Autobiography of Rev. John Rankin, Grandson of Robert & Rebecca Rankin of Guilford, NC

I previously promised to reproduce in full H. L. Eads’s transcription of Shaker Rev. John Rankin’s 1845 autobiography. That’s not going to happen, for reasons that will become clear. Instead, this article includes verbatim only the limited genealogical material in the autobiography. It also contains a general overview of the document and some additional details about Rev. John’s family.

Shaker Rev. John (1757–1850)[1] was the elder son of George and Lydia Steele Rankin.[2] He was a grandson of Robert and Rebecca Rankin of Rowan/Guilford Counties, North Carolina.[3] According to the autobiography, Robert, Rebecca, and George were originally from Letterkenny Parish, County Donegal, Ireland, when it was still part of the province of Ulster. Robert and Rebecca were this Rankin family’s immigrant ancestors.

Here’s why I must retract my promise to type Shaker Rev. John’s entire autobiography.[4] It is impenetrably dense prose. It is dreadfully prolix.[5] The content zooms miles past uninteresting and lands squarely in boring. It would surely cause readers to experience MEGO (“My Eyes Glaze Over”). Finally, the type is so blurry it is almost unreadable. My husband Gary described it as “word salad” and quit reading on page two of twenty. I persevered through the entire document and expect to receive some sort of Rankin Family Research prize for doing so. A quart of Visine would be appropriate.

Shaker Rev. John spent the bulk of his autobiography recounting his education, religious development, opinions, and mental state – beginning at age six. He was 88 when he wrote it. His self-absorption and memory are mind-boggling. My overall impression is that the autobiography is primarily theological navel-gazing. E.g., at about age nineteen, “my mind preponderated in favor of the newlight [sic, New Light”] scheme, and I greatly desired living religion that would reach my senses and understanding.”

As an adult, he reluctantly bought an enslaved person. He described the circumstances of the purchase in semi-exculpatory detail that was not entirely convincing. He stated the exact date of his marriage but, so help me God, did not mention his wife’s name! She was Rebecca Rankin, a daughter of John and Hannah Carson Rankin of Guilford County.[6] John Rankin was a son of Joseph and Rebecca Rankin of New Castle County, Delaware (1704 – 1764).[7] Y-DNA testing proves that John and Rebecca were genetically related, although the paper evidence establishes they were no closer than second cousins. The couple’s common Rankin ancestor lived on the other side of the Atlantic, possibly in Ulster, probably in Scotland.[8]

Shaker Rev. John also failed to mention the given names of his father George, his only sibling Robert, or the stepfather who raised him. Rev. John’s widowed mother Lydia Steele Rankin married Arthur Forbis (or Forbes) about 1764, when John was seven.[9] Rev. John’s younger brother was Robert Rankin (1759 – 1840), a Revolutionary War soldier who married (1) Mary (“Polly”) Cusick, then (2) Mary Moody. Robert died in McNairy County, TN in 1840.[10]

Shaker Rev. John was originally ordained a Presbyterian, of course: he came from a family of Scots-Irish immigrants. But he was depressed by Presbyterian doctrine and practices. He longed for something more. He finally had some sort of transformative experience while preaching at a revival meeting in Casper’s River, near the place that eventually became the Shaker colony at South Union, Kentucky. His sermon moved many to tears and trembling. He became a Shaker and was essentially the patriarch of the South Union colony.

If I have unfairly characterized his autobiography, I hope someone who has read it will offer a contrary opinion.

Here are relevant parts of it, verbatim. My comments, embedded in the text, are in italics.

“My parents emigrated from Ireland to the state of Pennsylvania & County of Lancaster in their youth – My Mother Lydia Steele, Jun., in the 13th year of her age under the superintendence of my grandmother Lydia Steele, Sen’r & the then single part of her family, in or about the year of 1746 from the County of Derry & parish of Newton; – the elder branches of the family removed before; and after this period, my eldest uncle John Steele, who was educated in Scotland & settled a Presbyterian preacher in the Town of Carlisle, with pay for life. – My father from the County of Donnegal [sic, Donegal] & parish of Letterkenny, about the year 1750, having then arrived to the year of maturity. [This suggests that George Rankin, Shaker Rev. John’s father, may have been born about 1729. George’s wife Lydia was born about 1733.]

… My Parents after a suitable acquaintance entered into that civil connection natural to the human family, who design living according to the order of the first Adam. After their union, they made preparation & emigrated to North Carolina in the month of July 1755 to lands purchased of Earl of Granville, the British proprietor, by a company in Lancaster County Pa. of which my father was a partner. [The Granville grants to Lancaster Co. Scots-Irish were collectively called “the Nottingham Settlement.” Many of the grantees were members of the West Nottingham Presbyterian Church, then located in Lancaster Co., later located in Rising Sun, Cecil Co., MD after the Mason-Dixon survey of the PA-MD line.[11] Most grantees lived in the disputed PA-MD area known as the “Nottingham Lots.”[12]] This grant of land contained 32 tracts of the first choice & was laid off in so many square miles (with some exception) about the center of Guilford County, & of course in the vicinity of Greensboro. The above mentioned company, who were principally Presbyterians of the old order, about this period emigrated, each to their respective possessions …

… I was born on the 27th of November 1757 two and a half years afterwards my Father was removed by death, & my Mother left a widow with two helpless infants, He left each of us children a tract of the above mentioned land. My Mother remained in her widowhood four years …

… On the 5th of December 1786, I entered a new relation in life & settled myself in a family capacity. [This is the date Shaker Rev. John and Rebecca married. The marriage bond was issued a few days earlier.]

 … [I was licensed as a Presbyterian minister in] the year 1795 … and [went to Sumner County Tennessee at a friend’s invitation] … [where] I found the inhabitants of the Presbyterian denomination comparatively a barren waste in a religious point of view … at the approach of Spring [1796], I returned home attended to my farm, and other secular concerns, received my Presbyterial appointments and fulfilled them through the summer

… I concluded, in union with my family to remove to the western country [Tennessee] without any visible prospect of regular settlement or congregational support. I sold my lands, crop & other disposable property and set out on the 6th of October in [1796], in company with Jesse McComb & family & arrove in the vicinity of Gallatin, Tenn. about the 15th of November; tarried there three months and then removed into the bounds of a small society on the ridge in Sumner County. In this place and two others equally destitute, I continued preaching near two years.

I … removed to this place, now, South Union, in December 1798.”

 John Rankin, sen. Now in the 88th year of my age.”

Unquote. End of excerpts.

And that’s all the news that’s fit to print about Shaker Rev. John’s autobiography. Other Rankins are tapping on my shoulder.

See you on down the road.

Robin

[1] Jim Small, Shaker Birth and Death Records, South Union Kentucky, accessed 24 Oct 2019 at http://homepages.rootsweb.com/~smalljd/ri/shbd.htm. See also Shaker Union burial records at http://files.usgwarchives.net/ky/logan/obits/b/gob1699burialsa.txt. The latter says, probably incorrectly, that Rev. John Rankin (shown as John Rankin Senior) was born in Pennsylvania. If John’s autobiography has the correct date for his parents’ move from PA to NC, he was born in North Carolina.

[2] See will of George Rankin dated and proved in 1760. He named his wife Lydia and two sons John and Robert. Guilford Co., NC Will Book A: 141. Lydia remarried, and her second husband, Arthur Forbis, named his stepsons John and Robert Rankin executors of his will. Guilford Co., NC Will Book A: 119.

[3] See deed from Robert Rankin and wife Rebecca to George Rankin, 5 shillings for 480 acres. Rowan Co., NC Deed Book 2: 70-73. The token price establishes the conveyance as a deed of gift and indicates a family relationship between grantors and grantee.

[4] If you wish to see the typed transcription of the original autobiography, you can obtain one from the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives, Library Special Collections, Western Kentucky University. The first page is headed “Auto-Biography of John Rankin, Sen., Written at South Union, Ky. 1845, & copied here, Aug. 1870 by H. L. Eads.” A handwritten note on the first page describes it as “South Union Shaker Record A.”

[5] The Merriam-Webster online defines “prolix” to mean (1) “unduly prolonged or drawn out: too long; (2) marked by or using an excess of words.” https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/prolix. My articles are frequently prolix.

[6] Ruth F. Thompson and Louise J. Hartgrove, Volume I Abstracts of Marriage Bonds and Additional Data, Guilford County, North Carolina 1771 – 1840 (Greensboro, NC: The Guilford County Genealogical Society, 1989), marriage bond dated 28 Nov 1786, Rev. John Rankin and Rebecah Rankin, bondsman Robert Rankin. See also Rev. S. M. Rankin, The Rankin and Wharton Families and Their Genealogy (facsimile reprint by Higginson Book Company, Salem, Massachusetts) 55: Rebecca, a daughter of John and Hannah Carson Rankin, married Rev. John Rankin in 1786, son of George and Lydia Rankin.

[7] Rev. S. M. Rankin, Rankin and Wharton Families 52, 55. Rev. Rankin incorrectly identified Samuel Rankin of Lincoln Co., NC (wife Eleanor “Ellen” Alexander) as a likely son of Joseph Rankin of New Castle, DE. Y-DNA testing has disproved this, but the error has a life of its own. See discussion in the article at this link.

[8] Robert and Rebecca Rankin’s descendants and John and Hannah Carson Rankin’s descendants are a Y-DNA match. They belong to Lineage 1A and 1B, respectively, of the Rankin DNA Project. See the August 2021 report on the Rankin DNA Project at this link.

[9]  Will of Arthur Forbis dated 10 Arp 1789 and proved 1794 named his stepsons John Rankin and Robert Rankin to be his executors. Guilford Co., NC Will Book A: 119. The autobiography says that Rev. John’s mother Lydia “remained in her widowhood four years,” so she married Arthur about 1764.

[10] There is some information about Shaker Rev. John’s little brother Robert Rankin in the article titled “Four Robert Rankins of Guilford County, NC,” see it here. Robert’s pension application is the topic of the article titled “Pension Application of Two Robert Rankins” at this link.

[11] See history of the Mason-Dixon Line, including the PA-MD portion, at this link.

[12] There is some information about the Nottingham Lots  here.

Four Robert Rankins of Guilford County, NC

If you have searched for a Robert Rankin in the records of Guilford County, North Carolina during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, you hit the jackpot. There were at least six Robert Rankins in Guilford during that time. This article is about four of them, including Robert Rankin and his wife Rebecca, the colonial patriarch and matriarch of their family. Their descendants belong to Lineage 1A of the Rankin DNA Project.

Some of what I propose in this article is not mainstream Rankin thought. Here’s what may be controversial:

I have identified three “new” daughters of Robert and Rebecca Rankin of Guilford. One of them may reasonably be deemed proved. The other two are probably  daughters. The latter two have not been identified in any compiled family history or online sources I have found.

the identity of the wife of the Robert Rankin who died in Guilford in 1795. I disagree on that issue with darn near every person who has ever said anything about the Guilford County Rankins.

This article ignores two of the six Robert Rankins who lived in Rowan/Guilford during that time period.[1]Both Roberts were grandsons of Joseph and Rebecca Rankin of New Castle County, Delaware, whose sons John and William migrated to Rowan/Guilford. Joseph’s line belongs to Lineage 1B of the Rankin DNA Project. Joseph’s line and Robert and Rebecca’s line are a genetic match, although the common Rankin ancestor hasn’t been identified. He almost certainly lived on the other side of the Atlantic in Ireland or Scotland.

Here are the abbreviated names I will use to distinguish among the four Robert Rankins covered in this article.

  1. R&R – Robert Rankin and wife Rebecca.
  2. Robert who died in 1795 – a son of R&R.
  3. Rev (short for “Revolutionary,” not “Reverend”) War Robert – a grandson of R&R.
  4. Arkansas Robert – a great-grandson of R&R. 

And here we go, from the top …

R&R – Robert Rankin and wife Rebecca

R&R were the original immigrant ancestors in their line. According to a grandson’s autobiography, R&R came to Pennsylvania from Letterkenny Parish, County Donegal, Ireland in 1750 along with some of their children.[2] R&R resided briefly in Chester County, Pennsylvania.[3] In 1755, they settled in the part of Rowan County that became Guilford.[4] According to Rev. Samuel M. Rankin, R&R are both buried at Buffalo Church in Greensboro, although no markers for them survive.[5]

Robert died in 1770-73.[6] He left no will. Other Rowan and Guilford records establish that R&R had proved children (1) George, (2) Robert, and (3) Ann who married William Denny.[7] Rev. Rankin failed to include Ann, but added a son John and a daughter Rebecca who married James Denny. There is circumstantial evidence in county records for a son John, although the Rebecca who married James Denny was probably a daughter of the Robert Rankin who died in 1795 rather than a daughter of R&R.[8] Rev. Rankin thought that R&R had other children. That seems likely.

Tantalizing probate records in Rowan County suggest two other daughters of R&R besides Ann Rankin Denny. These two women – Margaret (Rankin) Braly/Brawley and Rebecca (Rankin) Boyd are probably R&R’s daughters.

First, Robert Rankin was a security on the Rowan County bond of Margaret Braly/Brawley and John Braly, administrators of the estate of Thomas Braly. Even better, John Braly witnessed the 1760 will of George Rankin, along with Robert Rankin. Both George and Robert were proved sons of R&R. More often than not, witnesses to will were family.

The Braly administrator’s bond was dated 8 Jan 1765. Thomas’s nuncupative will established that his wife Margaret was pregnant, and thus of childbearing age. She therefore belonged to the same generation as R&R’s proved children.[9] Margaret can reasonably be deemed R&R’s “probable” daughter because of her age and the two strong Rankin-Braly connections established by the administrator’s bond and will.

Robert Rankin was also security on the Rowan County administrators’ bond of Rebecca Boyd, widow of John Boyd, in January 1767.[10] Robert’s signature on the original Boyd bond is identical to the signature on the original Braly bond, so it was the same Robert Rankin. There is also circumstantial evidence of Boyd/Rankin connections in some Guilford deeds.[11] Rebecca Boyd was probably also R&R’s daughter.

Here is a brief chart of R&R’s line, including the Robert Rankins covered in this post. R&R’s children are not necessarily in birth order; only George’s 1729 birth date is proved.[12] The men who are the subjects of this article are shown in boldface type.

Outline Chart #1

1 “R&R,” Robert Rankin was born circa 1700, probably in Scotland or Ireland, died in Guilford, NC about 1770. Wife Rebecca MNU.

2 George Rankin was born in 1729 in Letterkenny Parish, County Donegal, Ireland. He died in 1760 in Rowan County, NC. His wife was Lydia Steele Rankin. She married Arthur Forbis after George died.[13]

3 “Shaker” Reverend John Rankin, born in 1757 in Rowan, NC, died in 1850 in Logan, KY.[14] Married Rebecca Rankin, a granddaughter of Joseph Rankin of Delaware, in Guilford in 1786.[15] None of their children married: Shakers practiced celibacy.[16]

3 Robert Rankin, Rev War Robert, more on him below.

2 Robert Rankin who died in 1795, more on him below.

3 George Rankin (1767 – 1851), married Nancy Gillespie in Guilford in Jan. 1791, died McNairy Co., TN.[17]

4 Arkansas Robert Rankin, 1792 – 1845, more on him below. George and Nancy had other children in addition to Arkansas Robert.

2 John Rankin, lived in Guilford Co., a possible son of R&R suggested by Rev. Samuel M. Rankin. No further record.

2 Ann Rankin married William Denny Sr., lived in Guilford Co. More on them below.

2 Rebecca Rankin (probable) married John Boyd who died in Rowan, NC in 1767.

2 Margaret Rankin (probable) married Thomas Braly/Brawley who died in Rowan, NC, in Dec. 1764.

Next up: R&R’s son Robert.

Robert Rankin, died in Guilford, 1795

Robert Rankin, son of R&R, died in Guilford in 1795. His will did not name a wife, which probably means she predeceased him.[18] He identified only one son, George. Based on the express language of the will, Robert had four daughters. He identified only two of them: Mary Rankin Wilson, who died before Robert wrote his will, and Isabel Rankin, unmarried in 1795. The other two daughters, whose given names Robert did not provide, were apparently already married. One daughter was almost certainly the Rebecca Rankin who married William Denny Jr., whose will named his brother-in-law George Rankin and a daughter Rebecca. His wife evidently predeceased him. I have not identified the fourth daughter. Robert also named his three Wilson grandsons, William Rankin Wilson, Andrew Wilson, and Maxfield Wilson.

With the information from Robert d. 1795’s will, we can expand his section of Chart #1 as follows:

2 Robert Rankin, died 1795, Guilford

3 George Rankin (1767 – 1851) married Nancy Gillespie in Guilford Co. in Jan. 1791. Died in McNairy Co., TN.

4 Arkansas Robert Rankin, 1792 – 1845, more on him below. George and Nancy had other children as well.

3 Mary Rankin, died before 1795. Married Andrew Wilson as his second wife.[19]

4 William Rankin Wilson, born about 1788, moved to McNairy Co., TN.[20] Wife’s name was Lydia, possibly Rev War Robert’s daughter with Polly Cusick.[21] I found no marriage record for them.

4 Andrew Wilson, born about 1790, married Permelia/Pamela Denny in 1812. She was a daughter of William Denny Jr. and Rebecca Rankin.[22] Moved to McNairy Co., TN, then to Perry Co., AR to live with his son after his wife died.[23]

4 Maxfield Wilson, born  by 1795, married Sarah Baily in Guilford, 1829. Went to Orange Co., IN.[24]

3 Isabel Rankin, born before 1795. Probably died single.[25]

3 Rebecca Rankin, born before 1795, probably married William Denny Jr.[26]

3 Daughter Rankin, given name unknown, probably married by 1795, husband unknown.

A number of online trees and at least one compiled Rankin history wrongly conflate the Robert who died in 1795 with his father, who died in 1770-73. But there’s a tougher controversy about the Robert who died in 1795: the identity of his wife. Many Rankin researchers identify her as Jean (or Jane) Denny. They have a basis for doing so. The Guilford County marriage records indicate that some Robert Rankin married some Jean/Jane Denny in February 1775. William Denny Sr. (wife Ann Rankin) definitely had an unmarried daughter named Jean/Jane when he wrote his will in August 1766.[27]

A serious problem with that theory is that Robert d. 1795 was almost certainly Jean’s uncle. We are all accustomed to seeing marriages between cousins, but … an uncle and a niece?

The evidence about Jean/Jane Denny’s parents, William Denny (Sr.) and Ann Rankin Denny, is in Rowan County deeds. On back-to-back days in April 1755, Robert Rankin Sr. (i.e., R&R) executed deeds to his son George (480 acres) and William Denny (640 acres).[28] The consideration recited in both deeds was 5 shillings, clearly marking them as deeds of gift. Robert Sr. paid 10 shillings for the 640A tract he “sold” to William Denny Sr. for 5 shillings.[29]

That gift deed constitutes compelling evidence that William Denny Sr. was part of R&R’s family. William also witnessed the 1760 will of George Rankin along with his brothers-in-law Robert Rankin and John Braly.[30]Further, a John Rankin witnessed William Denny’s 1766 will.[31] Rev. Samuel M. Rankin believes R&R had a son John, probably the witness to William Denny’s will. They would have been brothers-in-law.

William & Ann Denny’s daughter Jean/Jane, unmarried in 1766, is the only Jean/Jane Denny I can find in Guilford who might have been the right age to marry some Robert Rankin in 1775. I just don’t believe that the Robert Rankin she married was her Uncle Robert who died in 1795. Surely, she married a different Robert Rankin. Her husband might have been, and probably was, a Robert Rankin from Iredell County.[32] Robert of Iredell was a genetic relative of the Guilford County line of R&R Rankin, and he had a son named Denny Rankin.

Let’s divert for a moment into the wonderful world of Y-DNA testing, a gift from the family history gods to genealogists.

Iredell Robert was a son of the David Rankin who died in Iredell in 1789.[33] Two men who are proved descendants of David are members of the Rankin DNA project and have Y-DNA tested. They match proved descendants of R&R.

One cannot conclude from those matches that David of Iredell was a son of R&R – although the results don’t preclude a father-son relationship, either. At minimum, Y-DNA proves that the Iredell Rankins and the line of R&R of Guilford were closely related genetically. If David Rankin of Iredell was a son or cousin of R&R, and if Jean Denny of Guilford married David’s son Iredell Robert in 1775 (which I believe to be the case), then Iredell Robert and Jean Denny were cousins of some degree.

That’s a lot more palatable than a man marrying his niece. Perhaps not coincidentally, Robert Rankin of Iredell and his wife Jean (1755 – 1779, per her tombstone in Centre Presbyterian Church in Statesville) had a son named Denny Rankin.[34] I would be happy to wager that his mother’s surname was Denny.

Whatever. The Robert who died in 1795 has only one proved son. That was George, who married Nancy Gillespie in Guilford in 1791. George was born in 1767, so he was clearly not the child of some Jean Denny who allegedly married his father in 1775. George and Nancy went to McNairy County, TN, where George died in 1851. The important thing here is that George and Nancy had a proved son (among other children) named … you can no doubt guess this … Robert. George and Nancy’s son was the man I call Robert of Arkansas, but we haven’t gotten to him quite yet.

Rev War Robert Rankin (1759 – 1840).

Rev War Robert, a grandson of R&R, was one of two sons of R&R’s son George and his wife Lydia Steele.[35]Robert’s Revolutionary War pension application states when and where he was born and when he moved to McNairy County.[36] Rev War Robert married first Mary (“Polly”) Cusick in Guilford in the early 1780s.[37] He married his second wife Mary Moody in Guilford in 1803.[38]

Rev War Robert’s children by Polly Cusick – there were apparently seven – are fairly easy to identify by tracking census records. His children by Mary Moody are a tougher nut to crack, and I have identified only two. Here’s how I would expand Rev War Robert’s part of Chart #1:

3 Robert Rankin, Rev. War Robert, was born in Rowan, NC on 29 May 1759, died in McNairy County, TN on 21 Dec 1840. He is buried in Bethel Springs Cemetery in McNairy. He married #1 Mary (nickname “Polly”) Cusick in Guilford, probably in the early 1780s, and married #2 Mary Moody, also in Guilford.

Children by Mary (“Polly”) Cusick:

4 George Rankin, born in Guilford about 1783, died between 1828-1830 in Arkansas Territory. He married Ann McMurray in Guilford in 1803. They were in Arkansas Territory by 1816 and eventually lived in Pulaski Co. They may have had as many as six children, but I can only identify three possible sons: Robert, William D., and John J. Rankin.

4 Jedediah Rankin, born 1785-86, married Rebecca Rankin in Guilford in 1811. She was a daughter of George and Nancy Gillespie Rankin. They were in Arkansas by at least 1830, when he was listed in the 1830 Arkansas Territory census.

4 Lydia Rankin, born in Guilford about 1789 if she was the Lydia who married William Rankin Wilson. For some unaccountable reason, online trees identify her as “Lydia Lea Isabella.” I would love to see any evidence for that name.

4 Isabel Rankin, born in 1791, Guilford, NC, died in 1861 in Pope, AR. She married Arkansas Robert Rankin, her second cousin, in Guilford in 1812. He was a son of George and Nancy Gillespie Rankin. They went to McNairy County, TN and then the Arkansas Territory, Conway and Pope Counties. See more on this couple below.

4 John Rankin, born in 1797 in Guilford, died 1846 in McNairy Co., TN. His wife was Mary Kirby/Kerby.

4 William Rankin, born in 1799 in Guilford, married Isabel Woodburn there in 1823. They went to McNairy, TN and DeSoto County, MS. Both William and Isabel are buried in Bethesda Cemetery in Tate County, MS.

4 Thankful Rankin, born between 1790-1800 in Guilford, married Hance McCain there in 1818. They may have lived in McNairy County.

Children by Mary Moody:

4 Thomas M. Rankin, born 1813-16 in Guilford, died in McNairy without issue in 1885.[39]

4 Letha Rankin, born about 1820, married Robert D. Wilson, undoubtedly a relative. Lived in McNairy, TN.[40]

With that, let’s move on to the last Robert in this discussion.

Arkansas Robert Rankin

Here is another case in which Y-DNA provides helpful and compelling evidence. Back up for a moment to Isabel Rankin, a proved daughter of Rev War Robert and his first wife Polly Cusick.[41] Isabel married some Robert Rankin in Guilford in 1812.[42] A descendant of Robert and Isabel (call him “Joe”) has Y-DNA tested and participates in the Rankin DNA Project. Joe can prove that Isabel Rankin is descended from R&R – but Isabel didn’t have a Y-Chromosome to pass on. Joe inherited that from Isabel’s husband Robert. The problem is that Joe hasn’t been able to prove Robert’s parents via traditional paper genealogy.

Considering all the Robert Rankins floating around Guilford, it’s understandable that Robert’s parentage is difficult to prove. Don’t forget there were also two sons of Joseph of Delaware in Guilford … so that Isabel’s husband Robert Rankin may have been from either R&R’s line or Joseph’s line. Or he may have parachuted into Guilford from Mars.

Isabel’s husband Robert was not from Joseph’s line, which has been well-documented by Rev. Rankin. We can discount the Mars theory. That leaves the line of R&R.

Y-DNA testing and land records came to the rescue. George Rankin (a son of Robert who died 1795) and his wife Nancy Gillespie had a son Robert who is conclusively proved, although he is unaccountably missing from many lists of George and Nancy’s children.[43] Robert was the right age to have been the Robert Rankin who married Isabel. Unfortunately, there is no evidence in the marriage bonds or elsewhere to prove that Isabel’s husband was the same man as George and Nancy’s son Robert. However, that Robert, as far as I can find, was the only Robert Rankin in Guilford available to marry Isabel. This is something of a “last man standing” theory.

More Y-DNA: a proved descendant of R&R’s grandson George Rankin and his wife Nancy Gillespie is a close Y-DNA match to Joe. The match establishes that Isabel and Robert’s line, and George and Nancy’s line, share a common Rankin ancestor fairly recently. The common ancestors are almost certainly R&R. The Y-DNA evidence is sufficient IMO to establish that Isabel’s husband Arkansas Robert Rankin is the same man as Robert, proved son of George and Nancy Gillespie Rankin.

That’s it for now. Someday, when it is too hot to go fishing, too rainy to garden, and the Astros aren’t playing, I will consolidate the several charts in this article into one table, add a bunch of names, and publish a loooonnnnngggg chart for the descendants of R&R.

See you on down the road.

Robin

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

[1] The Robert C. Rankin who died in Guilford in 1853 and Robert Rankin, who died there in 1866, were grandsons of Joseph and Rebecca Rankin of Delaware through their sons William Rankin and John Rankin, respectively.

[2] The grandson was Rev. John Rankin (1757-1850), a Shaker preacher who wrote his autobiography at age 88 (cited hereafter as “Shaker John’s Autobiography”). He died in Shakertown, Logan Co., KY. See John Rankin, “Auto-biography of John Rankin, Sen.” (South Union, Ky., 1845), transcribed in Harvey L. Eads, ed., History of the South Union Shaker Colony from 1804 to 1836 (South Union, Ky., 1870). You can obtain a copy of Ead’s transcript from the Special Collections Library, Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green, Kentucky (WKU), where it is designated “Shaker Record A.” See the post titled “Autobiography of Rev. John Rankin, Grandson of Robert and Rebecca.”

[3] George Rankin and Robert Rankin appeared on the 1753 tax list for West Nottingham Township in Chester Co., PA. Rev. Samuel M. Rankin (see note 5) says the family lived in Lancaster Co., but I didn’t find any record of them in that county. I did find them in Chester. See 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).

[4] Shaker John’s Autobiography (see note 2). See also deeds dated April 1755 in which Robert Rankin Sr. gifted land to his son George Rankin and son-in-law William Denny Sr. in Rowan Co. Deed Book 2: 67, 70.

[5] Rev. S. M. Rankin, History of Buffalo Presbyterian Church and Her People (Greensboro, NC: Jos. J. Stone & Co., 1931), cited hereafter as “Buffalo Church History.”

[6] Id. Rev. Rankin says in one place in Buffalo Church History that Robert with wife Rebecca died before the church started keeping minutes, which was in 1773. In another place, he says Robert died about 1770.

[7] Rev. Rankin names George, Robert and John as sons of R&R in his Buffalo Church History. George is proved by a gift deed and Robert is proved by circumstantial evidence in numerous Guilford records. The circumstantial evidence for a son John is thin.

[8] James and Rebecca Denny (née Rankin, according to Rev. Rankin) are buried in the Buffalo Church cemetery. Rebecca was born in 1760 and died in 1816. She was from a later generation than R&R’s proven children and was most likely born too late to be their daughter. She might be a daughter of the Robert Rankin who died in Guilford in 1795. See Buffalo Church cemetery records online.

[9] George Rankin, a proved son of R&R, had two sons born in 1757 and 1759. See Shaker John’s Autobiography and his brother Rev War Robert’s pension application abstracted in Virgil D. White, Abstracts of Revolutionary War Pension Files, Vol. 3 (Waynesboro, TN: National Historical Publishing Co., 1992). Robert Rankin, another proved son of R&R, had a son George born in 1767. See the 1795 will of Robert Rankin, Guilford Will Books A-B, File #312 (naming a son George) and George’s tombstone on Findagrave. The listing of George’s children at that website omits a proved son Robert.http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSln=Rankin&GSiman=1&GScid=9234&GRid=6506241&.

[10] Rowan County Court Order Book 2: 667.

[11] E.g., deed of 1 Feb 1780 from James Boyd to William Boyd, both of Guilford, 20 shillings 630 acres on Little Troublesome Cr., Granville grant to John Boyd Sr. 15 Jul 1760. John Boyd Sr., the original grant recipient, was probably the deceased in the 1767 administrator’s bond. Witnesses to the deed were Robt. Bell, John Rankin, and John Bell. Guilford Co. DB 2: 437. See also deed of 18 Oct 1803, James Boyd of Guilford to Henry Fryar, same, £100, 150 acres on the waters of North Buffalo. Witnesses William Denney and Rebekah Denney. The witness Rebekah was a daughter of Robert Rankin who died in 1795 and a granddaughter of R&R. Guilford Deed Book 8: 230.

[12] Shaker John’s Autobiography.

[13] Will of Arthur Forbis dated proved 1794 named as executors his “stepsons John Rankin and Robert Rankin.” Guilford Co., NC Will Book A: 119.

[14] Shaker John’s Autobiography.

[15] Frances T. Ingmire, Guilford County North Carolina Marriage Records 1771-1868 Volume III Names O-Z (Athens, GA: Iberian Publishing Co., 1984). Another source for Guilford marriage records is Ruth F. Thompson and Louise J. Hartgrove, Volume I Abstracts of Marriage Bonds and Additional Data, Guilford County, North Carolina 1771 – 1840(Greensboro, NC: The Guilford County Genealogical Society, 1989).

[16] At least one Rankin researcher believes that one of Shaker John Rankin’s children did not convert to Shakerism and that he married and had children. I am skeptical. The Logan Co., KY census and burial records suggest that all ten of Shaker John’s children died single in Logan County.

[17] Ingmire, Guilford County North Carolina Marriage Records.

[18] Guilford County Will Books A-B 1771-1838,” File #312 (will of Robert Rankin, 1795).

[19] Id., the 1795 will of Robert Rankin mentioned Andrew Wilson, Robert’s “former son-in-law.” See also the Buffalo Church History, listing the three wives of Andrew Wilson (Jr.).

[20] 1850 federal census, McNairy Co., TN, William R. Wilson, 62, farmer, b. NC, Lydia Wilson, 61, NC, Washington Wilson, 33, NC, Lucinda Wilson, 26, TN, Lydia Wilson, 8, TN, Adaline Wilson, 5, TN, Jesse Wilson, 3, TN, and Louisa Wilson, 1, TN.

[21] Rev. War Robert did have a daughter Lydia. She would have been William Rankin Wilson’s second cousin. See Guilford, NC Will Book B: 435, will of William Cusick naming 3 daughters of Robert Rankin (Lydia, Isbel and Thankful) and his deceased daughter Polly Cusick Rankin. Both Lydia and William Rankin Wilson were great-grandchildren of R&R. I’ve found no evidence in the Guilford records that WRW married Lydia, although they may have married elsewhere.

[22] Will of William Denny dated 12 Dec 1824 proved Feb 1825 naming daughter Pamela Wilson; see also Ingmire, Guilford County North Carolina Marriage Records.

[23] See 1850 federal census, McNairy Co., TN, Andrew Wilson, farmer, 60, b. NC, dwelling #90, with Parmelia Wilson, 59, NC, Jane Wilson, 30, NC, Maxfield Wilson, 28, NC, Nancy Wilson, 25, NC, Parmelia Wilson, 21, NC, James Wilson, 19, NC, Eli Wilson, 16, NC, and Mary J. Black, 7, MO; see also 1860 federal census, Perry Co., AR, household of William Wilson, 45, farmer b. NC, with Andrew Wilson, 70, b. NC, also listed in his household.

[24] Thanks to my new cousin-by-marriage Peggy Derryberry Gould for that information. See 1860 federal census, French Lick, Orange Co., IN, dwl #1131, Maxfield Wilson, 70, b. NC; Ingmire, Guilford County North Carolina Marriage Records.

[25] Isabel Rankin, daughter of Robert d. 1795, probably died single and without children. She was still single in 1795, when her father wrote his will, and she was probably about 30 at that time. Her father specifically bequeathed a slave to provide for her, which likely means he considered her unmarriageable. I found no marriage record for her in Guilford.

[26] Guilford County will of William Denny dated 12 Dec 1824 proved Feb 1825 naming as executor his “brother-in-law George Rankin” and children Rebecca Black, Pamela Wilson, William, Nancy, Isabel and Allen. See also the 1803 deed from James Boyd to Henry Fryar witnessed by William Denny and Rebeckah Denny, Guilford Co., NC Deed Book 8: 230.

[27] Will of William Denny (Sr.), Rowan Co. Order Book 3: 200; Rowan Co. Will Book A: 31. An abstractor of this will, Jo White Linn, made (for her) a rare error about 3 of William Denny’s daughters. Ms. Linn read the will to say that all of William and Ann’s daughters were married, but three of them – Hannah, Agnes, and Jane/Jean Denny – are clearly identified as single in the 1766 will.

[28] Rowan Co. Deed Book 2: 67 and 70.

[29] Rowan Co., NC Deed Book 2: 86, Granville grant to Robert Rankin dated 3 Dec 1753, ten shillings, 640 acres adjacent “Irish Tracts” #14 and #15 (part of the Nottingham Colony grants).

[30] Rowan Co., NC Will Book A: 141.

[31] Rowan Co., NC Order Book 3: 200; Will Book A: 31.

[32] See an articles about Iredell County Robert Rankin at this link.

[33] Will of David Rankin of Iredell proved Dec. 1789, original will viewed at the NC Archives in Raleigh, C.R.054.801.11, recorded at WB A: 200

[34] Lois M. P. Schneider, Church and Family Cemeteries of Iredell County, N.C. (1992); Iredell County, NC Deed Book D: 650, deed dated 17 May 1802 from Robert Rankin to his son Denny Rankin.

[35] Rowan County, NC Will Book A: 141, will of George Rankin dated May 1760, proved Oct 1760, naming minor sons John and Robert.

[36] National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Vol. 25, No. 4, December 1937, Revolutionary War Pension Applications.

[37] See Guilford Co., NC Will Book B: 435, will of William Cusick dated 1816 naming 3 daughters of Robert Rankin and William’s deceased daughter Polly Cusick Rankin: Lydia, Isbel, and Thankful.

[38] Ingmire, Guilford County North Carolina Marriage Records; National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Vol. 25, No. 4, December 1937, Revolutionary War Pension Applications.

[39] See McNairy Co., TN Will Book 1: 53, will of T. M. Rankin of Bethel Springs dated 18 Jun 1885 naming two nieces and a nephew. One niece, M. (Melinda) E. Wilson, was the daughter of Letha Rankin and Robert D. Wilson, according to Melinda’s TN death certificate.

[40] Id.

[41] Guilford, NC Will Book B: 435, will of William Cusick naming 3 daughters of Robert Rankin and his deceased daughter Polly Cusick Rankin (Lydia, Isbel and Thankful).

[42] Ingmire, Guilford County North Carolina Marriage Records.

[43] Guilford Co., NC Deed Book 14: 11, deed of 23 Mar 1819 from George Rankin Sr. to his son Robert Rankin Jr., both of Guilford, 110.5 acres on the south side of North Buffalo. George Sr. at that point was George, son of Robert d. 1795 (who devised that tract to George). Robert Rankin Sr. was Rev War Robert. See also Guilford Co., NC Deed Book 6: 346, survey for George Rankin, land Robert willed to George, a tract on the south side of North Buffalo Cr.

See you on down the road.

Robin Rankin Willis

[1] Robert C. Rankin, who died in Guilford in 1853, and Robert Rankin, who died there in 1866, were grandsons of Joseph and Rebecca Rankin of Delaware through their sons William Rankin and John Rankin, respectively.

[2] The grandson was Rev. John Rankin (1757-1850), a Shaker preacher who wrote his autobiography at age 88 (cited hereafter as “Shaker John’s Autobiography”). He died in Shakertown, Logan Co., KY. See  John Rankin, “Auto-biography of John Rankin, Sen.” (South Union, Ky., 1845), transcribed in Harvey L. Eads, ed., History of the South Union Shaker Colony from 1804 to 1836 (South Union, Ky., 1870). You can obtain a copy of Eads’s typescript from the Special Collections Library, Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green, Kentucky (WKU), where is it designated “Shaker Record A.” The autobiography contains very little of genealogical significance, but what is has is good information. It primarily chronicles every thought Shaker Rev. John had about, and events concerning, religion through his long life from youth onward.

[3] George Rankin and Robert Rankin appeared on the 1753 tax list for West Nottingham Township in Chester Co., PA. Rev. Samuel M. Rankin (see note 5) says the family lived in Lancaster Co., but I didn’t find any record of them there. I did find them in Chester. See 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).

[4] Shaker John’s Autobiography (see note 2); see also deeds dated April 1755 in which Robert Rankin Sr. gifted land to his son George Rankin and son-in-law William Denny Sr. in Rowan Co. Deed Book 2: 67, 70.

[5] Rev. S. M. Rankin, History of Buffalo Presbyterian Church and Her People (Greensboro, NC: Jos. J. Stone & Co., 1931), cited hereafter as “Buffalo Church History.”

[6] Rev. Rankin says in one place in Buffalo Church History that Robert with wife Rebecca died before the church started keeping minutes, which was in 1773. In another place, he says Robert died about 1770.

[7] Rev. Rankin names George, Robert and John as sons of R&R in his Buffalo Church History. George is proved by a gift deed and Robert is proved by circumstantial evidence in numerous Guilford records. The circumstantial evidence for a son John is thin.

[8] James and Rebecca Denny (née Rankin, a rare mistake by Rev. Rankin) are buried in the Buffalo Church cemetery. Rebecca was born in 1760 and died in 1816. She was from a later generation than R&R’s proved children and was most likely born too late to be their daughter. Buffalo Church cemetery records are available online at this link.

[9] George Rankin, a proved son of R&R, had two sons born in 1757 and 1759. See Shaker John’s Autobiography and Rev War Robert’s pension application, abstracted in Virgil D. White, Abstracts of Revolutionary War Pension Files, Vol. 3 (Waynesboro, TN: National Historical Publishing Co., 1992). Robert Rankin d. 1795, another proved son of R&R, had a son George born in 1767. See will of Robert Rankin dated and proved 1795, Guilford Will Books A-B, File #312.

[10] Rowan County Court Order Book 2: 667.

[11] E.g., deed of 1 Feb 1780 from James Boyd to William Boyd, both of Guilford, 20 shillings (a deed of gift), 630 acres on Little Troublesome Cr., Granville grant to John Boyd Sr. 15 Jul 1760. This tract winds up in Rockingham County. John Boyd Sr., the original grant recipient, is probably the deceased in the 1767 administrator’s bond. Witnesses to the deed were Robt. Bell, John Rankin, and John Bell. Guilford Co. DB 2: 437. See also deed of 18 Oct 1803, James Boyd of Guilford to Henry Fryar, same, £100, 150 acres on waters of North Buffalo. Witnesses William Denney and Rebekah Denney. The witness Rebekah was a daughter of Robert Rankin d. 1795 and a granddaughter of R&R. Guilford Deed Book 8: 230.

[12] Shaker John’s Autobiography.

[13] Id. See will of Arthur Forbis dated 10 Apr 1789, proved 1794, naming as executors his “stepsons John Rankin and Robert Rankin” (Shaker John and Rev War Robert). Guilford Co., NC Will Book A: 119.

[14] Shaker John’s Autobiography.

[15] Frances T. Ingmire, Guilford County North Carolina Marriage Records 1771-1868 Volume III Names O-Z (Athens, GA: Iberian Publishing Co., 1984). Another source for Guilford marriage records is Ruth F. Thompson and Louise J. Hartgrove, Volume I Abstracts of Marriage Bonds and Additional Data, Guilford County, North Carolina 1771 – 1840 (Greensboro, NC: The Guilford County Genealogical Society, 1989).

[16] At least one Rankin researcher at Ancestry.com believes that one of Shaker John Rankin’s children did not convert to Shakerism and that he married and had children. The Logan County census and burial records, however, suggest that all ten children died single in Logan County. There is some information about Shaker John’s autobiography here.

[17] Ingmire, Guilford County North Carolina Marriage Records.

[18] Guilford County, NC Wills Books A-B 1771-1838, Probate File #312 (will of Robert Rankin d. 1795).

[19] See id., will of Robert Rankin d. 1795, naming as guardian of his Wilson grandsons Andrew Wilson, Robert’s “former son-in-law;” Buffalo Church History, listing the three wives of Andrew Wilson (Jr.).

[20] See 1850 federal census, McNairy Co., TN, William R. Wilson, 62, farmer, b. NC, Lydia Wilson, 61, NC, Washington Wilson, 33, NC, Lucinda Wilson, 26, TN, Lydia Wilson, 8, TN, Adaline Wilson, 5, TN, Jesse Wilson, 3, TN, and Louisa Wilson, 1, TN.

[21] Rev War Robert did have a daughter Lydia. She would have been William Rankin Wilson’s second cousin. See Guilford, NC Will Book B: 435, will of William Cusick naming 3 daughters of Robert Rankin (Lydia, Isbel and Thankful) and his deceased daughter Polly Cusick Rankin. Both Lydia and William Rankin Wilson were great-grandchildren of R&R. I’ve found no evidence in the Guilford records that WRW married Lydia, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t marry.

[22] Will of William Denny dated 12 Dec 1824 proved Feb 1825 naming daughter Pamela Wilson; see also Ingmire, Guilford County North Carolina Marriage Records.

[23] See 1850 federal census, McNairy Co., TN, Andrew Wilson, farmer, 60, b. NC, dwelling #90, with Parmelia Wilson, 59, NC, Jane Wilson, 30, NC, Maxfield Wilson, 28, NC, Nancy Wilson, 25, NC, Parmelia Wilson, 21, NC, James Wilson, 19, NC, Eli Wilson, 16, NC, and Mary J. Black, 7, MO; 1860 federal census, Perry Co., AR, household of William Wilson, 45, farmer b. NC, with Andrew Wilson, 70, b. NC, also listed in his household.

[24] Thanks to my cousin-by-marriage Peggy Derryberry Gould for that information. See 1860 federal census, French Lick, Orange Co., IN, dwl #1131, Maxfield Wilson, 70, b. NC; Ingmire, Guilford County North Carolina Marriage Records.

[25] Isabel Rankin, daughter of Robert d. 1795, probably died single and without children. She was still single in 1795, when her father wrote his will, and she was probably about 30 at that time. Her father specifically bequeathed a slave to provide for her, which probably means he considered her unmarriageable. I found no marriage record for her in Guilford.

[26] Guilford County will of William Denny dated 12 Dec 1824 proved Feb 1825 naming as executor his “brother-in-law George Rankin” and children Rebecca Black, Pamela Wilson, William, Nancy, Isabel and Allen. 1803 deed from James Boyd to Henry Fryar witnessed by William Denny and Rebeckah Denny, Guilford Co. Deed Book 8: 230.

[27] Will of William Denny (Sr.), Rowan Co. Order Book 3: 200; Rowan Co. Will Book A: 31. An abstractor of this will, Jo White Linn, made (for her) a rare error about three of William Denny’s daughters. Ms. Linn read the will to say that all of William and Ann’s daughters were married, but three of them – Hannah, Agnes, and Jane/Jean Denny – are clearly identified as single in the 1766 will.

[28] Rowan Co. Deed Book 2: 67 and 70.

[29] Rowan Co., NC Deed Book 2: 86, Granville grant to Robert Rankin dated 3 Dec 1753, ten shillings, 640 acres adjacent “Irish Tracts” #14 and #15 (part of the Nottingham Colony grants).

[30] Rowan Co., NC Will Book A: 141.

[31] Rowan Co., NC Order Book 3: 200; Will Book A: 31.

[32] Jean Denny may have (and probably did, in my opinion) marry Robert Rankin of Iredell Co., a son of the David Rankin who died there in 1789.

[33] Will of David Rankin of Iredell proved Dec. 1789, original will viewed at the NC Archives in Raleigh, C.R.054.801.11, recorded at WB A: 200

[34] Lois M. P. Schneider, Church and Family Cemeteries of Iredell County, N.C. (1992); Iredell County, NC Deed Book D: 650, deed dated 17 May 1802 from Robert Rankin to his son Denny Rankin.

[35] Rowan County, NC Will Book A: 141, will of George Rankin dated May 1760, proved Oct 1760, naming minor sons John and Robert.

[36] National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Vol. 25, No. 4, December 1937, Revolutionary War Pension Applications.

[37] See Guilford, NC Will Book B: 435, will of William Cusick naming 3 daughters of Robert Rankin (Lydia, Isbel and Thankful) and William’s deceased daughter Polly Cusick Rankin.

[38] Ingmire, Guilford County North Carolina Marriage Records; National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Vol. 25, No. 4, December 1937, Revolutionary War Pension Applications.

[39] See McNairy Co., TN Will Book 1: 53, will of T. M. Rankin of Bethel Springs dated 18 Jun 1885 naming two nieces and a nephew. One niece, M. (Melinda) E. Wilson, was the daughter of Letha Rankin and Robert D. Wilson, according to Melinda’s TN death certificate.

[40] Letha’s Daughter Malinda Wilson Lee was identified as a niece in the McNairy will of Thomas M. Rankin.

[41] Guilford, NC Will Book B: 435, will of William Cusick naming three daughters of Robert Rankin and his deceased daughter Polly Cusick Rankin (Lydia, Isbel and Thankful).

[42] Ingmire, Guilford County North Carolina Marriage Records.

[43] Guilford Co., NC Deed Book 14: 11, deed of 23 Mar 1819 from George Rankin Sr. to his son Robert Rankin Jr., both of Guilford, 110.5 acres on the south side of North Buffalo. George Sr. at that point is George, son of Robert d. 1795 (who devised that tract to George). George Jr. is probably the eldest son of Rev War Robert. Also, Robert Rankin Sr. at that time was Rev War Robert.

The Rankins of Guilford County, NC: the mistaken identity of Robert Rankin who died in 1795

A professional genealogist once told me that most trees on the internet aren’t worth the paper it would take to print them. She said the most serious mistake a rookie can make is to use information from someone else’s tree without confirming it. Her advice was too late for me: I had already learned that lesson the hard way.

When I was a still a beginning family history researcher, I sent a chart for one of my lines to the administrator of the Graves Family Association website at his request.[1] The chart included information I had obtained from other researchers on the identity of my early Graves ancestors. Unfortunately, I had not confirmed the information with my own research.

I wish I had remembered that before I forwarded the chart. Ken Graves, the website administrator, replied with a blistering email excoriating me for perpetuating a fiction that serious researchers had long ago discarded. My screen and my red face were both too hot to touch after I read that email.[2]

We all make mistakes, even if we don’t naïvely adopt someone else’s data. Original records are incomplete or the courthouse burned down entirely. The handwriting in films of original records is faded, blurred, or indecipherable. Our ancestors recycled the same given names ad nauseam, producing an error called “same name confusion.” Other mistakes are probably caused by the occasionally unwarranted aura of accuracy enjoyed by books and journals. Some mistakes are just plain ol’ carelessness.

Here’s an example: Robert Rankin who died in 1795 in Guilford Co., NC

An error about one of the early Rankins in Guilford County, North Carolina combines same name confusion and carelessness. It may have originated in a Rankin compiled history which wrongly interpreted the 1795 will of Robert Rankin as being the will of the “patriarch” – the eldest immigrant – of his Guilford family line.[3] The ease of importing data from online trees probably guarantees the error’s immortality.

Robert Rankin the patriarch (let’s call him “Old Robert”) had a wife named Rebecca, maiden name unproved.[4] Old Robert and Rebecca had a son named George.[5] The 1795 will identified the testator as “Robert Rankin Senior” of Guilford County.[6] The will devised land to a son named George. It did not name a wife, who evidently predeceased him. In short, identifying the testator in the 1795 will as Old Robert seems reasonable at first glance. On second glance, not so much.

The problem is that Old Robert and Rebecca’s son George died in 1760 – thirty-five years before some Robert Rankin wrote that 1795 will.[7] Presumably, Robert the testator intended to devise land to a flesh-and-blood son George rather than someone who had been dead for several decades.

Guilford County is admittedly tough on Rankin researchers. There are a dizzying number of country records referencing, e.g., Robert Rankin, Robert Rankin Sr., and/or Robert Rankin Jr. One state grant mentions all three![8]As was common, the line of Old Robert and Rebecca recycled the same names ad infinitum, so that every generation had at least one Robert.

Guilford is also rough sledding because there were three Rankin “patriarchs” in Guilford: (1) John Rankin (1736-1814) who married Hannah Carson and is a proved son of Joseph and Rebecca Rankin of Delaware;[9] (2) John’s brother William Rankin (1744-1804), who married Jane Chambers; and (3) Old Robert Rankin and his wife Rebecca, who came to Pennsylvania from Letterkenny Parish, County Donegal, Ireland about 1750 and moved a few years later to the part of Rowan County that became Guilford.[10]

The facts in brief

Two facts prove that the Robert Rankin who wrote a will and died in 1795 in Guilford County – call him “Robert died in 1795” – was not Old Robert. First, a book about the Buffalo Presbyterian Church of Guilford establishes that Old Robert died well before 1795.[11] Second, the George Rankin issue: Old Robert’s son George, who died in 1760, was obviously not the same man as George, a devisee in the 1795 will. In fact, Guilford records establish that George the devisee was alive and well after 1795.

When did Old Robert with wife Rebecca die? Answer: circa 1770, definitely by 1773

Rev. Samuel Meek Rankin provides information about Old Robert Rankin in his book History of Buffalo Presbyterian Church and Her People. Rev. Rankin identified Old Robert as having belonged to Nottingham Presbyterian Church in Pennsylvania.[12] Old Robert and his family (or some of them) migrated to North Carolina in the early 1750s.[13] The family acquired land in that part of Rowan County that later became Guilford.[14] Rev. Rankin identified Old Robert’s wife as Rebecca, whose name is confirmed in a 1755 gift deed of land by the couple to their son George.[15] According to Rev. Rankin, Old Robert and Rebecca had children “George, Robert, Rebecca, John and others.”[16]

For purposes of this article, we are only concerned with Old Robert and Rebecca, their sons George and Robert, and a grandson named – I’m sure you can guess this – Robert. A few facts about them are in order. Rev. Rankin says that George died in 1761, although his will was actually written and proved in 1760.[17] George’s will named his widow Lydia (Steele) and two minor sons, John and Robert. The latter is the grandson we have in mind.

George and Lydia’s son John – the future Shaker Reverend John – inherited the 480-acre tract on Brushy Fork that Old Robert and Rebecca had given to George. John sold it and left Guilford before 1800.[18] George and Lydia’s other son Robert, grandson of Old Robert, fought in the Revolutionary War and applied for a pension in 1833.[19]Bless his heart, because the application provides useful information. Let’s call him “Rev War Robert,” with “Rev” short for “Revolution,” not “Reverend.” His application establishes that Rev War Robert was born in Guilford County in May 1759 and that he moved to McNairy County, Tennessee in 1830. It is important for this narrative that Rev War Robert lived into the nineteenth century: hold that thought.

 Meanwhile, Reverend Samuel Meek Rankin had this to say about Old Robert, who was (according to oral tradition) one of the first elders in Buffalo Church:

Robert Rankin is another whom Rev. J. C. Alexander said tradition listed as one of the first elders. He settled here in 1753 … he died before the first date in the minute book.”[20]

Reverend Rankin said there were no records for Buffalo Church “from the organization in 1756 to 1773.” Consequently, Old Robert Rankin, husband of Rebecca, must have died by 1773. Rev. Rankin states elsewhere that Old Robert died about 1770, although there is no extant tombstone for him in the Buffalo Church cemetery.[21]

What about the George named in the will of Robert Rankin d. 1795?

Let’s look closely at Robert Rankin’s 1795 will, which names the following devisees and beneficiaries:[22]

    • his son George;
    • his three grandsons William Rankin Wilson, Andrew Wilson and Maxwell Wilson, sons of his deceased daughter Mary Rankin and her husband Andrew Wilson. Robert devised land on Buffalo Creek to George and the three Wilson grandsons.
    • his daughter Isobel.
    • and (5) two unnamed living daughters, each of whom was to receive one-fifth of Robert’s personal estate.

Subsequent Guilford County records establish that George Rankin was still alive in 1795, when his father wrote his will. About three years after Robert died, George surveyed the land he and his Wilson nephews inherited. Robert’s will prescribed a detailed metes and bounds description for how his land on Buffalo Creek was to “be divided.” The document filed in the real property records expressly recites that the survey of the tract was required by the will of Robert Rankin, deceased, and by his executor.[23] Some two decades later, George Rankin made a gift of a portion of that tract to his own son – named Robert, of course.[24]

So … who the heck was the Robert who died in 1795?

 Naturally, there were several Robert Rankins living in Guilford County in the late 18th century. We can eliminate anyone from the lines of John Rankin and Hannah Carson or William Rankin and Jean Chambers. Their sons named Robert (each couple had one) lived well past 1795.[25] The testator in 1795 was not Rev War Robert, son of George and Lydia Steele Rankin, because his pension file proves that he survived to the 19th century, dying in 1833. The only Robert Rankin in Guilford in 1795 who was old enough to have three grandsons, and who did notlive into the nineteenth century, was Robert Rankin, son of Old Robert and Rebecca.

And that is enough about one of the many Robert Rankins of Guilford County, North Carolina.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

[1]  See http://www.gravesfa.org.

[2] Ken Graves later sent me and my cousin Barbara Parker (who is also descended from John Graves of Halifax, VA) an email telling us Y-DNA research had proved that we are not descended from the famous Capt. John Graves of early 1600s Virginia. We are therefore not related to Ken. His email was positively gleeful. So was I. I have heard about him from other DNA project administrators.

[3]  A. Gregg Moore and Forney A. Rankin, The Rankins of North Carolina (Marietta, GA: A. G. Moore, 1997).

[4]  Rev. S. M. Rankin, History of Buffalo Presbyterian Church and Her People (Greensboro, NC: J. J. Stone & Co., Printers, 1934) at 27. See also the gift deed in Note 5 from Robert and Rebecca to their son George Rankin.

[5] Jo White Linn, Rowan County North Carolina Deed Abstracts Vol. 1, 1753 – 1762, Abstracts of Books 1 – 4(Salisbury, NC), abstract of Deed Book 2: 70, a gift deed dated 13 Apr 1755 from Robert and Rebecca Rankin to their son George for 5 shillings (the usual gift deed consideration), 480 acres on the south side of Brushy Fork. Robert paid 10 shillings for that tract, a Granville grant. Id., abstract of Deed Book 2: 102.

[6] Clayton Genealogical Library microfilm, “NC Guilford County Wills Books A-B 1771-1838,” File #312, will of Robert Rankin Sr. dated 30 May 1795 proved Nov 1795, devising land on the south side of Buffalo Creek to his son George Rankin and grandsons William Rankin Willson, Andrew Willson and Maxwell Willson. Robert also named his daughter Isobel and two other living daughters who weren’t identified by either a given name or a married surname.

[7] Id., “NC Rowan County Will Books A-B 1767-1793,” will of George Rankin of Rowan County dated 23 May 1760, proved Oct 1760. Witnesses to the will included Robert Rankin (either George’s father or his brother), William Denny (George’s brother-in-law, whose wife was George’s sister Ann Rankin Denny), and John Braley (another probable brother-in-law). See the article titled “Four Robert Rankins of Guilford County, NC” at this link.

[8] William D. Bennett, Guilford County Deed Book One (Raleigh, NC: Oaky Grove Press, 1990), abstract of Deed Book 1: 504, 16 Dec 1778 state grant to Moses McClain, 200 acres adjacent Jonas Touchstone, Robert McKnight, David Allison, Robert Rankin Jr.’s line, along Robert Rankin Sr.’s line, NC Grant Book No. 33: 83. There is one deed in my Lunenburg Co., VA Winn line in which the grantee and two witnesses to a deed were identified as John Winn, John Winn, and John Winn. No “Sr.” or “Jr.,” or “John Winn, carpenter,” or “John Winn of Amelia County.” Those three men obviously had a sense of whimsy. Lunenburg Deed Book 7: 231.

[9] FHL Film No. 6564, New Castle Co., DE Deed Book Y1: 499, deed dated Apr 1768 from grantors John Rankin of Orange Co., NC (a predecessor to Guilford County) and his wife Hannah, and William Rankin of New Castle Co., DE, to grantees Thomas Rankin and Joseph Rankin, both of New Castle, land devised to John and William by their father Joseph Rankin.

[10] Autobiography of George and Lydia Rankin’s son John Rankin, “Auto-biography of John Rankin, Sen.” (South Union, Ky., 1845), transcribed in Harvey L. Eads, ed., History of the South Union Shaker Colony from 1804 to 1836 (South Union, Ky., 1870), Shaker Museum at South Union, Auburn, Kentucky. A copy of the transcript can be obtained from the University of Western Kentucky. The autobiography establishes Robert and Rebecca’s migration dates and origin. See the article titled “Autobiography of John Rankin, Grandson of Robert and Rebecca” here.

[11] Rev. S. M. Rankin, History of Buffalo Presbyterian Church 22.

[12] Id. See also Futhey and Cope, History of Chester Co., PA (Philadelphia: Louis H. Everts, 1881), reproduction facsimile by Chester County Historical Society (Mt. Vernon, IN: Windmill Publications, Inc. ,1996). The 1753 tax list for West Nottingham Township, Chester Co., PA included George Rankin and Robert Rankin.

[13]  Rankin, History of Buffalo Presbyterian Church 22.

[14]  E.g., Jo White Linn, Rowan County North Carolina Deed Abstracts Vol. 1, 1753 – 1762, Abstracts of Books 1 – 4(Salisbury, NC), Deed Book 4: 100, Granville grant dated 24 Jun 1758 to Robert Rankin, 640 acres on both sides of North Buffalo Creek. That creek flows roughly SW to NE into Buffalo Cr. The creek and the grant are located just south of Buffalo Presbyterian Church.

[15]  See Note 5.

[16] Rankin, History of Buffalo Presbyterian Church 27. George and Robert are also proved as sons by deed records. There is only circumstantial evidence for a son John. Deed and probate records also prove a daughter Ann Rankin who married William Denny. Rowan County probate records also suggest daughters Rebecca Rankin Braley/Brawley and Margaret Rankin Boyd.

[17] Clayton Genealogical Library microfilm, “NC Rowan County Will Books A-B 1767-1793”  141, will of George Rankin of Rowan County, dated 23 May 1760 and proved Oct 1760. The 1761 date for George’s death appears in every family tree I have seen for Robert and Rebecca. Someone apparently read Rev. Rankin’s book and accepted the 1761 date without question, guaranteeing that it will multiply on the internet like Tribbles.

[18] Id. George devised to his son John the 480-acre tract on Brushy Fork or Brush Creek. John sold 200 acres in August 1784, Guilford Deed Book 3: 101, and the remaining 297 acres in Sep 1796, Deed Book 6: 182. John was listed in the 1790 census for Guilford County but not in 1800. He was an ordained Presbyterian minister. He struggled with what he saw as the abstract and impersonal nature of Presbyterian doctrine and became a Shaker minister. He went to Tennessee in the late 1790s and wound up in Logan County, KY in a place called “Shakertown.” See Note 10. In a Guilford County marriage that makes Rankin researchers rip their hair out, Shaker Rev. John married Miss Rebecca Rankin. She was a daughter of John Rankin and Hannah Carson from the line of Joseph and Rebecca Rankin of Delaware.

[19] Virgil D. White, Abstracts of Revolutionary War Pension Files, Vol. III: N-Z (Waynesboro, TN: National Historical Publishing Co., 1992), abstract of the pension application of Robert Rankin, W5664. Robert was born 29 May 1759. Wife Mary. NC line. Soldier was born in Guilford and enlisted there. In 1830, he moved to McNairy Co., TN where he applied 20 May 1833. He died there 21 Dec 1840. Soldier had married Mary Moody 22 Nov 1803 in Guilford. Widow applied 12 Jun 1853 from McNairy at age 75. She died 11 Jul 1854.

[20] Rankin, History of Buffalo Presbyterian Church at 122.  

[21] Raymond Dufau Donnell, Buffalo Presbyterian Church and Cemetery Greensboro, North Carolina (Greensboro, NC: The Guilford County Genealogical Society (1994), second printing March 1996), at p. ii, saying that the “earliest written records of the church date from 1773,” and stating that Robert Rankin Sr., “Pioneer … Ruling Elder” died circa 1770.

[22] Clayton Genealogical Library microfilm, “NC Guilford County Wills Books A-B 1771-1838,” File #312, will of Robert Rankin Sr. dated 30 May 1795 proved Nov 1795.

[23] Guilford Co. Deed Book 6: 346, 16 Feb 1798.

[24] Guilford Co., Deed Book 14: 11, 23 Mar 1819.

[25]  Rev. S. M. Rankin, The Rankin and Wharton Families and Their Genealogy (Salem, MS: Higginson Book Company facsimile reprint of the 1931 original) 55 (John Rankin and Hannah Carson’s son Robert lived from 1780-1866) and 149 (William Rankin and Jane Chambers’ son Robert C. Rankin lived 1791-1853).