A couple of decades ago, my first cousin Butch Rankin posed this question to me: “where are we from, anyway?” He didn’t specify which of our many shared ancestral lines he meant, but he was clearly asking about Rankins.
Hmmmm… there were some Rankins who came to the colonies from England, often Quakers. For example, there was a James Rankin in York Co., Pennsylvania in the 1770s, a Tory, whose estate was confiscated and who fled back to England. But the vast majority of Rankin immigrants to the colonies during the 18th century came from Ireland. They were overwhelmingly Scots-Irish, Presbyterian, and Patriots.
Sometimes, names, locations and religion can reveal a great deal, and this is a good example. Butch’s and my earliest known Rankin ancestor first appeared in colonial records in Rowan County, North Carolina, smack dab in the middle of the Scots-Irish settlements of the Piedmont Plateau. Moreover, our ancestor Samuel Rankin – known as Old One-Eyed Sam – married Eleanor (“Ellen”) Alexander. As nearly as I can tell, “Alexander” is the Scots-Irish equivalent of “Smith.” Samuel and Eleanor are buried in the Old Goshen Grove Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Belmont, NC. There was once a marker on the wall of Goshen Cemetery “in memory of the following Revolutionary soldiers,” including Robert Alexander (Eleanor Alexander Rankin’s brother), William Rankin (eldest son of Samuel and Eleanor), and Samuel Rankin – Old One-Eyed Sam himself, who was too old to fight, but who was deemed a “patriot” by the DAR because he contributed supplies.
OK, Scots-Irish, Presbyterian, and patriot: check, check, check. The correct answer to Butch’s question is that we came to the colonies from the province of Ulster in northernmost Ireland. And before our Rankin ancestors migrated to Ulster, they lived in Scotland.
But where in Scotland? I’ve done no research there because I hadn’t a clue where to start. Many Rankin researchers claim the highlands of northwest Scotland, reciting a frequently reported connection between the Rankins and the Maclean Clan of Duart Castle on the Isle of Mull. It is a popular story, although I’ve never seen a reference to evidence in any records. However, I never found a credible alternative opinion on the issue.
Until this week. There is a book at Clayton Genealogical Library that is new to me: The Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland, published by the Oxford University Press. If you have Anglo ancestors, you might want to check this source, because it has some interesting information. Also, Oxford University has a certain aura of credibility.
This is what the Dictionary says about Rankin, in part (emphasis added):
“Rankin. Variants: Rankine, Ranken, Ranking
Current frequencies: GB 6341, Ireland 1281. GB frequency 1881: 4297
Main GB location 1881: widespread in Scotland and England, chiefly SW Scotland; Lancs; Northumb
Main Irish location 1847-64: Ulster: esp.Derry, Donegal, and Antrim
Scottish, English: relationship name from Middle English Ran(d)kin, a diminutive of Ran(d), a pet form of the personal name Ran(d)ulf. See Rand, Randolph, Randall.
Further information: this name was brought to Northern Ireland (Derry) from Scotland in the 17thcentury.
Early bearers: given names: Rankin de Fowlartoun, 1429 in Ayr Charters (Ayr, Ayrs).”
I’m a bit foggy about what “Ayr Charters” are, although this article is helpful. But I am quite clear about the counties Derry, Donegal and Antrim in the province of Ulster, Ireland, to which many Scots migrated during the 1610-1690 period. (See a map of Irish provinces and counties comprising them here). Google Maps is also unambiguous about Ayr, a city on the Firth of Clyde in the province of Ayrshire in southwest Scotland. As the crow flies, Ayr to Londonderry (or Derry, depending on your politics) in Northern Ireland is about 120 miles. Just for fun, there is a Rankintown about 12 miles southeast of Ayr.
Based on just the numbers, there is a decent chance that your Scots-Irish Rankin ancestor lived in Ayrshire, Scotland before migrating to Derry, Donegal or Antrim county in the province of Ulster – and then arriving in the Colonies during the “Great Migration” of the 18th century. I like the odds.
To check the Dictionary’s source for identifying “Rankin de Fowlartoun” as a resident of Ayr in 1429, just Google “Ayr Charters.” You will find a mind-boggling text in both Latin and English. The document says it is the full text of “Charters of the royal burgh of Ayr.”
The relevant text in Latin is described in the heading as a “Notarial Instrument concerning the Rendering of Accounts by the Bailies of Ayr,” dated 17 November 1429. It’s been more than half a century since I wrestled with Virgil’s Aeneid, so the only things I recognize are dates and names. The latter includes “Johannes de Bathcate” and “Thomas de Carrie,” who were the “bailies” (Bailiffs? Sheriffs? Tax collectors?) of the Burgh of Ayr.
The other Latinized names in the text include Henrico Forrestar (Henry Forrest or Forrester, the Chamberlain’s deputy), Rankino de Fowlartoun, Alexandro de Cragy, Thoma[s] Crotteche, David Glassynwricht, Macolmo de Qulchone, Johanne Litster, Johanne Gray, Johanne Bannezour, Gilberto Askirk, and Thomas Hakete, the notary.
Fortunately, there is an abstract of the Latin text at the same link, although it omits all names except for the two bailies and the Chamberlain’s deputy. Here is what it says, in part:
“Notarial Instrument narrating that John of Bathgate and Thomas of Carrick, bailies of Ayr, being charged to render their account for the past year by Henry Forestar, depute of the chamberlain, in the manner and form contained in a certain instrument accepted by the said depute;
They having advised with the best men of the burgh of Ayr declared that they were never before the past year charged or required to make such account … Done in the Tolbooth of Ayr, about eleven o’clock on 17th November 1429.”
Taking into account both the Latin text and the abstract, it appears that “Rankine of Fowlartoun” was among the “best men of the Burgh of Ayr” with whom the bailies consulted about how and when to render accounts in 1429. Nice – perhaps an offsetting balance to my Rankin ancestor who was a Civil War deserter.
Now I will run, because I must call Butch and tell him that our Rankins most likely came originally from somewhere in the Scottish Lowlands, perhaps Ayrshire Province in Southwest Scotland, before they wound up in Ulster. Then I will head back to the library to look up Brodnax, Lindsey, Winn, Estes, Bacon, Lyddal, Harkins, Hubbard, Stubbs, Odom, Rivers, Whittaker, et. al.…
Hope you also find interesting information in the Dictionary.
See you on down the road.
 “Butch” is not his actual given name, of course – it was his nickname as a kid. Now he is stuck with it, so far as the Rankin cousins are concerned. I still wonder briefly who the hell his wife is talking about when I hear her call him by his “real” name. I am quite fond of Butch, with whom I talk on the phone often.
 Franklin Ellis and Samuel Evans, History of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania (Philadelphia: Evets & Peck, 1883), 752-53: “Rankin’s Ferry was established a few years prior to the Revolution by James Rankin, who resided in York County. The Rankins were Tories. James Rankin was a Quaker, and was appointed a justice of the peace for York County prior to the Revolution. He was one of the most prominent men in the country. … Being suspected of secret machinations against the patriots he suddenly went over to the British when Howe had possession of Philadelphia, and thence to England … several farms were confiscated … in 1790, James Rankin and Dr. Robert Harris owned the ferry and the land at the eastern end. It became the subject of litigation, which very likely grew out of the confiscation of Rankin’s estate.”
 Family History Library Film # 0,882,938, item 2, “Pre-1914 Cemetery Inscription Survey, Gaston Co., prepared by the Historical Records Survey Service Division, Works Progress Administration.”
 Patrick Hanks, Richard Coates, and Peter McClure, The Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2017), 2214.
 For the record, the bailies were arguing about the form of and timing to submit the accounts, and not the need to render them.