Every genealogist has used the “Follow The Land” approach to family history research, even if she/he doesn’t call it by that name. The idea is that an identifiable tract of land can prove family connections via deed, probate, and other records. This post is a good example. FTL establishes the identity of a colonial Rankin’s wife and helps track a son’s family with evidence that qualifies as conclusive.
This post deals with some of the “Londonderry Siege” Rankins, rather than the North Carolina Rankin families often discussed in this blog. You can read the Londonderry Siege Rankins’ interesting oral history here. It mentions two immigrants identified as brothers who came to Pennsylvania in the 1720s. Both men died in Lancaster Co., PA in the 1740s:
- John Rankin died in 1749. His will named his wife Margaret, sons Richard and Thomas, six daughters, and 2 sons-in-law. Here is a post about him, including a not-quite-successful attempt to reproduce images of the original.
- Adam Rankin died in 1747. This post is about Adam’s line, particularly his son William.
Adam’s earliest appearance in the colonies was about 1722, when an Adam Rankin signed a petition to Lord Baltimore from landowners in the so-called “New Munster” tract. The petition said the signatories believed that they resided in Maryland rather than Pennsylvania. One particular New Munster tract conclusively proves the identity of Adam’s wife. Here is the evidentiary trail …
- The 1717 will of James Alexander of New Munster, Cecil Co., MD devised a 316-acre tract. His will says he had bargained for the land, but hadn’t paid for it or obtained a deed. He instructed his executors to sell as much of his moveable estate as necessary to pay for the tract. James also instructed that three “honest men … of the neighborhood” divide the land into three equal parts for his family. James named as executors his wife Mary Alexander and his father-in-law John Steele, establishing that his wife was née Mary Steele.
- Next, a Cecil County deed dated August 1718 completed the purchase of the tract as James had instructed. Thomas Stevenson conveyed 316 acres to Mary Alexander, “widow and relict of James Alexander of New Munster” and sons Joseph, John and Francis Alexander. Echoing James Alexander’s will, the deed recites that James had bargained with grantor for the land but didn’t pay for it before he died, but had left money to pay it, and instructed that it should be divided into three equal parts.
- Finally, the tract was divided into three parts by survey of September 29, 1724. The survey identifies the tract as 316 acres in New Munster and states that James Alexander’s widow Mary married Adam Rankin.
Thank you, 316-acre tract … the will, deed and survey leave no reasonable doubt that Mary Steele, daughter of John Steele of New Castle Co., DE, married James Alexander first, and then Adam Rankin. Also, her marriage to Adam must have taken place between August 1718 (the conveyance from Thomas Stevenson) and September 1724 (the survey).
Adam’s will, dated 4 May 1747, was proved 21 Sep 1747 in Lancaster County, PA. Here is an abstract:
To son James Rankin, £ 5 “pencelvaney currancy,” plus the “place he is now in possession of being fully given over to him.” Daughter Esther Rankin Dunwoody, £ 5. Wife (name omitted), two-thirds “of all my worldly substance.” To sons William and Jeremiah, the residue of my estate, including the plantation to be equally divided between them. Witnesses James Pettigrew, John McMath?
So far as I know, there is only one record concerning Adam’s land aside from the New Munster tract petition. Adam obtained a 1742 warrant (thank you, Floyd Owsley) to survey 100 acres “at Conegocheague.”[9 ] Conococheague Creek is near Greencastle, PA, less than 5 miles north of the current PA/MD line. I don’t know whether the warrant ripened into a grant. I haven’t seen anything in the PA Patent Book records for Adam. However, it seems to be the best evidence available about his location.
Three years after Adam died, that Conococheague acreage would fall in Cumberland County, created in 1750 from Lancaster. Beginning in 1784, it would be located in Antrim Township, Franklin County, created from Cumberland in 1784.
Adam’s land warrant thus tells us exactly where to begin looking for his family after he died.
Adam and Mary’s sons James and William fairly leap out of the records of Antrim Township in Franklin County. Both men were listed on the Antrim tax lists (along with some of their sons) in 1785, 1786 and 1787. Beginning in 1789, Wiliam was taxed in Antrim Township; James was taxed in Montgomery Township.
So far as I have found, their brother Jeremiah never appeared in any county records other than his father’s will. There is no primary source (deeds, wills, or other county records) for the identity of his children. The best evidence I have found about Jeremiah’s family is contained in an old book by Rev. Robert Davidson titled The History of the Presbyterian Church in the State of Kentucky. Rev. Davidson wrote about a Presbyterian minister named Adam Rankin of Lexington, KY. Adam was probably a son of Jeremiah and his wife Miss Craig, probably Rachel Craig. Here is an article about Rev. Adam and his mother’s identity.
William and James were more cooperative than Jeremiah. Not only did they appear in the exact geographic location Adam’s 1742 grant led us to expect, they both left wills. The will of James Rankin Sr. of Montgomery Township, Franklin County, was dated 25 March 1788 and proved 20 October 1795. It names his wife Jean; sons William, Jeremiah, James (Jr.) and David; daughter Ruth Rankin Tool; son-in-law Samuel Smith; and granddaughter Mary Smith. James named his son Jeremiah Rankin and friend David Huston/Houston as executors.
We will leave James Sr. for another day. We’re now on the track of Adam and Mary Steele Rankin’s son William because there are more contradictory views of that line than one can count. Some claims are relevant to “Lineage 2” of the Rankin DNA Project, which is near and dear to my heart — because that’s where my Rankin cousin’s YDNA places my Rankin family.
William’s wife was Mary Huston, daughter of Archibald Huston. William’s will, dated 20 Oct 1792 and proved 28 Nov 1792, suggests he amassed a good bit of land. William described himself as “of Antrim Township” in Franklin County and “advanced in age” in 1792.
Here are his devises and bequests:
- Wife Mary received one-third of profits from “the mansion place.”
- Son Adam Rankin inherited 200 acres on the waters of the Kiskimetatas River in Westmoreland Countyand an enslaved person.
- Son Archibald Rankin received 200 acres off “the mansion place.”
- Sons James and William inherited 990 acres in Penns Valley, Mifflin County, “150 acres of which is sold for taxes if it can be purchased nearly at what it was sold for,” purchase money to be equally “taken off” sons Archibald, James, William, David, John and Jeremiah. I take that to mean that a portion of the Penn’s Valley tract had been sold for taxes, but William wanted his estate to buy it back. There is a Mifflin County deed which may prove that repurchase, although I don’t have access to either film or an abstract of it. Dang it. Need.To.Go.To.PA.
- Daughter Betsy, £ 400 and an enslaved person. She was less than 21.
- Son David, old mansion place, 300 acres.
- Sons John and Jeremiah, 408 acres on Spring Creek in Penns Valley in Mifflin County, plus £ 400 from son David starting when they reach 21.
- Sons Archibald Rankin, James Rankin, and William Rankin, executors. Witnesses William Beaty, John Woods, John McLanahan.
“Follow the land” is pretty straightforward for some of William and Mary’s children, thanks to that will. Here is a little bit about his sons. I don’t know who his daughter Betsy married, if she married at all.
Adam Rankin (b. ca 1760 – ?) was a doctor, probably born in the early 1760s. In 1792, he granted his brother Archibald a power of attorney for “as long as I am absent” to “transact all my business.” In 1796, Archibald sold Adam’s inherited Westmoreland tract pursuant to the power of attorney. The deed recites the date the tract was originally granted to William Rankin of Antrim Township and that it was devised to Doctor Adam Rankin by his father’s 1792 will. In 1798, Dr. Adam Rankin was listed on a Franklin County tax list in the “6thDivision, 4thAssessment Dist.” He was most likely the first physician in his family, which is positively awash with doctors in the next two generations. He turned up in Henderson, KY. Here is an article about his grandson, Confederate Brigadier Adam Rankin “Stovepipe” Johnson.
Archibald Rankin (1764 – 1845) inherited part of the “old mansion place” in Antrim Township, and he apparently stayed right there until he died. His first appearance in the records was on the 1785 Antrim tax list as a “freeman.” He was a head of household in the federal census of Franklin County from 1790 through 1840 (I could not find him in 1830, although he was still alive). I haven’t tried to trace his line, although he had a number of children. He belonged to the Presbyterian Church of the Upper West Conococheague. Church records show that he married Agnes Long on 9 Mar 1790 and that their daughter Fanny died in 1827. Church records also say Archibald died 24 Jun 1845 at age 81, indicating he was born about 1764. He and Agnes are reportedly buried in the Church Hill Graveyard AKA White Church Cemetery in Mercersburg, Franklin County. Findagrave is losing its credibility with lots of unsourced stuff being posted on its sites, making it hard to know what to trust absent a tombstone photo.
David Rankin inherited the rest of the “old mansion place.” I must put off talking about David pending additional research. Both James d. 1795 and his brother William d. 1792 had sons named David. I cannot confidently distinguish between the two without further digging. At some point, you just stop and write what you know. This post is an example.
The remaining four sons are FTL exemplars. That is because William d. 1792 left land in Penn’s Valley, Mifflin County, some of it on Spring Creek, to his sons James, William, John and Jeremiah. The will suggests that John and Jeremiah would be located close to each other, since they shared a tract; likewise, James and William shared a tract, and should be located near each other.
An old book titled History of Centre and Clinton Counties by John Blair Linn (Philadelphia: Louis H. Everts, 1883) has a section titled “Discovery of Penns Valley.” It also has a map of the original survey of Bellefonte, the county seat of Centre County, with “Spring Creek” running right through the middle of it. I have tried to post an image of that lovely map here, with no luck. Techno-idiocy. Sorry.
Centre County, by the way, was created in 1803 from Mifflin County, so the two tracts devised by William were located in Mifflin County when he wrote his will in 1792, and in Centre County after 1803.
Jackpot. There they are, all four of them in Centre County, paired off geographically just as one would expect. The 1810 census for Potter Township in Centre County has on one page James Rankin enumerated two households down from William Rankin. Another page has listings for Jeremiah Rankin and John Rankin. All four men are in the age 26 < 45 category, born during 1765 – 1784. We know that Jeremiah and John were underage in 1792 when their father wrote his will, so they would have been born after 1771. We know that Archibald, an elder brother, was born in 1764. Those birth ranges fit like a glove, with further confirmation in later census records.
These men are undoubtedly sons of William Rankin (Sr.) d. 1792, Franklin, and Mary Huston Rankin, and grandsons of Adam d. 1747 and Mary Steele Alexander Rankin. A conventional descendant chart for the Centre County Rankins is under construction. It grows every time I search the census records. The number of physicians on this family’s tree is incredible. If you are descended from a Dr. Rankin who lived in Pennsylvania in the mid 1800’s, you might want to look at this line. If you are interested in joining the D.A.R., this is an admission ticket, because the D.A.R. has admitted at least two women based on the service of William Rankin d. 1792, Franklin Co. I will post the descendant chart soon, God willing and the creek don’t rise. It would help if the heat index here would drop below three digits (Houston, July 2018).
Meanwhile, here is a skeletal ancestor chart for William’s line:
1 Adam Rankin d. 1747 Lancaster Co., PA. Wife Mary Steele Alexander, widow of James.
2 Jeremiah Rankin, whose only known appearance in primary records was Adam’s 1747 will. Died in a mill accident about 1760 according to a son’s autobiography as excerpted in History of the Presbyterian Church in the State of Kentucky. Wife was a Miss Craig, traditionally identified as Rachel. Jeremiah’s four sons went to Fayette and Woodford counties, KY.
2 James Rankin Sr., d. 1795, Franklin Co., PA, see will abstracted above. More on his line later.
2 William Rankin (Sr.), d. 1792, Franklin Co., PA, wife Mary Huston. See above will devising land in Penns Valley, Mifflin County, including a tract on Spring Creek.
3 William Rankin (Jr.), b. 1770 Cumberland Co, PA, d. 1847, Centre Co., PA. Two wives, Abigail McGinley and Susanna (reportedly Huston). See Centre County Will Book B: 254, naming eight children, including Adam, Archibald, James, John, and …
4 Dr. William McGinley Rankin (III) (1795-1872), who moved to Shippensburg in Cumberland Co. He had 11 children, at least one of whom was a physician, and a Presbyterian minister …
5 Rev. William Alexander Rankin.
On that note, I will close. If you want to get into a good knock-down, drag-out fight, go do some searches for family trees that include William Jackson Rankin and William Johnson Rankin. You will find S.A.R. charts in support. You will find a totally different line than that outlined above, except that both the S.A.R. version and my outline above have at least four William Rankins in a row. I hereby proffer my version.
* * * * * * *
For example, a series of deeds concerning land in Tishomingo Co, MS conclusively proved almost all of the children of Lyddal Bacon Estes and “Nancy” Ann Allen Winn, see article here. Only two deeds in colonial Halifax Co., NC identified the common ancestor of several different family lines belonging to Lindsey/Lindsay DNA Group 3.
For a brief primer on some of the NC Rankins, see this article.
Lancaster Co. Will Book J: 208, image available at this post or online at Familysearch.org.
Henry C. Peden, “Inhabitants of Cecil County, Maryland 1649-1774 (Westminster, MD: Family Line Publications, 1993) at 33. Actual hostilities (called “Cresap’s War”) broke out between Maryland and Pennsylvania during the 1730s over competing land claims by the two states; check out this link, which has a great map. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cresap%27s_War.
Will of James Alexander of New Munster, Cecil Co., MD dated 12 Jul 1717, probate date unknown but before August 1718 when a deed recites some provisions of the will. It is recorded in New Castle Co., DE (where John Steele, an executor, resided), but no copy apparently remains in the Cecil County records. I don’t know whether the will is preserved in the PA Archives. Floyd Owsley, an administrator of the Alexander Family DNA Project, provided a transcription of the will to me.
Cecil Co., MD Deed Book 3: 212.
Cecil County Circuit Court Certificates, No. 514, survey of 316 acres for the heirs of James Alexander dated 28 Sep 1724. Floyd Owsley provided a copy of the original and a transcription. The copy is too poor to post online, although I will be happy to share it with anyone who wants to see it.
Lancaster Co. Will Book J: 208. Image available online at FamilySearch.org.
Floyd Owsley, a descendant of the New Munster tract Alexanders, emailed an image of the original document to me. It is labeled “No. 111” and is dated 11 Nov. 1742. It appears to be a warrant to survey 100 acres “situate at Conegocheage between the lands of Samuel Owen, James Swaffer, Samuel Brown, and the Blue Mountains.”
Here is a link to an interactive county formation map for PA: https://www.mapofus.org/pennsylvania/
Franklin Co., PA Will Book A: 345 (estate #354).
Virginia Shannon Fendrick, American Revolutionary Soldiers of Franklin County, Pennsylvania(Chambersburg, PA: Historical Works Committee of the Franklin County Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, 1944), citing Pennsylvania Archives 5thSeries, Vol. 6, at 576 and 583. “WILLIAM RANKIN of Antrim Twp., appears as a private under Capt. James Poe, 1782, and [on] an undated roll. He married Mary Huston, daughter of Archibald, as shown by the will of Agnes Huston, widow of Archibald.”
Franklin Co. Will Book A-B: 256.
William Rankin’s execs from James Potters’ execs, 1797, Mifflin Co., PA Deed Book D: 15.
Westmoreland Deed Book 7: 392. The deed recites that Archibald Rankin was of Antrim Township, Franklin Co., that the 274-acre tract in Westmoreland was originally granted to William Rankin of Antrim on 27 July 1773; it was devised to Dr. Adam Rankin by his father’s will dated 20 October 1792. The deed also recites that Dr. Adam Rankin granted his brother Archibald Rankin power of attorney dated 29 Jun 1792. The POA is also recorded at DB 7: 392.
That means Archibald was age 21 or over, not married, and not a landowner.
1790 census, Franklin Co., Archybald Rankin, 1-0-2-1-0; 1800 census, Burough of Greencastle (Antrim Twp.), Archd Rankin, 20110-20010; 1810 census, Montgomery Twp., Franklin Co., Archibald Rankin, 01101-12110; 1820 census, Montgomery Twp., Franklin Co., Archibald Rankin, 000101-02300; 1840 census, Peters Township, Franklin Co,. Archibald Rankin, age 70 < 80, the sole member of the household.
John Blair Linn, History of Centre and Clinton Counties (Philadelphia: Louis H. Everts, 1883), at 222. Identifies some of the children of William Jr., including a Dr. William Rankin who moved to Shippensburg in Cumberland Co. and died before the book was published.
 Even I will trust Findagrave when it cites to the Minutes of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/146523201/william-alexander-rankin