Alexander Family History: a “Must-Read”

If you follow this blog, you know that Gary and I do not cite compiled family histories as sources. Alexander Family History by John Alexander  will be an exception. It has many things to commend it, beginning with excellent, easy-to-read writing and meticulous research. It is an absolute “must-read” if you are from the line of James and Ann Alexander of Amelia County, Virginia and Anson/Rowan, North Carolina.

Before we get into the book itself, you can order it by contacting John Alexander at this email address:

jfalex37@comcast.net

The book is also available as an html version at this link. Make a note of that link, because John will continue to add to and correct the html version. John strongly encourages other Alexanders to add to the accumulated knowledge of this family via your own research. He is also happy to hear differences of opinion, provided they are backed up with citations to records.

Alternatively, John says he will send you a copy of the pdf file of the current book, and you can print away to your heart’s content. For those of us who are addicted to highlighting, this is clearly a good option.

Despite these nice alternatives, I strongly recommend that you order a bound copy of the book from John – even if you aren’t connected to this Alexander line – and donate it to your local library. Such donations are deductible. John says about $20 will cover the cost of the book plus postage.

For some information about the book, let’s just have it tell you about itself. The cover page, a good place to start, says this:

“James and Ann [Alexander], born around 1700 or shortly after, may be original American colonists or may have been born in the colonies. The story follows four of their sons, James, John, David, and Robert, and their only daughter, Eleanor, from the earliest-discovered records several generations toward the present.”

Here is some very brief information about these children that might help you determine whether any of these lines are of special interest to you …

  • James Alexander, son of James and Ann, was probably born about 1730 in the colonies. He appeared in the Anson, Rowan and Tryon records, and ultimately lived in Spartanburg County, SC. His wife was named Mary, MNU. He had four children of whom John is fairly certain, perhaps more. John identifies the four as James Jr., Matthew, William and Thomas. Matthew and William went to Logan County, KY, while most of the family remained in Spartanburg.
  • John Alexander, son of James and Ann, also born circa 1730, married Rachel Davidson and moved to the area that became Buncombe County, NC. Their four proved children were James, Ann, Mary and Thomas.
  • David Alexander, son of James and Ann, was born about 1736-37. He married Margaret Davidson (also spelled Davison) in Rowan County in 1762. They lived in Pendleton District, SC. David’s 1795 will (proved 1795, Anderson Co., SC, filed in Will Book c: 77) named his children Anne Gotcher, Jane Moore, David Alexander, Margaret Davis, Catherine Brown, Ellenor Read, James Alexander, Elizabeth Woods, John Alexander, William Morrison Alexander, and Ruth Alexander. 
  • Eleanor Alexander, the only daughter of James and Ann, married Samuel Rankin in Rowan County about 1760. The Rankins and their children lived in Lincoln (later Gaston) and Mecklenburg counties, North Carolina. Four of their ten children migrated to Rutherford County, TN and Shelby County, IL.
  • Robert Alexander, the youngest child of James and Ann, appeared in Rowan, Tryon, and Lincoln county records. He served in the Revolutionary War and was a Justice of the Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions in Lincoln County, where he died. His first wife was Mary Jack; his will names his wife Margaret, MNU. His children (not necessarily in birth order) were Lilly, Ann, Robert J., Polly, Margaret, Elisa, Evalina and Charity Amanda

For the record, James and Ann had a fifth son, their eldest, William Alexander. Unfortunately, there are apparently no records that can be attributed to him with any degree of confidence after the 1750s.

The book also includes copies of many original records, photographs, and a discussion of Y-DNA analysis. Again, the best thing to do is to let the book tell you about itself. Here is the table of contents:

Preface and Dedication

Chapter 1: What They Knew

Chapter 2: The Genealogical Digging

Chapter 3: James (died 1753) Alexander and Ann

Chapter 4: James Alexander of Spartanburg County, SC

Chapter 5: The Alexander Family in Western Kentucky

Chapter 6: Henry County and Beyond

Chapter 7: James C.’s Fayette County Branch

Chapter 8: James Alexander Jr. and the East Tennessee Branch

Chapter 9: Thomas Alexander and Mary

Chapter 10: Other Alexander Kin, Parentage Not Certain

Chapter 11: Family of John and Rachel Davidson

Chapter 12: Family of David and Margaret Davidson

Chapter 13: Family of Eleanor and Samuel Rankin

Chapter 14: Family of Robert and Mary Jack

Appendix A: Pension Applications Of Matthew And Eleanor

Appendix B: Documents from Amy Riggs, Born Amy Gore

Appendix C: South Carolina Deeds, James of Spartanburg

Appendix D: Records Relating to James (died 1753) and Ann

Appendix E: Legal Documents Relating to the Death of William McMillin

Appendix F: Siddle Documents and the Alexanders in Robertson County

Appendix G: Descendants of James (d. 1753) and Ann

Appendix H: 19th Century Marriages in Western KY and Western TN

Appendix I: Deeds of Trust, William and James C. Alexander, 1847

Appendix J: SC Documents Relating to Thomas Alexander

Appendix K: Documents from James Alexander and Rhoda Cunningham

Appendix L: Documents Relating to Ann (Alexander) Craig

Appendix M: Wills of Samuel, Alexander and James Rankin

Appendix N: Published Histories that May Be Difficult fo Find

Appendix Y: YDNA and YDNA Testing

I plan to sit down with this book, one chapter at a time, and make sure that my own family history software reflects John’s information. If it doesn’t, then I have some work to do.

Enjoy!
Robin

Samuel and Eleanor (“Ellen”) Alexander Rankin: a Few Corrections to the Record

Here we are, tilting at windmills again, just for the fun of it. The idea is to correct some frequent errors about Samuel and Eleanor Alexander Rankin, who appeared in the records of Rowan, Tryon, Mecklenburg, and Lincoln Counties. A cousin has asked why I write these “correction” articles. That’s an easy one. Thanks to the the ease of “copy and paste” and importing other peoples’ family trees in a few clicks, online genealogy errors have multiplied exponentially, like the Tribbles in the original Star Trek. Anything that has appeared in print is taken as gospel. While it is a truism that every family history contains errors, I assume that most people prefer to eliminate them when possible. Thus, cousin, I’m providing a Tribble extermination service here, even though some of these errors are minor. <grin>

So let’s turn again to Samuel and his wife Eleanor. Two previous articles on this website dealt with erroneous theories about Samuel’s parents. The first article dealt with the persistent notion that he was a son of Joseph Rankin of New Castle County, Delaware. The second article addresses speculation that Samuel was a son of Robert and Rebecca Rankin of Guilford County, North Carolina. Y-DNA testing has conclusively disproved both possibilities. So far as I have found, there is no evidence on this side of the Atlantic as to the identity of Samuel’s parents.

And now, on to new territory. Here are the positions I’m taking with regard to some of the conventional wisdom on Samuel and Eleanor:

  • Samuel was probably born in 1734 (not 1732) and he probably died in 1816 (not 1814).
  • There is no reason to believe that Samuel was born in New Castle County, Delaware. There is no evidence where he was born, so far as I know.
  • He and Eleanor married in Rowan County, North Carolina, and not in Pennsylvania.
  • Samuel had arrived in North Carolina by no later than April 1760.
  • His wife’s given name was Eleanor. “Ellen,” the name on her tombstone, was a nickname.
  • Eleanor was born in 1740, not 1743.
  • Eleanor’s father was not the David Alexander who sold Samuel a 320-acre tract on James Cathey’s Mill Creek aka Kerr Creek. David was her brother. Her parents were James and Ann Alexander.

Let’s start at the top.

What were Samuel’s dates of birth and death?

Samuel’s birth: many Rankin researchers, including a “findagrave” website for the Goshen Presbyterian Cemetery in Belmont where Samuel was buried, say that he was born in 1732.[1] His tombstone has disappeared, or at least my husband and I couldn’t find it when we visited the cemetery in August 2001. I haven’t seen any evidence that he was born in 1732, although that doesn’t mean there isn’t any. So far as I have found, the only evidence of his birth date is on a film titled “Pre-1914 Cemetery Inscription Survey, Gaston Co., prepared by the Historical Records Survey Service Division, Works Progress Administration.”[2] That survey, taken during the Great Depression when the tombstone was obviously still extant, says that Samuel Rankin was born in 1734. Of course, even in the 1930s, the stone was already more than a century old and could easily have been misread. Or Samuel’s children might not have known his actual date of birth – and Samuel wasn’t around to correct them. However, the WPA survey is apparently the only available evidence.

Samuel’s death: findagrave and many online family trees give Samuel’s date of death as December 16, 1814. That is the date that Samuel executed his will, and the probability that he died on the same day is slim to none.[3] In fact, the actual probability is zero, because he appeared in the Lincoln County records in 1816. On July 26 of that year, he conveyed to his son James a tract on Stanleys Creek adjacent James’ brothers William and Alexander (and Thomas Rhyne, see my article about Samuel’s grandson Sam, son of Richard).[4] That is the last entry I found for Samuel in the Lincoln records until his will was proved in 1826.[5] The WPA cemetery survey says Samuel died in 1816.

Where was Samuel born?

Many Rankin researchers claim Samuel was born in New Castle County, Delaware. That is probably a holdover from when many believed he was a son of Joseph Rankin of New Castle. Since that has been disproved, there is no logic for placing Samuel’s birth where Joseph lived. In fact, I found no evidence of a Rankin named Samuel in New Castle County in the relevant time frame, although there are many records concerning Joseph’s proved sons (Thomas, Joseph Jr., John and William) and possible sons (Robert and James). There seems to be no evidence for any place of birth for Samuel, or even any evidence that he was born in the colonies rather than on the other side of the Atlantic.

Where did Samuel and Eleanor marry, and who were her parents?

The couple undoubtedly married in North Carolina, not Pennsylvania, despite the view of Minnie Puett, who wrote a history of Gaston County. Eleanor’s family – her parents James (not David) and Ann and her brothers William, James, John, David and Robert – were in that part of Anson County that became Rowan by at least March 1752, when there was a Granville grant to James Alexander “of Anson Co., Gent.”[6] Eleanor Alexander was the grantee in a gift deed of livestock from her father James on January 12, 1753, when she was not quite thirteen. Before they came to North Carolina, the Alexander family was in Amelia County, Virginia. Here is an article about Eleanor’s family.

 When did Samuel come to North Carolina, and from where?

It is possible that Samuel came to North Carolina from Pennsylvania, as many Rankin researchers think. So did many other Scots-Irish settlers of the Piedmont Plateau. If you had to guess, you would probably say that Samuel came to NC from either Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, or Virginia. The only evidence I have found for a man who might be the same man as Samuel Rankin prior to his arrival in NC is in Chester County, Pennsylvania. Some Samuel Rankin is listed as a freeman (i.e., age 21 or over and single) on the 1753 tax list for Sadsbury Township of Chester County.[7] There are no other Rankins on that list, although there are a number of other Scots-Irish whose names will be familiar to Lincoln/Rowan County researchers. There were several Moores, Beatys and Campbells, as well as a McCleary, Erwin and Kerr. The Samuel Rankin taxed as a freeman in 1753 was born by at least 1732, which might be why some researchers have deduced that date for his birth.

Wherever he came from, the evidence establishes that Samuel was in North Carolina earlier than some researchers believe, including Minnie Puett. His first land acquisition was a purchase from David Alexander in a deed dated July 14, 1760.[8] The tract was on James Cathey’s Mill Creek (also known as Kerr Creek), and not on Kuykendahl/Dutchman’s Creek, where the family eventually settled. The Revolutionary War Pension application of Samuel’s son William says that William was born in January 1761 in Rowan County, which puts Samuel in NC no later than April 1760.[9] Assuming he took more than a few months to court Eleanor and that William was their eldest child, one would conclude Samuel was in NC by no later than 1759.

Samuel’s wife was named Eleanor and she was born in 1740, not 1743

Her Goshen Presbyterian Cemetery tombstone, which was still intact (although barely legible) when we visited in 2001, calls her “Ellen.” So did the Rev. Samuel Meek Rankin in his book about the Rankin and Wharton families, probably based on that tombstone.[10] Her family and friends undoubtedly called her Ellen. Almost all Rankin researchers do the same, and I have been corrected more than once for calling her Eleanor. Nevertheless, I persist. <grin> The records establish that her given name was Eleanor. Period. Her father called her “Elener” [sic] in a gift deed.[11] A Rowan County court called her “Elinor.”[12] At least three deeds (one with her signature as “Elender”) do the same.[13] She and Samuel had a daughter and at least five granddaughters, all named Eleanor rather than Ellen.[14] Those facts surely establish that her given name was Eleanor, or I will eat my hat. If I owned one. Her nickname was Ellen.

Eleanor was almost certainly born in 1740, not 1743. The Rowan County court allowed her to choose her own guardian in 1755.[15] Doing so required her to be at least fourteen, so she must have been born by at least 1741. Two tombstone surveys say the date of birth on her tombstone was 16 April 1740.[16] The date is now so eroded, however, that it could reasonably be read as 1743 – although that date is foreclosed by the court record.

… and that’s it for now. I’m not done with this family, though: there is more to come.

[1] The findagrave website contains several errors about Samuel and Eleanor, mostly minor, some not so minor. https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSln=Rankin&GSiman=1&GScid=1192379&GRid=127500305&

[2] Family History Library Microfilm No. 0,882,938, item 2.

[3] North Carolina State Archives, File Box C.R.060.801.21, will of Samuel Rankin of Lincoln County dated 16 Dec 1814, proved April 1826. Recorded in Lincoln County Will Book 1: 37.

[4] Lincoln County Deed Book 27: 561, conveyance from Samuel Rankin to James Rankin witnessed by William Rankin and Benjamin Hartgrove. The grantor is not Sam Jr., who owned land in Mecklenburg, not Lincoln and had already sold his Mecklenburg tracts before 1816.

[5] There was no hurry to probate Samuel’s will because he left each of his surviving children $1, except for James, to whom he left the rest of his estate. With nobody anxious for their payout, there was no reason to rush to the courthouse.

[6] Rowan County Deed Book 3: 547, Granville grant of 25 Mar 1752 to James Alexander, 640 acres in Anson adjacent Andrew Kerr. James gifted half of that tract to his son David Alexander, and David sold it to Samuel Rankin in 1760. See Anson County Deed Book B: 314 et seq. for charming gift deeds of land and livestock from James Alexander and his wife Ann to five of their six children, including Eleanor.

[7] 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).

[8] Rowan County Deed Book 5: 272, deed dated 14 Jul 1760 from David Alexander to Samuel Rankin, 320 acres both sides of James Cathey’s Mill Cr. (AKA Kerr’s Cr.).

[9] Virgil D. White, Genealogical Abstracts of Revolutionary War Pension Files, Volume III: N-Z (Waynesboro, TN: The National Historical Publishing Co., 1992).

[10] Rev. S. M. Rankin, The Rankin and Wharton Families and Their Genealogy (Greensboro, NC: J. J. Stone & Co, 1931).

[11] Personal copy of Rowan County Deed Book B: 315 (obtained by mail from the clerk of court), gift deed from James Alexander to his daughter Elener.

[12] Jo White Linn, Abstracts of the Minutes of the Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, Rowan County, North Carolina, 1753-1762 (Salisbury, NC: 1977), abstract of Order Book 2: 90, entry of 22 Oct 1755, David and Elinor Alexander (spelling per abstractor) came into court and chose their mother Ann Alexander as their guardian.

[13] Jo White Linn, Rowan County North Carolina Deed Abstracts Vol. II. 1762 – 1772 Abstracts of Books 5, 6, 7 (Salisbury, NC: 1972), abstract of Deed Book 6: 225, deed dated 31 Aug 1765 from Samuel Rankin and wife Eleanor (spelling per the abstractor) to John McNeeley, 320 acres on James Cathey’s Mill Creek; original of Lincoln Co. Deed Book 1: 703 (viewed by me at the courthouse), deed of 26 Jan 1773 from Samuel Rankin of Tryon to Philip Alston, 150 acres on Kuykendall Creek signed by Samuel Rankin and Elender Rankin.

[14] At least five of Samuel and Eleanor Rankin’s children named a daughter “Eleanor” (not “Ellen”), including Samuel Rankin Jr., Jean Rankin Hartgrove, Robert Rankin, David Rankin, and Eleanor (“Nellie”) Rankin Dickson. See, e.g., an image of the tombstone of Eleanor, wife of Joseph Dickson, Ellis Cemetery, Shelby Co., Ill., died 4 Apr 1848, age 62, at www.findagrave.com.

[15] Linn, Abstracts of the Minutes, abstract of Order Book 2: 90, 22 Oct 1755, David and Elinor Alexander came into court and chose their mother Ann Alexander as their guardian; the court appointed Ann guardian for Robert, about age 12, son of James Alexander, dec’d.

[16] Family History Library Microfilm No. 0,882,938, item 2. See also Microfilm at Clayton Genealogical library titled “North Carolina Tombstone Records, Vols. 1, 2 and 3,” compiled by the Alexander Martin and J. S. Wellborn chapters of the DAR; transcribed lists were filmed 1935 by the Genealogical Society of Utah. Tombstone of Ellen Rankin, b. 16 April 1740, d. 26 Jan 1802.

Samuel Rankin, b. abt. 1734, d. abt. 1816, Lincoln Co., NC, m. Eleanor (“Ellen”) Alexander: Who Was His Father? (Part II)

Let’s continue the conventions from the earlier post about the Samuel Rankin who married Eleanor Alexander and call him “Sam Sr.” To reprise Part I of this article briefly, there are two persistent theories concerning the identity of Sam Sr.’s father that are favored by Rankin family history researchers:

  • Theory #1 is that Sam Sr.’s father was Joseph Rankin of White Clay Creek Hundred, New Castle County, Delaware (1704-1764). That was the topic of the first part of this article. Y-DNA evidence establishes that Sam Sr. was not Joseph’s son. Here is a link to Part I.
  • Theory #2 is that Sam Sr.’s parents were Robert and Rebecca Rankin of Guilford County, NC. Before migrating to North Carolina in the mid-1750s, Robert appeared on the 1753 tax list for West Nottingham Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania.[1] I’m going to call him “Robert Sr.” because he was the patriarch of his Rankin line (which included many Rankins named Robert) in Guilford County.

This article asks whether Theory #2 is correct, i.e., whether Sam Sr. was a son of Robert Sr. First, we start with the probable printed origin of that theory and the merits of its argument. It may be that many family researchers have concluded that Sam Sr. was a son of Robert Sr. However, the first place I found that notion argued was in a book written by A. Greg Moore.[2] Second, we look at the Y-DNA evidence about the line of Robert Sr., which is inconclusive. The third step should be the evidence in the records establishing (or even suggesting) a connection between Robert Sr. and Sam Sr. That’s pretty easy, because I found no such evidence. The only thing even remotely resembling a connection is that Robert Sr. and some Samuel Rankin were both in Chester County, PA at the same time, although they didn’t live near each other.[3]

I have concluded that Robert Sr. is not the father of Sam Sr., although – until we get a more Y-DNA evidence – it is still a remote possibility. Moore doesn’t provide any convincing reason to conclude that Robert Sr. was Sam Sr.’s father. If I had nothing but the paper trail to go by, I would characterize the claim that Sam Sr. was a son of Robert’s Sr. as speculative. Fortunately, Y-DNA evidence can resolve the issue with a fair degree of confidence. A new volunteer who descends from Robert Sr. has just tested (January 2017) and results should be in by the end of February. Absent an NPE in his line, we should have (I hope!) some good answers. If his Y-DNA is not a match with descendants of Sam Sr., then we can kiss Theory #2 goodbye.

The origin of the Robert and Rebecca theory

Moore’s book – the first place I ran across Theory #2 – notes that Rev. S. M. Rankin argued that Sam Sr. was a son of Joseph of Delaware, and then continues:

“While this argument must be given weight, a stronger argument can be made that Samuel is actually a son of Robert and Rebecca Rankin … [who moved from Pennsylvania] to Rowan County, NC in 1755. The first instance of Samuel in the records of North Carolina occurs in Rowan County where he purchased 320 acres there on 14 July 1760 from David Alexander, probably the father of Samuel’s wife, Ellen Alexander … Samuel is thought to have been born between 1732 and 1740, the two dates most commonly attributed to this event. Thus, he is certainly of an appropriate age to be either Joseph’s or Robert’s son.”

For the life of me, I cannot see why this is “a stronger argument” than Rev. Rankin’s argument that Sam Sr. was a son of Joseph of Delaware (whose logic was discussed in Part I). Moore acknowledges that Sam Sr. was the right age to be a son of either Joseph of Delaware or Robert and Rebecca. The only new argument offered by Moore is that Sam Sr. first appeared in the records of Rowan County … and so did Robert Sr.

That’s a flawed argument. That is because location (taking into account county formation history) is equally persuasive whether one argues (1) Sam Sr. belongs to the family of Joseph of Delaware or (2) Sam Sr. was part of Robert Sr.’s family. Robert Sr. was located in a part of Rowan that became Guilford County. John Rankin and William Rankin, proved sons of Joseph of Delaware, also lived in Guilford County. All three of those Rankins – Robert Sr., John and William – attended the same church and are buried at the Buffalo Creek Presbyterian Church in Guilford County, now in Greensboro, NC.[4] They obviously didn’t live far away from each other.

So … how does one choose between Robert Sr.’s line or Joseph’s line as Sam Sr.’s family of origin on the basis of location, when both lines lived in a relatively small community in Guilford County?

Another problem with Moore’s “location” argument is that Sam Sr.’s first land purchase (and apparently his first appearance in the North Carolina records) was not in an area that became part of Guilford County. The land Sam Sr. bought from David Alexander in 1760 was located on James Cathey’s Mill Creek, also known (and shown on current maps) as Kerr Creek.[5] That creek is still in Rowan County. I have a copy of a map showing exactly where Sam Sr.’s land on Kerr Creek was located, but the copy is too poor to reproduce.

If you want to see a very rough location of Sam Sr.’s first land purchase on a current map, go to Google Maps and search for Sloan Park NC. Kerr Creek runs along the northwest side of the Park. Follow Kerr Creek southwest toward its headwaters. Sam Sr.’s land was located about where the creek crosses Caldwell Road, or NC Highway 1547. That location is a SWAG, at best. It could be off by several miles either upstream or downstream.

In any event, Sam Sr. was clearly not buying land near either the two sons of Joseph of Delaware or Robert and Rebecca, all of whom lived near Buffalo Presbyterian Church in Guilford County. Instead, Sam Sr. was buying land near his wife’s family of origin. The David Alexander who sold Sam Sr. the tract on Kerr/James Cathey’s Mill Creek was Eleanor (“Ellen”) Alexander Rankin’s brother (not her father, as Moore speculated). Eleanor’s parents James and Ann Alexander gave that tract, which was half of a 1752 grant to James, to their son David.[6] For more information on the Alexanders, see this article about Eleanor’s family of origin.

Enough of that. Let’s leave the art of family history research and turn to the science of DNA.

The Y-DNA Evidence: the line of Robert and Rebecca of Guilford County, NC

The short answer is there is no definitive evidence whether Sam Sr. was a son of Robert Sr. – so far. That is because the only proved descendant of Robert and Rebecca (Rollie B. Rankin) who has participated in Y-DNA testing and joined the Rankin DNA project is descended from their great-granddaughter Isabel Rankin and her husband Robert Rankin. It is Robert’s Y-DNA which his Rankin male descendants inherited. Isabel, of course, had no Y-DNA to pass on. Whoever Rollie’s male Rankin ancestor might be, he is definitely not related to Sam Sr., because Rollie’s Y-DNA is a total mismatch with the Y-DNA of Sam Sr.’s descendants.

The $64,000 question, of course, is who was the father of Robert ???? Rankin? That is a long story however, and I think I will save it for another day, after we have the results of the new Y-DNA volunteer. That will be a fun article to write, because there is nothing cooler than the solving puzzles at the intersection of conventional family history research and genealogical DNA.

The bottom line, however, is that the paper evidence is all we have to go on right now to answer the question whether Robert Sr. was the father of Sam Sr. Based on actual evidence in the records, the answer is probably “no.” We will be able to answer that question with confidence, I hope, when we have the Y-DNA results from the new volunteer.

Stay tuned!

[1] 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).

[2] A. Gregg Moore & Forney A. Rankin (as added author), The Rankins of North Carolina : A Genealogy and History of Those Who Can Trace Their Ancestry to One of the Several Rankin Families Native to the Tar Heel State (Marietta, GA: A. G. Moore, 1997) (two volumes).

[3] Robert Sr. and his proved son George Rankin appeared in the West Nottingham Township, Chester Co., PA tax list for 1753. A Samuel Rankin (who may or may not have been the same man as Sam Sr.) appeared as a freeman on the Sadsbury Township, Chester Co., PA tax list that same year. See Futhey and Cope, History of Chester County. A “freeman” was a free male age 21 and over who was not married and who did not own any land. If Samuel were a part of Robert Sr.’s family, one might reasonably have expected them to appear on the same tax list. West Nottingham Township, where Robert Sr. and George appeared, was in the very southwest corner of Chester County on the Maryland border. Sadsbury Township was roughly in the middle of Chester County on a north-south axis and on the western border of Chester with Lancaster County. Sadsbury was five townships north of W. Nottingham.

[4] Rev. S. M. Rankin, History of Buffalo Presbyterian Church and Her People (Greensboro, NC: Jos. J. Stone & Co., 1931). According to Rev. Rankin, Robert Rankin Sr. and his wife Rebecca, John Rankin and his wife Hannah Carson, and William Rankin and his wife Jennett Chambers are all buried in the Buffalo Church cemetery, although there is no extant tombstone for Robert Sr. or Rebecca. There are numerous records in Guilford County for all three men and their children (or some of them). There is no evidence that Robert Sr. and Rebecca had a son Samuel, and Rev. Rankin doesn’t name a son Samuel.

[5] Jo White Linn, Rowan County North Carolina Deed Abstracts Vol. II. 1762 – 1772 Abstracts of Books 5, 6, 7 (Salisbury, NC: 1972), abstract of Deed Book 5: 272, 14 Jul 1760 deed from David Alexander to Samuel Rankin, 320 acres on both sides of James Cathey’s Mill Creek.

[6] Anson County, NC Deed Book B: 314 et seq., five gift deeds dated 12 Jan 1753 in which James and Ann Alexander gave land and/or livestock to five of their six children: James Jr., John, David, Eleanor and Robert. See also Rowan County, NC Deed Book 3: 547, 25 Mar 1752 Granville grant to James Alexander of Anson Co., Gentleman, 640 acres adjacent Andrew Kerr (notation in the margin: “to his widow”).

James and Ann Alexander of Anson – Rowan County, NC: someone please knock down this brick wall!

© Robin Rankin Willis June 2016

One of the things that surprised me about family history research is that I started liking some of my ancestors. Amazingly, one can learn a great deal about people who lived a couple of centuries ago, including their fundamental character and even specific personality traits. A fertile imagination helps, but is not essential. Even ostensibly dry county records are often revealing, and the occasional personal record can be a fabulous find. I love my great-great uncles Napoleon Bonaparte Rankin (“Pole,” a house painter) and Washington Marion Rankin (“Wash,” a “clever engineer”), who wrote each other letters in the 1880s. Their correspondence revealed a shared wicked sense of humor and considerable affection. Letters from one of their aunts, Martha Estes Swain, to their mother, Mary Estes Rankin, are full of family gossip – one can almost hear them tut-tutting. Concern for “the connection,” as they called their extended family, also comes through clear as a bell.

Other ancestors are patently obnoxious. I will save examples for another post.

Fortunately, likeable ancestors abound. My ancestors James and Ann Alexander of Rowan County are among them for two main reasons. First, they executed sweet gift deeds to five of their six children. Second, Ann Alexander bested William, their eldest son, on at least one legal issue. Eighteenth century women rarely appeared in county records, making it difficult to learn much about them. Courtroom victories by females were even less common. Ann, who appeared in several records, clearly had some mettle. I admire her determination, and imagine that having an adverse relationship with her son was not easy.

Moving on, this article contains: (1) links to some websites that provide a great deal of information about Alexanders; (2) a brief description of some major unknowns about James and Ann Alexander’s family; and (3) what the records do reveal about them.

Let’s start with the links, including two for the Alexander DNA project.

The first link summarizes Alexander family lineages for all y-DNA project participants. The line of James and Ann Alexander is designated the “Spartanburg Confused Family,” or “SpartCons” for short.[i] Find the SpartCons here:

https://www.familytreedna.com/groups/alexander-y-dna/about/results

The next link tabulates the Alexander y-DNA project results. It also refers to the line of James and Ann as “Spartanburg Confused.”

https://www.familytreedna.com/public/ALEXANDER-Y-DNA?iframe=ycolorized

Finally, here is the website of my distant cousin and fellow SpartCon John F. Alexander. It has a wealth of information about the line of James and Ann. John asks me to add that it is a work in progress and that readers are welcome to send him comments, corrections and additions that are supported by evidence.

http://www.johnandval.org/genealogy/AlexFamHist.html

As for the major unknowns about James and Ann, I really hope that someone can fill in some of these blanks. The Alexanders qualify for me as what genealogists call a “brick wall,” meaning that my efforts to identify their parents have been unsuccesful. In fact, I don’t even know where or when James Alexander was born, much less who his parents were. Ditto for his wife Ann. They are both undoubtedly Scots-Irish, but … were they the original immigrants, or were they born here, and their parents were immigrants? I don’t know the answers to any of those questions, although it’s not for lack of trying.

I do think I know where James and Ann came from before they arrived in Anson/Rowan County. They most likely lived in Amelia County, Virginia in the 1740s. Admittedly, the only clue regarding their origin in the North Carolina records was that James had some Virginia currency among the assets of his estate.[ii] That’s pretty thin circumstantial evidence, but better than none. In any event, some James and Ann Alexander lived in Amelia County from about 1742 through 1749.[iii] The timing is perfect, since that is just before James and Ann appeared in Anson County, NC some time before 1752. James and Ann were the only Alexanders who appeared in the Amelia records during that time period, except for a William Alexander who witnessed one deed and who may have been their eldest son.[iv] The absence of other Alexanders raises the inference that James and Ann may have migrated with Ann’s family of origin rather than James’s.

James and Ann lived near several other Scots-Irish families in Amelia, including Ewings, Wallaces, Gillespies, and Cunninghams, and appeared in records with several of them.[v] James Ewing, one of their Scots-Irish neighbors, came from Cecil County, MD, where he owned land.[vi] James and Ann undoubtedly also came to Amelia from the area around Philadelphia/Wilmington, where many Scots-Irish arrived from the Ulster Plantation of northernmost Ireland during the eighteenth century. Their families most likely first lived in Chester or Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Cecil County, Maryland, or New Castle County, Delaware. I have no proof, although there are many Alexanders, Gillespies, Ewings and other Scots-Irish in the records of those counties in the 1700s.

The last entry for James and Ann in the Amelia County records was in September 1749, when they sold their tract on Fort Creek adjacent the Gillespies and Ewings.[vii] In 1750, James first appeared in the records of Anson County, North Carolina, in a land grant and a survey there.[viii] The family was clearly living in Anson County by 1752, when James received a Granville grant for the 640 acres on Kerr Creek (also known as James Cathey’s Mill Creek) that had been surveyed for him in 1750.[ix] The deed referred to him as “James Alexander, Gent., of Anson County.”

In early 1753, James and Ann executed deeds giving land and livestock to five of their six children (all except William).[x] James may have been getting his affairs in order, since he died later that year. All five deeds are dated January 7, 1753, and all of them recite love, goodwill and affection for each child as the consideration. Although there are similar recitations of consideration in many other colonial gift deeds from parent to child, it continues to strike me as a lovely thing to put in the permanent records. Also, Ann Alexander, although not named as a grantor in any of the deeds, signed at least four of them with her mark.[xi] As a married woman, she had no legal existence of her own and consequently no legal right to convey that land. Adding her signature simply put her stamp of approval on both the conveyance itself and the love and affection recited as consideration.

Each of the four deeds to their sons – gifts to James Jr., John, David and Robert – refers to the grantee as “planter.” This was a designation of one’s profession: e.g., planter, blacksmith, trader, or just “gentleman.” In January 1753, David was probably just teetering on the brink of adulthood. He was definitely not more than eighteen, and probably a year or two younger than that. Robert was about age ten. Their parents may have been taking pains to treat their younger sons as adults, and perhaps there was a twinkle in the parental eyes when they executed those deeds.

Eleanor, the only Alexander daughter, did not receive land, which isn’t unusual. A colonial female rarely owned a fee simple interest in land. If a woman owned any interest at all in real property, it was usually just a life estate in some or all of her deceased husband’s land. Instead of land, James and Ann gave Eleanor a “gray mair” [sic] and three “cow yearlings.” Her appearance in that deed is important for more than proof of her parents and siblings, because her name is a source of minor controversy among family history researchers. Most call her “Ellen,” which is the name on her tombstone and what she was probably called.[xii] They may be right, but I will just say this: a court record identified her given name as Eleanor;[xiii] at least three deeds (one with her signature as “Elender”) do the same;[xiv] and she had a daughter and at least five granddaughters, all named Eleanor rather than Ellen.[xv] Those facts surely establish that her given name was actually Eleanor. Her nickname was Ellen. For the record, Eleanor, daughter of James and Ann Alexander, married Samuel Rankin about 1759 – early 1760.[xvi] Eleanor’s brother David (not her father, as the author of one Rankin family history incorrectly speculated) sold Samuel his 320-acre tract on James Cathey’s Mill Creek in 1760.[xvii]

Back to James and Ann. A deed from William Alexander to his brother Robert states that James died on June 15, 1753.[xviii] Ann was appointed guardian for David, Eleanor and Robert on October 22, 1755, proving they were underage on that date.[xix] David and Eleanor were allowed to choose their own guardian, establishing that they were at least fourteen but not yet twenty-one. The court appointed Ann guardian for Robert, stating that he was then about age twelve.

The Rowan county deed and court records prove one more son, William. He wasn’t a grantee among the 1753 gift deeds, which may just mean that James and Ann had already provided for him in some fashion. In 1756, William executed confirmation deeds to his two minor brothers, David and Robert, for the land they had received as gifts.[xx] As the eldest, William was James’s heir under the North Carolina law of intestate descent and distribution, and would have been entitled to inherit James’s land had James owned any when he died (assuming, of course, that James had left no will: the rule of primogeniture only applied if a deceased did NOT leave a will). James, however, had given it all to his other four sons. Ann paid William something more than the standard gift deed price of five shillings (although still substantially less than the land was worth) to obtain those confirmation deeds. The “conveyances” insured that her sons had good title and that William would not dispute it.[xxi] I have seen a number of similar confirmation deeds, and the consideration recited was always “love, goodwill and affection.” William apparently preferred cash.

The records leave no doubt about the state of Ann’s relationship with William. In 1755, she had hauled him into court, asserting that he was withholding assets belonging to his father’s estate.[xxii] Ann’s attorney also charged (undoubtedly on her authority and behalf) that William was abusing an indentured servant. I don’t know how the claim regarding the estate assets turned out, but the court sided with Ann on the abuse issue and discharged the indentured servant.[xxiii]

The records suggest that the six Alexander children were born on approximately the dates shown below. The birth dates are estimates, except with respect to David, Eleanor and Robert, whose birth years are reasonably supported by various records: [xxiv]

– William, born by 1728

– James Jr., born about 1730

– John, born about 1732

– David, born about 1736

– Eleanor, born 1740

– Robert, born about 1743

I haven’t found any record of William Alexander’s family (if any) or his whereabouts after Rowan County. James Jr. lived in Spartanburg, SC; John Alexander married Rachel Davidson and went to Burke/Buncombe County, NC; David married Margaret Davidson in Rowan in 1762 and went to Pendleton District (now Anderson Co.), SC; and Robert married Mary Jack and remained in Lincoln County, where he was a justice of the county court.[xxv] Perhaps I can persuade some of the SpartCons to collaborate with me on an outline descendant chart for James and Ann which I can post on this site. I confess that I have not tracked any of James’s and Ann’s children except for Eleanor Alexander, wife of Samuel Rankin. Samuel and Eleanor are probably my ancestors, although an additional y-DNA test of one of Sam and Eleanor’s descendants is needed. Without DNA evidence, I can prove Samuel and Eleanor as ancestors only through a family legend and very strong circumstantial evidence. I will save that story for another day!

* * * * * * * * * * 

[i] The name ‘Spartanburg Confused’, or SpartCon, was assigned long ago, before discovering that James Jr., John, David and Robert were all sons of James and Ann. There are now so many references to SpartCons that changing the designation would be difficult, even though the family is not exclusively from Spartanburg (and the confusion has abated!).

[ii] Jo White Linn, Abstracts of the Minutes of the Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, Rowan County, North Carolina, 1753-1762 (Salisbury, NC: 1977), Order Book 2: 92, entry of 25 Oct 1755, inventory of the estate of James Alexander, dec’d, included £52.11.2 Virginia money.

[iii] Gibson J. McConnaughey, Court Order Book 1, Amelia County, Virginia, 1735-1746 (Amelia, VA: Mid-South Publishing Co., 1985), abstract of Order Book 1: 281A, entry of 19 Aug 1742, James Alexander paid for attending court to testify in a lawsuit; Gibson J. McConnaughey, Deed Book 3 and Deed Book 4, Amelia County, Virginia Deeds 1747-1753 (Amelia, VA: Mid-South Publishing Co., 1988), abstract of Deed Book 3: 531, 30 Sep 1749 deed from James Alexander and wife Ann conveying a tract on Fort Creek.

[iv] McConnaughey, abstract of Deed Book 3: 278, 19 Jul 1749 deed witnessed by William Alexander. The grantor was a resident of Augusta County, and the witnesses may have lived there. If the witness was William, the eldest son of James and Ann, then he had probably arrived at legal age and was born by 1728.

[v] FHL Film #1,902,616, tax lists for 1744 through 1749 for the upper part of Amelia from Namozine Cr. to Cellar Cr. included James Alexander, several Cunninghams, Samuel Wallace, Samuel Ewing and Gillespies; 1744 deed to Robert Gillespie for land on Fort Creek adjacent to James Alexander (I have lost the deed book citation for that deed); McConnaughey, abstract of Amelia Deed Book 2: 315, 1746 deed from James Alexander to James Ewing, land on Fort Creek. Grantor’s wife Ann relinquished dower.

[vi] McConnaughey, abstract of Deed Book 3: 371, power of attorney from James Ewing of Amelia County to Joshua Ewing to sell a tract of land in Cecil Co., MD.

[vii] Id., abstract of Deed Book 3: 351, deed of 30 Sep 1749 from James Alexander to John Reed, 300 acres on the north side Fort Creek adjacent Robert Galaspye [sic, Gillespie], James Ewing, Samuel Ewing and James Parks, with all houses, etc., witnessed by John Cunningham et al.

[viii] NC Land Grants Vol. 4: 1040, grant dated 7 Apr 1750 to James Alexander, two tracts on both sides Rocky River; Patent Book 11: 1, survey dated 12 Nov 1750, 640 acres in Anson adjacent Andrew Kerr.

[ix] Jo White Linn, Rowan County North Carolina Deed Abstracts Vol. I 1753 – 1762, Abstracts of Books 1 – 4 (Salisbury, NC), Deed Book 3: 547, Granville grant dated 25 Mar 1752 to James Alexander of Anson Co., Gent., 640 acres adjacent Andrew Kerr. Witnesses included William Alexander. Notation in the margin: “to his widow.” This tract was on Kerr/James Cathey’s Mill Creek.

[x] Copies of Anson County, NC Deed Book B: 314, deed from James Alexander (also signed by Ann) to James Jr., 320 acres on Cadle (sic, Coddle) Cr. and 250 acres on the Catawba River; id. at pp. 314-315, deed from James (also signed Ann) to son John, the other half of the two tracts given to James Jr.; id. at 315, James Sr. to son David, half of the tract where I live (the tract on James Cathey’s Mill Cr.) and livestock; id., deeds from James to daughter Elener and son Robert (the other half of the tract on James Cathey’s Mill Cr.). An abstract of Anson County deeds omits the second deed, a gift of land and livestock to John Alexander. See Brent Holcomb, Anson County, N. C. Deed Abstracts Volume 1: 1749-1757 (Clinton, SC: 1974). I have copies from the deed books, however, so am confident that John is a proved son of James and Ann Alexander.

[xi] The deed from James Alexander to their daughter “Elener” doesn’t mention Ann’s mark, although these deeds have been transcribed from the original deed books and are now typed.

[xii] Microfilm at Clayton Genealogical library titled “North Carolina Tombstone Records, Vols. 1, 2 and 3,” compiled by the Alexander Martin and J. S. Wellborn chapters of the DAR; transcribed lists filmed 1935 by the Genealogical Society of Utah. Tombstone of Ellen Rankin, b. 16 April 1740, d. 26 Jan 1802. Other researchers give the birth date on her tombstone as 1743, although that is not consistent with the court allowing her to cloose her own guardian in 1755. That required her to be at least fourteen.

[xiii] Linn, Abstracts of the Minutes, Order Book 2: 90, entry of 22 Oct 1755, David and Elinor Alexander (spelling per abstractor) came into court and chose their mother Ann Alexander as their guardian.

[xiv] Copy of Rowan County DB B: 315, gift deed from James Alexander to his daughter Elener; Linn, Rowan County Abstracts, Deed Book 6: 225, deed dated 31 Aug 1765 from Samuel Rankin and wife Eleanor (spelling per the abstractor) to John McNeeley, 320 acres on James Cathey’s Mill Creek; original of Lincoln Co. Deed Book 1: 703 (viewed by me at the courthouse, although my notes do not say whether it was Gaston or Lincoln County), deed of 26 Jan 1773 from Samuel Rankin of Tryon to Philip Alston, 150 acres on Kuykendall Creek signed by Samuel Rankin and Elender Rankin (two other deeds the same day, see DB 1: 702 et seq. were not signed by “Elender,” although she is identified in both as “Elen,” a grantor).

[xv] At least five of Samuel and Eleanor Rankin’s children named a daughter “Eleanor” (not “Ellen”), including Samuel Rankin Jr., Jean Rankin Hartgrove, Robert Rankin, David G. Rankin, and Eleanor Rankin Dickson. See, e.g., the tombstone of Eleanor, wife of Joseph Dickson, Ellis Cemetery, Shelby Co., Ill., died 4 Apr 1848, age 62, at www.findagrave.com.

[xvi] Virgil D. White, Genealogical Abstracts of Revolutionary War Pension Files, Volume III: N-Z (Waynesboro, TN: The National Historical Publishing Co., 1992). Abstract of the pension application of William Rankin, the eldest son of Samuel and Eleanor Alexander Rankin, states that he was born January 1761 in Rowan County.

[xvii] Jo White Linn, Rowan County North Carolina Deed Abstracts Vol. II. 1762 – 1772 Abstracts of Books 5, 6, 7 (Salisbury, NC: 1972), Deed Book 5: 272, 14 July 1760 deed from David Alexander to Samuel Rankin, for £29 NC currency, 320 acres on both sides James Cathey’s Mill Creek.

[xviii] Jo White Linn, Rowan County North Carolina Deed Abstracts Vol. I 1753 – 1762, Abstracts of Books 1 – 4 (Salisbury, NC), abstract of Deed Book 3: 495, deed of 10 Jun 1756 from William Alexander, described as the eldest son and heir of James Alexander, to his brother Robert Alexander, reciting that James died intestate on 15 June 1753.

[xix] Linn, abstract of Rowan Order Book 2: 90, David and Elener Alexander chose their mother Ann as guardian and the court appointed Ann the guardian of Robert, about age 12.

[xx] Linn, abstract of Rowan Deed Book 3: 495, deed dated 10 Jun 1756 from Wiliam Alexander, eldest son and heir of James Alexander, to Robert Alexander, orphan of James, under 21 and brother of James (who died intestate 15 Jun 1753), for 75 shillings paid by the widow Anne Alexander, mother of Robert and William, 320 acres on both sides James Cathey’s Mill Cr.; Deed Book 3: 498, William Alexander to David Alexander, orphan of James Alexander, under 21 and brother of William, by Anne Alexander, for 7 shillings sterling, 320 acres both sides James Cathey’s Mill Cr.

[xxi] I don’t know why similar confirmation deeds were apparently not needed for the gifts to James Jr. and John, who were of legal age at the time of the gift in 1753. North Carolina law at that time apparently treated conveyances of realty to minors differently than conveyances to a grantee of legal age. Other Rowan County records establish that Ann Alexander had an attorney, see note 22, and it seems likely that she would have obtained advice about the ability of an heir to challenge a conveyance of land via deeds of gift.

[xxii] Id., abstract of Rowan Order Book 2: 77, entry of 16 Jul 1755, ordered on motion of Edward Underhill, Esq. (Ann Alexander’s attorney) that citation issue against William Alexander returnable immediately to give an account on oath what estate he has in his hands or had which were of James Alexander, dec’d, and account with Ann Alexander, administratrix for same.

[xxiii] Id., abstract of Order Book 2: 78, ordered on motion of Edward Underhill, Esq., that James Nicholas be discharged of his indenture to William Alexander due to ill usage. Discharged. The next day, the court ordered William to produce James Nicholas in court or else to “stand committed.” Order Book 2: 81. I don’t know what “stand committed” means, but suspect that it means held in contempt of court and committed to jail.

[xxiv] See note 12 (tombstone showing Eleanor’s birth year as 1740), note 19 (in 1755, Ann Alexander chosen as guardian by Eleanor and David and appointed as guardian of Robert, about age 12) and note 20 (1756 deed reciting that David Alexander was still a minor).

[xxv] https://www.familytreedna.com/groups/alexander-y-dna/about/results, see lineages for those members of the “Spartanburg Confused Family” who trace their line back to James and Ann.