Line of Adam Rankin d. 1747, Lancaster, PA: Serendipity + Civil War History + Baseball

Many of us have ancestors who served in the Civil War and may have some interest in its history. Likewise, many of us have experienced serendipity while doing family history research – namely, finding something good even though you weren’t looking for it. Having a little major league baseball thrown in with research serendipity and Civil War history is a new one for me, but this article has them all. What next? Hot dogs? Apple pie?

Here is the background

The family in this article belongs to the line of Adam Rankin who died in 1747 in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and his wife Mary Steele Alexander. An earlier article  about the same line dealt with the family of William Rankin, one of Adam and Mary’s three sons. William and his wife Mary Huston Rankin (daughter of Archibald and Agnes Huston) had eight children, all named in William’s 1792 will:[1]

  1. Dr. Adam Rankin, b. early 1760s – d. ?
  2. Archibald Rankin, b. 10 Apr 1768, d. 24 Jun 1849, Mercersburg, Franklin Co., PA
  3. James Rankin, b. ca. 1770, probably d. 1820-1830, Centre Co., PA
  4. William Rankin (Jr.), b. 5 Nov 1770, d. 29 Nov 1847, Centre Co., PA
  5. Betsy Rankin (dang, I wish it were easier to follow women!)
  6. David Rankin (still haven’t gotten around to researching David)
  7. John Rankin, b. 8 May 1778 or 1779, d. 22 Apr 1848, Centre Co., PA
  8. Jeremiah Rankin, b. 26 Nov 1783, d. 18 Feb 1874, Centre Co., PA

The earlier article on William and Mary’s family gave short shrift to their eldest son, Dr. Adam Rankin, because I had not been able to track him after 1798. Here is what that article originally said about Dr. Adam (I have now updated it to include more current research):

Adam Rankin (b. ca 1760 – ?) was a doctor, probably born in the early 1760s. In 1792, he granted his brother Archibald a power of attorney for “as long as I am absent” to “transact all my business.”I don’t know where Dr. Adam went when he was “absent.” In 1796, Archibald sold on Dr. Adam’s behalf the land his brother had inherited from their father.[2]… in 1798, Dr. Adam Rankin was listed on a Franklin County tax list … I can find no record for him after that.”

Truth in lending compels me to admit that I didn’t look very hard for Dr. Adam, because at that time I was hot on the heels of four of his brothers in Centre County. Spoiler alert: Dr. Adam is (hang in there) a part of this narrative.

Here are the Civil War and baseball parts

Not long after publishing that article, I was exchanging emails with a Rankin family history researcher and distant Rankin cousin. He is a Civil War history expert, having taught several short college courses on the subject. We were talking about “historical” Rankins. He mentioned a Confederate Brigadier General named Adam Rankin “Stovepipe” Johnson and enclosed an article about him.

Here is Stovepipe’s photograph.

Stovepipe acquired his nickname in July of (probably) 1862, like so …

“With a mere thirty-five men at his command, he crossed the Ohio [River] – he believed it to be the first Rebel “invasion” of the North – and attacked the town of Newburgh, Indiana, on July 18. There were two hundred or more Federals in the town, though mostly convalescent soldiers in hospitals. To bluff them into surrendering, Johnson mounted two stovepipes on an old wagon and paraded it around to look like artillery. The ruse worked, the town gave up, and he became ever after Stovepipe Johnson.”

Stovepipe was born in Henderson, KY in 1834, but moved to Burnet, Texas when he was twenty. (That’s pronounced BURN’-it, with emphasis on the first syllable, for you non-Texans). He went back to Kentucky when the war broke out, made a name for himself as a scout for Nathan Bedford Forrest and as a recruiter, and evenually organized and equipped the 10th Kentucky Calvary. He was accidentally shot in the face by one of his own men in August 1864, lost his eyesight, and was captured and imprisoned at Fort Warren until the end of the war. He returned to Texas, where he founded the town of Marble Falls (nicknamed “the blind man’s town”), worked to harness the water power of the Colorado River, served as a contractor for the Overland Mail, and founded the Texas Mining Improvement Company. Oh, yeah, he also wrote an autobiography that is considered a “must read” regarding certain aspects of the Civil War. Whew!

He died in Burnet  in 1922, and was reportedly a happy, cheerful man, blind or not. It sure didn’t slow him down much, did it? I’m just sorry he wasn’t fighting against slavery. He is buried in the Texas State Cemetery in Austin. There is a ton of information about him on the internet – Googling “Adam Rankin Stovepipe Johnson” will produce a wealth of hits for you. Here is a  short article posted by the Texas State Historical Association, so it has some credibility (and has a citation to Stovepipe’s autobiography).

Among other things, the TSHA article tells you that Stovepipe had six children. Keep Googling, and you will find that one of them was named Adam Rankin “Tex” Johnson (1888 – 1972). He was a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals during 1914-1918. His ERA in the majors was a very respectable 2.96. Dallas Keuchal should have done as well for the Astros today (August 18, 2018). Here is a picture of Tex:

AND Tex had a son, Rankin Johnson Jr., who was also a major league pitcher — for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1941. He’s a nice-looking man, and his tombstone is inscribed “TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALLGAME,” so you’ve got to love him! Here’s his picture:

… the next time the announcers for the Houston Astros have a trivia question about father-son major league players, I’ll be ready with “Tex” Johnson and Rankin Johnson. I imagine they will be stumped.

The serendipity part

What, you may well be asking, do Brigadier General Adam Rankin “Stovepipe” Johnson, “Tex” Johnson, and Rankin Johnson have to do with the family of Adam and Mary Steele Rankin of Lancaster Co., PA? Or their grandson Dr. Adam Rankin?

The serendipity was having my Rankin cousin and friend just drop Gen. Adam Rankin Johnson in my lap. From there, it doesn’t take too much imagination to deduce that Stovepipe Johnson’s mother was née Rankin. Yes, indeed, says the Texas State Historical Association summary about Stovepipe. Her name was Julia Rankin, and she was the daughter of … Doctor Adam Rankin of Henderson Co., KY, who was originally from Pennsylvania.

Apparently, Dr. Adam Rankin (son of William and Mary Huston Rankin and brother of Archibald) was “absent” from Pennsylvania in 1792 because he was busy marrying Elizabeth Speed of Danville, KY that year. She was the first of his three wives, by whom Dr. Adam fathered thirteen children — including a daughter Mary Huston Rankin (his eldest child) and a son Archibald Rankin.

Here is a link to a biographical article about Dr. Adam’s family in an 1887 history of Henderson County, KY.

I haven’t been into the deed and probate records of Henderson Co., KY, yet. With any kind of luck, they will provide evidence tying Dr. Adam Rankin, grandfather of Adam Rankin “Stovepipe” Johnson, back to Franklin Co., PA. As for me, I consider the names of those two children to be  extremely persuasive circumstantial evidence.

See you on down the road. There are more Pennsylvania Rankins on the horizon.

Robin

[1] Will of William Rankin of Antrim Township, Franklin Co., PA dated 20 Oct 1792 proved 28 Nov 1792. “Advanced in age.” Franklin Co., PA Will book B A-B: 256.

[2] Westmoreland Deed Book 7: 392. The deed recites that Archibald Rankin was of Antrim Township, Franklin Co., that the 274-acre tract in Westmoreland was originally granted to William Rankin of Antrim on 27 July 1773 and William devised it to his son Dr. Adam Rankin by will dated 20 October 1792. The deed also recites that Dr. Adam Rankin granted his brother Archibald Rankin power of attorney dated 29 Jun 1792. The POA is also recorded at DB 7: 392.

PA/TN Rankins: the most famous Rankin legend of all

My last blog post was about evidence and proof, a sidetrack from a series of Rankin family articles. Fortunately, there is a convenient segue to return us to a Rankin family history legend: I ended that post with the comment that all family histories contain important truths, and also – inevitably – some errors.

My irreverent husband adds that traditional family histories are usually also sacred cows. This is undoubtedly true.

The bottom line is that oral family traditions are conclusive evidence of only one thing: what the family believes its history to be. As evidentiary sources, they don’t have as much weight or credibility as, say, county records, and they certainly don’t trump YDNA. However, family histories are nevertheless at least secondary evidence. I have learned a great deal from my own family history “legends,” as I’ve written a couple of times on this blog. But please don’t make the mistake of thinking that an oral family history actually proves anything in the absence of confirming evidence in the records.

We are about to examine the most famous Rankin family legend of all. I call the family identified in this legend the “Londonderry Siege” Rankins. Many of them wound up in Jefferson, Greene, and Blount counties, Tennessee; others went further west in Pennsylvania and into the Northwest Territories; others settled in Augusta Co., GA. This family history tradition exists in at least two different sources I have found, and probably many more: (1) a bronze tablet in the Mt. Horeb Cemetery, Jefferson County, TN; and (2) the “Republican History of Ohio,” published in 1898. The Londonderry Siege Rankin family history can probably be found in many other county books with titles such as “Heritage of _______ County, Tennessee,” not to mention a zillion cut-and-paste histories at Ancestry.com. Keep in mind that repetition isn’t proof.

The Londonderry Siege story is a staple, a shibboleth, a cast-in-concrete given, of Rankin family history. YDNA results, however, create one question mark.

Let’s go with the Mt. Horeb tablet, the only family history I know that is actually cast in a permanent metal.  Just for the record, I am not presenting this as a correct factual statement of Rankin family history. In fact, there are some problems with it, but we will get to that. I am presenting it as a correct statement of this particular Rankin family’s oral history. Here it is, verbatim:

THIS TABLET IS TO COMMEMORATE 
THE MEMORY OF

RICHARD RANKIN 1756 – 1827         SAMUEL RANKIN 1758 – 1828

THOMAS RANKIN 1762 – 1827        JOHN BRADSHAW 1743 – 1818

FOUR PIONEER SETTLERS OF DUMPLIN VALLEY

GENEALOGY OF THE RANKIN FAMILY

GENERATION 1

ALEXANDER RANKIN, BORN IN SCOTLAND, HAD THREE SONS, TWO WERE MARTYRS TO THEIR RELIGION. OF THESE ONE WAS KILLED ON THE HIGHWAY, THE OTHER SUFFOCATED IN A SMOKEHOUSE WHERE HE HAD TAKEN REFUGE TO ESCAPE HIS PURSUERS. THE THIRD BROTHER, WILLIAM, TOGETHER WITH HIS FATHER AND FAMILY ESCAPED TO DERRY COUNTY, IRELAND IN 1688. WILLIAM AND HIS FATHER, ALEXANDER RANKIN, WERE PARTICIPANTS IN THE SIEGE OF LONDONDERRY, WHICH TOOK PLACE IN 1689.
ALEXANDER RANKINS NAME IS SIGNED TO THE PETITION OF THANKS TO ALMIGHTY GOD, AND WILLIAM, KING OF ORANGE, FOR HIS TIMELY ASSISTANCE IN RAISING THE SIEGE IN AUGUST, 1689.

GENERATION 2

WILLIAM RANKIN HAD THREE SONS, ADAM, BORN IN SCOTLAND, 1699. JOHN AND HUGH BORN IN IRELAND.
ADAM AND HUGH CAME TO AMERICA IN 1721, LANDING IN PHILADELPHIA. PA., AND SETTLED IN CHESTER COUNTY, HUGH WAS KILLED IN A MILL ACCIDENT. ADAM MARRIED MARY STEELE.

GENERATION 3

JOHN RANKIN MARRIED JANE McELWEE, IN IRELAND, CAME TO AMERICA IN 1727. HE HAD TWO SONS, THOMAS AND RICHARD, AND EIGHT DAUGHTERS. RICHARD MARRIED A MISS DOUGLASS AND SETTLED IN AUGUSTA COUNTY, VA.

GENERATION 4

THOMAS RANKIN, 1724 – 1828, MARRIED ISABEL CLENDENON OF PA. AND SETTLED IN THAT STATE. THEIR CHILDREN WERE:

JOHN 1754 – 1825 MARRIED MARTHA WAUGH

RICHARD 1756 – 1827 MARRIED JENNETT STEELE

SAMUEL 1758 – 1828 MARRIED – PETTY

WILLIAM 1760 – 1834 MARRIED SARAH MOORE

THOMAS 1762 – 1821 MARRIED JENNETT BRADSHAW

JAMES 1770 – 1839 MARRIED MARGARET MASSEY

JANE MARRIED WILLIAM GILLESPIE

MARGARET MARRIED SAMUEL HARRIS

ANN MARRIED LEMUEL LACY

ISABEL MARRIED ROBT. McQUISTON

NANCY MARRIED SAMUEL WHITE

MARY MARRIED JAMES BRADSHAW

THOMAS RANKIN OF GENERATION 4, WAS A CAPTAIN IN THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR. HIS FOUR ELDEST SONS WERE PRIVATES IN SAID WAR.
THIS TABLET WAS ERECTED IN 1930 BY
 CHRISTOPHER HOUSTON RANKIN 
COURTLAND THALES RANKIN, ATTY
 REV. JOHN GRANT NEWMAN, D.D.
 MRS. ALMYRA – RANKIN – McMURRAY
 MRS. ROZEE – RANKIN TAYLOR
 FRANK WALTER RANKIN
 HARRY JAY RANKIN
SAM HULL RANKIN

End of transcription.

There is only one obvious error: Adam Rankin, if born in 1699, couldn’t have been born in Scotland if, in fact, his family had escaped from the Killing Times in Scotland to be present for the Siege of Londonderry in 1689. Otherwise, the dates are credible. The “Killing Times” in Scotland did include the year 1688, and many Presbyterian Scots were martyred in those days. Those martyrs probably included some Rankins. Also, history confirms that many Presbyterian Scots did escape to the relatively safe haven of the Ulster Plantation of northern Ireland during the Killing Times. That migration probably also included some Rankins. Finally, the Siege of Londonderry did occur in 1689, and there were undoubtedly Rankins there, at least one of whom was definitely named Alexander.  I haven’t done any research overseas, so … if anyone out there has some actual evidence, a lot of us would love to hear it.

Specific proof of the Alexander/William/Adam.Hugh.John history is problematical, and I’m just not going to take on that issue. My friend Hazel Townsend, a long-time Rankin researcher, says this: she has not been able to prove to her own satisfaction that William was a son of Alexander or that William had sons Adam, John and Hugh.

Never mind all that – it’s a lovely legend, and I’m sure there is plenty of truth to it. I just don’t know what. Instead, let’s just see what we can prove on this side of the ocean.

First, start with Adam and John Rankin, reportedly immigrants to Pennsylvania. For the record, these two men (assuming they were brothers, which may be an issue) both died in Lancaster County, PA:

   – Adam Rankin died in 1747 and left a will naming three sons and one daughter. His proved wife was Mary Steele (widow of James Alexander). Let’s call him Adam d. 1747, wife Mary Steele. According to oral family history, Adam had a wife prior to Mary Steele. No one I’ve talked to has any proof other than oral family history.

   – John Rankin died in 1749 in Lancaster Co., PA, also leaving a will naming two sons and eight daughters. Call him John d. 1749, widow Margaret. This conflicts with the Mt. Horeb table, which says that John’s wife was Jane McElwee. Some researchers resolve this conflict by giving John’s wife a middle name and calling her Jane Margaret orMargaret Jane. That is almost certainly arrant nonsense.

Here’s the rub: YDNA presentsa problem with part of the Mt. Horeb history. Two men who are descended from Adam d. 1747, wife Mary Steele, are not a YDNA match with men who are descended from John d. 1749. Barring some other explanation, John d. 1749 and Adam d 1747 were not genetic brothers. Both lines — John’s and Adam’s — claim descent from William and Alexander. If John and Adam weren’t brothers, then both cannot be correct.

We need more YDNA testing on this issue. I’m working on it. More evidence in the overseas records wouldn’t hurt, either.

See you on down the road.

Robin