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.