Part 2, Pennsylvania Rankins: William and Abigail of Washington County

Introduction

First, an inducement to persevere in this post: there are links to several online sources of information about this particular Rankin family.

Second, a rant about Rankin research in southern Pennsylvania: roughly a gazillion Rankins lived there from the mid-eighteenth century on. At least it feels that way. Rankins litter the deed books from Chester County in the east to Washington in the west. You may think you are researching only one Rankin line in only one county. Ha! Before you know it, you have worked your way through every county on the Maryland border and are sorting through gosh knows how many Rankin lines. To make it challenging, those good Scots-Irish men are all named William, James, John, David, Thomas, Hugh, or Adam.

And don’t get me started on the Pennsylvania grantor/grantee indexes. Whoever heard of arranging anything alphabetically by first name? Is William Penn to blame for this? The only good thing I can say about Pennsylvania research is that William Tecumseh Sherman didn’t torch their courthouses.

The bottom line is that undertaking Rankin family research in southern Pennsylvania involves what attorneys call a slippery slope: a course of action that seems to lead inevitably from one action or result to another with unintended consequences. Thus, the scorched-earth march through deed records from Washington to Chester County (if you started on the western end, as I did).

Okay. We’re just going to proceed one southern Pennsylvania Rankin line at a time and hope for the best. I’m grateful for the chance to vent.

William and Abigail Rankin of Frederick, VA and Washington, PA

Let’s start with William Rankin, a son of David Rankin Sr. and Jennet (who did not have the middle name Mildred) McCormick Rankin of Frederick County, Virginia. We talked about David and Jennet’s family in Part 1 of this series. Two deeds in Frederick prove that William’s wife was named Abigail and that he owned a tract of land in Frederick called “Turkey Spring.[1] William’s will proves that he and Abigail moved to Washington County from Frederick because his will names his wife Abigail and devises Turkey Spring to his son William (Jr.). Boyd Crumrine’s 1882 History of Washington County, Pennsylvania says that William and most of his family came to the area in 1774.[2]

William died there in 1793. He named ten children in his will – eight sons and two daughters – as well as some of his grandchildren.[3] Charles A. Hanna’s book on Ohio Valley genealogies identifies a ninth son James, who was killed by Native Americans while returning to Pennsylvania from a trip to Kentucky.[4] William identified himself in his will as a resident of Smith Township on the middle fork of Raccoon Creek. That location distinguishes this family from other Rankins in the county for at least a century. The Raccoon Creek area was later incorporated into Mt. Pleasant Township, and many of William’s descendants are buried in Mt. Prospect Cemetery in that township.

Four of William’s sons – John, Thomas, Jesse and Zachariah – served in the Washington County militia.[5] At least Thomas was a Revolutionary War veteran (perhaps his brothers were, as well?).[6] The brothers served in the 4thCompany, 4thBatallion. John Rankin was a Lieutenant.[7] An official list of Revolutionary War soldiers buried in Ohio names Thomas Rankin, buried in Harrison County, and identifies his three brothers and their parents.[8]

 A Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission website says the Rankins’ company was from the area of Raccoon and Millers Run, so we know that we are looking at the right family. (Best tool in genealogy: location, location, location!). I haven’t researched the history of that militia. If you are descended from John, Jesse or Zachariah, and have a yen to join the DAR or SAR, you might consider doing that.

Here’s some information about William and Abigail’s sons. In the interest of keeping an overlong post marginally less so, I have omitted their daughters Mary Rankin (married Thomas Cherry) and Abigail Rankin (married Charles Campbell), whom I did not look at. I plan to post an outline chart for William and Abigail’s descendants as part of this series.

 David Rankin, b. by 1755, d. unknown. David, probably the eldest son, inherited the tract where he lived from his father. If you followed the link to Boyd Crumrine’s 1882 History in footnote 2 of this post, you saw Crumrine’s assertion that David remained in Virginia. Not so. Charles Hanna’s Genealogies made the same mistake. Two deeds involving his inherited tract make it clear that David and his wife Grace (maiden name unknown) lived right there on Raccoon Creek in the middle of the Rankin family.[9] David arrived in Washington County no later than 1781, when he appeared on a Smith Township tax list with his father William and brothers John, Matthew and Zachariah.[10] David sold parts of his inherited land in 1799 and 1805.[11] He was listed in Washington County in the 1800 and 1810 censuses, which suggest he had (at least) three daughters and a son born between 1784 and 1810.[12] I haven’t found where David went after 1810, and don’t have any clues about the identities of his children. If anyone reading this has any ideas, I would love to hear them.

John Rankin, b. by 1760, d. 1788, Washington Co., PA. John left a will naming his wife Rebecca and minor children James and Mary.[13]T heir grandfather William Rankin left the two children 253 acres in his 1793 will.[14] In 1808, James and Polly (a common nickname for Mary) sold that tract, located “on the waters of Raccoon Cr.” The deed recited that John’s widow Rebecca Rankin had married Jonathan Jacques, a useful piece of information for tracking the family.[15] James accepted notes for part of the purchase price, and the record of the 1808 mortgage identifies him as a resident of Harrison Co., KY.[16] There is a listing in the 1810 Harrison County census for a John Jaquess and an Isaac Jaquess. The latter is listed three households down from a James Rankin, possibly the son of John Rankin and Rebecca Rankin Jacques.[17] Other members of the Frederick-Washington Rankin family also moved from Washington to Harrison County, but I will save them for another post in this series.

William Rankin (Jr.). William Sr.’s will devised to William Jr. the tract where William (Sr.) formerly lived called “Turkey Spring.”[18] I haven’t attempted to track William Jr. in Virginia. Some online trees identify him as a Revolutionary War soldier (1748-1830) buried in the Mahnes Cemetery in Morgan County, West Virginia. I believe that William belongs to another Rankin family. It may be that the only way to resolve that question is YDNA testing … any Rankin men reading this need to volunteer, please!

Matthew Rankin, b. by 1755, d. 1822, Washington Co., PA. Matthew’s wife was Charity, maiden name unknown. The couple apparently had no surviving children because Matthew willed all his property to his wife, his brother Jesse, and some nieces and nephews.[19] Matthew was clearly a family caretaker, ensuring enforcement of a family agreement to distribute the family land equally, and acting as executor of his brother Zachariah’s will.[20]

Zachariah Rankin, b. by 1760, d. 1785, Washington Co., PA. Zachariah clearly knew he had a fatal illness before he died, because he executed his will on Oct. 17, 1785 and it was proved exactly one week later.[21] Crumrine tells us that Zachariah died of hydrophobia from the bite of a rabid wolf. Oh, my goodness. His probate file would make you smile, though: his brother Matthew’s spelling (or misspelling) throughout is charming. Zachariah’s wardrobe is described in some detail in Matthew’s inventory of personal property, suggesting Zachariah was a well-outfitted frontiersman (spelling and capitalization per original):

  • 2 Shirts
  • 1 coat 1 Jacket ____ & wool
  • one coat & one Jacket of thick cloath
  • one Pair of Buckskin Briches
  • one pair of Cordoroy Ditto & Jacket Nee Buckle
  • one Pair of Leggins one Letout (?) Coat
  • one Jacket
  • one Beaver Hat & one Wool hat
  • three Pair of stockings
  • one Silk Handkerchief & one linnen Ditto

Reading between the lines, there are a couple of other interesting details in Zachariah’s estate files. The only people who bought anything at Zachariah’s estate sale were named Rankin, except for Thomas Cherry, Zachariah’s brother-in-law. That suggests that either (1) the estate sale was attended only by family, which is highly improbable, or (2) the Rankins just outbid everyone on every item. The latter is far more likely, and suggests again that this family looked out for each other. Oh, and, Zachariah’s brother Thomas bought five gallons of whiskey for Zachariah’s funeral! Either attendance at the funeral was considerably larger than attendance at the estate sale, or else the Rankin family had one hellacious capacity for alcohol.[22] Or possibly both. I’ve known a few Rankins, and there are and have been some hollow legs in our family.

Thomas Rankin, b. 16 Sep. 1760 – d. 1832, Cadiz Township, Harrison Co., Ohio.  Thomas’s wife was named Ann (nickname Nancy), maiden name Foreman according to Charles Hanna. Like his brothers, Thomas inherited land on Raccoon Cr. from his father. He is listed in the 1790 Washington County census adjacent William Sr. That census suggests two sons and one daughter born by 1790.[23] Hanna identified his children as James, William, David, Jane and Nancy.

Thomas sold his land in two deeds in 1798, which may be when he left Washington County.[24] Crumrine says that Thomas moved to Cadiz Township, Harrison Co., Ohio. Thomas appeared on the 1810 tax list and 1820 there. In the 1820 census, he is listed adjacent a David Rankin, presumably his son. Thomas is buried in the Rankin Methodist Episcopal Cemetery in Cadiz Township.[25]

Jesse Rankin, b. 1763 – d. 21 Sep. 1837, Mt. Pleasant Township, Washington Co., PA. Jesse’s probate files conclusively establish the identities of his eight surviving children: sons Matthew, William, Isaac and Jesse, and daughters Margaret (married James Futen or Tuten or Teten), Abigail (married Robert Tenan or Tinan), Jane (never married), and Maria or Mariah (married George Kelso). The probate files are full of information. Some of it suggests that members of this branch of the Rankin family also had each other’s backs.[26]

First, there was a quitclaim deed from Jesse’s widow Jane (maiden name unknown) and their four sons to their four daughters, giving each daughter personal property essential for an early 19th-century female: a bed and bedclothes, saddle and bridle, some flax yarn and flannel, and a cow and calf. Also a set of silver teaspoons, a luxurious gift in the early 1800s.

Second, the family agreed to give Isaac a share of the estate over and above what he would have been entitled to under the law of intestate descent and distribution. The family did that because Isaac had continued to live with and work for his family as an adult. The family’s agreement recites that “for and in consideration of the labours and services of … Isaac Rankin for and during the time of 6 years 9 months which he … continued with his father and family after he arrived at 21 years of age … $100 per year for the said time … to be paid by the Administrators of Jesse … over and above the legal share of the estate.” Nice!

Samuel Rankin, b. 1769, d. October 1820, Washington Co., PA. Samuel died intestate and left little trace in the records. Charles Hanna said his wife was Jane McConahey. Samuel’s brother Matthew named Samuel’s children in his will:[27] sons John, David, Samuel, James, Stephen, and Matthew, and daughters Matilda, Abigail and Jane. Charles Hanna adds a son William. Matthew’s will in Washington County Will Book 3 is now typewritten, presumably copied from the original handwritten will book. Perhaps either the clerk who first entered the will in the records, or the typist who later transcribed it, omitted William. Whatever. It’s a solid bet that Hanna was correct, and Samuel had a son William. Further, the 1850 census for Washington County has two William Rankins living in Mt. Pleasant Township, where Matthew’s land had been divided among his brother Jesse and the children of his brother Samuel. One William was likely Samuel’s son, and the other William was Jesse’s son.

With that, I’ll close: see you on down the road. I owe you a descendant chart on William and Abigail’s line, plus … more Rankins in Washington County!

[1] Amelia C. Gilreath, Frederick County, Virginia Deed Books 5, 6, 7, 8, 1757-1763 (Nokesville, VA: 1990), abstract of Deed Book 5: 343-345, lease and release dated Sept. 3 and 4, 1759, from William Rankin of Frederick to John Smith, a tract on Opeckon Cr. called “Turkey Spring,”part of a 778-acre grant from Lord Fairfax to William and David Rankin (William’s father, David Sr., see the next deed) on 30 October 1756. William and Abigel (sic) Rankin signed the release. See id.,abstract of Deed Book 5: 398-400, lease and release dated Mar. 2 and 3, 1760, from David Rankin Sr.and William Rankin, all of Frederick Co., to David Rankin Jr., 463 acres on a branch of Opeckon Cr., part of a 778-acre grant to David and William dated 30 Oct. 1756 from Lord Fairfax. David Rankin, Jannet (sic) Rankin, William Rankin, and Abigill (sic) Rankin all signed.

[2] Boyd Crumrine, History of Washington County, Pennsylvania(Philadelphia: L. H. Everts & Co., 1882). Here is a link to Crumrine’s History:: https://archive.org/details/historyofwashing00crum

[3] Bob and Mary Closson, Abstracts of Washington County Pennsylvania Willbooks 1-5 (1776-1841)(Apollo, PA: Closson Press, 1995), will of William Rankin of Smith Twp. and the “middle fork of Raccoon Creek,” dated 10 Apr 1793 and proved 21 Oct 1793.

[4] Charles A. Hanna, Ohio Valley Genealogies Relating Chiefly to Families in Harrison, Belmont and Jefferson Counties, Ohio, and Washington, Westmoreland, and Fayette Counties, Pennsylvania (New York: privately printed, Press of J. J. Little & Co., 1900). This Rankin family appears on pp. 104-105. Here is a link: https://ia801608.us.archive.org/8/items/ohiovalleygeneal00hann/ohiovalleygeneal00hann.pdf

[5] Jane Dowd Dailey, DAR, under the direction of the Ohio Adjutant General’s Department, The Official Roster of the Soldiers of the American Revolution Buried in the State of Ohio, Vol. 1, p. 300 (Columbus, Ohio, The F. J. Heer Printing Co., 1929). Here is a link: https://ia902607.us.archive.org/30/items/officialrosterof1929ohiorich/officialrosterof1929ohiorich.pdf

[6] Here is a link to an image of Thomas’s tombstone. Notice the DAR Rev War marker to the left. Crumrine (see note 2) tells us that Thomas moved to Cadiz, Ohio; the Rankin cemetery where Thomas is buried is located there. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/86229380/thomas-rankin#view-photo=59555244

[7] Pennsylvania Archives Series, Series 6, Volume II, pp. 133, 144.

[8] See note 5, Official Roster at 300.

[9] Family History Library DGS Film 8,036,008, Washington Co., PA Deed Book 1P: 232, deed dated 8 May 1799 from David and Grace Rankin of Smith Township to James Denny, a tract on Raccoon Cr. adjacent James Leach, willed by William Rankin to his son David; Film 8,036,009, Washington Co. Deed Book 1T: 12, deed of 11 Jan 1805 from David Rankin of Smith Township to William Rankin, son of Samuel Rankin, for love and affection and $100, the tract where David now resides adjacent James Leach.

[10] Raymond Martin Bell and Katherine K. Zinsser, Washington County, Pennsylvania Tax Lists for 1781, 1783, 1784, 1793 and Census for 1790(Bowie, MD: Heritage Books, Inc., 1988).

[11] See note 9.

[12] 1800 federal census, Washington Co., Smith Twp., David Rankin, 10001-01001; 1810 federal census, Washington Co., Mt. Pleasant Twp., David Rankin, 01001-20101. The census suggests that David was born by 1755, as was his wife Grace. If the children in his household were his, he had a daughter b. 1784-1790, son b. 1794-1800, and two daughters b. 1800-1810

[13] Family History Library DGS Film No. 5,537,968, Washington Co., PA Will Book 1: 81, will of John Rankin of Smith Township dated 16 Feb 1788 and proved 22 Apr 1788 naming wife Rebecca, father William, and children James and Mary.

[14] Closson, Abstracts of Washington County Pennsylvania Willbooks, 1793 will of William Rankin.

[15] Family History Library DGS Film 7,901,590, Washington Co., PA Deed Book 1U: 130, deed dated 22 Feb 1808 from James Rankin for himself and as attorney for Polly Rankin. The deed recites that James and Polly inherited the tract from their father John Rankin, who left a wife Rebecca, “now married to Jonathan Jacques.”

[16] Id., Washington Co. Deed Book 1U: 132, mortgage dated 22 Feb 1808 reciting the sale of land by James and Polly Rankin and stating that James Rankin was “of Harrison Co., KY.”

[17] 1810 federal census, Harrison Co., KY, listings for John Jaquess (32001-03100, 2 slaves), Isaac Jaquess (00100-001), and James Rankins (11000-11001). James is listed in the 10<16 age category, which is too young to be James, son of John and Rebecca. This may be an example of census error, particularly since there is a female in the 26 < 45 age category in the household.

[18] See note 3.

[19] Family History Library DGS Film 5,537,969, Washington Co., PA Will Book 3: 484, will of Matthew Rankin Sr.of Mt. Pleasant Twp. dated 20 Dec 1821, proved 25 Apr 1822. Matthew named (1) his nephew Matthew Rankin (Jr.), the 4thson of Matthew’s deceased brother Samuel Rankin (60 acres), (2) his brother Jesse (100 acres), (3) his brother Samuel’s other children John Rankin, David Rankin, Samuel Rankin, James Rankin, Stephen Rankin, Matilda Rankin, Abigail Rankin and Jane Rankin (the rest of Matthew’s land), and (4) nephews James Rankin (cash and clothes), son of Matthew’s brother Thomas, and nephew John Cherry, son of Thomas and Mary Rankin Cherry (cash).

[20] Family History Library DGS Film 8,036,002, Washington Co., PA Deed Book 1B: 374, agreement dated 13 Aug 1785 among William Rankin of Smith Twp and his sons Matthew Rankin, Zachariah Rankin, and Jesse Rankin, all of Smith Township. The three brothers gave to William Rankin all rights to lands adjacent to the settlement where William Rankin lived that “come to our hands from the office of Philadelphia.” In return, William promised to make “equal division according to quantity and quality” among William’s sons. William’s will failed to honor that agreement by devising to his sons Samuel and Jesse the share of William’s land to which Zachariah (who predeceased William) was entitled. Zachariah’s only heir, his daughter Abigail, was entitled to that land. Matthew remedied that situation with several deeds in order “to do justice and equity” according to the contract and William’s will, ensuring that Zachariah’s daughter received that land. Family History Library DGS Film 8,084,633, Washington Co., PA Deed Book 1R: 186, Deed Book 1R: 189, and DB 1R: 295. The last deed contains a conveyance from Jesse and Samuel Rankin to Abby Rankin (Zachariah’s only child and heir), “it being the share of William Rankin’s estate to which Zachariah was entitled,” all in order “to do justice and equity” according to the contract among William and his sons.

[21] Family History Library DGS Film 5,537,968, Washington Co., PA Will Book 1: 52, will of Zachariah Rankin naming wife Nancy, father William Rankin, and his unborn child (a daughter named Abigail). Zachariah named his brother Matthew executor.

[22] Family History Library DGS Film 5,558,493, Probate File # R9.

[23] 1790 federal census for Washington Co., PA, Thomas Rankin, 12201 (1 male 16+, 2 males < 16 [ b. 1774-1790], and 2 females, suggesting 2 sons and 1 daughter).

[24]F amily History Library DGS Film 8,036,007, Washington Co., PA Deed Book 1N, 665 and 754, conveyance by Rankin and wife Ann in two deeds, 100 acres and 150 acres.

[25] See note 6.

[26] Family History Library DGS Film 5,558,495 and 5,558,496, Probate Files R32, R51 and R52.

[27] Family History Library DGS Film 5,537,969, Washington Co., PA Will Book 3: 484, will of Matthew Rankin.

 

Two Rankin Revolutionary War Pension Applications

Robert Rankin of McNairy Co., TN and Robert Rankin of Gibson Co. TN

A comment from a reader on an earlier post illustrated how easy it is to confuse some of the Rankins who lived in North Carolina and Tennessee in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. That includes two men named Robert Rankin who fought in the Revolutionary War. They were both originally from North Carolina and then moved to Tennessee about 1825 – 1830.

I wrote about these men in two different articles on this website, which undoubtedly made it more difficult to distinguish between them. Who can remember which Robert is which? To clear up the confusion, let’s revisit each man briefly to contrast their histories and pension applications. We will look first at the man I call “Rev. War Robert Rankin” and then his fellow soldier “Mystery Robert Rankin.” There is no proved family relationship between these two men, although their descendants are a very close Y-DNA match (assuming that I am correct about Mystery Robert’s identity).

Rev. War Robert Rankin of Rowan/Guilford, NC and McNairy, TN (1759 – 1840)[1]

Rev. War Robert was a son of George and Lydia Steele Rankin of Rowan/Guilford County, North Carolina.[2] He married twice: first, to Mary (“Polly”) Cusick, probably in the early 1780s, and then to Mary Moody in 1803.[3]

He applied for a Revolutionary War pension in McNairy Co., TN on May 20, 1833.[4] Among other things, he testified as follows:

  • He was born in Guilford Co., NC on May 29, 1759 (at the time, it was Rowan County; Guilford wasn’t created until 1770).
  • He was in the battle of Guilford Courthouse on March 15, 1781.
  • He lived in Guilford until 1830 and then moved to McNairy County, Tennessee, where he was residing when he applied for a pension.

Here is an online transcription of his full pension application (and additional information from his widow’s application) prepared by Will Graves. Rev. War Robert died in McNairy County and  is buried in Bethel Springs Cemetery, see military tombstone here.[5] For more information on Rev. War Robert and his children, see the article at this link discussing him and three other men named Robert Rankin from the Guilford County line of Robert and Rebecca Rankin.

“Mystery Robert Rankin” of Gibson County, TN (1748 – after 1835)[6]

I refer to the second Robert Rankin as “Mystery Robert” because his family of origin is not proved. In fact, the records of Gibson County, Tennessee, where he filed for a Revolutionary War pension, reveal very little about him. I found no probate records naming Robert, one gift deed in which he may or may not have been the grantor, and no court records other than his pension application. He only appeared in the 1830 census and a few tax records in Gibson County.

One thing, however, is certain: the Robert Rankin who applied for a Revolutionary War pension from McNairy County, Tennessee (“Rev. War Robert”) was not the same man as Robert Rankin of Gibson County, Tennessee (“Mystery Robert”). Their pension applications leave no doubt about that.

Mystery Robert testified in open court on September 7, 1832 in support of his application. He said this, inter alia:

  • He was 84 years old, and thus born about 1748.
  • He served in the North Carolina militia. This almost certainly means that he lived in North Carolina when he enlisted.
  • He was in the battle of Ramsour’s Mill, where, he testified, “I lost a brother, killed by the Tories.” That battle took place in June 1780 in Lincoln County, NC.

You can find his pension application testimony online here, also transcribed by Will Graves.

Most of the patriot troops who fought at Ramsour’s Mill were from Iredell County, NC. About forty patriots died in that battle. The Philip Langenhour (I am uncertain of the spelling of that surname) papers owned by the Iredell Genealogical Society in Statesville establish that one of the dead patriots was named Rankin. Other Iredell and Lincoln County records lead to the conclusion that a James Rankin died at Ramsour’s, and that he was a son of David and Margaret Rankin of Iredell.[7] David and Margaret also had a son named Robert, who appeared frequently in the Iredell County records through the 1820s and then disappeared without leaving any probate records. Given the real and personal property ownership of the Iredell Rankin family, it is unlikely that Robert died there. Instead, he probably moved on.

The evidence strongly suggests that Robert, son of David and Margaret Rankin, moved to Gibson County, Tennessee, where he stated in his pension application that he had a brother who died in the battle of Ramsour’s Mill. I marshaled the evidence for that conclusion in this article.

I hope you will take the time to read the pension applications of these two men. The amount of detail these old vets recalled is amazing – in 1832 or 1833, a full half-century after their service. I shouldn’t be surprised, though. My husband is a Vietnam vet, and it is abundantly clear that a war experience leaves one with very strong memories.

See you on down the road! The Rankins and I are not yet finished with each other … <grin>

[1] National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Vol. 25, No. 4, December 1937, Revolutionary War Pension Applications. The pension application of Robert Rankin of McNairy Co., TN gave his date of birth as May 29, 1759. His widow, in her pension application, said he died on Dec. 21, 1840.

[2] Rowan County, NC Will Book A: 141, will of George Rankin dated May 1760, proved Oct 1760, naming minor sons John and Robert and wife Lydia; autobiography of Rev. War Robert’s brother 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. The autobiography identifies Lydia Steele as George Rankin’s wife and the mother of John and Robert Rankin.

[3] See Guilford, NC Will Book B: 435, will of William Cusick naming three daughters of Robert Rankin (Lydia, Isbel and Thankful) and testator’s deceased daughter Polly Cusick Rankin; National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Vol. 25, No. 4, December 1937, Revolutionary War Pension Applications, identifying Rev. War Robert’s second wife as Mary Moody, married in Guilford County Nov. 22, 1803.

[4] Id., National Genealogical Society Quarterly.

[5] The Findagrave site claims that Rev. War Robert married Mary (“Polly”) Cusick in 1781, although there seems to be no evidence in the records for a specific year. A compiled Rankin family history by Gregg Moore and Forney Rankin makes that claim without citing any records, so far as I know.

[6] Gibson County Robert’s pension application states his age, establishing his date of birth as about 1748. He was on the Tennessee pension roll in 1835, and may have been the grantor in an 1837 deed and a poll on the 1838 Gibson tax list.

[7] See the evidence concerning the family of David Rankin and his sons Robert and James Rankin in this article.

 

The Mysterious Robert Rankin of Gibson County, TN

© Robin Rankin Willis

I spent some time in early 2017 at the Tennessee State Library and Archives in Nashville, where I wound up mucking about in Gibson County. I stumbled over a passel of Rankins there. They are my favorite line for several reasons, not least of which is the fact that I was nèe Rankin.

What got me enmeshed in the Gibson County Rankins was the Revolutionary War pension application of one Robert Rankin among the court records. Let’s call him Mystery Robert because his family of origin is a puzzle. He applied for a pension in Gibson in September 1832. His sworn statement is replete with military details. Unfortunately, he did not say where he enlisted, which would likely have led us to his family of origin without much difficulty

I cannot find anyone who claims descent from Mystery Robert among online family trees. This is unusual. The general rule is that, whenever one finds a Revolutionary War soldier, one finds many descendants. I have found no one claiming a revolutionary war soldier ancestor who applied from Gibson County in 1832.

If you know who this man’s family is, please let me know. I’ll send you a box of chocolates, provided that you have proof other than some online tree which cites as sources other online family trees.

Here is what the Gibson records reveal about Mystery Robert, which is precious little.

  • Mystery Robert was 84 when he applied for a pension under the Act of 1832. That was the first Congressional act in which the applicant did not have to prove that he was destitute in order to be eligible for a pension. Since Robert had not applied earlier, we know that he wasn’t destitute. He was born about 1748. He was in the North Carolina militia, which means he almost certainly lived in NC when he enlisted. His pension allowance was $50/year, and the 1835 roll of Tennessee pensioners says that he had received $150 through June 1834. Here is a transcription of his pension application.
  • Robert appeared in the 1830 census for Gibson County in the 80 < 90 age bracket (born 1740 – 1750), consistent with the stated age in his pension application. There is a female 40 < 50 (born 1780 – 1790) listed with him and a male 10 < 15 (born 1815 – 1820). This could be a young wife and son, or a widowed daughter or daughter-in-law who was his caretaker (and her son). The 1830 census only gives names for the head of household, and I haven’t been able to identify the other members of Robert’s household.
  • The 1830s tax records in Gibson County occasionally list a Robert Rankin, although not consistently every year. It is fairly clear that he owned no land. His only taxable item was “one white poll,” which was undoubtedly himself. However, he was charged no tax, which probably means he was exempt from taxes on account of his advanced age. I don’t know when he died, although he did not appear as a head of household in the 1840 census. I found no probate records for him in Gibson Co.

The thing about Mystery Robert that caused me to sit up and take notice was this: his pension application says that his brother, not named, was killed by Tories at the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill. So I did some online research about that battle (also spelled Ramseur or Ramsaur). It took place in June 1780. About 40 patriots (Whigs) died there, although it was not easy to ascertain which bodies fought for which side. The combatants wore no uniforms. The loyalists (Tories) stuck a spring of greenery in their hats; the patriots had a piece of white paper in theirs. These identifiers were sometimes missing from the bodies. The largest portion of the patriot troops were from Iredell County, NC. About thirteen of the dead patriots were from Capt. Sharpe’s 4th Creek Company, Statesville, Iredell County. Here is a piece about Ramsour’s Mill.

Family history research rarely involves absolute certainties, especially when one is dealing with facts from more than two centuries ago. Sometimes one must play the odds. The obvious odds were that Mystery Robert and his dead brother were from Iredell County, so I went digging among the Iredell records for Rankin families.

What I found in Iredell was the will of a David Rankin who died in 1789. The original will, dated 1781, is located in the Raleigh Archives in File Box No. C.R.054.801.11 and recorded in Iredell Will Book A: 200. David’s will names his wife Margaret and son Robert. David also named three grandchildren: (1) David McCreary, a son of David’s daughter Mrs. _______ Rankin McCreary, (2) James Rankin, who David expressly identified as a son of Robert Rankin, and (3) David Rankin. Grandson David Rankin’s father was not identified, so David wasn’t another son of Robert. He was a minor, under age 21 in 1781, when his grandfather David wrote his will.

The express language of David’s will – with a Rankin grandson whose father wasn’t Robert – raises the inference that David and Margaret had another son who may have died before David wrote his 1781 will.

The next step was to cast about in Iredell and nearby records to find a candidate for grandson David Rankin whose father may have died before 1781. As it turned out, David was in Lincoln County and was the son of a James Rankin. Here are some relevant Lincoln County records:

  • July 1783, a lawsuit styled the Executors of James Rankin vs. Reuben Simpson. So there was a James Rankin who had died before July 1783.
  • The lawsuit resulted in the public sale of defendant’s land to satisfy the plaintiff’s judgment. See Lincoln Co. Deed Book 2: 756, deed dated 21 Sep 1784 from Joseph Henry as Sheriff of Lincoln Co. to Francis Cunningham of same, levy on Reuben Simpson in suit of James Rankin. A witness to the deed was Robert Rankin, who was almost certainly kin to the dead James Rankin. The only Robert Rankins who lived close enough to witness a Lincoln County deed were (1) Robert, son of David and Margaret of Iredell, and (2) Robert, son of Samuel and Eleanor of Lincoln, who was only 19, and whose brother James was still a child.
  • There is a Lincoln county promissory note (or possibly a guardian’s bond, as my notes aren’t clear) from Francis Cunninghan and Daniel McKissick to John Alexander, guardian of minors David Rankin, Jane Rankin, Margaret Rankin and William Rankin, orphans of James Rankin. Such records usually named children in order of age, so David was probably the eldest. Source: Anne William McAllister & Kathy Gunter Sullivan, Civil Action Papers 1771-1806 of the Court of Ps & Qs, Lincoln County, North Carolina (1989).

David Rankin was still in the area on 14 Oct 1800, when he witnessed a deed from James Alexander to Horatio Gates Alexander adjacent the land of David’s guardian John Alexander. See Lincoln Co. DB 22:65. John Alexander was almost certainly David Rankin’s uncle, so John was probably either (1) married to a Rankin or (2) the brother of David’s mother, Mrs. ___?___ Alexander Rankin.

Here is a crucial piece of evidence. The Iredell County Genealogical Society has a collection called the “Philip Langenhour papers,” which were Mr. Langenhour’s collections of stories about local families. His papers mention a Miss Alexander (no given name stated) who married a Mr. Rankin (ditto) who died at the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill. Given the fact that the guardian of James Rankin’s children was John Alexander, it is as good a bet as you can find in genealogy that it was James Rankin who died at Ramsour’s Mill. This is the only piece of evidence I have found that a Rankin died in that battle … other than the pension application of Robert Rankin, whose patriot brother was killed there.

The pieces of this puzzle fall together quite nicely. It seems reasonable to conclude that David and Margaret Rankin of Iredell had two sons named Robert and James. James married a Miss Alexander, sister of John Alexander, and died at the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill in 1780. James and Miss Alexander had children named David and Margaret (for their Rankin grandparents), as well as Jane and William. Their uncle John Alexander became their guardian.

Here is where we take a plunge off the high diving board without, we hope (as my friend Jody McKenney Thomson, a descendant of these Lincoln County Alexanders, puts it) “forcing Cinderella’s shoe to fit.” Please forgive the mixed metaphors.

I think Mystery Robert is Robert, son of David and Margaret Rankin of Iredell, and a brother of a James Rankin who died at Ramsour’s Mill.  Jody, does the shoe pinch?

Please also note that Robert Rankin, son of David and Margaret, disappeared from the Iredell and Lincoln county records after 1826 without leaving any probate records. Jody and I have long wondered where the heck he went.

There is a bit more to this story. Robert had two sons who remained in the Iredell/Lincoln area: Denny, born in 1775, and James, born about 1778. Denny and James married sisters, Sarah and Elizabeth McMinn. Two of Denny and Sarah’s proved children were named Robert A. Rankin and Samuel Rankin.

Robert A. Rankin appeared in the Gibson County records starting in 1838. Samuel Rankin began appearing in Gibson in 1837, acting as security on the bond of the administrator of a John McMinn. The fact that known members of the Iredell Rankin family and a McMinn appeared in Gibson along with Mystery Robert provides additional circumstantial evidence regarding Mystery Robert’s identity.

I believe the shoe fits quite nicely.

Finally, please note that there were other distinct Rankin lines in Gibson County beginning in roughly the mid-1800s. However, I found no evidence to connect any other Rankin line to Mystery Robert. In the 1840 census for Gibson, there was no listing for either of the two Roberts or for Samuel. Robert A. Rankin and his brother Samuel moved to Shelby County, where both died; Samuel was Robert’s administrator.

Briefly, here are some other Rankins who lived in Gibson County:

  • David F. C. Rankin (1823 – 1885) and his wife Susan Young. David was a son of David Rankin and Anne Moore Campbell of Rutherford County, TN. The senior David Rankin was a son of Samuel and Eleanor (“Ellen”) Alexander Rankin of Lincoln Co., NC.
  • Jesse Rankin, who was born in Kentucky about 1795, and his wife Cynthia Sellers. Some researchers think Jesse was a son of Robert Rankin of Rutherford Co., NC and Caldwell Co., KY and his second wife Leah. Other researchers think that Jesse was a son of “Shaker Reverend” John Rankin of Guilford, NC and Logan Co., KY and his wife Rebecca. Both Robert of Rutherford and Shaker Reverend John had sons named Jesse. See an article about Jesse here.

Some Rankin researchers think that Robert Rankin and his wife Isabel (maiden name Rankin) of Guilford Co., NC, McNairy Co., TN and Pope Co., AR may have also lived in Gibson County. I don’t think that is the case, and one of their descendants tells me she has no evidence for that theory, either.

Onward! Meanwhile, as my cousin Roger Alexander likes to say, “Nobody has more fun than we do!”