of one of the Commando Vault explosions.

The FACs were glad to be off the ground. Even before dawn, the temperature rarely got below 80 degrees in III Corps. With humidity at 80-90%, they were miserable and sweating profusely. Flying at 1,500 feet might have only been 5 degrees cooler, but with the windows snapped up and the wind whistling through the cockpit, they were much more comfortable. The breeze through the cabin, however, did only so much good. Sweat soaked the back of their camo blouse and seat of their pants within minutes. Likewise, the crew chiefs had been working in t-shirts but were dripping wet by the time the FACs got in the air.

Red Marker Control/Radio Operators

Once airborne, each FAC checked in with Red Marker Control on a designated VHF radio frequency. Red Marker radio operators, Sergeants Walter Stepaniak and Jim Yeonopolus, were on duty to take the call. Red Marker O-1s carried six radios, two each VHF, FM, and UHF sets. The FACs monitored three radios at a time and switched among the sets to transmit as necessary. They remained in contact with Marker Control on one VHF radio. They used an FM radio to communicate with the American advisors in the field with the Airborne troops. They talked to fighter aircraft and controlled airstrikes using the UHF radios. Red Marker Control had those same radios plus a long distance HF set to contact the Direct Air Support Center at Bien Hoa. Their radios were mounted on a pallet in an M-108 Jeep. Their radios ran off the Jeep’s electrical system or a portable generator trailered behind the Jeep.

Major Drawbaugh was stationed in the Tactical Operations Center at Quan Loi beside the command staff of the 3rd Vietnamese Airborne Brigade and its American advisors in Team 162, known as Red Hats. General Shoemaker had designated Quan Loi as the headquarters of his Task Force, the units under his command, and the supporting FAC detachments. Therefore, Red Markers, Rash FACs supporting the 1st Air Cav, and Nile FACs supporting the 11th ACR all established radio control operations there. Normally, the operators dismounted the radios from their Jeep and installed the pallet in the ops center. Due to space limitations in this instance, they parked the Jeeps outside.  After hooking the radios to the portable generator and erecting antennae, they were in operation.

Red Marker Control monitored the FACs’ communications, including those with the Red Hat advisors on the ground. By knowing what was happening, experienced operators anticipated the need for additional airstrikes and even the ordinance  required. They sometimes initiated a request to the Air Support Center for another flight of strike aircraft before the FAC or the Red Hats asked for one.

Enroute to the Commando Vault sites, Blair and Mayberry took time to square away their cockpits for action. They climbed to 1500 feet, set the power at 100 knots cruise speed (115 mph), and trimmed the O-1 for level flight. They leaned the fuel mixture to conserve gas and prevent fouling the sparkplugs. They would reset the mixture to full rich before maneuvering to control an airstrike. They pulled a grease pencil from the pocket on their left shoulder and drew a line on the windscreen at the horizon. That line became the horizontal crosshair of their “personal” rocket sight. The vertical crosshair was a metal rod about 18 inches long welded to the engine cowling right behind the propellor. This rudimentary arrangement was remarkably accurate.

Each pulled out the map for his area and identified several land-marks that ensured he was headed in the right direction. They both breathed a sigh of relief as they crossed into Cambodia with no shots fired from the gray-marked border. Each FAC had marked on the map the Com-mando Vault location plus the coordinates of several preplanned airstrikes he would direct around the perimeter of the LZ. He clipped the map in place to his checklist strapped to one knee. He closed one of the cabin windows and wrote in grease pencil the basic data about each preplanned flight – the scheduled time of arrival, mission number, fighter call sign, number and type of aircraft, number and type of ordinance, and target coordinates. A typical grease pencil entry might look like this:

0700/5323/Dog 75/2 A-37

8 Mk-82/XU522044[9]

After completing the notes on the window, each FAC had time to locate his LZ and survey the surrounding terrain. Mayberry had time for a cigarette. Blair did not smoke.

The Air Plan

A few minutes before 0700 when they expected their first preplanned set of fighters, each FAC got a call on UHF from “Head Beagle,” an airborne traffic controller.

Red Marker One Six, this is Head Beagle. Over.”

“Head Beagle, this is Marker One Six. Go ahead.”

 “One Six are you ready for your Zero Seven Hundred fighters?”

 “Affirmative, Head Beagle. Send them on.”

 The Air Liaison Officer for the 1st Air Cavalry Division, Lt. Colonel  “Doc” Daugherty, call sign Rash 01, created the Air Plan for the invasion. Because of the high volume of anticipated fighter traffic and a separate area of operation for each ground unit and its FACs, he established the airborne controller and three rendezvous points for fighter aircraft outside the immediate battle area. On the way to their designated rendezvous, each set of fighters contacted Head Beagle who gave them an orbit altitude. Head Beagle then checked with the assigned FAC to confirm he was ready for the fighters. If so, Head Beagle released the fighters giving them general directions to find their FAC circling low over the jungle. If the FAC could not use the fighters, for example, because of weather in the area, Head Beagle diverted them to another FAC at another target.[10]

Airstrikes

Head Beagle released the 0700 sets of fighters for both Blair and Mayberry on time, and they soon spotted the FACs’ white-winged Bird Dogs above the green jungle background. For the next hour the FACs directed bombing runs from several sets of fighters into the tree lines surrounding the landing zones. Radio communication began with fighter lead contacting the FAC on a pre-assigned UHF frequency.

“Red Marker One Six, this is Dog Seven Five checking in.”

 “Roger, Dog Seven Five. I am at fifteen hundred feet, south of our target area. Do you have me in sight?”

 “Roger, Red Marker, have you in sight. Are you ready for my line up?”

 “Ready to copy, Dog Lead. Go ahead.”

 “This is Dog Seven Five, flight of two A-37s with eight Mk-82 slicks and 7.62 millimeter cannon. We have 20 minutes time on target before bingo fuel.”

 “Dog Seven Five, copy all. Our target is a tree line on the north side of the landing zone blasted out of the trees. Target elevation is about 100 feet. I want you to run in east to west and break to the south. I will orbit south of the target. Nearest friendlies are six klicks to the south, and that is your safest bailout area. Let’s drop in pairs, and I will see if there is anything that can use a strafing run. I have encountered no ground fire. Do you copy?”

 “Roger, Red Marker. Copy all. Run in to the west and break left. Ready for your mark.”

 “Roger, hold for my mark.”

Dog flight took up an orbit at about 3,500 feet. The fighters spaced themselves so they were on opposite sides of a large oval pattern. They were well outside the tight figure-eight pattern Blair flew below them.

Blair eyed the target out of his left window. He cut the power to idle and pulled back the stick bringing the O-1 into a 45 degree climb as he reached overhead with his left hand and armed one of the eight rockets.[11] As the airspeed bled off, he rolled to the left, kicked in some rudder, and with the wings 90 degrees to the horizon dropped the Bird Dog’s nose below the target. He leveled the wings and pulled the nose up, centering the target on the vertical rod/front sight.

Blair continued to raise the nose of the plane until the target reached the horizontal crosshair — that grease pencil mark on the windscreen. He eased off a little backpressure to hold the target in the crosshairs and squeezed the trigger on the control stick. An electric current fired the selected rocket motor with a muffled bang.

At that point, the O-1 was in a 35 degree dive, airspeed had climbed back to 100 knots, and the aircraft was in perfect trim. While the rocket swooshed toward the target, Blair pulled the nose up and added full throttle, turning into his figure-eight orbit at 1,500 feet. The white phosphorous warhead ignited on impact, and pure white smoke billowed from the trees.

 “Red Marker, this is Dog Lead. I have your mark.”

 “Dog Lead, roger. Drop in pairs. You are cleared in hot. Hit my smoke.”

“Roger that. Dog Lead is in hot”

As the Super Tweet made a diving left turn onto his bomb run, Blair turned with him. Dog Lead came screaming past Blair, with the A-37 screeching its distinctive high-pitched whine. Lead pickled two bombs at about 1,500 feet and pulled up sharply to the left. Blair kept Dog Lead in sight throughout its bomb run until it pulled up off the target.

The Bird Dog offered its pilot excellent visibility. With plexiglass windows fore and aft as well as overhead in the roof of the cabin, Blair could keep an eye on the fighter-bomber even when the FAC was in a high-banked turn. If anything went wrong with the fighter – ground fire, a mechanical problem, anything – the FAC would see it first.

“Lead is off left.”

This run was clean. The 500-pound bombs hit the middle of the roiling white smoke, exploding with two bright yellow-orange flashes followed instantly by two plumes of gray smoke. Blair whipped the O-1 around 180 degrees to see Dog Two approaching its turn coming down the chute. Blair kept him is sight, repeating the maneuvers he used to follow Dog Lead.

 “Dog Two is rolling in.”

 “I’ve got you, Dog Two, drop in pairs fifty meters short of Lead.”

 “Roger, fifty meters short.”

 “Dog Two you are cleared hot.”

 “Dog Two is in hot”

 “Two is off left.”

On a second bombing pass, Blair again adjusted the aim point to cover more of the target, and Dog flight dropped its last four bombs.

“Dog Lead, hold high and dry while I take a look.”

 “Roger, Red Marker. Holding high and dry.”

 “Dog Lead, it doesn’t look like we have any good targets for a strafing run today, You are released.”

 “Roger, Red Marker. Standing by for BDA.”

 “Dog Seven Five, negative on BDA right now. We are just kicking ass, not taking names. We’ll send BDA to your squadron in a couple of days.”  [12]

“Red Marker, understood. A pleasure doing business with you. Dog Seven Five Out. — Break. Two, go Channel Five.”

 “click, click” [13]

 “Red Marker One Six, this is Head Beagle. Are you ready for your Seven Fifteen fighters?”

 “Head Beagle, roger that. Send them on.”

And so it went for Blair and Mayberry for the next hour. The smell of cordite  mixed with sweat filled the cabin as they directed multiple airstrikes around the landing zones.

The Cambodian Incursion marked the apex of the Red Markers’ involvement in Vietnam. The unit had a dozen aircraft, six radio Jeeps, and 34 personnel, almost its maximum strength. This campaign employed more of those assets concentrated in a single area of operation and with greater results than any other in its history. Through most of May and June 1970, the Red Markers kept two O-1Es and one O-2A in the air over the Fishhook. Three radio Jeeps supported the operation – one at Quan Loi and one at two Special Forces camps.

The Red Markers operated courageously for eleven years. Even when the unit was markedly smaller, it contributed significantly to the success of the men on the ground. Red Markers share a bond with all who have gone to war, a relationship indescribable to those who have not experienced it and indestructible to those who have.

This history is dedicated to the Vietnamese Airborne Division and its American advisors, the Red Hats of Advisory Team 162, and all Red Markers, especially those who lost their lives in this conflict:

Airman Second Class James C. Henneberry

Captain Paul R. Windle

First Lieutenant Robert M. Carn Jr.

Captain Donald R. Hawley

Major F. Dale Dickens

[1] “Project CHECO Report – Commando Vault,” 12 October 1970

[2] “Project CHECO Report, Combat Skyspot,” 9 Aug 1967. The Air Force developed MSQ-77, a narrow beam, X-band radar system by reverse engineering a highly accurate bomb scoring radar the Strategic Air Command employed to train its forces. Strategic Air Command personnel staffed several MSQ-77 sites in South Vietnam.

[3] Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) Coordinates from “Project CHECO Report – Commando Vault,” 12 October 1970

[4] Klick – A kilometer (1,000 meters), approximately 0.6 mile

[5] Arc Light missions were controlled by the same Combat Skyspot radar units that directed the Commando Vault bomb drops. Each B-52 carried 108 Mk-82 500 pound bombs.

[6] Referred to sometimes herein as NVA and VC.

[7] The refueling pit had a small gasoline pump that moved the fuel through a hose from a 3,000-gallon rubber bladder. Air Force C-123s regularly delivered bladders of Avgas and JP-4 jet fuel to the remote airstrip to keep the local helicopters and fixed wing aircraft flying. If the pump failed, the crew chiefs hauled jerry cans to the top of the wing to fill the tanks.

[8] Conex – an 8’ x 8’ x 8’ corrugated steel shipping container with hinged, lockable doors on one side.

[9] Mk-82 is a 500-pound bomb. A high-drag version with retarding fins on the tail was known as “Snake.” A “slick” version had no such fins.

[10] Gen Shoemaker dissolved the Task Force five days into the operation. After that, Red Marker Control handled the fighter aircraft tasked to the Red Markers. Marker Control gave each incoming flight a rendezvous location and orbit altitude before sending the flight to one of several Red Markers who were in the air. Given the heightened activity of the Cambodian operation, two radio operators manned Red Marker Control, double the normal staffing. One handled the radio transmissions, while the other monitored and took notes.

[11] Rocket arming switches on the ceiling of the cabin were simple toggles covered by a hinged plastic guard. Once a tube was fired, the FAC left the guard open. He could then easily tell by feel which tubes had been expended and which had live rockets.

[12] After a strike mission, the FAC usually inspected the target and gave the fighters a Bomb Damage Assessment (BDA). On this first day of the invasion, however, the FACs were too busy to provide that report because they had to get ready for the next set of fighters. The Airborne troops would soon sweep the strike area and report the results directly to Red Marker Control. Control would match the location of the BDA to the strike mission and pass it on to the fighter squadron.

[13] A wingman sometimes acknowledged Lead with a double click of his radio transmit button. This created two audible sounds. Not an approved radio procedure.

Adam Rankin who died 1747 in Lancaster Co., PA – AGAIN!

MALE RANKIN DESCENDANTS OF ADAM WANTED, AND WHY

A number of issues have conspired to make me doggedly pursue Adam’s line like Deputy U. S. Marshall Samuel Gerard on the trail of Dr. Richard Kimble. I have searched every residence, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse, and doghouse in Pennsylvania for evidence of Adam’s family.

Here is the context. I am writing a book about Rankins. More accurately, I am assembling Rankin material for a self-published (and free) book. Among other things, it includes articles from this blog.[1] It turns out that I have written more articles on the line of Adam Rankin than on my own Rankin ancestors. Why have I been on Adam’s trail?

First, I have tracked Adam because more people erroneously claim descent from him than any other colonial Rankin I’ve run across. Even my Rankin first cousin’s closest YDNA match believes he descends from Adam, although there is conclusive documentary evidence to the contrary. I have been contacted by Rankin researchers or Rankin DNA Project members whose claimed descent from Adam has been disproved by paper records and/or YDNA. One must have one’s ducks in a row for those kinds of discussions. Understandably, people do not like hearing that their ancestry is incorrect, even though DNA doesn’t lie.

It isn’t clear why Adam is such a popular ancestor. Perhaps it is because his line claims descent from what I call the “Londonderry Siege” Rankins. According to oral family history, this family had two martyred Presbyterian brothers in the Scottish “Killing Times” in the 1680s. Surviving family members escaped to Ulster just in time for the Siege of Londonderry in 1689.  It’s a great story, and who wouldn’t like to have that exciting heritage?[2] On the other hand, the line of John Rankin who died in Lancaster in 1749 also claims descent from the Londonderry Siege Rankins – but I haven’t run into any Rankin DNA Project members who erroneously claim descent from John.

It is also possible that Adam’s line is prone to error because it produced a plethora of William Rankins born in the mid to late 1700s.[3] Perhaps researchers hitting a colonial Pennsylvania brick wall ancestor named William Rankin have found a host of seemingly reasonable possibilities to place him in Adam’s family.[4] John’s line, on the other hand, is so well-researched and documented that there aren’t many opportunities to insert someone incorrectly. Whatever the reason, Adam is frequently a fictitious ancestor.

Second, I tracked Adam’s line because I have a dog in that hunt. Due to my Rankin cousin’s close YDNA match (37 markers, GD = 0) to a claimed descendant of Adam, I had to figure out whether my own Rankin family is connected to Adam’s line. Both the paper trail and YDNA say we are not.

Finally, I pursued Adam’s family in an effort to determine whether some conventional Rankin wisdom about his line is correct. The legend of the Londonderry Siege Rankins asserts that Adam (died 1747 in Lancaster) and John (died 1749 in Lancaster) were brothers. For several reasons, I think that is wrong. Having apparently exhausted the documentary evidence, YDNA is the only way to attack the issue.

Fortunately, a half-dozen descendants of John d. 1749 have YDNA tested and belong to the Rankin DNA Project. All  that is needed is to find descendants of Adam to test, right? And compare the YDNA results to John’s line? Ha! Much easier said than done. Another Rankin researcher and I recruited four different Rankin men from Adam’s line to YNDA test. These were not Rankins we found on trees at Ancestry. These were Adam’s descendants whom I identified by research in county and other records.

The first recruit had no YDNA matches to anyone in the FTDNA database. The second and third had no Rankin matches. None of those three were genetic Rankins, much less Adam’s descendants. NPEs abounded, evidently.

The fourth recruit is a genetic Rankin. His line back to Adam is solid as a rock. He does not match John’s line, which supports a conclusion that Adam and John were not brothers. Further, he is a YDNA match to one of the several men in the Rankin DNA Project who claim descent from Adam. It is a distant match, though: a genetic distance of five on 67 markers. The Rankin DNA Project really needs to test other Adam descendants to have confidence in a YDNA profile for that important line and to confirm whether Adam and John were brothers.

I am therefore pleading for help and continuing to research Adam’s line. From time to time, someone or something informative or interesting turns up. E.g., Confederate Brigadier General Adam Rankin “Stovepipe” Johnson was a legend in the Civil War whose descendants include two professional baseball players. He was Adam’s great-great grandson. There is also a Rankin Presbyterian minister  whose life was consumed by his fanaticism about an obscure theological issue. Have you ever heard of the “Psalmody” controversy? Neither had I, and neither had a friend of mine who is a retired Presbyterian minister.  The fanatic minister was almost certainly Adam’s grandson. Adam had another grandson whose migration west, and eight of his nine children, were proved by only three deeds.  When I run across something fun like that, I am compelled to write a blog article.

There are also a number of tangled branches in Adam’s immediate family tree. As noted, the family had a plethora of Williams who led people astray, causing me to write both this article  and this one. One of the Williams, a great-grandson of Adam, has been conflated with other William Rankins several times to my knowledge.[5] That is a fine example of the “same name confusion” error, which is easy to do. There were also a passel of  Jeremiah Rankins  in Franklin County, Pennsylvania who made Adam’s line difficult to track. One David Rankin from Adam’s line is the subject of an error in the conventional Rankin wisdom, which conflates him with an unrelated David Rankin of Greene County, Tennessee. Some of the  James Rankins  are also confusing.

Not surprisingly, the most frequently read Rankin articles on this blog are about Adam’s line. If the genealogical gods have even a shred of kindness, one of Adam’s descendants will read this, decide to YDNA test, and join the Rankin DNA Project. I can only hope.

See you on down the road.

Robin

[1] In addition to Rankin articles from the blog, the book will include outline descendant charts for a number of Rankin lines, plus all of my original Rankin research in more than 50 counties in 13 states. I might  be able to finish it if I remain compos mentis for another couple of decades.

[2] Unfortunately, there seems to be no evidence for the story other than oral family history. I am not even sure where the legend originated. If you have any ideas, please contact me!

[3] Adam’s will named a son William. Lancaster Co., PA Will Book J-1, will of Adam Rankin dated 4 May 1747 and proved 21 Sep 1747, naming sons James, William, and Jeremiah and daughter Esther. Adam’s sons William and James each had a son named William. Will of William Rankin dated 20 Oct 1792, proved 28 Nov 1792, Franklin Co., PA will book A: 256, naming inter alia sons Adam, Archibald, James, William, David, John, and Jeremiah.  Will of James Rankin (Sr.) dated 25 Mar 1788, proved 20 Oct 1795, Franklin Co., PA Will Book A: 345, naming inter alia sons William, Jeremiah, James, and David. And so on.

[4] There are at least three who claim descent from Adam’s great-grandson son Dr. William Rankin, although there is conclusive contrary proof regarding where Dr. William went, who he married, and the identity of his children.

[5] The great-grandson of Adam who has been conflated with other men named William Rankin fits in Adam’s line thusly: Gen 1, Adam d. 1747 in Lancaster; Gen 2, William d. 1792 in Franklin; Gen 3, William who moved to Centre County and died there. The third William left a will dated 11 Jun 1845 and  proved 2 Feb 1848, Centre Co., PA WB B: 254, naming inter alia sons William, James, Archibald, Alexander, John and Adam. Son William Rankin, great-grandson of Adam, was a doctor, lived in Shippensburg, and married Caroline Nevin. See 1850 census, Shippensburg, household of Dr. William Rankin, 52, Caroline Rankin, 37, Rev. William Rankin, 20, Mary A. Rankin, 18, David Rankin, 16, Abigail Rankin, 13, Alfred Rankin, 11, James Rankin, 9, Elizabeth Rankin, 7, Joseph Rankin, 5, and Caroline Rankin, 4.

Lost and found: James Rankin, son of Joseph and Rebecca of Delaware

An old adage says one must kiss a lot of frogs to find a charming prince. That is true in spades for genealogy! A family history researcher may review dozens of deeds before finding one proving, say, a parent-child relationship. On the other hand, it is also true that one occasionally trips over a missing ancestor in an unexpected location.

This article concerns just such a fortuitous appearance. I ran into James, a probable son of Joseph and Rebecca Rankin of New Castle County, Delaware (1704 – 1764), decades after he last appeared in Delaware. James is not conclusively proved as Joseph and Rebecca’s son, although the circumstantial evidence is strong. I last spotted him in the New Castle records in a 1783 tax list for White Clay Creek Hundred. Then he vanished for more than a half-century before popping up unexpectedly in Washington County, Pennsylvania.

Joseph and his son James have appeared in this blog before, in an article on Joseph’s family. Here is a quick summary.

  • Joseph probably came to the colonies from Ireland, although he may have been born in Scotland.[1] His likely arrival during the heyday of the “Great Migration” of Scots-Irish from Ulster (1717 – early 1770s), and his residence near the Philadelphia ports where most of the Scots-Irish arrived, combine to make a good circumstantial case for migration from Ulster.
  • He may have appeared as a freeman – i.e., over 21 and not married – in the Chester County, Pennsylvania tax lists of 1728 and 1729.[2] He had definitely arrived in the colonies by 1731, when he acquired a tract in New Castle County, Delaware. He is buried at Head of Christiana Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Newark, New Castle County. His extant tombstone says he died in 1764 at age 60.
  • Joseph and his wife Rebecca, maiden name unproved, probably married in Pennsylvania or Delaware. Their six sons (four conclusively proved and two indicated by circumstantial evidence) and one daughter Ann (proved) were born in the colonies, almost certainly in Delaware.
  • Their proved sons Joseph Jr. and Thomas, a Lieutenant in the Revolution, remained in New Castle and died there. John and William, also proved, migrated to the area that became Guilford County, North Carolina. The whereabouts of possible son Robert is a question mark; I have been unable to trace him. Probable son James last appeared in New Castle County in 1783 living near, or with, his likely brothers Joseph Jr. and Thomas.
  • Samuel Rankin of Lincoln County, North Carolina (wife Eleanor “Ellen” Alexander) is not a son of Joseph, according to YDNA.

Here’s why I suspect that James Rankin left New Castle County after 1783 and eventually wound up in Washington County, Pennsylvania …

Some James Rankin applied for a Revolutionary War pension from Washington County in May 1835. He was a private on the muster role of Captain Walter Carson’s company of New Castle militia along with Lt. Thomas Rankin and Private Robert Rankin. He lived in New Castle County, Delaware when he enlisted.[3] He served in the Delaware line.

He signed a loyalty oath on 29 June 1778 in New Castle along with Robert Rankin and Thomas Rankin (Joseph Rankin Jr. signed on June 30).[4] He appeared on the 1782 tax list for White Clay Creek, New Castle, along with Thomas and Joseph Jr.[5] The three are numbered 146, 147, and 148 on the list. It was not alphabetized, so the three men were enumerated at the same time. That suggests they lived or at least farmed together. James owned no land, while Joseph Jr. and Thomas Rankin owned a tract in common which they inherited from their father.

James was born in 1749, which makes him the right age to have been a younger son of Joseph and Rebecca of New Castle.[6] He died in 1837, leaving a will and an estate account in Washington County. The will and account prove sons William, John, and Joseph, and daughters Martha (“Patty,” wife of Alexander Osborne), Mary (“Polly,” wife of Benjamin Boice), and Rebecca.[7]

Some researchers identify James Rankin as a son of John Rankin and his wife Rebecca of Washington County. That John died and left a will in 1788 naming a son James. John was a son of William Rankin and his wife Abigail of Raccoon Creek, Washington County, and a grandson of David and Jennet McCormick Rankin of Frederick County, Virginia. William and Abigail’s family moved from Frederick County to Washington County about 1774.[8]

James, the son of the John who died in 1788 in Washington County, cannot have been the same man as James, the Revolutionary War veteran who died there in 1837. James, son of John who died in 1788, moved to Kentucky by at least 1808. Further, his father John’s will proves that James was born after 1767.[9]He was thus far too young to have been a Revolutionary War veteran born in 1749.

In any event, the fact that James lived in New Castle County when he enlisted strongly suggests a family of origin there. Joseph and Rebecca’s family is one of two identifiable Rankin families in New Castle in the mid-1700s. The second Rankin family is the line of a William Rankin who died in New Castle in 1745, leaving sons John and William. New Castle County and other records did not reveal a James Rankin who came from that family.

All of that points to the notion that James Rankin, Revolutionary War veteran of Washington County, was the same man as James, son of Joseph and Rebecca Rankin of New Castle. I would place a decent bet on that possibility if anyone cares to wager. Finding a living male descendant of James’s line to YDNA test might resolve the issue, assuming there is no NPE in the line.

I have not traced James’s family, however. His sons Joseph and John were in Belmont County, Ohio when James’s estate was probated in 1838.[10] By 1854, William Rankin, executor of his father’s will, was in Delaware County, Ohio.  I haven’t done any research in either Ohio county. If anyone reading this knows anything about the Belmont or Delaware County Rankins, please let me know. You can reach me via a comment on this post or, alternatively, via email using the address posted on the Rankin DNA Project website.

See you on down the road.

Robin

[1] See Bill and Martha Reamy, Genealogical Abstracts from Biographical and Genealogical History of the State of Delaware (Westminster, MD: Willow Bend Books, 2001), saying that “Joseph Rankin was b. near the Clyde in Scotland; to DE with his wife and children long before the Revolutionary War” at 119, citing Genealogical History at 445-446. While the birthplace in Scotland might be correct, it is highly unlikely that Joseph had a wife and children before he migrated to the colonies. He probably married Rebecca in Pennsylvania or Delaware, and their children were born in Delaware. Rev. Samuel Meek Rankin says that their son John Rankin was born in 1736 and his brother William in 1744, both in Delaware. See Rev. S. M. Rankin, The Rankin and Wharton Families and Their Genealogy (Salem, MA: Higginson Book reprint, originally published in Greensboro, NC, 1931), 55. Joseph acquired his tract on White Clay Creek, New Castle County, in 1731.

[2] J. Smith Futhey and Gilbert Cope, History of Chester County, Pennsylvania (Philadelphia: Louis H. Everts, 1881), reproduction facsimile by Chester County Historical Society (Mt. Vernon, IN: Windmill Publications, Inc. 1996).

[3] The entire pension file is available on Fold3 at Ancestry.com. If you don’t have a subscription, there is a brief abstract of the file by Virgil White, Genealogical Abstracts of Revolutionary War Pension Files (Waynesboro, TN: The National Historical Publishing County, 1991), Vol. III 2811.

[4] Delaware Archives Revolutionary War in Three Volumes, Volume III (Wilmington: Chas. H. Story Company Press 1919), Volume II 998, Delaware signers of the Oath of Allegiance.

[5] Ralph D. Nelson, Jr., Catherine B. Nelson, Thomas P. Doherty, Mary Fallon Richards, John C. Richards, Delaware – 1782 Tax Assessment and Census Lists (Wilmington: Delaware Genealogical Society, 1994).

[6] Joseph and Rebecca’s proved sons John and William were born in 1736 and 1744, respectively. Rev. S. M. Rankin, The Rankin and Wharton Families and Their Genealogy, at 55. James was only 15 when Joseph Sr. died in 1764, which may explain why James did not inherit any land.

[7] Will of James Rankin of Smith Township, Washington Co., dated 1834 and proved 1837. Named sons William (who was executor, along with Ezekiel Boice) and Joseph, and daughters Patty, Rebeccah, and Mary (Polly). Washington Co., PA Will Book 5: 370. Probate file # R48 notes payments to Joseph, John, Martha (Patty’s) husband Alexander Osborn, Mary (Polly’s) husband Benjamin Boice, and William Rankin. Rebecca had previously died, so her legacy was distributed to her siblings per capita. Acknowledgements by Joseph and John were executed in Belmont Co., OH in October 1838. In 1854, William, executor of James’ will, resided in Delaware Co., OH.

[8] Commemorative Biographical Record of Washington County, Pennsylvania (Chicago: J. H. Beers & Co., 1893) 620-621.

[9] See Washington Co., PA Deed Book 1U: 130, deed dated 22 Feb 1808 from James Rankin for himself and as attorney for his sister Polly. The deed recites that John Rankin of Washington Co. left his children James and Polly a tract on Raccoon Cr. James and Polly conveyed the tract to Alexander Hunter in the 1808 deed. See also Deed Book 1U: 132, a mortgage to Alexander Hunter reciting that James Rankin of Harrison Co., KY had conveyed a tract on Raccoon Cr. to Alexander Hunter. Finally, see Washington Co. Will Book 1: 81, the will of John Rankin dated and proved in 1788 naming his wife Rebecca, son James, and daughter Polly. James was less than 21. He was thus born after 1767.

[10] Joseph and John executed acknowledgments that they had received their share of their father’s estate from Belton County in October 1838. Washington County, PA Wills and Probate Records, File R, Number 48, for James Rankin, 1838. James’ pension file mentions a William Rankin in Delaware Co., OH in 1854. William appeared in the 1850 census in Belmont County, Ohio, and in Delaware County in 1860 and 1880, at age 92.

Find-a-Grave struck again, although I was minding my own business

One of my favorite Rankin researchers sent a Christmas Eve email that began, “I was minding my own business, when …”

I was grinning by then because I knew in my bones that what followed would be some variation of “genealogy intervened.” Indeed, it was. Since you are reading this family history article, you probably also saw it coming.

Another friend zapped me when I was otherwise occupied by sending a link to a Find-a-Grave site for a cemetery in Elizabeth Township, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. One of the graves purports to be that of a man who almost certainly never set foot — much less an entire corpse — in Allegheny County.

I will proceed gingerly. The last time I did anything concerning Find-a-Grave, I received an email from an angry man in a western state awash with militia. His last email said he would keep me apprised of his “confirmed kills” in the “impending civil war.”[1]

The recently received Find-a-Grave entry is allegedly the grave of the William Rankin who died in Franklin County, Pennsylvania in 1792, son of Adam and Mary Steele Alexander Rankin. William’s wife was Mary Huston Rankin, named as a beneficiary in William’s 1792 will. According to the Find-a-Grave poster, Mary died in 1790, two years earlier.

These claims raise interesting questions. Why would a man who died in Franklin County be buried in a town 150 miles away?[2] And why would he have made his wife a beneficiary of his 1792 will if she had already died in 1790?

Someone out there must have answers to these questions, because the Find-a-Grave site for Round Hill Cemetery in Allegheny County says this unusual couple is buried there.  Here is a link to a picture of William Rankin’s tombstone (there is no image for Mary’s).[3] Please ignore the text on that entry for the time being because it is rife with errors … and please keep reading.

The tombstone is difficult to read. Other than the boilerplate “DIED” and “in the ____ year of his age,” the clearest information is the name “William Rankin.” There is no middle name. His date of death looks like 18___. It appears to be 1812 or 1813 in a sharpened and printed image. If that is correct, this is surely not the tombstone of a man who died near Greencastle in 1792, unless the trip to Elizabeth, Allegheny County, took waaaaay longer than one would expect.

There is an intestate estate for a William Rankin in Elizabeth Township, Allegheny County about that time. The Allegheny Probate Proceedings Index gives the date of his Inventory and Appraisement as 1813.[4] Because the I&A is customarily done soon after an estate is submitted to probate, that establishes that a William Rankin of Allegheny County died in 1812 or 1813.

More evidence lies in the cemetery (no pun intended). The DAR did a survey of tombstones at Round Hill Presbyterian Church near Elizabeth in the summer of 1940. The DAR listed a tombstone for “Rankin, William, d. Feb. 11, 1813, aged 69 years.” We can reasonably conclude that was the same William Rankin whose inventory was taken in 1813. The DAR also lists “Rankin, Mary wife of William d. July 22, 1808 in 62nd year.” Mary definitely died before her husband, which makes it unlikely that this couple could have been William and Mary Huston Rankin of Franklin County.

William’s tombstone itself provides additional evidence. The marker is an unadorned rectangular solid with an inscription in this format:

NAME

DIED

Month, day, year

    in the ___ year of his age

There are two other extant Rankin tombstones in Round Hill cemetery with the identical unadorned shape, format, and “typeface.” One is for Andrew Rankin and another is for Mary Rankin. It appears from the hard-to-read inscriptions that both died in the 1790s. The 1940 DAR survey says that Andrew died in 1794 at age two, and that Mary died in 1795 at age 14. Find-a-Grave claims that both were children of “William and Mary Rankin.” Given the remarkably similar tombstones for William, Andrew, and young Mary, the three were clearly family.

That brings us to the family Bible of William and Mary Huston Rankin of Franklin County.[5] It identifies their children and their dates of birth as follows. Information other than names and dates is from my research, not the Bible. 

    • Adam Rankin, b. 10 Nov 1762. He was a physician. He went to Henderson Co., KY, married three times, and had many children. See more about him in the footnote links.[6]
    • Archibald Rankin, b. 10 Apr 1764. Archibald stayed in Franklin County until he died. His wife was Agnes Long.[7]
    • James Rankin, b. 20 Apr 1766. He went to Centre County, PA with his brothers William, John, and Jeremiah. All four of them inherited land there. For more information about them, see the article at the link in this footnote.[8]
    • William Rankin, b. 5 Nov? 1770. He also went to Centre County with three of his brothers. He married #1 Abigail McGinley, #2 Susannah (probably Huston).[9]
    • Betsy Rankin, b. 13 Oct 1774. No further record.
    • David Rankin, b. 5 Feb 1777. His wife was Frances Campbell, daughter of Dougal Campbell. David and his family migrated to Des Moines, Iowa. See more information about them at the link in this footnote.[10]
    • John Rankin, b. 1 May 1779. He went to Centre County with James, William, and Jeremiah.
    • Jeremiah Rankin, b. 26 Nov 1783. He also went to Centre County.

William’s family Bible records the birth of neither a son Andrew nor a daughter Mary. William named each of the above children, and his wife Mary, in his 1792 will.[11] The Andrew who died in 1794 and young Mary who died in 1795, both buried in Round Hill Cemetery in Allegheny County, were not the children of the William who wrote his will in 1792. According to the family Bible, William died on October 25, 1792.

Unfortunately, all of the information about William at the Find-a-Grave link is unsourced. That is normal. Much of it is clearly erroneous. You’ve got to laugh, and then try to guess how the Find-a-Grave poster strayed so far from the facts. A reasonable guess is “same name confusion” between two of the numerous William Rankins in Pennsylvania in the 18th century. That’s a common and understandable error.

Here is what Find-a-Grave says about William, shown in italics. My comments are in normal typeface. If anyone has evidence supporting the Find-a-Grave claims, please share it.

Birth 1713. There is no evidence for an exact birth year that I have found for William Rankin, son of Adam, husband of Mary Huston. William’s first appearance in the records seems to have been a 1749 warrant for a tract in Antrim Township, Franklin Co.[12] That doesn’t provide much of a clue.

 County Antrim, Northern Ireland. There is no evidence for William’s exact place of birth. If Mary Steele Alexander Rankin was his mother, he must have been born in the colonies because Adam and Mary married there.[13]  

Death 30 Nov 1792 (age 78 -79). That is the date William’s will was proved in Franklin County. The odds that someone’s will was presented in court the exact day he or she died are virtually nil. The family Bible says that the William whose wife was Mary Huston died on Oct. 25, 1792. Submitting a will to probate about four weeks after the testator died falls within a normal range.

Franklin County, PA. That is surely correct. William, son of Adam and husband of Mary Huston, lived and owned land in Franklin, and his will was probated there.

 Burial Round Hill Cemetery, Elizabeth, Allegheny Co.” Well. Some William Rankin who died in 1812-13 is buried in Round Hill Cemetery. I will bet a huge pile of genealogical chips that it is not William Rankin, son of Adam and husband of Mary Houston Rankin. In fact, I would place real money on that wager.

Continuing with Find-a-Grave information:

“William Steele Rankin was born in 1713 in County Antrium (sic) in the Northeast part of Northern Ireland. He was the son of Adam Rankin, born 16 Jul 1688 in Stenhousemuir, Stirlingshire, Scotland and died 4 May 1747 in Lancaster Co., PA and his wife Mary Steele, born about 1692 in Lancaster, Lancaster Co., PA and died 21 Sep 1747 in Somerset Co., PA.”

Let’s take this one alleged fact at a time.

… there is no evidence in a county or Bible record, or county history books, that William Rankin, son of Adam, ever used a middle initial — much less a middle name. It would have been highly unusual for a man born in the early 18th century to have a middle name. They didn’t come into common usage until the 19th century. Even George Washington and Thomas Jefferson had no middle name, for pete’s sake.

… If William were in fact a son of Adam and Mary Steele Alexander Rankin, he was undoubtedly born in what is now Pennsylvania. Adam and Mary married in the colonies sometime between August 1718 and Sept 1724.[14] On the other hand, if William were a son of Adam and a wife prior to Mary Steele, it is possible that he was born in what was then the Province of Ulster in the northernmost part of Ireland. There was no such country as “Northern Ireland” until May 1921.

… there seems to be no evidence for either Adam Rankin’s birth date or place. If family oral history about their migration and birth year are correct, he was probably born in Scotland. We would all dearly love to see evidence of a precise date and/or location. For a discussion of what is and is not evidence, see the article at the link in this footnote.[15]

… Adam’s will was dated 4 May 1747 and proved 21 Sep 1747 in Lancaster County. The odds that he wrote his will the day he died are almost zero, particularly since the will wasn’t presented for probate until September. The only thing the probate records prove is that Adam died sometime between 4 May 1747, when he wrote his will, and 21 Sep 1747, when it was submitted to the court.

… Adam’s wife was definitely Mary Steele Alexander, widow of James Alexander. If anyone has any evidence for her dates or places of birth and death, I hope you will share.

Whew! Here’s hoping you are now convinced that the Find-a-Grave poster erred when he or she identified the William Rankin buried in Round Hill Presbyterian Cemetery as William (wife Mary Huston Rankin), a son of Adam and Mary Steele Alexander.

But that raises the obvious question: who the heck are the William and Mary Rankin buried in Round Hill Cemetery? Jess Guyer and I have concluded they are William and Mary Stewart Rankin, who were married in Franklin Co., PA on 28 Feb 1774.[16] A follow-up article on that family will follow. Eventually.

See you on down the road.Robin

[1] See an article about it at this link.

[2] The Franklin County Rankins lived on Conococheague Creek near Greencastle, Franklin Co., PA. The distance from Greencastle to Elizabeth, Allegheny Co. by the fastest current route is about 150 miles.

[3] Here is an image of the tombstone.

[4] Allegheny County, PA Probate Records, 1683-1994, Proceedings Index 1778-1971, Vol. 30, page 305, Block 5. It notes an Inventory and Appraisement, estate of William Rankin, dec’d, in 1813. FamilySearch.org Film No. 877053, Image No. 775, Block 5.

[5] Disc 4, Cloyd tapes. Unfortunately, I have lost my reference to the Cloyd disk page numbers, for which I apologize. Wading through those disks is a challenge. The information in the Bible appears in the form of chart accompanying a letter dated May 6, 1954, from Rev. J. O. Reed, pastor of a Presbyterian Church in Opelousas, LA, to Flossie Cloyd. Rev. Reed, a descendant of William and Mary Huston Rankin, was the owner of the Bible and drew the chart.

[6] Here is the first article and here is a second.

[7] Records of the Upper West Conocochegue Presbyterian Church show Archibald Rankin’s marriage to Agnes Long on 9 March 1790 and his death on 24 Jun 1845 at age 81.

[8] Here is an article about the children of William and Mary Huston Rankin.

[9] Id.

[10] An article about the two David Rankins is here.

[11] Franklin Co., PA Will Book A: 256, will of William Rankin of Antrim Township, Franklin Co., PA, dated 20 Oct 1792 and proved 28 Nov 1792.

[12] Land Warrants for Lancaster County, PA are online  here. See page 183.

[13] The country of Northern Ireland wasn’t established until May 1921. See an article about Scots-Irish history here. The Find-a-Grave poster probably meant what was then called the Province of Ulster in the northernmost part of Ireland. For the marriage of Adam and Mary Steele, widow of James Alexander, see the next footnote.

[14] For conclusive proof, see the citations in Notes 4 through 7 and the accompanying main text in this article. My gratitude again to Floyd Owsley.

[15] Re: genealogical proof.

[16] Records of the Upper West Conococheague Presbyterian Church, Franklin Co., PA.

Eleanor “Ellen” Alexander Rankin’s tombstone

Reorganizing family history research files sometimes produces a surprise. My ongoing coronavirus cleaning orgy turned up a tombstone photograph we took at the Goshen Cemetery during a trip to North Carolina in 2008.

Samuel Rankin, his wife Eleanor “Ellen” Alexander Rankin, and a host of their relatives are buried there. A book published a number of years ago about North Carolina Rankins asserted that Sam and Eleanor’s tombstones had vanished. We couldn’t find Sam’s, but Eleanor’s is there, big as Dallas. It may be a replacement tombstone, considering its condition compared to adjacent stones. Interestingly, the Find-a-Grave website in the Goshen cemetery has no listing for either Eleanor/Ellen or Sam.

This photograph is the best image Gary could produce after improving the contrast … really a disappointment, but here ’tis.

About the only thing you can clearly read from the image reproduced here is her name: Ellen Rankin. From my paper print of the enhanced photo, however, one can clearly discern the following …

“In Memory of ELLEN RANKIN who died Nov. 26th 1805 Aged 62 Years 7 Months and 10 days.”

The rest of the inscription from my original notes is, “No ill repine at death no more But with a cheerful gasp resign To the cold dungeoen of the grave These dying withering limbs of mine.”

Assuming the dates are correct — children don’t always know the actual age of a parent, and a replacement stone introduces another possibility for errors — Ellen was born April 16, 1743. My current reading of the photograph is the same as I wrote in my contemporaneous notes in 2008.

The only other evidence I have found about Eleanor/Ellen’s birthdate:

  • LDS Film #882,938, item 2, “Pre-1914 Cemetery Inscription Survey, Gaston Co., prepared by the Historical Records Survey Service Division, Works Progress Administration.” That survey recorded the inscription as “Ellen Rankin b. 6 Apr 1740 d. 26 Jan 1802.”
  • The Rowan County court (Order Book 2, page 90) allowed “Elinor” Alexander to choose her mother Ann as her guardian on October 22, 1755 after the death of her father James Alexander. That would mean Eleanor/Ellen was born by 1741, because a child had to be at least 14 to choose her own guardian. The only way the court would  know “Elinor’s” age for certain would have been a statement by her mother.

I’m sharing this because a photograph is always fun and Find-a-Grave doesn’t have it. Also,  both Eleanor’s correct name and age are a source of controversy among Rankin researchers, as I discussed in a previous article.

Among the available evidentiary sources about her age — (1)  the tombstone as of 2008, (2) the WPA survey of pre-1914 tombstones, and (3) Ann Alexander’s statement of her daughter “Elinor’s” age to a court in 1755 — the third seems to me the most credible. If anyone on earth (!) knows your birthday, it’s your mom. Thus, I continue to give Eleanor’s birth year as 1740-41.

Wish the photograph had turned out better. See you on down the road.

Robin

 

 

Family history stories: the good, the bad, and the ugly

Most family history researchers have anecdotes about genealogy itself – their own stories, not their ancestors.’ Even the mainstream media ventures into genealogical territory. Here are some of the most memorable I have run across (or experienced) lately.

The good-and-funny: I know you, and you’re dead

I’ve posted this before, from my friend and distant cousin Roberta Estes. It is surely one of a kind. In her own words:

“My favorite [story] is that I’m dead. I wrote to the person assuring them I’m not, and they accused me of being a crook, to put it nicely. (They were anything but nice.) They told me they knew me and I’m dead. It was the most bizarre discussion I’ve ever had. I told them I’ve never heard of them and they said “of course not, you’re dead.”

I finally had to contact the company and ask them to remove my death information from that person’s tree because the fact that I was “dead” allowed my private information to be shown to others. I did this multiple times. They kept killing me off again. Seriously.”

Asked whether the whole thing was a joke, Roberta responded:

“Nope, they were dead serious, pardon the pun. They were angry with ME for wanting them to remove my death date in their tree. I suggested that perhaps it was another Roberta Estes and they very condescendingly said, ‘No, that’s not possible, I know you and you’re dead.’”

I was compelled to ask Roberta if she was already dead when she and I met about twenty years ago in Halifax, Virginia for family history research. I would love to be able to say that I met an actual ghost in the flesh, so to speak.

The bad: no good deed goes unpunished

This story from the Washington Post might make your head spin. Some three decades ago, a medical student in Oregon – now a Dr. Cleary — responded to a request for sperm donors. The lab reportedly assured him that his donations would be used only on the east coast, five times at most. Both promises turned out to be false.

Fast forward to the present. Dr. Cleary’s wife gave him an autosomal test kit last Christmas. Results have identified (as of the time the WAPO article was published) nineteen offspring conceived with Dr. Cleary’s donated sperm. There may be more in the offing. Many are located in the northwest, where he still lives.

He sounds like a genuinely nice guy who believed he was doing a helpful thing by donating. Some married couples and single women have no alternative for the woman to conceive except via artificial insemination.

Dr. Cleary responded warmly to the first few offspring who contacted him. Now apparently a bit overwhelmed, he has called time out on communications. Imagine the implications. He has children in the same area where offspring are turning up. What about the possibility a “new” offspring might be dating one of his previously known children, a half-sibling? What do you do about that? Demand a DNA test before any first date? Can you grasp suddenly learning that you have at least nineteen other children? Or at least eighteen half-siblings? I lack the imagination.

Finally, the truly ugly

I’m going to use phony names and locations, for reasons which will become obvious.

A couple of months ago, I received this email, verbatim, in toto:

 “Whatever prompted you to demote my grandfather from Captain to Sergeant?”

Huh? I had no clue what he was talking about. I should have ignored it, because the underlying anger is obvious. Unfortunately, I was curious, and the sender’s surname was one of my lines. Let’s call him Mr. Watkins. I was hopeful that I might have found another recruit for Watkins YDNA testing: I am always on the lookout for living male Burkes, Rankins, Lindseys, Winns, et al. who might be willing to test. Consequently, I responded.

Turned out that I had been researching a Watkins family who migrated from Virginia to the Ohio Territory. I ran across a Find-a-Grave listing for a Civil War soldier named Thomas Watkins. Find-a-Grave had him listed as a Captain, but I had seen evidence that he was a Sergeant. I provided the evidence to Find-a-Grave without requesting any change. Find-a-Grave changed his rank to Sergeant. This infuriated my correspondent.

I offered to ask Find-a-Grave to revise the entry if I were wrong (a waste of good will). However, a graves registration form filled out by the soldier’s son gave his rank as Sergeant. Also, a listing of his company roster identified Thomas Watkins as a sergeant in Captain Chamberlain’s company of Union soldiers.

I duly reported the evidence to Mr. Watkins and suggested he provide his contrary evidence to Find-a-Grave. He declined to do so. He clearly didn’t care about results – he just wanted to harass. His proof was a family heirloom Civil War pistol engraved “Captain” on the handle. His emails expressed his outrage that (1) I did not immediately recall providing the info to Find-a-Grave, (2) it took me some time to relocate the evidence, and (3) I was “messing with” someone else’s “family tree,” which he found reprehensible. Oh, and he has “no intention” of DNA testing.

The exchange ended with this email from him:

“In the impending civil war, I will keep you tight on my rank and my confirmed kills.”

One of my friends deems that a death threat. I do not. Her concern nevertheless inspired me to research Mr. Watkins and his family, to determine whether he was sufficiently nearby to add me to his list of confirmed kills even before his (probably longed-for) civil war commences.

Sergeant Watkins was his great-great grandfather rather than his grandfather. After the Civil War, the Sergeant lived in a medium-sized community in a midwestern state. His son and grandson were attorneys in the same county. His great-grandson was an attorney and a judge there.

My correspondent, a son of the judge, left for a small town (population less than 300) in a western state that is a hotbed of militia activity. The town apparently consists mostly of house trailers, dilapidated late model pickups, propane tanks, one bar, one liquor store, and a church. He commented multiple times in a local online discussion string, making anti-semitic comments, using the “C” word, referring to “faggot liberals,” and inviting people to fight. Another person on the string implied that he might be a meth addict.

In response to his email saying that he would keep me informed about his rank and confirmed kills, my initial impulse was to reply as follows, tongue planted firmly in cheek:

“In the impending civil war, you need to watch your six — because there is a descendant of Captain Chamberlain out there looking for a descendant of the sonuvabitch who stole his service pistol.”

My better angels vetoed the idea.

On that note, I’m outtahere. See you on down the road.

Robin

 

Will the “correct” David Rankin of Franklin Co., PA please stand up?

I told my husband at breakfast one day that I was working on an article to correct bad information about some Rankins in the Pennsylvania Archives 5th Series.

He put down his fork, arching his eyebrows. “Are you kidding me? You’re taking on the Archives? That’s practically sacred scripture among Pennsylvania family history researchers.”

“Well,” I said (yeah, I realize this sounds prissy), “the Archives has confused two men named David Rankin who were contemporaries in the late 1700s – early 1800s.”

“So,” said Gary, “who would care, anyway?”

“Hmmmm,” I temporized, “perhaps descendants of either of the two men? Or someone who is trying to track early Rankin families around, as I am doing? Perhaps people with D.A.R. or S.A.R. aspirations? One of these two men was a soldier in 1780, but the other was too young.”

“You realize you will receive a dozen comments from people saying there are ‘many online trees’ showing you are wrong?”

I dug in. I’m not a Scots-Irish Rankin for nothing. “You’re undoubtedly right,” I responded, “but I’m writing the article anyway.”

Here ‘tis. It includes (1) a very brief chart, (2) the misinformation in the Archives, (3) the bottom line, (4) the argument supporting the bottom line, and (5) some additional information about this family just for fun – including the only photo I could find of a descendant. What’s not to like about a handsome man in a old-timey baseball uniform?

(1) A brief Rankin family chart

Let’s start with a short outline descendant chart to put the two Davids in their family context.

1 Adam Rankin was the immigrant ancestor in this Rankin line. The two David Rankins who are the subject of this article were his grandsons. Adam’s wife was Mary Steele Alexander, widow of James Alexander.[1] Adam’s 1747 Lancaster County, Pennsylvania will named his sons James, William, and Jeremiah, and a daughter, Esther Rankin Dunwoody.[2] This article deals with only James and William – fathers of the two Davids.

2 James Rankin, son of Adam, died in 1795 in Montgomery Township, Franklin County, Pennsylvania. James’ wife was Jean, whose maiden name is unproved so far as I know. His will named their sons William, Jeremiah, James, and David #1, and two daughters, Esther Rankin Smith and Ruth Rankin Tool.[3]

2 William Rankin, son of Adam, died in 1792 in Antrim Township, Franklin County.[4] His wife was Mary Huston, daughter of Archibald and Agnes Houston.[5] William named seven sons and one daughter in his will: Adam, Archibald, James, William, Betsy, David #2, John, and Jeremiah.

I will refer to these two David Rankins by numberbecause it helps me keep them straight. David #1was a son of James d. 1795, Montgomery Township; David #2 was a son of William d. 1792, Antrim Township.

(2) What the Pennsylvania Archives got wrong

Here’s the bad information the Archives provides about one of the two David Rankins. Only the boldface text is wrong; the rest is correct.

 “David Rankin is shown in 1780, as a private under Captain William Smith. The will of David Rankin of Montgomery Twp., was dated 1829 and prob. 1833. He names wife Molly and two children, James and Betsy. To Mary Elizabeth Sellers, only child of daughter Molly, who had married Alexander Sellars, Oct, 7th 1824.  Miss Molly L. McFarland of Mercersburg stated the above David was the son of William Rankin of Antrim Township who died 1792.”[6]

(3) The bottom line

No, the David Rankin whose will was proved in 1833 was not David #2, son of William Rankin of Antrim Township. With all due respect to Miss Molly L. McFarland, the man the Archives describes was David #1, son of James and Jean Rankin of Montgomery Township.

Here are the key factors for telling the two Davids apart: age, wife’s identity, and – the pièce de résistance– location.

(4) The argument

Age. Although the law or custom varied from time to time, men were typically required to serve in the militia beginning at age sixteen. Sometimes boys served as early as 13.[7] Thus, the David Rankin who was a private in 1780 was probably born by 1764 and definitely no later than 1767. According to county tax lists, David #1, son of James and Jean Rankin, was born no later than 1767-68.[8]

On the other hand, the family Bible in Flossie Cloyd’s material establishes that David #2 was born in 1777. He was definitely not the man who was a militia private in 1780. Strike 1, Archives.

FYI, here is information from the family Bible listing the birth dates of all eight children of William and Mary Huston Rankin. In case you wish to track any of them, I’ve added enough information to tell you where to look.

  1. Adam Rankin, born March? 10, 1762. Adam first appeared on the Franklin Co. tax list in 1782, identified as a doctor. He inherited land in Westmoreland County that his brother Archibald sold for him.[9] Adam moved to Henderson County, KY, married three times, and had a large family. He was the grandfather of Confederate Brigadier General Adam “Stovepipe” Johnson[10] and the ancestor of a Rankin who is (or was, at one time) the chairman of the board of Churchill Downs.[11]
  2. Archibald Rankin, born April 10, 1764, married Agnes (“Nancy”) Long. He remained in Franklin County his entire life. Records from the Upper West Conococheague Presbyterian Church record his death on June 24, 1845 at age 81.
  1. James Rankin was born April 20, 1766. He moved to Centre County along with his brothers William, John, and Jeremiah. He may have died between 1820 and 1830. I’ve found no evidence establishing his children or his wife’s identity.
  1. William Rankin (Jr.) was born Nov. 5, 1770. He moved to Centre County, married Abigail McGinley and then Susannah, possibly Huston. He died in Centre County.[12]
  1. Betsy Rankin was born Oct. 13, 1774.
  1. David #2 Rankin, one of the subjects of this article, was born Feb. 5, 1777.
  1. John Rankin was born May 1, 1778 and died Apr. 22, 1848.[13] He moved to Centre County with his three brothers, married Isabella Dundas in 1804, and died in Centre County.[14]
  2. Jeremiah Rankin, born Nov. 26, 1783, married Sarah Whitehill. The date is confirmed on his tombstone in Centre County, PA.[15]

Wife’s identity. Based on his will, the wife of the David Rankin who died in 1833 was named Molly, maiden name unproved. I have found no deeds or other records identifying the wife of David #1. We have better luck with David #2. Deeds conclusively establish that he was married to Frances (“Fanny”) Campbell, daughter of Dougal (Dongal/Dugald/Dugal) Campbell.[16] In case there is any lingering doubt, the Rankin family Bible transcript Ron Rankin provided says that Frances Campbell and David #2 were married on June 13, 1799.  In short, Molly’s husband was David #1. Strike 2, Archives.

Location is a great tool for establishing family connections. An 1818 Franklin deed from James Rankin (brother of David #1) to Jacob Kline conveyed a tract in Montgomery Township. Part of the tract was devised in 1788 by James Rankin Sr. to his son James Rankin (Jr.), the grantor in the 1818 deed – so we are certain that the deed deals with the line of James Rankin Sr.[17] The conveyed tract was adjacent to David #1. The deed thus proves that David #1 owned a tract adjacent to Jacob Kline in Montgomery Township at some point. And …

    • In the 1830 federal census for Montgomery Township (three years before David #1 died), David Rankin was listed adjacent Jacob Kline, grantee in the above deed.[18] He was the only David Rankin listed in Montgomery in the 1830 census. His census profile “fit” the family of the David Rankin who died in 1833.
    • David Rankin’s 1829 will, proved in 1833, referenced his Montgomery Township tract adjacent Jacob Kline.

Bottom line: the David Rankin who died in 1833 was David #1, son of James Sr. and Jean Rankin, and not David #2, son of William and Mary Huston Rankin.

(5) A few more facts

Some genealogists believe that David #2 went to Greene County, Tennessee.[19] Not so. Instead, he and his family went from Franklin to Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, then to Allen County, Indiana, and finally to Des Moines County, Iowa. David died there. His wife Frances apparently died before they reached Iowa.[20]

While he lived in Franklin, David #2 attended the Presbyterian Church of the Upper West Conococheague,”[21] as did his brother Archibald.[22] On the other hand, David #1 and his brothers were pew holders in the Welsh Run Presbyterian Church, also known as the “Lower Conococheague” Church.[23]

The Upper West church kept baptism records, although they are evidently incomplete.[24] The four youngest children of David #2 are listed: Frances Rankin (baptized 9 May 1814), David Huston Rankin (28 Apr 1817), Archibald Rankin (10 Oct 1819), and Adam John Rankin (13 Feb 1822). In light of David #2’s entry in the 1820 census (seven children in the household), you would expect other children. [25]  Indeed, the family Bible, Westmoreland County deeds, and other records prove nine children:

  • Elizabeth (Betsy) Rankin, b. 3 Feb 1803, never married.
  • Martha C. Rankin, b. 22 Nov 1805, married Mr. Sweeney.
  • William Rankin, b. 6 Jan 1807, married Martha Jane Gray.
  • Mary C. or H. or E. Rankin, b. 6 Feb 1809, married James Bruce.
  • Dougal C. Rankin, b. 10 Apr 1811, married Mary Johnson.
  • Francis Rankin, b. 1 Jan 1814, married James Waddle.
  • David Huston Rankin, b. 14 Mar 1817, married Mary A. Oliver.
  • Archibald Rankin b. 1 Aug 1819, married Lydia Blair.
  • Adam John Rankin, b. 29 Dec 1821, apparently never married.

David #2 and his family left Franklin between 1827 and 1830.[26] They are listed in Westmoreland County in the 1830 census and in Iowa Territory in 1840.[27] The 1850 census in Des Moines County shows David as age 73, born in Pennsylvania.[28] He is buried in the Round Prairie Cemetery in Des Moines County.[29] Adam John Rankin and Dougal/Dugal Campbell Rankin are also buried in the Round Prairie Cemetery. Archibald Rankin is buried in the Kossuth Cemetery, also located in Des Moines County.

The family Bible also names the children of Archibald Rankin and Lydia Blair: (1) Elizabeth Jane Rankin m. William B. Reed, (2) Margaret F. Rankin, and (3) Martha C. Rankin.

Finally, here is the image of the baseball player: Dougal Wylie Rankin. He was a son of John William Rankin and Jennie S. Wylie. John William was a son of Dougal Campbell Rankin – a son of David and Frances Campbell Rankin.[30] That is some fabulous shirt …

And that’s it from me on the two David Rankins, grandsons of Adam and Mary Steele Rankin.

See you on down the road.

Robin

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

[1] For evidence establishing that Adam Rankin’s wife was Mary Steele Alexander, see the article at http://digupdeadrelatives.com/2018/07/27/adam-d-1747-lancaster-mary-steele-rankins-son-william-follow-land/

[2] Lancaster Co., PA Will Book J, Vol. 1: 208, will of Adam Rankin dated 4 May 1747, proved 21 Sep 1747.

[3] Franklin Co., PA Will Book A: 345, will of James Rankin of Montgomery Township dated 25 Mar 1788, proved 20 Oct 1795.

[4] Franklin Co., PA Will Book A: 256, will of William Rankin of Antrim Township dated 20 Oct 1792, proved 28 Nov 1792.

[5] Franklin Co., PA Will Book A: 110, will of Agnes Huston, widow of Archibald Huston, dated 15 Nov 1776, proved 14 Mar 1787. Her will names William Rankin, husband of daughter Mary, as an executor.

[6] Thomas Lynch Montgomery, ed., Pennsylvania Archives, 5th Series, Volume VI (Harrisburg, PA: Harrisburg Publishing Co., 1906) 275.

[7] See  https://allthingsliberty.com/2014/06/explaining-pennsylvanias-militia/ and/or  https://www.battlefields.org/learn/articles/fighting-man-continental-army and/or https://www.constitution.org/jw/acm_3-m.htm

[8] David #1 was listed on the Montgomery Township tax list for 1789 along with his father James (Sr.) and brothers William, Jeremiah, and James Rankin. David was a “freeman,” meaning that he was age 21 or older and not married.

[9] Westmoreland Co., PA Deed Book 7: 392, deed from Archibald Rankin of Antrim Twp., Franklin Co. to David Carson of Greencastle Twp., tract on waters of Pine Run, Westmoreland,  originally granted to William Rankin of Antrim Twp., 27 Jul 1773, surveyed 4 or 11 1776. Tract left to Dr. Adam Rankin by his father’s LW&T dated 20 Oct 1792. Doctor Adam Rankin granted his brother Archibald Rankin power of attorney dated 29 June 1792.

[10] See article about Stovepipe Johnson at this link: http://digupdeadrelatives.com/2018/08/18/adam-rankin-d-1747-lancaster-pa-family-serendipity-civil-war-history-major-league-baseball-pictures/

[11] There is some more information about Dr. Adam Rankin at p. _____ in this book and online at

http://digupdeadrelatives.com/2019/08/03/identifying-family-using-tax-lists-digression-surname-spelling-two-rankin-families-henderson-county-kentucky/.

[12] Commemorative Biographical Record of Central Pennsylvania: Including the Counties of Centre, Clearfield, Jefferson and Clarion (Chicago: J. H. Beers, 1898) at 100-101.

[13] John Blair Linn, History of Centre and Clinton Counties, Pennsylvania (Louis H. Everts, 1883, reprinted Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1975), 222-223.

[14] Id.

[15] Mary Belle Lontz, Tombstone Inscriptions of Centre County, Pennsylvania (1984). Image of tombstones at https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/21518757/jeremiah-rankin.

[16] Franklin Co., PA Deed Book 9: 288, deed dated 8 May 1807 from David Rankin of Franklin and wife Fanny conveying land devised to David by the will of William Rankin dated 20 Oct 1792. Frances/Fanny’s father is also conclusively proved by a deed, see Franklin Deed Book 14: 245. See also Franklin Co., PA Deed Book 14: 266, deed dated 28 Aug 1827 from David Rankin and wife Frances of Montgomery Township, 54 acres in Peters Township, deed witnessed by Archibald Bald.

[17] Franklin Co., PA Deed Book 12: 28.

[18] 1830 federal census, Montgomery Township, Franklin Co., household of David Rankin, 0000101-000010001 adjacent Jacob Kline. There are two people age 20 < 30 in David’s household, as we would expect: his daughter Molly was already married when David #1 wrote his will in 1829. The age category for the eldest male is clearly erroneous. He should be in the same age category as the eldest female, age 60 < 70 (born in the 1760s), if he was a militia private in 1780.

[19] See, e.g., https://npgallery.nps.gov/GetAsset/29dbc658-cdcc-4f12-8c30-8dc877e7fdb4. Please be advised that this application for historic site designation contains several Rankin history errors and unproved assertions.

[20] See the article about proof for this family at http://digupdeadrelatives.com/2020/04/21/follow-the-land-theory-believe-it-or-not/

[21] The creek and church name were spelled Conococheague or Conogogheaue, among other variants.

[22] The Upper West church records show Archibald’s marriage to Agnes Long, as well as his death date. Recall that David and Archibald each inherited a part of their father William’s “Mansion Place,” so they originally lived next to each other. See Franklin Co., PA Will Book A: 256, will of William Rankin of Antrim Township devising 200 acres “off my Mansion Place” to son Archibald, and “the old Mansion place,” 300 acres, to his son David #2. You would expect both brothers to attend the nearest Presbyterian church.

[23] Virginia Shannon Fendrick, American Revolutionary Soldiers of Franklin County, Pennsylvania (Chambersburg, PA: Historical Works Committee of the Franklin County Chapter of the D.A.R., 1969) (copyright 1944) 180.

[24] Some records of the Upper West Conococheague church are available online at Ancestry.com.

[25] David #2 was then living in Peters Township and is listed as age 26 < 45 (born 1775 – 1794). There were seven children in his household, including 1 male and 2 females age 10 < 16 (born 1804 – 1810), plus 3 males and one female under age 10 (born 1810 – 1820).

[26] David #2 and his wife Frances executed a deed in Franklin Co. in Oct 1827, see note 17. He did not appear in the 1830 census for Franklin.

[27] 1840 federal census for Iowa Territory, Des Moines Co., David Rankin, age 60 < 70 (born 1770 – 1780).

[28] The 1850 federal census listing in DesMoines Co. for David Rankin’s household includes Dugald Camel, 30, b. PA, and Frances Camel, 14, b. Indiana. Given the spelling perversions one finds in the census, they were probably Dugal (or Dougal) Campbell and Frances Campbell.

[29] Here is a link to him findagrave info: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/53261457/david-rankin

[30] Dougal Wylie Rankin, b. 7 Jan 1889, d. 12 Oct 1850, Eugene, Lane Co., OR. Buried in West Lawn Memorial Park . See 1910 census, Lane Co., Oregon, J. William Rankin, wife Jennie W., sons Dougal, Byron L. and Boyd, and daughter Frances E. Rankin; 1870 census, Des Moines Co., IA, D.n C. Rankin, 58, with David, Hezekiah, Sarah and John W. Rankin

Revolutionary War Story: Robert Rankin of the Northern Neck (part 4 of 5)

A hoary old joke goes like this: what is the shortest book ever written? Possible answers: Nixon on Ethics or Bill Clinton on Fidelity. A book titled Robert Rankin on His Revolutionary War Service would challenge them for brevity. Everything Robert had to say about himself is contained in nine pages of his 117-page pension file. Many of his words are boilerplate. Worse, some of what he remembered is demonstrably wrong.

You can’t blame Robert for an occasional memory failure, minor error, or uncertainty about his unit assignment. He wasn’t a rear echelon organizational bigshot (there is a precise military term for that, but this is a family blog). He was a sharpshooter, a scout, a guerrilla who harassed British foraging parties, a soldier who guarded his army’s camps and flanks, a brigade forage master, and a line combat officer.

Unfortunately, misinformation provided by Robert and others is compounded by seemingly endless and endlessly confusing military reorganizations. In an effort to promote clarity, I divided Robert’s story into two sections and an “appendix.” The first section is his basic war story. The second section contains Robert’s own words about himself. The appendix explains military reorganizations affecting him.

Section 1: Robert’s war story, CliffsNotes version[1]

Robert enlisted on July 26, 1776[2] as a private in Capt. William Brady’s Company,[3] Col. Hugh Stephenson’s Maryland and Virginia Rifle Regiment (the “Rifle Regiment”).[4] That means Robert was a skilled marksman, because the Rifle Regiment recruited sharpshooters.[5] Robert’s pension declaration said he enlisted for the term of “during the War,” although company records prove he enlisted for three years.[6] Robert was promoted to Sergeant by at least January 1, 1777 and possibly earlier.[7]

The Rifle Regiment was decimated at Ft. Washington on Dec. 16, 1776.[8] His brother William Rankin, also in Capt. Brady’s Company, was taken prisoner there.[9] Robert wasn’t in that battle, although we don’t know why. Captain Brady wasn’t at Ft. Washington, either.[10]

Robert was in winter camp in Morristown, New Jersey in the winter of 1776-77 during the so-called “Forage War.”[11] He was probably in the battles of Princeton and Trenton in December 1776 and January 1777, respectively.[12] Both were spectacular victories for Washington’s army. Trenton was the famous surprise attack at dawn after crossing the icy Delaware River. Robert also fought at Brandywine on September 11, 1777 (a terrible rout by the British) and Germantown on October 4, 1777 (a somewhat less humiliating loss).[13] Amazingly, the only battle Robert named in his pension application was the Siege of Charleston.

Robert spent the winter of 1777-78 at Valley Forge.[14] By the following winter, he was listed on muster rolls as acting Brigade Forage Master in winter camp, located again at Morristown.[15] He was commissioned an Ensign on July 4, 1779, shortly before his original three-year enlistment expired.[16] After that point, he had no “term” of service because commissioned officers serve until they resign or are discharged. Gary, the family military historian, says it is unusual even in wartime for a private to become a commissioned officer.

Less than two weeks later, Robert probably participated in what we would call today an elite temporary unit for a risky mission at Stony Point on July 16, 1779.[17] General “Mad Anthony” Wayne assembled for the assignment a provisional troop of light infantrymen. Wayne and some of the patriots overwhelmed a well-fortified British position with bayonets.

Here’s how they did it.[18] Stony Point was surrounded on three sides by the Hudson River and on the fourth by a marsh. One part of the patriot force feinted a frontal assault across the marsh’s causeway, laying down “a galling fire.” This took place around midnight, at low tide.[19] Two larger parts of the force waded silently through the river to the north and south sides of the hill, carrying unloaded muskets with bayonets affixed. The muskets were not loaded to prevent accidental discharge, which would have ruined the crucial element of surprise. The two patriot forces ascended the hill and overwhelmed the British from both sides. Wow.

In early 1780, Robert’s company was assigned to the enlarged 1st Virginia Regiment. It then began a roughly four-month march to the Siege of Charleston, which was Robert’s last significant military engagement. The siege ended on May 12, 1780 when the entire patriot army defending Charleston surrendered. It was the worst American defeat of the Revolution, with about 6,000 patriots captured.[20]

After the siege, Congress conferred a “brevet” on all participating officers.[21] The brevet designation recognized outstanding service by temporarily promoting an officer to a higher rank. Robert was subsequently promoted to Lieutenant effective January 1, 1780.[22] That is his so-called “date of rank.” Robert thus became a “Brevet Lieutenant” on the date Congress awarded the promotions, but his actual promotion to “Lieutenant” was retroactive to January 1, 1780.

In July 1781, nearly all patriot prisoners in the south were released as part of a prisoner exchange between the United States and Britain.[23] Not long after the exchange, Robert went home on furlough to Frederick County, Virginia. He married his fiancé Margaret “Peggy” Berry there on November 1, 1781.[24]

 After Charleston, the Virginia Line essentially ceased to exist.[25] Robert was “reduced” on January 1, 1783.[26] That means he was listed as a surplus officer having no assignment. In the final “arrangement” of the Virginia Line, Robert was the 37th Lieutenant out of sixty based on the Lieutenants’ dates of rank. Put another way, there were 36 Lieutenants who would have been offered an assignment ahead of Robert. The odds are that Robert never had another duty assignment after the exchange of prisoners from Charleston. He was officially discharged on January 1, 1783.[27]

Along the way, Robert served in Stephenson’s (Rawlings’) Rifle Regiment and the 11th, 7th, and 1st Virginia Regiments. All regimental changes were due to reorganizations. He had five different company commanders we can identify. He only actually changed companies once, and that was when he was commissioned an Ensign.

Here is what Robert himself said …

Section 2: Robert’s pension file declarations

Robert made two sworn declarations, one for a pension and one for a land warrant. He also wrote an unsworn letter supporting the former.

Below is a verbatim transcription of part of Robert’s declaration of July 26, 1828, including a strikethrough in the original. I have omitted boilerplate and material irrelevant to his war story. I inserted footnotes to correct the errors or ambiguous statements noted in boldface.

“ … I, Robert Rankins, of the County of Washington, in the state of Alabama, do hereby declare, that I was an Officer in the Continental Line of the Army of the Revolution, and served as such to the end of the War,[28] and also to the time when the arrangement of the army provided by the Resolves of Congress of the 3rd and 21st of October, 1780, were carried into effect, and was reduced under that arrangement, at which periods I was a Lieutenant in the Third Regiment[29] of the  Virginia line.

“… And I do further declare, that I was one of the officers who served under, and was captured with, Major General Lincoln at the Siege of Charleston, South Carolina, and that every officer in the Army of the said General Lincoln in reward for the signal services rendered by them at that memorable siege Defence was promoted a Grade higher by a Resolve of Congress, but I cannot remember, at this distance of time, whether the Said officers were regularly commissioned, or not. But if my Commission as a Lieutenant, (the grade to which I had been promoted) was ever received, it has, in the long lapse of fifty years, been either lost or mislaid, or destroyed by time or accident, so that it cannot now be produced.

                                        Robert Rankins

Sworn to & subscribed before me this 26th July 1828.” Wm Grimes, clerk of court.

Robert also wrote an unsworn letter dated July 1828 in support of his application with a “few explanatory remarks.” Here are relevant parts.

“… I embarked in the services of the United States, in the capacity of an Ensign in a Regiment of the Virginia Line upon the Continental Establishment (the number of which I do not now distinctly recollect) … A short time after the formation[30] of the said Regiment it was ordered to the South[31] under the command of Majr Gen Lincoln where it was captured, with his whole army, at the surrender of Charleston … [Thereafter, Congress] passed a Resolve raising each officer a grade higher or rather conferring upon them Brevets, and holding them in reserve to fill any vacancies that might thereafter occur in the Army.”

“I have never wanted and never sought relief from my Country, and nothing but the helplessness of age with unlooked for poverty[32] forces me now to ask a portion of the munificence extended by the government.”

Robert made a second sworn declaration in September 1828 in support of a request for a “Bounty Land Warrant.” The underlining and strikethrough are exactly as they appear in the original.

“The State of Alabama

County of Washington

“I, Robert Rankins, aged Seventy five years, do, upon oath, testify and declare, that in the year, one thousand seven hundred and seventy six – I entered the service of the United States for the term of “during the War” in the Third Regiment (to the best of my recollection) under the command of Colonel Hugh Stevenson – of the Virginia Line, and that I continued in the service aforesaid until the close of the War.[33] I do further declare that I entered a private and was afterwards promoted to the rank of Ensign and, before the close of the War, was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant, in which capacity I was disbanded or deranged after the conclusion of Peace.”[34]

“Signed, Robert Rankins”

The clerk’s attestation is dated September 18, 1828.

Finally, for the hard-core military historians, here is how Robert’s units were shuffled.

Appendix: military reorganizations affecting Robert

There were three military reorganizations which made it difficult to track Robert’s service: (1) the reorganization of the Rifle Regiment after the battle of Ft. Washington; (2) the 1778 reduction in the number of Virginia Line regiments from fifteen to eleven; and (3) the 1779 reduction of the Virginia Line from eleven regiments to four.

… the Rifle Regiment and its assignment to the 11th Virginia in February, 1777

Robert and his brother William enlisted in 1776 in one of the four newly recruited Virginia companies in the Maryland and Virginia Rifle Regiment, AKA Stephenson’s Regiment (later Rawlings’ Regiment). As noted, it was not part of a Virginia Line regiment. Stephenson’s regiment also included a veteran Virginia rifle company under Capt. Abraham Shepherd. The four newly created companies of Virginians were commanded by (1) Capt. William Blackwell (Lt. John Marshall, future Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, was second in command, and Robert was not in this company), (2) Capt. Gabriel Long, (3) Capt. Adam West, and (4) Capt. William Brady.

With two exceptions, the Virginia companies in the Rifle Regiment fought and were decimated at Ft. Washington on November 16, 1776. First, Capt. Blackwell’s company (including Lt. Marshall) didn’t reach New Jersey until April 1777, when the main army was in winter quarters at Morristown.[35] Upon arrival, Blackwell’s company was attached to the 11th Virginia Regiment and was never in an engagement as part of the Rifle Regiment. Second, most of Capt. Long’s company did not arrive until after the battle at Ft. Washington.[36]

That left Brady’s, Shepherd’s, West’s, and part of Long’s companies to participate in the awful defeat at Ft. Washington.[37] After that battle, Gen. Washington reorganized the few Rifle Regiment soldiers still fit for service (i.e., alive and not a prisoner). He created two “composite” rifle companies, one composed of Marylanders and the second of Virginians. Capt. Gabriel Long commanded the latter, and Robert Rankin was in his company along with the remainder of his own, Shepherd’s, West’s, and Brady’s companies.[38]

In February 1777, the 11th Virginia regiment was organized. Long’s composite rifle company with Robert Rankin was one of the nine companies assigned to the regiment. Capt. Long’s pay and muster rolls continued to include men identified as being from Shepherd’s, West’s, and Brady’s companies. After Long resigned, Robert remained in the same company under different commanders until he was promoted to Ensign on July 4, 1779. He was then assigned to Capt. William Johnston’s company. He was almost certainly still with Capt. Johnston at Charleston, but there are two more reorganizations to go through before we get there.

… the September 1778 rearrangement of the Virginia Line, effective May 12, 1779.

In response to the expiration of enlistment terms and other manpower losses, the 1778 rearrangement reduced the number of regiments in the Virginia Line from fifteen to eleven. You might want to take a Dramamine here. The 5th, 6th, 8th, and 9th Regiments were combined with the depleted 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Regiments (not in respective order) to restore the latter to full manpower. The former 5th, 6th, 8th and 9th regiments then ceased to exist. The 1st through 4th retained their numbers. The other seven remaining regiments – the 7th, 10th, and 11th through 15th – were renumbered. The 11th Virginia then became the 7th. As a result, Robert Rankin was now serving in the 7th Virginia, where he remained until the next rearrangement. When he was commissioned an Ensign on July 4th, 1779, he was assigned to Capt. William Johnston’s company, still in the 7th Virginia.

… the 1779 rearrangement.

The Virginia Line was reorganized yet again shortly before the march to Charleston. In late 1779, ten regiments of the Virginia Line[39] were consolidated into the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Regiments.  Companies from the regiments formerly designated 5th, 7th, 10th, and 11th were folded into the 1st Virginia Regiment. Ensign Robert Rankin, soon to be Brevet Lieutenant Robert Rankin, was still in Capt. Johnston’s company in the 7th Virginia Regiment as of November 1779.[40] Robert was almost certainly still in Capt. Johnston’s company in the enlarged 1st Virginia Regiment at Charleston. Gary says the odds are slim to none that Ensign Rankin was assigned to any other company or regiment. Capt. William Johnson’s Company in the 1st Regiment of the Virginia Line was among the patriot reinforcements arriving in Charleston on April 8, 1780 and surrendered on May 12.[41]

And that is it for reorganizations. I wish Robert had written his memoirs and provided detail on the battles he was in. While he was at it, he might have identified his parents and siblings. No such luck. We are on our own on that question. Next up: a quest for his family of origin and a look at his family’s oral history.

See you on down the road.

Robin

[1] CAVEAT: Gary and I are not historians, although he published an award-winning history of the unit in which he served in Vietnam (Red Markers, Close Air Support for the Vietnamese Airborne, 1962–1975). We are family history hobbyists fond of obscure records. As for this article, some information is from Robert and Peggy’s pension application file, designated “Rankins, Robert No. W26365 or Rankin, Peggy B.L.Wt. 1380-200” (cited herein as “Robert Rankin’s pension application file”). Evidence also includes muster and pay rolls, other original military records, and published histories.

[2] United States Revolutionary War Rolls, 1775-1783, Familysearch.org, Film/Fiche No. 7197156, image 395. Muster roll dated Sept. 1778 for Capt. Charles Porterfield’s Co., 11th Virginia Regiment, says that Sgt. Robert Rankins enlisted for three years on July 26, 1776. Hereafter, I will cite this simply as War Rolls, identifying the film/fiche and image numbers.

[3] War Rolls, Film/Fiche Number No. 7197155, images 590-591. Payroll dated 1 May 1777 for “pay and subsistence to 1 May 1777.” Sgt. Robert Rankins of Capt. Brady’s company listed on roll for Capt. Gabriel Long’s composite rifle company.

[4] Robert Rankin’s pension application file, declaration dated 18 Sep 1828, says he enlisted in Stephenson’s Regiment as a private. Images of Robert’s entire pension file are available for a fee from Fold.3 at ancestry.com.

[5] Part 2 of this series has information about Stephenson’s Rifle Regiment.

[6] See Note 2.

[7] See Note 3. Robert’s pay was £3 per month, the same as other Sergeants. Since that May 1, 1777 payroll was £12 for four months, he was a Sergeant by at least January 1, 1777. Robert may have become a Sergeant before Brady’s company ever left Virginia, since enlisted men sometimes elected their own non-commissioned officers. E.g., Danske Dandridge, Historic Shepherdstown (Charlottesville, VA: The Michie Company, 1910), p. 80, online here.

[8]  Part 2  of this series has information about Ft. Washington. So does Part 3,  which is about William Rankin’s Revolutionary War service.

[9] Id. See also William Rankin’s pension application. His declaration in support filed Nov. 22, 1833 said he enlisted in Capt. Brady’s Company, Stephenson’s Regiment, and that he was taken prisoner when Ft. Washington surrendered.

[10] War Rolls, Film/Fiche No. 7197160, image 275, “Arrangement of the officers of the 11th Virginia Regiment” (undated, probably about June 1777). It states that “William Brady was a Captain in the 11th Regiment and has never done any duty. Absented himself without leave.”

[11] Tucker F. Hentz, Unit History of the Maryland and Virginia Rifle Regiment (1776–1781): Insights from the Service Record of Capt. Adamson Tannehill (Richmond: Virginia Historical Society, 2007), p. 21, available online at this link. Units which performed skirmishing duties in the first half of 1777 included Gabriel Long’s composite rifle company. Sgt. Robert Rankin was in the composite company during this time. See War Rolls, Film/Fiche Number No. 7197155, images 590-591, payroll dated 1 May 1777 for “pay and subsistence to 1 May 1777.” Sgt. Robert Rankins of Brady’s company is listed on Capt. Gabriel Long’s composite rifle company payroll.

[12][12] Robert’s widow Peggy didn’t include either Trenton or Princeton in a list of Robert’s battles. Nevertheless, it is likely that the remaining soldiers of the Maryland and Virginia Rifle Regiment were engaged in those battles. One “return of the forces” record dated Dec. 22, 1776 appears to include the remnants of the Rifle Regiment “on the banks of the Delaware in the State of Pennsylvania.” Hentz, Unit History of the Mawinterryland and Virginia Rifle Regiment at page 14, note 59. The Battle of Trenton, on the other side of the river, was four days later on Dec. 26, 1776; Princeton was on Jan. 3, 1777. It is almost inconceivable that the soldiers camped on the Delaware River didn’t participate in those two battles. However, the “return” does not identify company captains or enlisted men. It does say there were 108 men fit for combat and two Captains. This profile “fits” with how the two composite rifle companies would have looked after the Battle of Ft. Washington, taking losses into account. The two composite companies were Capt. Alexander Lawson Smith’s (the remaining Marylanders from the Rifle Regiment) and Capt. Gabriel Long’s (the remaining Virginians). Robert Rankin was in Capt. Long’s composite company.

[13] Robert Rankin’s pension application file, declaration of Peggy Rankin of Liberty Co., TX dated March 22, 1844. She said Robert fought at Brandywine, Princeton, Stony Point, and Charleston.

[14] War Rolls, Film/Fiche Number No. 7197155, image 578. A muster Roll for February 1778 for Capt. Philip Slaughter’s company (formerly Capt. Gabriel Long’s company) in the 11th Virginia Regiment stated it was taken at Valley Forge. The list of soldiers includes Sgt. Robert Rankin.

[15] Id., Film/Fiche No. 7197156, image 395. Muster roll for September 1778, Capt. Porterfield’s company, Col. Daniel Morgan’s regiment. Sgt. Robert Rankins was acting as Brigade Forage Master, abbreviated “Act as B.F.M.” For more information, see a resolution of Congress regarding  forage master duties.

[16] War Rolls, Film/Fiche No. 7197160, image 373. Arrangement of the Field Officers and Captains in the 7th Regiment of the Virginia Line states Ensign Robert Rankin’s date of rank was July 4, 1779.

[17] We found no muster roll or other record identifying the soldiers at Stony Point. The only evidence that Robert participated so far as we know is Peggy Rankin’s pension declaration. She had considerable credibility with the judge who took her declaration, who noted her remarkable memory and knowledge of the war.

[18] Samuel W. Pennypacker, “The Capture of Stony Point,” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 26, No. 3 (1902), pp. 360-369, published by the University of Pennsylvania Press.  A PDF   can be downloaded from JSTOR.

[19] Yes, the Hudson River is tidal  from its mouth upstream for 153 miles. Stony Point is 38 miles upstream of the river’s mouth.

[20] Estimates vary of the number of American troops surrendered at Charleston. One source One source says that an army of “roughly 5,000 men ceased to exist” when Gen. Lincoln surrendered. Carl Borick, who seems to be the leading authority on the Siege of Charleston, says some 6,000 Continentals, militia, and seamen were captured when Charleston surrendered. Carl P. Borick, Relieve Us of this Burthen (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2012). “Burthen” is not a typo.

[21] Robert Rankin’s pension application, declaration dated 26 July 1828.

[22] War Rolls, Film/Fiche No. 7197160, image 395-398, numerical list dated Jan. 1, 1783 of the redundant junior officers in each grade in the Virginia Line. Date of commission for Robert Rankins was Jan. 1, 1780. He was number 37 out of 60 Lieutenants based on date of rank.

[23] Mark Berry article  in “The College Today,” the news site of the College of Charleston, June 25, 2015.

[24] Robert’s pension application file, declaration of Peggy Rankin of Liberty Co., TX dated March 22, 1844. She testified that she and Robert, having been previously engaged, married in Frederick Co., VA on 1 Nov 1781. She believed he was then on a furlough of 60 days.

[25] By the end of 1782, only 730 officers and enlisted men remained active in the Virginia Line. That number is roughly normal manning for only one regiment, compared to fifteen regiments comprising the Line at one time. War Rolls, 1775-1783, Film/Fiche No. 7197160, image 391, “Arrangement Review Board Proceedings” dated January 1, 1783.

[26] Robert Rankin’s pension application, declaration dated July 26, 1828.

[27] Id., Film/Fiche No. 7197160, image 449, list of the officers “deranged” (discharged) on Jan. 1, 1783, included Lt. Robert Rankins, due $80 for 1782 and nothing for 1783.

[28] What on earth did Robert mean by “the end of the war”? He was discharged on Jan.1, 1783. See Note 27.  The “Preliminary Anglo-American Peace Treaty” was signed in Paris on November 30, 1782. Gen. Washington issued the “Declaration of the Cessation of Hostilities” (“an extra ration of liquor for every man”!!) on April 18, 1783. The Treaty of Paris was signed September 3, 1783 and ratified by the Senate January 14, 1784. Peggy testified that her marriage to Robert took place on November 1, 1781, “nearly a year before his service expired.” That suggests she thought his service was over by November 1782. My bet is he had come home to stay about then. He had no assignment at that time and probably no expectation that he would receive one.

[29] For a discussion of Robert’s regimental assignment as a Lieutenant, see the text accompanying Notes 39 and 40, infra. The records establish he was in the 1st Regiment rather than the 3rd.

[30] Gary would scold Robert for using the term “formation” in the context of the Virginia Line Regiments that were “ordered to the South” under General Lincoln. Every time I tried to write “newly formed” or “newly created,” Gary got out his red pen. “A regiment by that number already existed,” he would say. “The existing regiment was just enlarged.” The only time “newly created” was appropriate in this article was to describe the four Virginia companies recruited for the Maryland and Virginia Rifle Regiment in 1776.

[31] See text accompanying Notes 39 and 40, infra. In his July 26 declaration, Robert said he was with the 3rd when his service ended. In this letter, also written in 1828, he cannot recall the number of the regiment that was ordered to the south. Ensign Rankin almost certainly marched to Charleston and fought there with the 1st Virginia Regiment, not the 3rd. Likewise, Lieutenant Rankin ended his service in the 1st.

[32] The letter reveals he was suffering “unlooked for poverty” by 1828, a fact confirmed by other documents in Robert’s pension file. One historian says Robert had a financial reversal around 1819-1820, probably in conjunction with land speculation and the panic of 1819. Ann Patton Malone, Handbook of Texas Online, “RANKIN, ROBERT.” Given his brother William’s statement that he (William) engaged in a good deal of land trading, land speculation and plummeting land values seem a likely cause of Robert’s poverty. See William Rankin’s pension application, declaration filed Nov. 22, 1833.

[33] Robert’s use of the phrases “close of the war” and “conclusion of the peace” in this letter raises the same questions as the phrase “end of the War.” See Note 28.

[34] Stephenson’s/Rawlings’ Regiment, AKA the Maryland and Virginia Rifle Regiment, was not part of the Virginia Line. It reported to Congress and was independent of any state regulation. Note that Robert correctly struck through “3rd” in this declaration.

[35] Hentz, Unit History of the Maryland and Virginia Rifle Regiment, pp. 15-16. Blackwell’s company was still in Philadelphia receiving smallpox inoculations in March 1777 after moving up from Virginia. It joined the main army at Morristown in April.

[36] An advance element of 13 men from Long’s company reached New York ahead of the rest. A muster roll of Long’s company in April 1778 states those 13 men were captured. War Rolls, Film/fiche number 7197155, image 551.

[37] A 1778 report by Col. Moses Rawlings (Stephenson’s successor) names Rifle Regiment officers who died or were taken prisoner at Ft. Washington. Hentz, Maryland and Virginia Rifle Regiment, p. 13. Based on other information in that report, Gary estimates that 264 out of 297 riflemen engaged at Ft. Washington were killed or captured.

[38] The muster and pay rolls for Long’s composite company had a strange format. Rolls were titled “Capt. Gabriel Long’s Company,” but each also contained a listing of the names of soldiers in Captains Shepherd’s, West’s, and Brady’s companies — generally not more than a dozen men from each company. From the army’s standpoint, a soldier enlisted in Brady’s company remained in Brady’s company and was thereafter considered (in Robert Rankin’s case, for example) attached to Long’s company.

[39] The remaining regiment in the then 11-regiment Virginia Line was stationed at Ft. Pitt.

[40] War Rolls, Film/Fiche No. 7197152, image 330. Nov. 1779 muster roll of Capt. William Johnston’s Company in the 7th Virginia Regiment, junior officers included Ensign Robert Rankins.

[41] Capt. William Johnston’s Company, 1st Virginia Regiment, 1st Virginia Brigade is listed among patriot reinforcements here.

Revolutionary War Story: William Rankin of Virginia’s Northern Neck (part 3 of 5)

Part 2 of this series ended with the Battle of Ft. Washington on November 16, 1776. William Rankin was captured there and imprisoned in Manhattan. Against the odds, he survived. His elder brother Robert was not in that battle, so far as we can determine.[1] Their war experience diverged after Ft. Washington, despite the fact that they had both enlisted in Captain Brady’s Company of the Maryland and Virginia Rifle Regiment.[2]

Let’s turn to their individual war stories in parts 3 and 4 of this series.  We’ll start with William because there is so much detail in his pension application file. Robert, bless his heart, didn’t have much to say about his war experience.

Private William Rankin[3]

The facts William states in his pension application dovetail with military history to a “t.”[4] His memory is awesome. His military service had been over for fifty-four years and four months when he made his application declaration in November 1833 from Mason County, Kentucky. Here is what his declaration said, in part:

  • He enlisted in July 1776 for a term of three years in Berkeley County, Virginia. He enlisted in Capt. William Brady’s company of Col. Hugh Stephenson’s regiment. He notes that Stephenson soon died and the company was attached to Col. Moses Rawlings regiment. William didn’t say so, but Rawlings was Stephenson’s second-in-command of the Maryland and Virginia Rifle Regiment. The regiment to which William’s company belonged didn’t change after Stephenson’s death, it just got a new commander.
  • William marched first to Philadelphia, then went to Trenton by water, then marched to Princeton.[5] All of his regiment went first to Philadelphia, where Washington was having his men inoculated for smallpox.[6] Next, William marched to Ft. Lee and Ft. Washington. [7] He stated the precise date of the battle at Ft. Washington. I’ll bet he could also have testified to the weather conditions.
  • The British imprisoned William in one of the notorious “sugar houses” in Manhattan before transferring him “after some time” to the British ship “the Duttons.”[8] The majority of British prisoners in New York City – four out of five – did not survive captivity.[9] Instead, they died of starvation or disease. William must have been a pretty tough teenager.

OK, that gets us up to the point in Part 2 where we left William.  In February or March 1777, the British paroled him and he went from New York to Philadelphia. In April 1777, said William, “he was sent home by direction of Gen. Daniel Morgan who happened to be a personal acquaintance.”[10] He was recalled from home a year later to rejoin the remains of Rawlings’ Regiment at Ft. Frederick in Frederick, MD.[11] From there he went to Ft. Pitt in Pittsburgh, where he worked as an “artificer” – someone who constructed fortifications.[12] He was discharged at Ft. Pitt when his three-year enlistment ended in mid-1779.

Now let’s go back to when Morgan sent him home from Philadelphia. Thomas Jones filed an affidavit in support of William’s pension application confirming that Morgan ordered him to take William home to Virginia. Jones said “that in the year 1777 he received from the hand of General Morgan … William Rankin in … Philadelphia, a sick soldier … to convey Rankin to Virginia, his former state of residence.”[13]

Jones took William home in a wagon.[14] In my imagination, William was horizontal on the wagon bed, on top of and under (I hope) some blankets. A John Kercheval also filed an affidavit in support of William’s pension application. Kercheval stated that “he met the said William Rankin returning to Virginia then in a low state of health in the wagon of Thomas Jones who lived in the neighborhood.”[15]

Where the heck was William’s home? He was still a teenager in April 1777, about 18. You would think he was going home to recuperate under the care of his family of origin, wouldn’t you? Inquiring minds want to know who they were …

William leaves us dangling on that question. Kercheval was more helpful. In the middle of his affidavit is this attention-grabber: Kercheval said he understood “from Mr. [William] Rankin’s brother Robert Rankin, who was an officer, that his brother William” was at one time ordered to Pittsburgh. Yes, indeed, William Rankin was once in Pittsburgh, where he was discharged. William’s brother is the man I nicknamed “Lt. Robert” in the first article in this series on these Rankins.

William may not have identified his parents, but at least his file proves a brother, who comprises one clue to his family of origin. There’s more. William also provides the link between the Rankin and Kercheval families. William said that “John Kercheval and his wife Jane Kercheval both know that he did serve in the war of the Revolution and the latter recollects the day he marched from her fathers in Frederick County Virginia.”

John Kercheval’s wife was Jane Berry, daughter of Thomas Berry of Frederick County.[16]  One of Jane Berry Kercheval’s sisters was Margaret “Peggy” Berry, who married Lt. Robert Rankin in Frederick County. Seventeen or 18-year-old William Rankin may have enlisted in Berkeley County, but he went marching off to war from Frederick County – to be exact, from Thomas Berry’s house. I will bet a big stack of genealogical chips that Jane Berry and her sister Peggy, both still single, watched Robert Rankin (who was then engaged to Peggy)[17] and his brother William march off to war from their father Thomas Berry’s house in Frederick County. That is a nice visual image – two sisters and two brothers.[18]

Kercheval also testified that “William Rankins not long after the war was done settled in … Frederick” County, where he was still living when Kercheval moved to Mason County, Kentucky about 1798-1799.[19] That tells us William probably wasn’t living in Frederick County before the war. William was definitely in Frederick by at least 1792, though, because a Frederick County lease and release[20] says William was “of Frederick” in that year. The deeds also prove William had a wife named Mary Ann and a son named Harrison.[21] Thomas Berry was a witness to those two instruments.

There is another tidbit or two in William’s pension file. Kercheval also said that William Rankin was “a very respectable man and entitled to credit in any court or county … he is a wealthy farmer of Mason County Kentucky.” Some of William’s wealth undoubtedly came from land speculation, which may have been the financial undoing of his brother Robert. William said that his discharge papers had been “lost long ago or put in the land office in Virginia to get land warrants.”[22] At that point, his memory fogged up a bit. He said he “could not recollect but possibly the latter.” He probably got land warrants but “having traded so much in that business cannot speak certainly.”

William was certainly wealthy by the standards of the day, when wealth was measured in part by ownership of enslaved persons. The 1836 inventory of William’s estate included twenty enslaved persons.[23] The current account of his estate in November 1839 shows an amount to be distributed of $17,911, after payment of an agreed $1,000 fee to the two estate administrators.[24]

That is all of William Rankin’s story I can tease out of the records I have accessed.[25] He died intestate in Mason County on April 12, 1836, leaving a widow and children to collect the remainder of his pension.[26] Unfortunately, William’s pension file doesn’t name them.[27] William may be buried in the Old Washington Cemetery (AKA the Washington Baptist Church Cemetery) in Mason County. [28] The 1810 through 1830 census records for Mason County suggest he had as many as ten children, although I can only prove three (a number of other Rankins were purchasers at his estate sale, and they probably include some children):

  • Harrison Rankin, who was born by 1792 in Frederick Co., Virginia, is conclusively proved by a lease and release.[29] He is most likely the same man who appeared in the 1850 census in Scott County, Kentucky at age 58. He was a merchant, lived in Georgetown, had at least four children, and last appeared in the Scott County census in 1870.[30]
  • John L. Rankin was one administrator of William’s estate.[31] I have not been able to track him with confidence.
  • Robert P. Rankin was also an administrator. He probably moved at some point to Scott County along with Harrison, although I haven’t found Robert in the census there. Some Robert P. Rankin is buried in the Georgetown Cemetery,  b. 1805 – d. 1892. It is also possible that Robert P. Rankin was the man by that name who married Mary C. Withers in April 1832 in Bourbon Co., KY.

If you have evidence for any other children, please post a comment! It would be wonderful to find a living male Rankin descendant from William’s line who would take a YDNA test.

May you rest in peace, William. And now … on to your famous brother in part 4 of this series.

See you on down the road.

Robin

[1] Gary and I found no military records to prove Robert’s location in 1776 except for the locations mention in William’s pension application. Consequently, we can only speculate why he wasn’t in the battle at Ft. Washington. Perhaps he was one of the Rifle Regiment’s members who remained at Ft. Lee because of sickness? See Tucker F. Hentz, Unit History of the Maryland and Virginia Rifle Regiment (1776–1781): Insights from the Service Record of Capt. Adamson Tannehill (Richmond: Virginia Historical Society, 2007), p. 12, Note 50, at this link. Perhaps Robert was actually in the battle, but was neither killed nor captured? Statistically, that is highly unlikely.

[2] William’s pension application declaration expressly stated that he enlisted in Brady’s company. Robert’s declaration didn’t name a company. Fortunately, muster and payroll records for Gabriel Long’s composite company of Virginia riflemen consistently name remnants of Brady’s company, including Robert Rankin. Those rolls specifically identify Robert as a member of Brady’s company. The remaining members of the other two rifle companies (Captains Shepherd’s and West’s) that were decimated at Ft. Washington also appear on Long’s composite rifle company rolls.

[3] Information about William Rankin’s military history is largely taken from his pension application file, available for a fee at Fold3 on Ancestry.com. I made screen shots of many of the original images at Fold3 (available free at Clayton Library), but they rarely include the page number assigned to each image by Fold3. Accordingly, I have simply cited to “William’s pension application” with a brief description of the document in question.

[4] William’s pension declaration echoes the history of the Maryland and Virginia Rifle Regiment, some of which was the subject part 2 of this series.

[5] Pension file of William Rankin, S.31315 (hereafter, “William Rankin’s pension file”), his sworn declaration supporting his pension application dated 22 Nov. 1833 in Mason Co., KY.

[6] Hentz, Maryland and Virginia Rifle Regiment. See p. 15 re: smallpox inoculations. The Philadelphia location was obviously before the British occupied the city in September 1777 following Washington’s defeat at Brandywine.

[7] William Rankin’s pension file, sworn declaration.

[8] Id.

[9] https://revolutionarywar.us, discussion of “Prisoner of War Facts,” which states “[b]y the end of 1776, there were over 5,000 prisoners held in New York City. More than half … came from the soldiers captured at the battle of Fort Washington and Fort Lee.” Four out of five prisoners died.

[10] Morgan was actually a Colonel when he sent William home, although he ended his career as a General and was undoubtedly referred to with that title by anyone who knew him. Morgan lived on a farm just east of Winchester, Frederick Co., and was apparently acquainted with the Rankin family. https://emergingrevolutionarywar.org/2019/05/27/george-washington-daniel-morgan-and-winchester-virginia-on-memorial-day/

[11] William Rankin’s pension file, sworn declaration.

[12] United States Revolutionary War Rolls, 1775-1783, Familysearch.org, FHL Film/Fiche Number 7197150, image 57, return of Capt. Heth’s Company at Ft. Pitt, listing Private William Rankins as an “artificer.” He must have recovered nicely from his prison ordeal.

[13] William Rankin’s pension file, affidavit of Thomas Jones. I took a few liberties with the affidavit’s spelling.

[14] Id., affidavit of John Kercheval.

[15] Id.

[16] Will of Thomas Berry of Frederick Co., VA dated 20 Feb 1806, proved Frederick Co. 4 Mar 1819. Copy certified and recorded in Mason Co. at Will Book E: 17 et seq. Thomas named his daughter Peggy, who married Col. Robert Rankin (his rank in the KY militia, not the Revolutionary War), and his daughter Jane, who married John Kercheval. Thomas left part of his land in Mason County to Peggy and Jane.

[17] Pension file of Rankins, Robert No. W26365 or Rankin, Peggy B.L.Wt. 1380-200, images of originals available from Fold3.com at Ancestry. Peggy (Berry) Rankin’s declaration dated 16 Feb. 1844 states that she and Robert were married on Oct. 1, 1781 in Frederick County while he was on furlough after his capture at Charleston, they “having been previously engaged.” Peggy’s declaration is at pages 16-19 of their combined Fold3 file.

[18] Presumably, William would not have bothered to mention that Peggy also saw him march off to war. By 1833, she and Robert no longer lived in Mason County and Peggy wasn’t available to provide confirmation. Of course, my mental image of that event is pure speculation.

[19] Id.

[20] A “lease and release” was a two-step land transaction created to circumvent the English Statute of Uses. The two documents were typically executed on consecutive days. Together, they had the effect of a normal conveyance of land in fee simple.

[21] See Frederick Co., VA Deed Book 24A: 152, 155, lease and release (essentially a conveyance) dated 3 Nov 1792 from Fairfax, proprietor of the Northern Neck, to William Rankin of Frederick, 79 acres, part of the “Chestnut Level” in Frederick. Lease for the lives of William Rankin, wife Mary Ann Rankin, and son Harrison Rankin. One witness was Thomas Berry.

[22] William Rankin’s pension file, his declaration of 22 Nov. 1833.

[23] Mason Co., KY Will Book K: 448, inventory of William Rankin’s estate dated 4 June 1836.

[24] Mason Co., KY Will Book L: 538, Nov. 1839 current account of John L. Rankin and Robert P. Rankin, administrators of the account of William Rankin, dec’d.

[25] I haven’t been to the Mason county courthouse or anyplace where one can access land records online. Deeds would probably provide evidence of  William’s land speculation and the identity of other family members who witnessed his deeds or were grantees.

[26] William Rankin’s pension file, letter dated 14 May 1927 from Winfield Scott, Commissioner of the Revolutionary and 1812 Wars (pension?) Section, to an inquiry about William’s record from Miss May Harrison. Scott’s reply noted William’s date of death and failure of his pension file to mention names of wife and children. See also a letter of 17 Sep 1931 responsive to a request about William from Mr. Walter H. Rankins stating the same facts.

[27] I cannot find a distribution in the Mason County will books, which would provide conclusive proof of William’s heirs.

[28] See Elizabeth Prather Ellsberry, Cemetery Records, Mason County, Kentucky, Vol. 1 (Chillicothe, MO: 1965). The contents of that book was the source for the Mason County Cemetery Index database on Ancestry.com.

[29] See Note 21, which should be the 1792 lease for life and & release.

[30] 1850 census, Scott Co., KY, dwelling 20, Harrison Rankin, 58, merchant, Betsey Rankin 48, KY, Martha Rankin 28, Elizabeth Rankin 22, Rufus Rankin 17, and Elizabeth Rankin 8; 1870 census, Georgetown, Scott Co., KY, dwelling 160, Harrison Rankin, 78, b. VA, $5,000/3,000, dry goods merchant, Elizabeth Rankin, 68 KY, Martha Rankin, 44 KY, Rufus Rankin, 35, KY, Lizzie Kenney, 28. Also listed in Harrison’s household: Paul Rankin, 46, doctor, b. KY. Underneath Paul’s name: William Rankin 20, Bettie Rankin 13, and Malvina Rankin 11.

[31] Mason Co., KY Will Book K: 448.