“Follow the land” theory: believe it or not

Would you believe me if I told you that three deeds – only three deeds – could conclusively prove the names of eight of a couple’s nine children, the family’s migration history, the surnames of married daughters, and the given names of two sons-in-law? No? Oh ye of little faith! Keep reading.

This is yet another paean to deeds as a family history research tool.[1] It is also a tip of the hat to Jessica Guyer. She abstracted deeds in several Pennsylvania counties in an effort to break through her Rankin brick wall. Three deeds she found in Westmoreland County are the genealogical gold mine described above. The deeds concern the family of David and Frances (“Fanny”) Campbell Rankin, originally of Franklin County, Pennsylvania.

Jessica’s brick wall unfortunately remains standing. If anyone reading this knows anything about Chambers Rankin (1805-1835) of Bedford Co., PA and his siblings John C., Martha, and Culbertson Rankin, please post a comment!

By the way, this post is a sidetrack from what I had previously promised. This was supposed to be another article about Lt. Robert Rankin, a Revolutionary War soldier who is buried in the Texas State Cemetery.[2] David and Fanny have temporarily preempted my search for Lt. Robert’s parents.

The story in short, except for the voluminous footnotes

Ferreting out David and Fanny’s story requires slogging through deeds concerning tracts of land in two Pennsylvania counties, bequests in a will, inheritance via intestacy, two trusts, judgments, and a court-ordered confirmation deed. All in the arcane language of 19th-century deeds written in tiny, cramped, handwriting.

For those of us whose brains are addled (mine certainly is) by cabin fever during this coronavirus nightmare, here is the CliffsNotes version of their story. It is easier on one’s eyesight and sanity than the original deeds. Connoisseurs of evidence and other gluttons for punishment can find citations to deeds and brief abstracts in the footnotes.

David and Fanny originally lived in Antrim, Peters, and Montgomery Townships in Franklin County, PA.[3] David was born in 1776-77, a son of William and Mary Huston Rankin of Antrim Township in Franklin (formerly Cumberland) County.[4] Fanny was a daughter of Dugal/Dougal (various spellings) Campbell.[5] The 200-acre Franklin tract Fanny inherited from her father became security for her family’s financial future, along with legacies David’s mother Mary left to their children.[6]

By the 1820s, David was deeply in debt to Archibald Bard, a Franklin County justice.[7] To secure judgments “and other monies owed,” David pledged both the tract Fanny inherited from her father and his children’s legacies from his mother. Bard was entitled to sell the land and retain the proceeds, as well as the legacies from Mary Rankin, to apply to David’s debt. Bard was to use any surplus to purchase “lands to the west.” Bard was to hold that land in trust for the maintenance of Fanny and her children. Bard purchased a tract in Rostraver Township, Westmoreland County, called the “Dailey Farm.” For reasons unknown, David’s debts to Bard weren’t repaid until the Dailey Farm was resold.[8]

By at least 1830, the family had moved to Westmoreland.[9] David’s financial troubles must not have tarnished his reputation, because he was apparently a justice there.[10] From Westmoreland, the Rankins moved to Allen County, Indiana.[11] Finally, the family relocated to Des Moines County, Iowa Territory about 1838.[12] In 1844, the Rankins executed a deed from Iowa confirming the prior sale of the Dailey Farm to Gilbert Beck.[13] The entire family (including two living sons-in-law) acknowledged the deed to Beck in Burlington, Iowa. Only Fanny, who apparently died before 1840, and Adam John Rankin, who died in 1842, were not parties to the 1844 deed.

Voilà! Three deeds identified this entire family and unlocked its path westward. If you’re interested in this Rankin family, please thank Jessica Guyer.

The children

Finally, here are David and Fanny’s nine children. I drilled down in the records just far enough to help you (I hope) easily track this family if you wish. Except for Betsey, I didn’t find any good stories, so these are just bare facts.

  • William Rankin, b. 5 Jan 1807, Franklin Co., PA, d. 2 Jan 1873 Des Moines Co., IA.[14] He was listed in two censuses in Huron Township, Des Moines Co. with his wife Martha Jane Gray[15] and their children Frances Elizabeth (“Libby”) Rankin, Samuel Bruce Rankin, and Areta Catherine Rankin Tewksbury.[16] William’s sister Betsey’s will (see next child) named all three children and helped flesh out their full names.[17]
  • Elizabeth “Betsey” Rankin was born sometime between 1802 and 1807, Franklin Co., PA, and died 5 July 1888 in Des Moines Co.[18] Betsey left a remarkable will identifying two of her three sisters, four of her five brothers, a host of nieces and nephews, and some of her siblings’ grandchildren.[19] Betsey left cash legacies to all of them. Unfortunately, her estate assets consisted of notes, primarily on family members. Most of the notes were barred by the statute of limitations because they were long since overdue. Some were uncollectable. As a result, the administration of Betsey’s estate consisted primarily of (1) collecting on the few good notes, (2) paying $500 to her brother Archibald for taking care of her during the last five years of her long life, (3) payment to the administrator for his work, (4) obtaining releases from beneficiaries who agreed to waive payment of their legacies in exchange for forgiveness of their notes, and (5) paying one or two small legacies. Betsey and her administrator went to a lot of trouble that resulted in virtually no financial benefit to her family. Her big probate file, however, is a wonderful legacy for Rankin researchers.
  • Martha C. Rankin, b. Franklin Co., PA abt. 1805-1806. She married a Mr. Sweeny/Swenny/Sweeney, given name unknown. She probably married in Indiana, because her one child was born there. Martha was living with her father David in 1850 in Des Moines,[20] and with her daughter and sister Betsey in 1856.[21] Her only known child was Frances C. Sweeny, born in Indiana about 1836.
  • Mary H. Rankin, b. Franklin Co., PA 6 Feb 1809, d. Iowa 12 Nov 1885.[22] Her husband was James Bruce. Taken together, the census records from 1850 through 1870 suggest their children were (1) Martha (“Mattie”) Bruce, b. 1842, (2) Lawrence H. C. Bruce, b. 1844, (3) David R. (Rankin) Bruce, b. 1846, (4) Sarah Bruce, b. 1849, and (5) Margaret Bruce, b. 1851.[23] Betsey named all of them except Lawrence, who probably predeceased her, in her will. Betsey identified Mary Bruce’s married daughters as M. B. Bruce Cartwright (Martha), S. J. (Sarah Jane) Bruce Yost, and M. B. (Margaret) Bruce Crowder. Online trees name a dizzying array of additional children for James and Mary, most of which are error.
  • Dougal/Dugal Campbell Rankin, b. Franklin Co. about 1811-1812, d. Yellow Springs Township, Des Moines Co., IA, 21 Feb 1885.[24] His wife was Mary Johnson. He is buried in the Round Prairie Presbyterian Cemetery in Des Moines Co., although there is apparently no image of his tombstone available. Census records from 1860 through 1880 suggest their children were (1) David C. Rankin, b. abt. 1853, (2) Hezekiah Johnson Rankin, b. abt 1855, (3) Sarah F. Rankin, b. abt. 1858, and (4) John William Rankin, b. abt. 1860.[25] Dougal was still alive when his sister Betsey wrote her will, so she named Dougal rather than his children as her beneficiary.
  • Frances Rankin, baptized 9 May 1814 in the Presbyterian Church of the Upper West Conococheague (the “Upper West Church”) near Mercersburg, Franklin Co., PA.[26] Frances married James Waddle.[27] The only record I have for this couple is the 1856 Iowa State Census in Yellow Springs Township, Des Moines County.[28] He was a merchant. The couple had no children, so far as I know. Her sister Betsey Rankin’s will didn’t mention either Frances or any children.
  • David Huston Rankin was baptized 28 Apr 1817 in the Upper West Church. He married Mary A. Oliver on 5 Jun 1844 in Des Moines.[29] The couple is listed in the census for Des Moines Co. in 1850 and 1860.[30] They moved to Garnett, Anderson Co., KS by 1870, where David was an innkeeper. The 1870 census and his sister Betsey’s will suggest that David and Mary had two daughters: Martha (“Mattie”) C. Rankin Osborne and Fannie Rankin Rice.[31] Fannie married James Wesley Rice, the Garnett postmaster, and had a son named Rankin Rice. David died on 19 Jan 1874 and is buried in the Garnett Cemetery in Anderson Co.[32] There was apparently an obituary for him, although I have not found it.
  • Archibald Rankin, b. 1 Aug 1819, Franklin Co., PA, baptized 10 Oct 1819 in the Upper West Church. Died 4 Mar 1889 in Kossuth, Des Moines Co., IA. Wife Lydia Blair. They had three daughters: Elizabeth J. Rankin, b. abt 1854, Frances M. Rankin, b. abt 1858, and Martha Catharine Rankin, baptized on 7 Apr 1866 in the Round Prairie Presbyterian Church.[33] Archibald is buried in the Kossuth Cemetery in Mediapolis, Des Moines Co.[34]
  • Adam John Rankin, b. 29 Dec 1821, Franklin Co., baptized 13 Feb 1822 in the Upper West Church, d. 8 Jul 1842. Apparently never married. Buried in the  Round Prairie Presbyterian Cemetery in Des Moines County along with other Rankins.

And that may be more than I actually know about David and Frances Campbell Rankin’s family.

See you on down the road.

Robin

[1] See blog articles about the “follow the land” theory of genealogical research  here  and here.

[2] Here is  a link to the previous article about Lt. Robert Rankin and his wife Margaret “Peggy” (no middle name Kendall) Berry.

[3] 1810 census, Antrim Twp., Franklin Co., David Rankin, 10020-31111; 1820 census, Peters Twp., Franklin, David Rankin, 310010-12022; Franklin Deed Book 14: 266, deed dated 28 Aug 1827 from David and wife Frances Rankin of Montgomery Twp.

[4] The Pennsylvania Archives confused William and Mary Huston Rankin’s son David (married to Frances Campbell) with his cousin David. The latter David was a son of James Sr. and Jean Rankin, also of Franklin Co. See the 1792 will of William Rankin of Antrim Township naming inter alia his wife Mary and his son David, Franklin Will Book A: 256, and the 1788 will of James Rankin Sr. of Montgomery Township naming inter alia his wife Jean and son David, Franklin Will Book A: 345. David’s approximate birth year is established by the 1850 census for Des Moines Co., IA, and his Iowa tombstone. The article addressing the Archives error can be found at this link. .

[5] The identity of Fanny’s father is established by a deed. Franklin Co., PA Deed Book 14:245, quitclaim deed dated 5 Dec 1827 from the children of John Beatty to David and Frances Rankin and Archibald Bard. The deed recites that Dongal [sic,Dugal or Dougal] Campbell died intestate owning 400 acres. The tract descended “in coparcenary” to his daughters Frances Campbell Rankin (wife of David Rankin) and Elizabeth Campbell Beatty (wife of John Beatty). Each sister’s share was called a “purpart.” If you know what those terms mean, you need to get a life! “Coparcenary” described the ownership of land that two sisters inherited from their father who died intestate with no male heirs. “Purpart” means each sister’s share. Fanny’s share of the coparcenary tract was held in trust by Bard (see Note 6) to secure debts David owed to him. The Beatty children promised in the quitclaim deed not to make any claim to Fanny’s purpart.

[6] Franklin Co., PA Deed Book 14: 97, deed of trust (“DOT”) dated Dec 1826 from David Rankin and wife Frances of Montgomery Twp. to Archibald Bard, Esq. The DOT secured David’s debts to Bard with the coparcenary tract and legacies bequeathed by Mary Rankin to some of David and Frances’s children. I have not been able to find Mary (Huston) Rankin’s will. Insert obscenity of your choice.

[7] Westmoreland Co., PA Deed Book 29: 470, reciting that Bard had judgments against David of $1,602.91, plus “other moneys owing and due.”

[8] Id., deed dated 27 Mar 1832 from David Rankin and his wife Frances of Rostraver Township in Westmoreland Co. and Archibald Bard of Franklin Co., grantors, to William Rankin and Dugell (sic) Rankin, sons of David. The deed recites the terms of the Franklin Co. deed of trust (Franklin Co., PA Deed Book 14: 97), stating that Bard could satisfy David’s debts with proceeds from the sale of the coparcenary tract and the legacies Mary Rankin left to David’s children. Money left over was to be invested by Bard in “lands to the west to be conveyed to and vested in Bard” for the support of Frances and her children. Apparently, the debts were not repaid from the sale of the coparcenary tract. Instead, Bard contracted with a Philadelphia bank to purchase a tract in Westmoreland Co. The deed provided that (1) the Dailey Farm would be sold to Gilbert Beck, (2) Archibald Bard would be repaid from the proceeds and released of his trustee duties, (3) Gilbert Beck would pay to William and Dougal Rankin the legacies from Mary Rankin, and (4) the residue from the sale would be used to buy “lands to the west.” Newly purchased land was to be conveyed to William and Dougal in trust for the use of Frances Rankin and her children and heirs. There is a lot going on in that deed. I recommend you read the original if you are interested in this family.

[9] Id. Grantors David and Frances Rankin were “of” Restraver Parish, Westmoreland Co. in 1832. See also the 1830 census, Westmoreland Co., PA, Rostraver Twp., listing for David Rankin, Esqr., 01211001-00022001.

[10] See 1830 census, Note 9. Usually, the honorific “Esquire” was reserved for judges. I have not confirmed that in Westmoreland court records.

[11] Westmoreland Co., PA Deed Book 29: 470-71, deed dated 26 Mar 1834 from “Sundry Rankins,” as the deed book calls them: David, Frances (Sr.), William, Betsey, Martha, Mary, Frances (Jr.), David H. (Huston), and Dougel C. (Campbell) Rankin of Indiana, grantors, to Gilbert Beck, the Dailey Farm. The Rankins acknowledged the deed in Allen Co., Indiana.

[12] 1856 Iowa State Census, listing #198 for James Waddle, 45, merchant, b. OH, and Frances (Rankin) Waddle, 43, b. PA; both have resided in Iowa for 18 years; listing #199, Elizabeth Rankin, 50, b. PA, and Martha C. (Rankin) Sweeny, 48, b. PA, both have resided in Iowa 18 years, with Frances C. Sweeny, 20 (Martha’s daughter), b. Indiana abt. 1836.

[13] Westmoreland Co., PA Deed Book 29: 471-72, deed dated 24 Feb 1844 from David Rankin, Betsey Rankin, Martha Sweney (whose husband must have been deceased, since he was not a party), William Rankin, James Bruce and wife Mary (Rankin) Bruce, Dugal Campbell Rankin, James Waddle and wife  Francis (Rankin) Waddle, David Huston Rankin, and Archibald Rankin, all of Des Moines County, Iowa Territory, to Gilbert Beck. This deed simply confirms the sale of the Dailey Farm to Beck, who complained that he had never received a deed. The entire Rankin family signed the deed except for Frances (Sr.), who probably died in Indiana, and the Rankins’ youngest son John Adam Rankin, who died in 1842.

[14] Find-a-grave image of William Rankin’s tombstone, Round Prairie Presbyterian Cemetery, Des Moines at this link.

[15] Martha Jane  Rankin’s tombstone in the Kossoth Cemetery in Mediaopolis, IA is inscribed “wife of William Rankin.”

[16] 1860 census, Huron Twp., Des Moines, IA, dwelling #91, William Rankin, 53, $5,700/$700, b. PA, Martha Rankin 27, b. Illinois, Frances Rankin, 5, b. IA, and Samuel Rankin, 4, b. IA; 1870 census, Huron Twp., dwelling 72, William Rankin, 63, farmer, b. PA, $8800/$1825, Martha Jane Rankin, 34, b. Illinois, Elizabeth Rankin, 15, b. IA, Samuel B. Rankin, 14, farm hand, b. IA, Areta Rankin, 3?, female, b. IA.

[17] See Note 19 for Betsey’s beneficiaries. Here is a find-a-grave image of Samuel Bruce Rankin’s tombstone Samuel Bruce Rankin’s tombstone  and one for his sister Areta Rankin Tewksbury.

[18] Betsey’s birth years in the census vary between 1802 and 1807. In the 1856 Iowa state census, she was age 50 (born about 1806); 1860 Des Moines census, age 57 (born about 1803); 1870 Des Moines Co. census, age 67 (born about 1807); 1880 Des Moines census, age 78 (about 1802); 1885 Iowa State census, age 83 (1802). Find-a-Grave doesn’t have an image of Betsy’s tombstone, but claims her death is recorded in the register of Round Prairie Cemetery in Des Moines and that she was born in February 1803.

[19] Images of original records available online at FamilySearch.org: Des Moines Co., IA Probate records, Film #007594729, image #315 et seq. Will of Betsy Rankin of Des Moines Co. dated 29 Nov 1881, proved 17 Sep 1888, recorded in Will Book D: 111. Beneficiaries: sister Mary Bruce; brothers D. C. Rankin (Dougal Campbell) and Archibald Rankin; children of William Rankin, dec’d (S. Bruce Rankin, Libbie Rankin, and Areta Rankin); Martha C. Osborne, daughter of David H. Rankin, dec’d, and Rankin Rice, grandson of David H. Rankin; John W. Rhea, grandson of sister Martha C. Sweeney, dec’d. James Bruce, brother-in-law, executor. By the time the will was probated, James Bruce had died, so the court appointed William Harper, administrator with the will annexed. Administrator’s bond named her heirs as (1) brother A. Rankin, (2) deceased brother William Rankin’s children (Frances E. Rankin, Samuel B. Rankin, and A. C. Tewksbury); (3) children of deceased sister M. H. Bruce (D. B. Bruce, M. B. Cartwright, S. J. Yost? and M. B. Crowder); (4) children of deceased brother D. C. (Dougal Campbell) Rankin (D. C. Rankin, H. J. Rankin, Sarah F. Rankin, and J. W. Rankin); (5) Martha C. Osborne, daughter of deceased brother D. H. (David Huston) Rankin, and Rankin Rice, grandson of D. H. Rankin; and (6) John W. Rhea, grandson of deceased sister Martha C. Sweeney.

[20] 1850 census, Huron Twp, Des Moines Co., IA, dwelling #496: David Rankin, 73, farmer, b. PA (abt 1777), $2800, with Martha Rankin, 35, PA, Dugald Camel (sic, Campbell), 30, PA, and Frances Camel (sic), 14, Indiana. I believe that Dugald is actually a Rankin – Dougal Campbell Rankin, son of David. Martha Rankin is probably David’s daughter Martha Rankin Sweeney. Frances Campbell is probably Martha’s daughter Frances C. Sweeney. Considering other information, that seems the most sensible way to interpret that otherwise baffling census listing.

[21] 1856 Iowa State Census, listing #199: Elizabeth Rankin, 50, PA, b. abt 1806. Has resided in Iowa 18 years. Martha C. (Rankin) Sweeny, 48, PA, b. abt 1808. Also resided in Iowa 18 years. Frances C. Sweeny, 20, b. Indiana about 1836.

[22] The Find-a-Grave image of the Bruces’ tombstone incorrectly names Mary’s mother as Frances Huston rather than Frances Campbell Rankin.

[23] See 1850 census, Yellow Springs Township, Des Moines Co., IA, household of James Bruce, 30, farmer, $2,000, b. OH, Mary (Rankin) Bruce, 30 (wrong age), Martha Bruce, 8, Lawrence Bruce, 6, David Bruce, 4, and Sarah Bruce, 1, all children b. IA; 1856 Iowa State Census, Yellow Springs Twp., James Bruce, 42, b. VA, Mary Bruce, 45, b. PA, Martha E. Bruce, 14, L.H.C. (Lawrence) Bruce, 12, David R. Bruce, 10, Sarah J. Bruce, 7, and Margaret Bruce;  1860 census, Des Moines, Yellow Springs Twp., dwl 249, James Bruce, 46, farmer, b. VA, Mary Bruce, 50, PA, Martha Bruce, 17, Florence (sic, Lawrence ) Bruce, 16, David Bruce, 14, Sarah Bruce, 11, and Margaret Bruce, 9, all children b. Iowa; 1870 census, Yellow Springs Twp., dwl 252, James Bruce, 56, $6525/2010, Mary H. Bruce, 60, PA, Mattie Bruce, 28, IA, and Margarite Bruce, 19, IA (adjacent the household of David R. Bruce, 25, and Ellen Bruce, 25).

[24] FHL Film #956344, Iowa Deaths and Burials, 1850 – 1990.

[25] 1860 census, Kossuth PO, Yellow Springs Township, Des Moines, household of Dugald Rankin, 43, farmer, b. PA, Mary Rankin, 36, b. PA, David Rankin, 7, b. IA, Johnson Rankin, 5, IA, Sarah Rankin, 2, IA, and William Rankin, 10 months, IA. 1870 census, Yellow Springs, household of D. C. Rankin, 58, $4,860/$1500, b. PA, David C. Rankin, 17, Hezekiah J. Rankin, 15, Sarah F. Rankin, 12, John W. Rankin, 10, all children b. IA. 1880 census, Yellow Springs, household of D. C. Rankin, 69, widowed, b. PA, parents b. PA, son David C. Rankin, 27, farmer, and son Hezekiah J. Rankin, 25, teacher.

[26] The source for the baptism records is the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, Historic Pennsylvania Church and Town Records. A database containing those records is available online at Ancestry.com and is titled “Pennsylvania and New Jersey Church and Town Records, 1669-2013.” Frances Rankin, David Huston Rankin, Archibald Rankin, and Adam John Rankin are listed as children of David Rankin, along with their baptism dates, for the Presbyterian Church of the Upper West Conococheague.

[27] Westmoreland Co., PA Deed Book 29: 471-472, the 1844 deed from “Sundry Rankins” to Gilbert Beck signed inter alia by James Waddle and wife Frances (Rankin) Waddle.

[28] 1856 Iowa State Census, Yellow Springs Twp., Des Moines Co., listing for James Waddle, 45, merchant, b. OH. Has resided in Iowa 18 years. Frances (Rankin) Waddle, 43, b. PA, has also resided in Iowa for 18 years.

[29] Compiled Iowa Marriages, available online at Ancestry.com.

[30] 1850 census, Yellow Springs Twp., Des Moines, IA, David H. Rankin, 33, farmer, $1000, b. PA, dwl #393, Mary Ann Rankin, 32, NJ?, Margret Rankin, 4, IA, Martha Rankin, 2, IA, Samuel Dickey, 40, PA, Rebecca Dickie, 36, PA, and William Dickie, 14, Indiana; 1860 census, Huron Twp, Des Moines Co., IA, dwelling #122 (adjacent Archibald Rankin): David Rankin, 43, farmer, b. PA, Mary Rankin, 40, b. NJ, Margaret Rankin, 14, IA, and Martha Rankin, 12, IA.

[31] 1870 census, Garnett, Anderson Co., KS, David Rankin, 53, b. PA, hotel keeper, $6800/1200, listed with (among others) May A. Rankin, 52, b. NJ, Mattie C. Rankin, 21, IA, James W. Rice, 33, postmaster, and Fannie? Rice, 24, b. IA. Betsey Rankin’s will named David’s daughter Martha C. Osborne and David’s grandson Rankin Rice.

[32] Here is an image of David Huston Rankin’s tombstone in Garnett Cemetery, Anderson Co., KS  at the Find-a-Grave website..

[33] 1860 census, Huron Twp, Des Moines Co., IA, dwelling #123, household of Archibald Rankin, 41, $2,500/$805, b. PA, Lydia Rankin, 35?, b. IL, Elizabeth Rankin, 4, IA, and Frances M. Rankin, 2, IA. 1870 census, Huron Twp., Archibald Rankin, 50, $500/$2100, b. PA. dwl 107, Lydia Rankin, 48, b. IL, Elizabeth J. Rankin, 14, IA, Frances M. Rankin, 12, IA, and Martha C. Rankin, 4, IA. 1880 census, Huron Twp., Des Moines Co., IA, Archibald Rankin, 61, b. PA, parents b. PA, farmer, Lydia Rankin, wife, 58, and daughters Elizabeth J., 24, Frances M. 21, and Martha C., 14

[34] Here is an image of Archibald’s tombstone.  I have no idea where anyone came up with the middle name “August” (some online trees show it as “Augustus”). Arch was baptized in the Upper West Conococheague Church along with two brothers whose baptism records expressly list their middle names (David Huston Rankin and Adam John Rankin). If Archibald ever had a middle name, it would surely have shown up in those church records. It’s a good thing there is only one more child, because I’m starting to get cranky.

My hair’s on fire: “just the facts, ma’am,” Lt. Robert Rankin (part 1 of 5)

CORRECTION, May 2020: while doing research for another post in this series, I discovered an error in an article about Robert in the Handbook of Texas Online. He did NOT enlist in the 3rd Virginia Regiment. That error is repeated below in an article in the Handbook of Texas Online, which I quoted in full. He actually enlisted in the Maryland and Virginia Rifle Regiment, a unit which was independent of state control. Thereafter, he served in the 11th, 7th, and 1st Virginia regiments. No military records provide evidence that he ever served Robert in the 3rd Virginia. Likewise, the Handbook article is wrong or at best misleading on when he was promoted to Lieutenant. Actually, his promotion was made retroactive to a date prior to Charleston. For detail on his military history, please see Part 4 of this series.

And so much for my promise that this post contained “just the facts.” Now, back to the original post … ________________________________________

The title of this post doesn’t do justice to the Southern roots of the “hair” idiom. It should be rendered phonetically: “mah har’s on far.”

What does it mean? It is clearly intended to convey a sense of urgency. A feeling of being overwhelmed gets to the essence.

The Rankin families of the Northern Neck of Virginia are guaranteed fire starters in the “overwhelming” sense. There are too many Rankin records in too many counties, with too many interconnected families[1] along for the ride. There is also a prodigious amount of hogwash about at least one of these Rankins.

I flailed about in county records (no hogwash there) for Northern Neck Rankins several years ago. Mah har caught far and I abandoned them on some flimsy pretext. This time around, I vowed to limit my research to Robert Rankin (1753-1837), a Revolutionary War soldier buried in the Texas State Cemetery in Austin. Lieutenant was his highest rank in the Revolution, so I will call him Lt. Robert. My sole objective was to prove his parents. Spoiler alert: hahahahaha! And that vow didn’t last long, as I veered off into Lt. Robert’s military history and his brother William.

As a result, Lt. Robert’s story has several parts. I plan to spread them out over several posts (it now looks like five) along the following lines:

  • This post (part 1), subtitled “just the facts, ma’am,” invokes Sgt. Joe Friday of “Dragnet.”[2] With him in mind, you can take to the bank the facts in this post about Lt. Robert and his children. There are two exceptions: (1) the correction I noted at the top of this article and (2) a legend regarding events that took place in 1936, when Lt. Robert’s remains were removed from Coldspring, Texas to the Texas State Cemetery. Like most oral retellings, it probably contains elements of both truth and fiction. You be the judge.
  • Next, three posts (parts 2 through 4) titled about the military service of Lt. Robert and his brother William. Part 2 will focus almost entirely on the relevant military history. Parts 3 and 4 will cover the brother’s individual war stories. We will see how some claims from the family’s oral history stand up against the military records. If you want to continue believing that George Washington personally handed Lt. Robert his discharge papers and called him “Colonel,” you might want to skip that post.
  • Finally, Part 5, the pièce de résistance: who were Lt. Robert Rankin’s parents? You can decide whether any (or none) of the proposed answers are satisfactory.

Let’s start with an article about Lt. Robert in the Handbook of Texas Online.[3] It succinctly covers the essential facts (with one error, as noted above) and includes some informative links.[4]

 “RANKIN, ROBERT (1753–1837). Revolutionary War veteran Robert Rankin was born in the colony of Virginia in 1753. He entered the service of the Continental Army in 1776 with the Third Regiment of the Virginia line and participated in the battles of Germantown, Brandywine, and Stony Point, as well as the siege of Charleston, where he was captured; he remained a prisoner of war until exchanged, at which time he received a promotion to lieutenant. On October 1, 1781, during a furlough, he married Margaret (Peggy) Berry in Frederick County, Virginia. He returned to active duty on October 15 and served until the war’s end. Robert and Margaret Rankin had three daughters and seven sons, one of whom was Frederick Harrison Rankin. The family moved to Kentucky in 1784. In 1786 Rankin was named by the Virginia legislature as one of nine trustees for the newly established town of Washington, in Bourbon County (later Mason County), Kentucky. In 1792 he served as a delegate from Mason County to the Danville Convention, which drafted the first constitution of Kentucky. He also became an elector of the Kentucky Senate of 1792. The last mention of Rankin in Mason County, Kentucky, is in the 1800 census. The Rankins moved to Logan County, Kentucky, in 1802 and to the Tombigbee River in Mississippi Territory in 1811; the area of their home eventually became Washington County, Alabama. Four of the Rankin sons fought in the War of 1812. The family suffered a severe financial reversal around 1819–20, probably in conjunction with land speculation and the panic of 1819. In July 1828 Rankin first made an application for a pension for his Revolutionary War service.

In 1832 the Rankins moved to Joseph Vehlein‘s colony in Texas, along with the William Butler and Peter Cartwright families. Rankin was issued a certificate of character by Jesse Grimes on November 3, 1834, as required by the Mexican government. He applied for a land grant in Vehlein’s colony on November 13 of the same year and received a league and labor in October 1835.[5] The town of Coldspring, San Jacinto County, is located on Rankin’s original grant. Rankin had the reputation of being a just and diplomatic man. He was a friend of Sam Houston, and his influence with the Indians in the region was well known. Houston reputedly called upon him in the spring of 1836 to encourage neutrality among the Indians during the crucial Texan retreat toward San Jacinto. Toward the end of 1836 Rankin became ill, and he and his wife moved to St. Landry parish, Louisiana, where he died on November 13, 1837.[6] His body was brought back to the family home near Coldspring, in the new Republic of Texas, and buried in the old Butler Cemetery. In 1936 he was reinterred at the State Cemetery in Austin. His widow lived in Texas with her sons, William and Frederick, in Polk, Montgomery, and Liberty counties until her death sometime after December 1852.”

Besides being a Lieutenant in the Revolutionary War, Lt. Robert was a Colonel in the Kentucky militia, commander of a group of scouts.[7] He was a clerk of court in Mason County.[8] Lt. Robert was plainly an accomplished, admired, and well-liked man. The documents in the huge pension file establish that Peggy and her sons were also highly regarded. The couple lived in Frederick County, VA; Bourbon, Mason, and Logan Counties, KY (Bourbon and Mason while they were still part of the “Kentucky District, State of Virginia); Mississippi Territory; Washington Co., AL; Texas Territory when it was still part of Mexico; the Republic of Texas; and St. Landry Parish, LA, where Lt. Robert died.[9] Peggy also lived in the state of Texas after it was admitted to the Union in 1845.

Lt. Robert and Peggy Rankin’s three daughters and seven sons are conclusively proved. The first eight children and their dates of birth are established by a transcribed page from the family Bible that is included in Peggy’s 1844 application for a widow’s pension.[10] Peggy’s will named the two children who weren’t included in the Bible record.[11]  The ten children:

  1. Thomas Berry Rankin (Sr.) was born in Virginia, 17 May 1783; he was named for his maternal grandfather. He and his younger brother Joseph both died in 1813 at Ft. Mims during the Redstick War.[12] Thomas B. and/or Joseph Rankin had sons (and perhaps other children) who also came to Texas prior to its independence from Mexico in March 1836. Character certificates in the Texas General Land Office provide their likely identities: James Rankin Jr. and William Rankin.[13]
  2. Elizabeth Rankin was born 27 Jan 1785, also in Virginia. I have found no further record of Elizabeth. She may have been one of the four Rankin children who had died before Peggy Rankin filed her 1844 pension application.
  3. William Marshall Rankin was born 24 Aug 1786 in Bourbon Co., VA.[14] His wife was Sarah Landrum. Four related Rankin/Landrum families all arrived in Texas in January, 1830:[15] (1) William Marshall and Sarah Landrum Rankin, (2) Sarah’s parents Zachariah and Lettice Landrum, (3) William’s sister Frances Rankin Huburt and her husband M. Huburt, and (4) a second William Rankin, who was almost certainly a son of one of the two Rankins who died at Ft. Mims. William and Sarah Landrum Rankin were in Montgomery Co., TX in the 1850 census.
  4. Joseph Rankin was born 4 Nov 1788 in Kentucky. He died at Ft. Mims.[16]
  5. John Keith Rankin fought in the War of 1812d; he was born 5 Jan 1791 in Kentucky. He and his wife Elizabeth Butler moved from Washington Co., Alabama to Hinds County, Mississippi (later Rankin County, which was not named for John Keith). The couple moved to Texas during the 1840s, lived briefly in Polk County, then moved to DeWitt County. He died there on 17 Nov 1884. He and Elizabeth had eight children: (1) Moses Butler, (2) Mary, (3) Masena, (4) James, (5) Samuel, (6) Mary Ann, (7) Robert, and (8) Malinda Rankin.[17]
  6. James Rankin Sr.[18] was born 27 Jun 1792 in Kentucky. He died in Texas before 26 Apr 1847, when his mother Peggy wrote her will naming her grandchildren John B. Rankin, Berry Rankin, Peggy Rankin, and Rebecca Rankin, children of her son James Rankin, dec’d.[19]
  7. Frederick Harrison Rankin was born Feb. 15, 1794 in Kentucky and died July 2, 1874 in Ellis County, Texas. He received title to land that is now in Harris County as one of Stephen F. Austin’s “Old Three Hundred” colonists. He is on one or more 1826 tax lists in “Austins Colony, Texas Territory” and/or “Austin, Mexicounty Territory.”[20] In 1936, Texas erected a joint monument to Frederick and his wife Elizabeth Smith in the Myrtle Cemetery in Ennis, Ellis Co., TX. Frederick and Elizabeth had eight children: (1) Harriet, (2) Robert S., (3) Napoleon Bonaparte, (4) Emily, (5) Mollie, (6) Alexander, (7) Austin, and (8) a child who died as an infant. [21]
  8. Henry Rankin was born 7 Feb 1796 in Kentucky. I found no further record for Henry. He may have been one of the four Rankin children who had died by 1844.
  9. Massena Rankin McCombs, wife of Samuel McCombs.[22] Her first husband was a Mr. Brown.
  10. Frances Rankin Hubert also came to Texas in 1830.[23]

Finally, I promised a story about the removal of Lt. Robert’s remains from Coldspring, Texas to the Texas State Cemetery in 1936. I heard it from Mary Buller, a serious Rankin researcher descended from Lt. Robert and Peggy through one of their sons who died at Ft. Mims. Mary heard the story in a telephone conversation with a woman I will call “Faye.” If Faye is still alive, she is in her nineties. She is (or was) a local historian in Coldspring, TX.

Faye said that the family’s side of the re-interment project was spearheaded by a “hoity-toity DAR type,” despite opposition from Lt. Robert’s descendants still living in the Coldspring area. The DAR lady was insistent. The descendants capitulated.[24]

Faye told Mary she doesn’t believe that Lt. Robert is actually buried in the Texas State Cemetery. Instead, she thought, his remains probably didn’t make it back to Texas from Louisiana. She explained that during the 1936 disinterment at the Butler Cemetery in Coldspring, the coffin fell open and a skeleton toppled out. Family members and curiosity seekers were there, according to Faye. The men rushed to put the remains back in the coffin. One man, a dentist, opined that the skeleton’s teeth were not those of an 80-year-old man. They were more like the teeth of a man in his thirties, he said.

According to Faye, the family remained silent – in my imagination, they were all dressed in black and had somber, stoic expressions – and the removal continued. Faye thought that lack of refrigeration in 1837 would have discouraged shipping Lt. Robert’s remains from St. Landry Parish to Coldspring, a distance of more than 200 miles. She didn’t have an opinion on who is buried in the Texas State Cemetery, but the dental evidence convinced her it isn’t Lt. Robert.

There is also the possibility of poor grave location records in what was initially a family cemetery.

Take that for what it’s worth: oral history from someone who was old enough to have heard it from a participant. It may be the most colorful family legend I’ve ever heard.

More to come on Lt. Robert. See you on down the road.

Robin

[1] Families connected to the Northern Neck Rankins include Woffendalls (various spellings), Marshalls, Harrisons, Berrys, Keiths, Kendalls, and Keys.

[2] The original “Dragnet” aired during the 1950s. If you didn’t get the reference, you are clearly younger than I. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dragnet_(1951_TV_series)

[3] Ann Patton Malone, Handbook of Texas Online, “RANKIN, ROBERT,” accessed January 31, 2020, https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fra40.

[4] I must comment on the link to the state cemetery in Austin, lest your preconceived notions about Texas get even worse. Andrew Forest Muir, Handbook of Texas Online, STATE CEMETERY, accessed Feb. 18, 2020, https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/les02. The Handbook cites a 1970 article from the Austin American Statesman. The article sounds as though the cemetery is populated entirely by old white men and Confederate soldiers. Although that is substantially correct numerically, it doesn’t include recent notable additions. Governor Ann Richards is buried there, with a characteristically unique, swirly, white marble tombstone. So is Don Baylor, an African-American who was a member of the 1987 World Series champion Minnesota Twins and American League MVP in 1989. Representative Barbara Jordan is also buried there. Her oratory and distinctive voice at the 1974 Watergate hearings in the House Judiciary Committee are unforgettable (“My faith in the Constitution is whole, it is total, it is complete …”). Tom Landry and Darrell Royal are also buried in the State Cemetery, introduction probably not necessary. There is a tombstone for former Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson, still living, and her husband, who died in 2014. A former Harris County GOP bigwig said the Senator was “so tough you could strike a match on her backside.” Having survived the oil and gas business from 1974-1987, it seems to me that is probably a truism for most women our age who worked in non-traditional professions.

[5] “League” and “labor” refer to the acreage in a grant. A labor was 177 acres and a league was 4,428 acres.  https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fau14

[6] All sources agree that Lt. Robert died in November, 1837. However, three different specific dates appear in his pension file, number w26365 (cited hereafter as “Pension File;” images are available online at Fold.3/Ancestry.) Peggy’s 1844 pension declaration gives Lt. Robert’s date of death as November 13.  I would bet she knew exactly what day her husband of 56 years died. Pension File p. 15 et seq.

[7] Robert enlisted in the Revolutionary War as a private, was promoted to Ensign, and ended the war as a Lieutenant. If you don’t have a Fold.3/Ancestry subscription so that you can view the entire Pension File, see Will Graves’ partial transcription at https://revwarapps.org/w26365.pdf. See also Murtie June Clark, American Militia in the Frontier Wars, 1790-1796 (Baltimore: Clearfield Publishing Co., Inc., 1990) at p. 1, identifying a regiment of scouts for Mason Co., KY commanded by Col. Robert Rankin.

[8] See, e.g., Mason Co., KY Deed Book A: 171, deed dated 26 Nov 1789 from the trustees of Charles Town in Mason Co. (including Robert Rankins) to Henry Berry, lots in Charleston. The Clerk of Court was Robert Rankins.

[9] I began inserting footnotes proving that Lt. Robert actually resided in all of those places. It quickly got out of hand, partly because jurisdictions changed even though the location may not have. With one excessively long footnote already (the comments on the Texas State Cemetery), I decided to omit the citations. If anyone needs evidence, you know how to reach me.

[10] Transcription from Rankin Bible. Pension File at p. 24. This was obviously not a verbatim transcription: the transcribed added “Sr.” to the names of Thomas Berry and James Rankin. Those designations would not have been added until a later generation of the family had men by those names.

[11] Will of Peggy Rankin dated 26 Apr 1847, proved 25 Oct 1858, Polk Co., TX, Will Book A: 28. Peggy made bequests to her sons Frederick H. Rankin and William M. Rankin and daughters Frances Huburt and Massena McCombs. She also named grandchildren John B. Rankin, Berry Rankin, Peggy Rankin, and Rebecca Rankin, children of her deceased son James Rankin. She appointed her sons William M. and John executors.

[12] See, e.g., Gregory A. Waselkov, A Conquering Spirit: Fort Mims and the Redstick War of 1813-1814 (Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 2006), Appendix #1, p. 250-51. It identifies Joseph Rankin as a “Tombigbee resident, born in Kentucky, brother of Thomas Berry Rankin.” The book also lists Thomas B. among those who died at Ft. Mims. The book has two errors about the Rankin family. First, it identifies Joseph and Thomas B.’s father as “Richard Robert Rankin.” I’ve never seen a record in which Lt. Robert appears by any name other than Robert, and there are many records for this man. Second, the book names Lt. Robert’s wife as “Margaret Kendall Rankin.” I have found no evidence for that middle name, either. I am 99% certain that both “Richard” and “Kendall” are incorrect.

[13] See Gifford E. White, Character Certificates in the General Land Office of Texas (Austin: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1985). White’s (apparently assigned) No. 1660 says: “San Felipe de Austin, 10 Jun 1830. To Mr. S. F. Austin, Empresario. I have emigrated to this Colony… my name is James Rankin. Age 22 years. Single. My father is dead and I have no parent in this Country to represent me. I removed from Alabama, arrived in this colony in 1827. Occupation farmer. Signed James Rankin Junior.” See also No. 1663, “To Mr. S. F. Austin, Empressario (no date). I have emigrated to this Colony. William Rankin 21 years old. Unmarried. An orphan. From Alabama and arrived in this colony in January 1830.” See also Note 15: William Rankin, age 21, arrived in Texas the same month as his likely uncle William Marshall Rankin, likely aunt Frances Rankin Huburt, and William M. Rankin’s in-laws, Zachariah and Lettice Landrum.

[14] The Handbook of Texas Online (see Note 3) says that the Rankin family moved to Kentucky in 1784, suggesting that William Marshall Rankin, born in 1786, was born there. However, the 1850 census for Polk Co., TX identifies William M.’s birth state as Virginia, muddying the issue. The explanation is that William was born in what was then the state of Virginia but is now Mason Co., KY. See G. Glenn Clift, History of Maysville and Mason County, Volume 1 (Lexington, KY: Transylvania Printing Company, Inc., 1936) p. 56. Two days before William was born, Lt. Robert signed a petition from the town of Washington in “the Kentucky area of Virginia” in what was then Bourbon Co., District of KY, state of Virginia. Thanks to Kevin Thompson for the correct information and the source.

[15] Villamae Williams, Stephen F. Austin’s Register Of Families, From The Originals In The General Land Office, Austin, Texas (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1989). Entry No. 392, M. Hubert, 34, wife Frances (Lt. Robert and Peggy’s youngest child), 32, and 2 daughters came from Alabama and arrived in Texas in Jan. 1830; No. 393, Wm. R. Rankin, 43, wife Sarah, 33, two sons, and 2 daughters came from Alabama and arrived in Texas in Jan. 1830; No. 394, Zachariah Landrum, 64, and wife Lettuce (sic, Lettice), came from Alabama and arrived in Texas in Jan. 1830; and No. 395, William Rankin, 21, single, came from Alabama and arrived in Jan. 1830. Records also available online at Ancestry.

[16] See Note 12.

[17] Information for John Keith and Elizabeth Butler Rankin was provided to Louis Wiltz Kemp, a Texas historian, by May Myers Calloway, John Keith’s great-granddaughter. Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas, Austin, papers of Louis Wiltz Kemp, Box 2R232, General Biographical Notebooks, Ranb-Reavis. Viewed Feb. 8, 2020. Cited hereafter as “Kemp papers, Box 2R232.”

[18] A pension abstract by Virgil White and a transcription by Will Graves both show James in the Bible page transcription as James Junior. The image in the Pension File (page 24) appeared to me that both James Rankin and Thomas Berry Rankin were designated as “Sr.” In any event, James, son of Lt. Robert and Peggy, appeared in all other records I found as “Sr.”

[19] See Polk Co., TX, Will Book A: 28, will of Peggy Rankin naming children of her son James Rankin, dec’d: John B. Rankin, Berry Rankin, Peggy Rankin, and Rebecca Rankin.

[20] Online images of tax lists at Ancestry. Frederick Harrison’s family was listed in Polk County, TX in the 1850 census. In 1860 and 1870, they were enumerated in Ellis County, TX.

[21] Kemp papers, Box 2R232.

[22] See Note 11 and the 1850 census of Polk Co., TX, household of S. McCombs, 60, farmer, b. SC, Mathinia [sic] McCombs, 45, b. KY, Jas. McCombs, 14, Mary McCombs, 12, Elizabeth McCombs, 10, and Martha Brown, 18. All children born in Texas. Martha Brown was Massena’s child from a prior marriage.

[23] See Note 15.

[24] There is correspondence about permission for the re-interment among the Kemp papers. I failed to make notes about it when I looked at them. The next time I’m in Austin, I will remedy that error. It might confirm my strong suspicion about the identity of the hoity-toity DAR type.