Who were parents of Lt. Robert Rankin (1753 – 1837)? Part 5B of 5  

Repeating the bottom line from Part 5A: I don’t know. These two articles just present possibilities, hoping someone will comment saying, “Theory #____ is the answer, and here is conclusive evidence!” That hasn’t happened, so we will slog on. So far, we have covered Theories 1 (parts A and B) and 2. To refresh our memories, here are the options.

Old business:

… Theories #1A and #1B identify Lt. Robert’s parents as Robert William Rankin (or William Robert Rankin) and Margaret Massena Marshall (or Massena Margaret Marshall). This is the conventional wisdom. However, there seems to be no evidence that people by those names ever existed. Further, the people identified as Massena Marshall’s parents are improbable.

… Theory #2 proposes a William Rankin, wife’s name unknown, as Lt. Robert’s father. He reportedly died after 1761 in Frederick County, Virginia. The only William Rankins I can find at that time and place are from the wrong lines. However, research on men named William Rankin in Frederick County is daunting, and I may have overlooked someone. Meantime, this theory remains possible although speculative.

New business:

… Theory #3  says Lt. Robert’s father could have been Benjamin Rankin of Frederick County, Virginia and Berkeley County, Virginia/West Virginia.

… Theory #4 identifies Lt. Robert’s parents as John and Sarah Woffendale (various spellings) Rankin of King George County.

… Theory #5 proposes that John Rankin and Elizabeth Marshall (daughter of William Marshall) of King George County, Virginia were Lt. Robert’s parents.

Theory #3: Lt. Robert’s father could have been Benjamin Rankin of Frederick County, Virginia and Berkeley County, Virginia/West Virginia.

 So far as I know, no researcher has endorsed this theory. I don’t endorse it either, notwithstanding that I may have invented it. However, we are definitely getting warmer. Benjamin can not only be identified as a real person, he appeared in a number of records in Frederick and Berkeley Counties. That’s a pretty low threshold for credibility, but I’m afraid that’s where we are with this puzzle. Benjamin lived at the right time in the right place, in the northern part of Frederick County that became Berkeley County, Virginia (later West Virginia) in 1772.

Berkeley County is what made me sit up and take notice. That is because Lt. Robert’s brother William enlisted from there in 1776.[1] Lt. Robert probably also enlisted in Berkeley, because he and his brother enlisted in the same company in the same regiment in the same month. William was only about seventeen when the brothers enlisted.[2] At that age, one would expect he was still living with family. This provides good geographic plausibility for Benjamin being a relative of some sort. The only other Rankin I can find in Berkeley about that time is a William who was almost certainly a son of Abigail and William Rankin and grandson of David and Jeanette McCormick Rankin of Frederick.[3] That line is not related to Lt. Robert’s family.

Frederick and Berkeley County deeds reveal some interesting connections.[4] Benjamin Rankin lived near Hugh Stephenson and John Berry on Evett’s Run in the part of Frederick that became Berkeley County. You will recall that Lt. Robert and William enlisted in Hugh Stephenson’s Maryland and Virginia Rifle Regiment. Yes, that is the same Hugh Stephenson. Also, Lt. Robert’s wife was Margaret Berry, daughter of Thomas Berry. He and John Berry were brothers.[5]

This theory has problems. The most daunting is that Benjamin Rankin’s 1787 will didn’t name either Lt. Robert or his proved brothers William and John.[6] Of course, wills sometimes omitted children, especially if they were children of a first wife and had previously been “provided for.” The absence of those names does not eliminate a possible father/son relationship between Lt. Robert and Benjamin. It does throw serious cold water on the possibility.

Benjamin’s will is not the only cold water on Theory #3. Lt. Robert and his wife Peggy consistently named their children for family and friends. Lt. Robert and his proved brothers William and John had twenty-eight children among them. None are named Benjamin. When the evidence in records is scarce, you look anywhere you can … including family names.

Benjamin may have been another son of Robert and Elizabeth Rozier Rankin of King George. Robert’s will named sons James, William, John, Benjamin, Moses, George, and Hopkins.[7] Theory #2 suggests Lt. Robert’s father was William, the second of those seven sons. Theory #3 suggests Benjamin, the fourth son. Taking the hint from those theories, I turned to King George records.

Theory #4: John Rankin and Sarah Woffendale of King George County, Virginia were Lt. Robert’s parents

It didn’t take long to identify other Rankins in King George County who could have been Lt. Robert’s father. There were two men named John Rankin in King George who might fill the bill. One John was married to Sarah Woffendale. I don’t know who his father was. The second John was a son of Robert and Elizabeth Rozier Rankin, the third name in the above list of seven sons. For that couple, see Theory #5. The two John Rankins were definitely not the same man.[8]

The key to Theory #4 is a man named Reuben Rankin. King George records concerning him prove (1) John and Sarah Woffendale Rankin were his parents,[9] (2) he was born between 1734 and 1741,[10] and (3) the Woffendale and Berry families were closely related.[11]

I haven’t identified any other children of John and Sarah Woffendale Rankin. I don’t know whether the couple stayed in King George or moved and, if the latter, where. The last record I can find in King George that is definitely John, husband of Sarah, was in 1765. In light of those unknowns, I pursued their son Reuben looking for Rankin connections.

Fast forward to 1770 in Frederick County, Virginia. That year, a Reuben Rankin and a Robert Rankin witnessed two deeds in which Benjamin and Joseph Berry were grantors.[12] Thomas Berry, the father of Margaret “Peggy” Berry Rankin who married Lt. Robert Rankin in 1781, was their brother. The Berrys were related to Sarah Woffendale Rankin and thus to her son Reuben. Lt. Robert would have been seventeen in 1770.

Were those witnesses Reuben, son of John and Sarah Woffendale Rankin, and Lt. Robert? Certainty is an elusive creature in this puzzle. It is a solid bet, though, that (1) the Rankin witnesses were connected to the Berry grantors and (2) the two Rankins were related to each other. These deeds are surely the records convincing some researchers that Lt. Robert and Reuben were brothers. Others are also convinced that they were sons of John and Sarah Woffendale Rankin of King George.

Naturally, the loyal opposition is poised to identify problems. I mentioned in Part 5A that I had some inchoate resistance to Theory #4. That feeling led me to wade through my voluminous King George data yet again, looking for the source of my unease. Here’s what I found.

Problem #1: George H. S. King, an extremely well-respected genealogist and historian cited the Draper Manuscripts, also an authoritative source, for the proposition that John and Sarah Woffendale Rankin were married in 1720 – 1722.[13] In fact, Mr. King abstracted the first volume of King George County wills, see Note 9. The 1720-22 marriage works just fine for Reuben, who was born between 1734 and 1741. But it might be a stretch for Sarah’s childbearing years to throw in Lt. Robert, born in 1753, William, born about 1759, and John, birth year unknown, but before 1765.[14] Sarah was still alive in 1762, so a possible second wife for John doesn’t circumvent that problem.

Problem #2: there is another record that unambiguously concerns John, husband of Sarah Woffendale Rankin. In 1765, John Rankin sold the enslaved woman Peg, the subject of the earlier lawsuit.[15] According to the terms of the lawsuit settlement, John would not have had the right to convey Peg unless Reuben died before age 18 or died and left no heirs.[16] That suggests Reuben, son of John and Sarah Woffendall Rankin, died by 1765 without heirs. There seem to be no records in King George for Reuben after 1762, so he either died or migrated, either abandoning Peg or conveying her to his father. I found no such conveyance. Abandoning Peg is a questionable proposition in light of the enormous value of enslaved people.

Given the paucity of evidence in actual records for any other theory, the two Berry deeds witnessed by Reuben and Robert Rankin should probably be displayed in neon lights. The witness Reuben might have been the son of John and Sarah Woffendale Rankin. I still have a hard time crossing that last bridge and concluding that Robert the witness, if he was Lt. Robert, was Reuben’s brother. I wish I had a cogent alternative explanation of their likely family relationship, but I do not.

 Theory #5: John and Elizabeth Marshall Rankin (daughter of William Marshall) of King George County were Lt. Robert’s parents

 Attorneys say that an equitable claim or defense in a lawsuit is “the last refuge of the desperate.” This is similar to using family names as evidence of a parent-child relationship. Since family names constitute the only rationale I have found supporting John and Elizabeth Marshall Rankin as Lt. Robert’s parents, this patently qualifies as a last-ditch, desperate theory.

It does seem likely there was a Marshall on Lt. Robert’s tree, given the recurrence of the name in the Rankin line,[17] the (perhaps) family oral tradition about a maternal Marshall, and deposition testimony of Judge Lippincott in Lt. Robert’s pension application that Robert and Justice Marshall were “near kin.” Massena Marshall, who may never have existed, appears to be a dead end, no pun intended. Further, neither of Lt. Robert’s proved brothers (William and John) gave a daughter that unusual name.[18]

On the other hand, Lt. Robert, William, and John all named a daughter Elizabeth. In fact, Elizabeth was Lt. Robert and Peggy’s eldest daughter — and Peggy’s mother was named Frances, not Elizabeth. The three Rankin brothers also all had sons named John. Further, the name William Marshall Rankin, another son of Lt. Robert and Peggy, points a laser beam directly at one particular Rankin couple in King George. Theory #5 may be the best option for placing the Marshall family in Lt. Robert’s maternal line, if that is your thing. If you are looking for evidence in county records, not so much.

Theory #5 definitely involves people whose existence can be proved, an almost embarrassing threshold question for this puzzle. A John Rankin in King George County married Elizabeth Marshall, a daughter of William Marshall, between July 1746 and September 1752. John was a son of Robert and Elizabeth Rozier Rankin, with whom we are already acquainted.[19]

Here is the evidence that John Rankin married Elizabeth Marshall. First, William Marshall bequeathed to his daughter Elizabeth a “mulatto named Sarah to be delivered on the day of her marriage.”[20] William Marshall’s King George County will was dated July 24, 1746, so Elizabeth was not married as of that date. In September 1752, John and Elizabeth Rankin sold to Thomas Turner the 100 acres where they lived that he inherited from his father.[21] In May 1753, John Rankin, “carpenter of Hanover Parish, King George,” mortgaged a mulatto enslaved person named Sall or Sarah.[22] John Rankin thus married William Marshall’s daughter Elizabeth sometime between July 1746 and September 1752. That couple could easily accommodate Lt. Robert, born in 1753, William, born about 1759, and John, born by 1765.

Evidence of this couple’s children eluded me, although there is circumstantial evidence for a son named Francis and possibly another son.[23] John probably died in King George County. His widow Elizabeth is mentioned in a 1783 deed in which Thomas Turner sold the 100-acre tract where Elizabeth then lived, the same tract Turner had previously purchased from John and Elizabeth.[24] She may also be and probably is the Elizabeth Rankin shown on King George tax lists in 1787 – 1790 with one white tithe.

The bottom line, though, is that Theory #5 is pure speculation.

I would love to hear your opinions. I would also love to hear from someone who has some actual evidence on this question. Meanwhile, I may sort through some of the Benjamin Rankins (there is more than one), Reuben Rankins (ditto, probably), Moses, George, and others who hail from King George.

See you on down the road.

Robin

                  [1] Pension file of William Rankin, S.31315, sworn declaration supporting his pension application dated 22 Nov 1833 in Mason Co., KY. See a good online transcription by Will Graves here.

                  [2] Id. William was 74 when he applied for a pension in Nov. 1833, so he was born about 1759. He would have been about 17 in July 1776.

                  [3] William Rankin of Berkeley was a trustee of the Hopewell Presbyterian Church when it was still located in Frederick. See Berkeley Co., WV Deed Book 1: 83, Nov. 1771 conveyance to six trustees of the Hopewell Presbyterian Congregation, including William Rankin. Lt. Robert’s line of Rankins probably migrated from England and left no evidence of Presbyterianism. William Rankin was listed on the 1783 tax list of John Davenport in the Sleepy Creek Valley, an area now in Morgan and Berkeley Counties in WV. William H. Rice, The 1774 List of Tithables and Wheel Carriages in Berkeley County, Virginia (Parsons, WVA: McClain Printing Co., 2006) 28.  He left a will in Morgan County naming, inter alia, a daughter Abigail. Morgan Co, WV Will Book 1: 199, will of William Rankin dated 1815, proved 1820. Sons Samuel, Simon/Simeon, and William, and daughter Abigail. See Note 20 of Part 5A for William’s probable parents (Wm. and Abigail) and grandparents (David and Jeanette McCormick), all of whom were Presbyterians down to their toes.

                  [4] Frederick Co., VA Deed Book 13: 366 and Deed Book 14: 457, conveyances in 1770 and 1771 to Benjamin Rankin witnessed by three Stephensons, including Hugh. The land was on drains of Evets Run (also Evetts or Evatts) and was adjacent to John Washington. John Berry also had land on that creek, see Frederick Co., VA Deed Book 10: 180. William Davis, the grantor in the 1770/71 conveyances, wrote a will witnessed by his neighbors John Berry and Benjamin Rankin, see Berkeley Co., VA Will Book 1: 14. See also 1779 deed to Benjamin Rankin for 313 acres adjacent Col. John Washington, Charles Washington, and “widow Stephenson.”

                  [5] I’m not going to get into the complicated Berry family of King George and Frederick.

                  [6] Berkeley Co., WV Will Book 1: 441, will of Benjamin Rankin of Berkeley Co., VA dated and proved in 1787. George Rankin, relationship unknown, was a witness. Benjamin named his widow Judith, two daughters, and a daughter’s son. Margaret Rankin, one of the daughters, married William Helm who migrated to Mason County, Kentucky, where the three proved Rankin brothers lived.

                  [7] King George Co., VA Will Book 1:A: 201, undated will of Robert Rankins proved 4 Mar 1747/48. Wife Elizabeth, sons William, John, James, Moses, George, Benjamin, and Hopkins, and daughter Mary Green.

                  [8] John, son of Robert and Elizabeth Rozier Rankin, married Elizabeth Marshall between July 1746 and September 1752. Sarah Woffendale Rankin, wife of the other John Rankin, married John before 1741 and was still alive in 1762.

                  [9] The agreement in a lawsuit concerning an enslaved person named Peg proves that John Rankin and Miss Woffendale (given name not stated) had a son Reuben. King George Co., VA Order Book 1751-1754 at 71, from abstract by Mary Marshall Brewer, King George County, Virginia Orders 1751 – 1754 (Lewes, DE: Colonial Roots, 2007) 42. The will of Reuben’s aunt Mary Woffendale proves that her sister Sarah Woffendale married a Rankin; Mary named her nephew Reuben executor. King George Co., VA Will Book A: 149, from abstract by George Harrison Sanford King, King George County Virginia Will Book A-I 1721-1752 and Miscellaneous Notes (Fredericksburg, VA: 1978), will of Mary Woffendale dated and proved in 1762.

                  [10] Id. Together, the lawsuit and will establish that Reuben was born between 1734 and 1741. Reuben was less than 18 when the lawsuit was settled in June 1752. He was of age and probably in his mid-twenties when his Aunt Mary Woffendale wrote her will naming him executor.

[11] The will of Mary Woffendale (see Note 9) names a number of her relations, including her sisters Elizabeth Kendall and Sarah Rankins. It also identifies a number of nieces and a nephew, although she called them “cousins.” Those include Reuben Rankin (son of sister Sarah Woffendall Rankin), Elizabeth Butler, Jenny Humston (daughter of Mary’s sister Frances Woffendall Humston), and Catherine Berry. Mary Woffendale’s will and other documents nicely illustrate the relationships between several King George families. (1) Mary Woffendale’s sister Elizabeth Woffendale married Samuel Kendall; Elizabeth and Samuel Kendall were the parents of Frances Kendall who married Thomas Berry; and Frances and Thomas Berry were the parents of Margaret “Peggy” Berry, who married Robert Rankin. (2) Mary’s niece Catherine was the wife of Capt. Joseph Berry. Catherine and Joseph Berry were the parents of the Thomas Berry who married Frances Kendall.

                  [12] Frederick Co., VA Deed Book 17: 75, deed dated 13 Nov 1770 from Thomas Berry and wife Frances of Frederick Co., VA to Elisha Williams of Frederick, MD, 337 acres, witnessed by two Benjamin Berrys, Robert Rankin, and Reuben Rankin; Frederick Co. DB 18: 224, deed of the same date from Benjamin Berry to Elisha Williams, witnessed by John Humphrey, Benjamin Berry, James Smallwood, Reuben Rankins, Thomas Berry, and Robert Rankins.

                  [13] George H. S. King cited the Draper Manuscripts for the proposition that John and Sarah Woffendale Rankin married in 1720-22. I have not been able to penetrate the Draper Manuscripts yet. See George’s sterling qualifications at this link.  I have not viewed either the Draper Manuscripts or Mr. King’s collection. The attribution to him for the date of John and Sarah’s marriage can be found at Linda Starr’s website here.  Linda, now deceased, was a serious Rankin researcher. She was led astray about Lt. Robert’s parents by Ms. Cloyd, who was led astray by Ms. Calloway. Otherwise, Linda’s research merits the highest respect.

                  [14] John Rankin’s eldest daughter Nancy was born about 1793; his eldest son Marshall was born about 1800. Four daughters were born 1800-1810. I haven’t been able to get a good handle on John’s likely birth year. The census reveals only that he was born by 1765.

                  [15] King George Co., VA Deed Book 5: 635, deed dated 6 Sep 1765 from John Rankin to Thomas Jett, enslaved person named Peg.

                  [16] Here is the entire order book statement about the lawsuit as abstracted by Mary Marshall Brewer: “John Rankin v. Francis Woffendale, suit in case. Parties agreed (bond posted) to abide by the award of Charles Carter and Thomas Turner, gent. They decided Francis Woffendale should deliver Peg an enslaved person, to John Rankins, who is to have the use of Peg and her increase for his life, and at his death, Peg and her increase to go to Reuben Rankins, a child of the said John Rankins by Francis Woffendale’s daughter. But if Reuben dies before age 18 or without children, then Peg and her increase to remain the absolute property of John Rankins. Woffendale to pay costs.”

                  [17] Lt. Robert’s brother John had a son Marshall Rankin; Lt. Robert had a son William Marshall Rankin.

                  [18] If you Google the name “Massena,” you will come up with an Italian general and the name of a town in New York.

                  [19] Theory #2 proposed that William, son of Robert and Elizabeth Rozier Rankin, was Lt. Robert’s father; Theory #3 said Benjamin, son of Robert and Elizabeth, may have been Lt. Robert’s father.

[20] King George Co., VA Will Book A-1: 212-214, will of William Marshall dated 24 Jul 1746.

[21] King George Co., VA Deed Book 3: 496, conveyance dated Sep. 1752 from John Rankins and wife Elizabeth of Hanover Parish, King George, to Thomas Turner, Gent., 100 acres where grantor lives given to him by will of his father Robert Rankin.

[22] King George Co., VA Deed Book 4: 36. There are two available abstracts of this mortgage. The Brewer abstract provides the name of the enslaved woman. An abstract by the Sparacios does not. Mary Marshall Brewer, Abstracts of Land Records of King George County, Virginia 1752 – 1783 (Lewes, DE: Colonial Roots, 2002); Ruth and Sam Sparacio, Deed Abstracts of King George County, Virginia (1763 – 1773) (McLean, VA: The Antient Press, 1986).

[23] A Francis Rankin witnessed the 1779 will of Philip Peed along with John Rankins. King George Co., VA Will Book A: 409. Philip Peed’s wife was Margaret Green, daughter of Richard Green, see Will Book A: 388. Richard Green was married to Mary Rankin, daughter of Robert and Elizabeth Rozier Rankin. Evidence of a possible second son of John and Elizabeth Marshall Rankin is in county tax lists during the late 1780s, when Elizabeth was shown with one tithe. The tithable would necessarily have been a male because free women were not taxable.

[24] King George Co., VA Deed Book 6: 401, Thomas Turner, Gent. and wife Mary convey 100-acre tract in Hanover Parish where Elizabeth Rankin now lives adj. Green’s corner. Robert and Elizabeth Rozier Rankin’s daughter Mary married Richard Green.