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 have some interest in its history. Likewise, many of us have experienced serendipity while conducting family history research – finding something good even though we weren’t looking for it. Having a little major league baseball thrown in is a new one for me, but this article has them all. What next? Hot dogs? Apple pie?

Background

The family in this article belongs to the line of the Adam Rankin who died in 1747 in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, whose wife was Mary Steele Alexander. An earlier article about the same line dealt with the family of William Rankin,[1] one of Adam and Mary’s three sons. William and his wife Mary Huston Rankin had eight children, all named in William’s 1792 will:[2]

    1. Dr. Adam Rankin, b. 1762 – d. 1820 – 1830, Henderson Co., KY
    2. Archibald Rankin, b. 1764, d. 24 Jun 1849, Mercersburg, Franklin Co., PA.
    3. James Rankin, b. 1776, 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, b. 1774.
    6. David Rankin, b. 1777, d. 1853, Des Moines Co., IA
    7. John Rankin, b. 1779, d. 22 Apr 1848, Centre Co., PA
    8. Jeremiah Rankin, b. 26 Nov 1783, d. 18 Feb 1874, Centre Co., PA

My article on William and Mary’s family initially gave short shrift to their eldest son, Dr. Adam Rankin. That is because I had not been able to track him after 1798. Here is what an early version of that article originally said about Dr. Adam:

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 per the power of attorney the land Dr. Adam had inherited from their father.[3] 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 I didn’t look very hard for Dr. Adam, because at that time I was hot on the heels four of his brothers in Centre County. Dr. Adam is (hang in there) a part of this narrative.

The Civil War and baseball parts

Not long after publishing the original article, I was exchanging emails with a Rankin family history researcher and distant Rankin cousin. 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, probably in his Kentucky calvary uniform.

“Stovepipe” acquired his nickname in July of (probably) 1862 in this fashion:

“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 County, Kentucky 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 eventually 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.

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” produces a wealth of hits.[4]

An article posted by the Texas State History Association says that Stovepipe had six children.[5] 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. Here is a picture of Tex. Look at that tiny glove!

There’s more. Tex had a son named Rankin Johnson Jr. who was a major league pitcher for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1941. He’s a nice-looking fellow, and his tombstone is inscribed “TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALLGAME,” a sentiment I share.[6] Here’s his picture, which makes me smile:

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

The serendipity was having my Rankin friend drop Brigadier General Adam Rankin “Stovepipe” Johnson’s name in my lap. It doesn’t take too much imagination to deduce that his 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. There cannot have been too many Pennsylvania Dr. Adam Rankins at that time.

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

There is a biographical article about Dr. Adam’s family from an 1887 history of Henderson County, Kentucky. It has a nice, long exposition of his descendants, and you can see it here..

A proved descendant of Dr. Adam Rankin has Y-DNA tested and joined the Rankin DNA Project. He matches another descendant of Adam and Mary Steele Alexander Rankin. It is not a close match, so the Rankin DNA Project needs another descendant to firm up the line’s Y-DNA profile.

See you on down the road. There are more Pennsylvania Rankins on the horizon than you can shake a stick at.

Robin

*   *   *   *   *   *   *

[1] See the “Follow the Land” article about Adam and Mary’s son William here.

[2] 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: 256.

[3] Westmoreland Deed Book 7: 392. The deed recites that Archibald Rankin was of Antrim Township, Franklin Co., 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 further recites that Dr. Adam Rankin granted his brother Archibald a power of attorney dated 29 Jun 1792. The POA is also recorded at DB 7: 392.

[4] There is a short article posted by the Texas State Historical Association which includes a citation to Stovepipe’s autobiography here..

[5] Id.

[6] Here is a link to Rankin Johnson’s tombstone.

 

Revised: the most famous Rankin legend of all

A friend who reads this blog suggested bluntly that I belly up to the bar and say in no uncertain terms whether a certain famous Rankin legend is accurate. Here is what I think. I hope it will encourage a commenter to share some evidence.

* * * * * * * * *

Specifically, this is about a widely claimed Rankin family history oral tradition. The legend calls to mind an old expression, possibly of Native American origin: “this story might not have happened exactly the way I have told it … but it is nevertheless true.”[1] Let’s call this Rankin story the “Mt. Horeb legend” because it is inscribed on a bronze tablet in the Mt. Horeb Presbyterian Church cemetery in Jefferson County, Tennessee. I have transcribed it below.

The storyteller’s caveat is tailor-made for the Mt. Horeb legend. Specific facts in the legend about some family relationships and martyred Rankins  are suspect, although the essence of the story is true for many Scots-Irish. Some Rankins were Covenanters, i.e., Presbyterian Scots who were brutally persecuted during the Killing Times.[2] Many Scots migrated to Ulster, some during the worst of the Killing Times in the 1680s.[3] Some Rankins survived the Siege of Londonderry in 1689.[4] Many Presbyterian Rankins migrated from Ireland to the Delaware River ports during the Great Migration from 1717 until about 1770. A good many Scots-Irish Rankins fought in the Revolutionary War.

The Mt. Horeb legend features every bit of that. It is a staple of many Rankin family trees. It has problems. Y-DNA results create a question mark. Traditional paper research adds others. Lack of evidence abounds. The legend is not part of the oral family history of two early Rankins descended from the Mt. Horeb immigrants. That suggests the legend was added to their family histories after their lifetimes, diminishing the credibility of what is characterized as an oral family tradition.

Having dealt with a bunch of genealogical horse hockey, I have become cynical. I occasionally suspect that some Rankin became familiar with Scots-Irish history, did some research overseas and in Pennsylvania, conflated several people having the same names, and wove a darn good story from fragments. I will probably be burned in effigy for saying that out loud.

The Mt. Horeb legend is the only family tradition I know that is actually cast in metal, so let’s look at the entire story.  To be clear, I am not presenting this as a correct factual statement. I am presenting it as a statement of what some believe their Rankin history to be. Following the transcription, I have discussed some of its claims.

Here is the tablet’s inscription, 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[5] 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.

I hope someone will share evidence proving that the legend is accurate in every respect. While we are waiting, here is a summary of statements in the legend that (in my opinion) are either (1) true or probably true, (2) incorrect, or (3) may be correct but lack supporting evidence.

First, here are the facts that are either supported by evidence or are so consistent with historical events that they are almost certainly true:

    • There was an Alexander Rankin whose name was on a petition of thanks to God and William of Orange for lifting the Siege of Londonderry.
    • Many Scottish Presbyterians were victims in the Killing Times in the 1680s.
    • Many Rankins migrated from Scotland to the Province of Ulster. Some may have fled to escape the Killing Times.
    • Two Rankins named John and Adam lived in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania in the second quarter of the eighteenth century.
    • Many Scots-Irish, including Rankins, entered the colonies in a Delaware River port such as Philadelphia.
    • Adam Rankin of Lancaster County married Mary Steele Alexander, widow of James Alexander.
    • John Rankin had two sons, Thomas and Richard, and eight daughters.
    • Richard, son of John, migrated to Augusta County.
    • Thomas, son of John, did “settle” in Pennsylvania for a time. His wife was Isabel Clendenon/Clendenin (various spellings).

Second, here are some statements that are either obvious error or are cast in serious doubt by county and other records:

    • If Adam Rankin was born in Scotland in 1699, then his family was not in Ireland for the 1689 Siege of Londonderry.
    • Thomas Rankin, son of John, was not a Revolutionary War Captain.
    • Three of Thomas Rankin’s four eldest sons (Richard, Samuel, and William) were revolutionary soldiers. John, the eldest son, was not.
    • John Rankin (died in 1749 in Lancaster County) and Adam Rankin (died there in 1747) were not brothers, although additional Y-DNA testing is needed to help confirm or disprove that.
    • It is unclear what it means to say that Thomas and Isobel Clendenin Rankin “settled” in Pennsylvania. It seems to imply they stayed there. Their son William’s Revolutionary War Pension Application establishes that the family moved to Augusta County, Virginia in 1780.

Third, here are some of the evidentiary issues. There is no evidence that …

      • … any Rankins were executed during the Killing Times or are on lists of known martyrs. However, a John Rankin from Biggar Parish, Lanarkshire, is known to have drowned off Orkney in a ship loaded with Covenanter prisoners.
      • … Alexander Rankin, grateful survivor of the Siege of Londonderry, had a son William and grandsons John, Adam, and Hugh.
      • … a William Rankin was present at the Siege.
      • … a Hugh Rankin migrated to the colonies and died in a mill accident. There is evidence that Jeremiah, a son of Adam and Mary Steele Rankin, died in a mill accident.
      • … William Rankin’s wife was Dorothy Black and their sons were John, Adam, and Hugh.
      • … the Adam Rankin who died in Lancaster in 1747 had a wife prior to Mary Steele Alexander.
      • … John Rankin, whose widow was named Margaret, was married to a Jane McElwee.

I would not be surprised to learn, for example, that some John Rankin married a woman named Jane McElwee in Ireland. What we need is evidence that the John Rankin who married Jane McElwee (for example) was the same man as the John Rankin who died in 1749 in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, leaving a widow named Margaret, eight daughters, and two sons.

Surely, there is someone out there who has proved some of the facts in the Mt. Horeb legend. Halllloooooo?????? If you will marshal the evidence, I invite you to write a guest column for this blog. Or provide the evidence to me and I will write the article.

See you on down the road.

Robin

[1] That saying is a charming way to distinguish narrative from bare facts.

[2] “Covenanters” were originally signers of the “National Covenant” at Greyfriars Church in 1638, although the term expanded to include all Presbyterians  who objected to the requirement that they conform to the liturgical practices and governance of the Church of England. Sources disagree about the precise time period called the  “Killing Times,” when Covenanters were brutally persecuted. I am doing research for an article about Covenanters, a difficult period in Scottish history.

[3] Migration from Scotland to Ireland in substantial numbers began around 1610, when James I encouraged settlement of appropriated land in the province of Ulster. A second large wave of migration occurred during the 1680s, when persecution of Covenanters was intense. See an article about Scots-Irish migration here.

[4] William R. Young’s book The Fighters of Derry (originally published 1932) allegedly lists Alexander Rankin, his sons John and Alexander, and his granddaughter Martha (daughter of the younger Alexander). I have never seen a copy of the book, which isn’t available locally.

[5] A smokehouse is a building where meat or fish is cured with smoke. In Britain it is called a “smokery.”