Lost and found: James, son of Joseph and Rebecca Rankin of Delaware

An old adage says that one must kiss a lot of frogs to find a charming prince. That is true in spades for genealogy. A family history researcher may review dozens of deeds before finding one proving, say, a parent-child relationship. On the other hand, it is also true that one occasionally trips over a missing ancestor in an unexpected location.

This article concerns just such a fortuitous appearance. I ran into James, a probable son of Joseph Rankin of New Castle County, Delaware (1704 – 1764), decades after he last appeared in Delaware. James is not conclusively proved as Joseph’s son, although the circumstantial evidence is sufficient to deem him proved, IMO. I last spotted James in the New Castle records in a 1783 tax list for White Clay Creek Hundred. Then he vanished for more than a half-century before popping up unexpectedly in Washington County, Pennsylvania.

I have written about Joseph and his son James before. Here is a quick summary.

  • Joseph probably came to the colonies from Ireland, although he may have been born in Scotland.[1] His likely arrival during the heyday of the “Great Migration” of Scots-Irish from Ulster (1717 – early 1770s), and his residence near the Philadelphia ports where most of the Scots-Irish arrived, combine to make a good circumstantial case for migration from Ulster.[2]
  • He may have appeared as a freeman – e., over 21 and not married – in the Chester County, Pennsylvania tax lists of 1728 and 1729.[3] He had definitely arrived in the colonies by 1731, when he acquired a tract in New Castle County, Delaware.[4] He is buried at Head of Christiana Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Newark, New Castle County. His tombstone says he died in 1764 at age 60.
  • Joseph and his wife Rebecca, maiden name unproved, probably married in Pennsylvania, Maryland, or Delaware. Their six sons (four conclusively proved and two indicated by circumstantial evidence) and one daughter Ann (proved) were born in the colonies, two of them were definitely born in Delaware.
  • Their proved sons Joseph Jr. and Thomas, a Lieutenant in the Revolution, remained in New Castle and died there. John and William, also proved, migrated to the area that became Guilford County, North Carolina. The whereabouts of possible son Robert is a question mark; I have been unable to trace him. Probable son James last appeared in New Castle County in 1783 living near, or with, his likely brothers Joseph Jr. and Thomas. He is the subject of this article.

Here’s why I suspect that James Rankin left New Castle County after 1783 and eventually wound up in Washington County, Pennsylvania. I don’t know where he was in the interim. But some James Rankin applied for a Revolutionary War pension from Washington County in May 1835. He was a private on the muster role of Captain Walter Carson’s company of New Castle militia. So were Lt. Thomas Rankin and Private Robert Rankin. James lived in New Castle County, Delaware when he enlisted.[5] He served in the Delaware line.

James signed a loyalty oath on 29 June 1778 in New Castle along with Robert Rankin and Thomas Rankin; Joseph Rankin signed on June 30.[6] James was on the 1782 tax list for White Clay Creek, New Castle, along with Thomas and Joseph.[7] The three men are numbered 146, 147, and 148 on the list. It was not alphabetized, so the three were enumerated at about the same time. That suggests they lived or at least farmed together. James owned no land, while Joseph Jr. and Thomas Rankin owned a tract in common which they inherited from their father.

James was born in 1749, which makes him the right age to have been a younger son of Joseph and Rebecca of New Castle.[8] He died in 1837, leaving a will and an estate account in Washington County, Pennsylvania. The will and account prove sons William, John, and Joseph, and daughters Martha (“Patty,” wife of Alexander Osborne), Mary (“Polly,” wife of Benjamin Boice), and Rebecca.[9]

Some researchers identify this James Rankin as a son of John Rankin and his wife Rebecca of Washington County. That John died and left a will in 1788 naming a son James. John was a son of William Rankin and his wife Abigail of Raccoon Creek, Washington County, and a grandson of David and Jennet McCormick Rankin of Frederick County, Virginia.

James, the son of the John who died in 1788 in Washington County, cannot have been the same man as James, the Revolutionary War veteran who died there in 1837. John’s 1788 will proves that his son James was born after 1767.[10] He was thus too young to have been the Revolutionary War veteran born in 1749.

The fact that James lived in New Castle County at enlistment strongly suggests a family of origin there. Joseph Sr. and Rebecca’s family is one of two identifiable Rankin families in New Castle in the mid-1700s. The second Rankin family is the line of a William Rankin who died in New Castle in 1745, leaving sons John and William. New Castle County and other records did not reveal a James Rankin in that family.

All of that points to the notion that James Rankin, Revolutionary War veteran of Washington County, was the same man as James, son of Joseph and Rebecca Rankin of New Castle. I would place a decent bet on that possibility if anyone cares to wager. Finding a living male descendant of James’s line to Y-DNA test might resolve the issue, assuming there is no NPE in the line.

I have not traced James’s family, however. His sons Joseph and John were in Belmont County, Ohio when James’s estate was probated in 1838.[11] By 1854, William Rankin, executor of his father’s will, was in Delaware County, Ohio. I haven’t done any research in either Ohio County. That’s on the “to-do” list, along with finding a descendant to Y-DNA test.

See you on down the road.

Robin

[1] See Bill and Martha Reamy, Genealogical Abstracts from Biographical and Genealogical History of the State of Delaware (Westminster, MD: Willow Bend Books, 2001), saying that “Joseph Rankin was b. near the Clyde in Scotland; to DE with his wife and children long before the Revolutionary War” at 119, citing Genealogical History at 445-446. While the birthplace in Scotland might be correct, it is highly unlikely that Joseph had a wife and children before he migrated to the colonies. He probably married Rebecca in Pennsylvania or Delaware, and their children were born in Delaware. Rev. Samuel Meek Rankin says that their son John Rankin was born in 1736 and his brother William in 1744, both in Delaware. Rev. S. M. Rankin, The Rankin and Wharton Families and Their Genealogy (Salem, MA: Higginson Book reprint, originally published in Greensboro, NC, 1931) 55. Joseph acquired his tract on White Clay Creek, New Castle County, in 1731.

[2] See an article about the Scots-Irish at this link. .

[3] J. Smith Futhey and Gilbert Cope, History of Chester County, Pennsylvania (Philadelphia: Louis H. Everts, 1881), reproduction facsimile by Chester County Historical Society (Mt. Vernon, IN: Windmill Publications, Inc. 1996).

[4] There is no 1731 deed to Joseph Rankin listed in the New Castle grantee index. If the deed was recorded, I cannot find it. The only proof of Joseph’s land acquisition is recitations of the provenance of the tract in later deeds.

[5] The entire pension file is available on Fold3 at Ancestry.com. If you don’t have a subscription, there is a brief abstract of the file by Virgil White, Genealogical Abstracts of Revolutionary War Pension Files (Waynesboro, TN: The National Historical Publishing County, 1991), Vol. III 2811.

[6] Delaware Archives Revolutionary War in Three Volumes, Volume III (Wilmington: Chas. H. Story Company Press 1919), Volume II 998, Delaware signers of the Oath of Allegiance.

[7] Ralph D. Nelson, Jr., Catherine B. Nelson, Thomas P. Doherty, Mary Fallon Richards, John C. Richards, Delaware – 1782 Tax Assessment and Census Lists (Wilmington: Delaware Genealogical Society, 1994).

[8] Joseph and Rebecca’s proved sons John and William were born in 1736 and 1744, respectively. Rev. S. M. Rankin, The Rankin and Wharton Families and Their Genealogy, at 55.

[9] Will of James Rankin of Smith Township, Washington Co., dated 1834 and proved 1837. Named sons William (who was executor, along with Ezekiel Boice) and Joseph, and daughters Patty, Rebeccah, and Mary (Polly). Washington Co., PA Will Book 5: 370. Probate file # R48 notes payments to Joseph, John, Martha (Patty’s) husband Alexander Osborn, Mary (Polly’s) husband Benjamin Boice, and William Rankin. Rebecca had previously died, so her legacy was distributed to her siblings per capita. Acknowledgements by Joseph and John were executed in Belmont Co., OH in October 1838. In 1854, William, executor of James’ will, resided in Delaware Co., OH.

[10] Washington Co. Will Book 1: 81, will of John Rankin dated and proved in 1788 naming his wife Rebecca, son James, and daughter Polly. James was less than 21. He was thus born after 1767.

[11] Joseph and John executed acknowledgments that they had received their share of their father’s estate from Belton County in October 1838. Washington County, PA Wills and Probate Records, File R, Number 48, for James Rankin, 1838. James’ pension file mentions a William Rankin in Delaware Co., OH in 1854. William appeared in the 1850 census in Belmont County, Ohio, and in Delaware County in 1860 and 1880, at age 92.

Revised – A Surprising Willis – Quaker Connection

Subsequent to the original posting of this article, significant new information came to my attention requiring a substantial rewrite. I have deleted the original and post this revised version in order to clear the record of incorrect information. 

During the 18thand 19thcenturies, several Willis families on the Eastern Shore of Maryland were Quakers. I have long believed that the John Willis family who lived on land called Wantage in Dorchester County was not one of them.[1]The evidence I had found to date supported that conclusion.

For example, Wantage John’s eldest son John, Jr. lived on Marshy Creek in what became Caroline County. Several Quaker Meetings and the Anglican St. Mary’s White Chapel Parish served the region. The Anglican records do not survive, so whether John Jr.’s family attended there is lost to history. On the other hand, numerous Quaker Meeting records of the period exist. John, Jr.’s family does not appear in any of them. Apparently, the family was not Quaker.

The record for Wantage John’s son Andrew is more straightforward. Andrew lived in Dorchester County. Three of his four sons appear in the records of Old Trinity Church near Church Creek at the baptism of several children between 1754 and 1775.[2]No Quaker record names any of these people. This family was clearly Anglican and not Quaker.

The elder John had two other sons, Thomas and William. Thomas lived adjacent John Jr. on Marshy Creek. William inherited Wantage from his father and lived there until moving close to his wife’s family on Hodson’s/Hudson’s Creek in the Neck Region of Dorchester County. Neither of these sons appears in any religious record, Anglican or otherwise. Therefore, no evidence suggests a connection to Quakerism for anyone in the Wantage John family for the first couple of generations. And, there is evidence that one family group was Anglican.

Beyond these first generations, descendants of John of Wantage and related families were prominent in Methodism. Barratt’s Chapel in neighboring Kent County, Delaware was the birthplace of Methodism in America.[3]Lydia Barratt, granddaughter of Philip Barratt who built the chapel in 1780 is the great grandmother of Henry Fisher Willis, a direct descendant of Wantage John. Henry was a significant supporter of the Bethesda Methodist Church in Preston, Caroline County, Maryland, with a stained glass window honoring his service in the late 1800s. Henry’s father Zachariah Willis was a trustee of the Methodist Church whose twin brother Foster gave land for a church in 1831.[4]

I concluded from this data it highly unlikely that any of Wantage John’s descendants belonged to the Society of Friends. In fact, I used membership in the Society as a screening tool to eliminate various Willis lineages as being related to John of Wantage. For example, there is a Quaker Willis line in eastern Dorchester County and in the Federalsburg region of Caroline County.[5]Another Willis line in Talbot and Caroline County attended the Tuckahoe Monthly Meeting. Indeed, many researchers have conflated a Richard Willis in that line, who married Margaret Cox, with a Richard Willis in Wantage John’s line. A third line of Willises who lived in Kent County, Maryland were also Quaker. None of these families are related to John Willis of Wantage at least on this side of the pond.

With a high level of confidence in the religious affiliation of the John Willis family, or at least its lack of affiliation with the Quakers, imagine my surprise when I came across the following entries reportedly from the birth records of the Wilmington Monthly Meeting, New Castle, Delaware.[6]Oops:

  • Richard Willis 24 of 1 mo 1794    Son of Richard Willis and Britanna his wife
  • Ann Willis 2 of 6 mo 1799      Daughter of Do & Do
  • Senah Willis 19 of 4 mo 1802    Son of Do & Do
  • Zachariah Willis and Foster Willis     27 of 12 mo 1804   Sons of Do & Do
  • Peter Willis 21 of 4 mo 1811    Son of Do & Do

The same document contains the following burial records:

  • Richard Willis 27 of 5 mo 1820    in 26thyear
  • Richard Willis 2 mo 14 1823        63rd
  • Britanna Willis 1 mo 2 1826          in the 59th

The listed parents Richard Willis and Britanna (Britannia Goutee) are well known to me, but I had no inkling they were Quakers. Richard, born 8 Aug 1759, is the son of Richard Willis, died 1764, and the great grandson of John of Wantage.  Richard and Britannia, born about 1765, married in Caroline County on 22 Jan 1788.[7]She is descended from John Gootee and Margaret Besson/Beeson, who came to the colony from France with Margaret’s father and became naturalized citizens in 1671.[8]So, have I been wrong all along about this Willis line and Quakerism?

Well, I don’t know. Certainly, I was wrong about Richard and Britannia, however, these seem to be the only Quaker records online for the family … no marriages, no grandchildren’s births, no deaths recorded after Britannia’s in 1826.

This particular record does reveal some other information. First, the record is handwritten … an Index plus a section of Births and one of Burials. However, the cover page is typewritten, stating that it is from the Wilmington Monthly Meeting.[9]An examination of the contents reveals, however, that the cover page is incorrect. The record is actually from the Northwest Fork Meeting in Federalsburg based on the following. For one thing, the record noted that two of the listed people were “Elders in the NW Fork Monthly Meeting.” Additionally, surnames in the record, such as, Charles, Dawson, Kelley, Leverton, Noble, and Wright, are of Quaker families known to have lived near the Northwest Fork of the Nanticoke River. Finally, the record indicates the residence of a few of the listed persons. The record mentions only three counties: Caroline and Dorchester, Maryland, and Sussex, Delaware. Federalsburg is located at the intersection of those counties. Clearly, the record is from that Meeting and not Wilmington.

The second thing apparent from this register is that it is a copy and not the original register. The handwriting is identical throughout, both in the index and the birth and death entries. Had the entries been made at the times the events occurred from 1790 to 1828, the person making the entries surely would have changed from time to time. Therefore, the handwriting would have varied. Furthermore, many entries relating to a single family are grouped together regardless of date. For example, all the Willis birth entries are on a single page.[10]The same is true of some other families. One would expect the original register to be in chronological order with the family names mixed together. Apparently, a clerk prepared a copy of the original register, reorganized and indexed it. Likely, this document was intended for the files of a Quarterly or Yearly Meeting to which the Northwest Fork Meeting was subordinate. That would have been the Southern Quarterly and the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting during the years in question.[11]

One additional Quaker reference to this family is Kenneth Carroll’s Quakerism on the Eastern Shore.That source lists under the Northwest Fork Monthly Meeting the birth of Ann Willis, daughter of Richard and Britannia and the death of Ann Willis “daughter of Richard.”[12]If this is the same Ann, she died unmarried at age 35. Interestingly, Carroll’s work does not include the other data found in the mislabeled Northwest Fork record. Obviously, he did not have access to that register.

In conclusion, it is clear that Richard and Britannia Willis affiliated with the Quakers. Apparently, the Friend’s connection ended with Ann’s death. Possibly she was the motivating factor for the family’s involvement in the sect.

_____________________

[1]John Willis, died 1712, patented a 50-acre tract named Wantage in Dorchester County in 1702.

[2]Palmer, Katherine H., transcribed Baptism Record, Old Trinity Protestant Episcopal Church, Church Creek, MD, (Cambridge, MD), 19, baptisms of son Richard’s children Mary (1754), John (1755), Elizabeth (1758) and Richard (1761); son John’s child Jarvis (1758); son Andrew’s children Keziah (1770) and George (1775).

[3]See www.barrattschapel.org

[4]Caroline County, MD Land Records, Liber JR-R, Folio 115, 29 Oct 1831 deed for ½ acre from Foster Willis and Wife Ann to trustees of the Methodist Church, proved 31 Jan 1832.

[5]Actually, this family were Nicholites, or New Quakers, until that sect reunited with the Quakers in 1798. See Carroll, Kenneth Lane, Joseph Nichols and the Nicholites: A Look at the “New Quakers” of Maryland, Delaware, North and South Carolina (Easton, Maryland: The Easton Publishing Company, 1962), 78, Births of the children of Andrew and Sarah Willis: Andrew, 3 Nov 1774; Mary, 5 Dec 1770; Rhoda, 18 May 1766; Roger, 14 May 1768; and Shadrick, 15 May 1772. Births of children of Thomas and Sina Willis: Anne, 5 Dec 1770; Elic, 1 Feb 1785; Jesse, 15 Feb 1773; Joshua, 15 Dec 1774; Milby, & Aug 1768; Milley, 3 Feb 1784; Thomas, 28 Oct 1776; and William 20 Sep 1771.

[6]Ancestry.com, U.S., Quaker Meeting Records, 1681-1935: Births & Deaths, 1790-1828, Wilmington Monthly Meeting, New Castle, Delaware. Birth records are all at p. 19; Burial records at pp. 7, 8, and 10, respectively.

[7]Cranor, Henry Downes, Marriage Licenses of Caroline County, Maryland, 1744-1815(Philadelphia: Henry Downes Cranor, 1904), 18.

[8]Browne, William Hand, Archives of Maryland v.2, Proceedings and Acts of the General Assembly of Maryland, April 1666 – June 1676(Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society, 1884), 270, Naturalization of John Gootee and Margarett Gootee his wife of Dorchester County and Stephen Besson of Dorchester County all born in the Kingdom of France. Act read as being passed by the Assembly at 19 Apr 1671 closing of the session on the General Assembly, which began 27 Mar 1671 in St. Mary’s County.

[9]The typewritten text on the cover page reads, “II Department of Friends’ Records, 302 Arch Street, Phila., PA, Wilmington Monthly Meeting, Del., Births and Deaths, 1790-1828, Births 22 pp.; Deaths 11 pp.; Index 32 pp.”

[10]This record, however, does not include the couple’s two eldest daughters, Rebecca, born 9 Nov 1788, and Dorcas, born between 1790 and 1793.

[11]Jacobsen, Phebe R., Quaker Records in Maryland(Annapolis: The Hall of Records Commission, State of Maryland, 1966), 78, In 1800, by permission of the Southern Quarterly, a Monthly Meeting was established at Northwest Fork, consisting of Marshy Creek [Note: later named Snow Hill and then Preston], Centre, and Northwest Fork Preparative Meetings … When the Separation occurred within the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting in 1827, the Southern Quarterly Meeting was simply dissolved by the Orthodox.”

[12]  Carroll, Kenneth Lane, Quakerism on the Eastern Shore(Baltimore: The Maryland Historical Society, Garamond/Pridemark Press, 1970) 255, Ann Willis daughter of Richard and Britana [sic] born 19 Apr 1799; 260, Ann Willis daughter of Richard died 22 Sep 1834.