How many Jeremiah Rankins WERE there near Greencastle, PA in the late 1700s?

The answer depends on who you ask. American Revolutionary Soldiers of Franklin County, Pennsylvania has one opinion.[1]  The Biographical Annals of Franklin County, Pennsylvania[2] and the History of Franklin County, Pennsylvania[3] share a second opinion. The latter two sources add an extra Jeremiah to the family tree of the Rankins of Lancaster, Cumberland, and Franklin Counties, Pennsylvania.

Let’s start with an inventory of the proved Jeremiah Rankins, then assemble them into a family chart for a bigger picture.

Jeremiah #1: the eldest of the lot. He was a son of the Adam Rankin who died in Lancaster in 1747 (“Adam d. 1747”) and his wife Mary Steele Alexander.[4] Jeremiah #1 died in 1760 near Greencastle, which was in Cumberland before Franklin County was created.[5] Jeremiah #1’s only appearance in county records that I have found was in his father Adam’s 1747 will.

Jeremiah #2: a son of Jeremiah #1 and a grandson of Adam d. 1747. He was born during 1756 through 1761.[6] He moved to Fayette County, Kentucky, where he died about 1804.[7]

Jeremiah #3: a proved son of James Sr. (who died in 1795 in Franklin) and Jean Rankin. James Sr. was a son of Adam d. 1747, so Jeremiah #3 was also Adam’s grandson.[8] Jeremiah #3 was probably born in the early 1750s, but definitely no later than 1755.[9] The identity of his children is the main issue in this article.

Jeremiah #4: a proved son of William (d. 1792, Franklin) and Mary Huston Rankin. Since William was a son of Adam d. 1747, Jeremiah #4 was also Adam’s grandson. Jeremiah #4 was born in 1783. He moved to Centre Co., PA, where he died in 1874 at age 90.[10]

Wildcard Jeremiah:  Annals and History add another Jeremiah, which place him as a son of Jeremiah #3. Annals and History also name three other sons of Jeremiah #3, although they disagree on one given name.

Here is an abbreviated outline family chart for the Lancaster, Cumberland, and Franklin County Rankins, including the above list of Jeremiahs.[11]

1 Adam Rankin, d. 1747, Lancaster Co., PA, wife Mary Steele Alexander, possibly wife #2.[12] Their four children (not in birth order):[13]

2 Esther Rankin m. Mr. Dunwoody.

Jeremiah #1 Rankin, d. near Greencastle, Cumberland Co., PA about 1760, wife Rhoda Craig.[14]

Jeremiah #2 Rankin, b. 1756-1761, Cumberland Co., PA, d. about 1804, Fayette Co., KY, wife Nancy.

3 Three other sons of Jeremiah #1 (Rev. Adam, Thomas, and William Rankin), all of whom went to Fayette or Woodford Co., KY.

2 James Rankin, d. 1795, Franklin Co., PA, wife Jean/Jane. Identified as a son in the will of Adam d. 1747.

Jeremiah #3 Rankin

4 Wildcard Jeremiah, added here by Annals and History.

4 Three other sons of Jeremiah #3. Annals identifies them as James, David and William; History identifies them as James, David and Archie.

3 Five other children of James and Jean. All six children are proved by James’ 1788 will.[15]

2 William Rankin d. 1792, Franklin Co., PA, wife Mary Huston. Identified as a son in the will of Adam d. 1747.

Jeremiah #4 Rankin, b. 1783, Franklin Co., PA, d. 1874, Centre Co., PA.

3 Seven other children of William and Mary, all proved by William’s 1792 will.[16]

OK, let’s see what Revolutionary Soldiers has to say about Jeremiah #3, son of James and Jean Rankin:[17]

 “Jeremiah Rankin, Ranger on the Frontier, served in 1778, under Capt. John McConnell and as Ensign, 1780-81, with Captain Wm Huston; a son of pioneer James Rankin of Montgomery Township. He mar. Mary, dau. of James Clark. His will was dated June 1803 and prob. August 1803, only son James Clark Rankin and three daus.: Nancy; Mariah; Esther. The widow Mary later married Charles Kilgore. James, Jeremiah, David and William Rankin were pewholders in the “Lower Conococheague” or Welsh Run Church.[18] Nancy Rankin mar. John Imbrie, Beaver Co., Penna., 10 children. Maria Rankin mar. Samuel Johnston, son of Thos. and Anne Houston Johnston. Esther Rankin mar. Alex. M. Johnston, son of Thos. and Anne Houston Johnston.”

The will of some Jeremiah Rankin was, in fact, dated and proved in 1803, and it did name his wife Mary and the four children listed above.[19] Both the Annals and History associate the 1803 will, wife Mary Clark, and those four children with Wildcard Jeremiah. Revolutionary Soldiers assigns that family to Jeremiah #3. Putting it another way, Revolutionary Soldiers concludes that the Jeremiah who died in 1803 was Jeremiah #3, a son of James d. 1795 and Jean. Annals and History claim that the Jeremiah who died in 1803 was Wildcard Jeremiah, a grandson of James and Jean.

Besides adding a new Jeremiah to the line, Annals throws in three other new Rankins, brothers of Wildcard Jeremiah and also allegedly sons of Jeremiah #3: David, James, and William. History does the same thing, but identifies the brothers of Wildcard Jeremiah as David, James and Archie.[20] History also adds this information: Jeremiah #3, son of James and Jean, “patented 800 acres … he divided his acreage into four farms, inherited by his four sons Jeremiah, David, James and Archie” (emphasis added).

The evidence relevant to this puzzle is not compelling on either side. I’m just going to throw it all out there and hope that someone will offer an opinion in a comment. Or, better yet, tell us about other evidence.

  • I cannot find an 800-acre patent by a Jeremiah Rankin in the Pennsylvania patent records. If one exists, it must have been in an area then considered part of Pennsylvania, perhaps West Virginia or Ohio. I cannot find such a patent in those places, either. I am clearly missing something: surely, History did not just imagine that patent. And the will of Jeremiah who died in 1803 did mention land in Ohio. Perhaps somebody can point me toward a good source …
  • History says the four sons of Jeremiah #3 inherited that 800-acre tract. I have found only one will and estate record for a Jeremiah Rankin in Franklin: the Jeremiah who died in 1803 and had only one son, James Clark Rankin. Thus, if four Rankin sons of a Jeremiah inherited 800 acres, it must have been through the law of intestate descent and distribution rather than a will. However, I can’t find any relevant estate records for a second Jeremiah, who would (according to Annals and History) be Jeremiah #3. If anyone knows anything about the estate of a Jeremiah who died intestate in Franklin, I’d love to hear about it.
  • I cannot find those four alleged sons of Jeremiah #3 in the Franklin records. There was only one Archibald (“Archie”) Rankin and he was easy to track. The sole man by that name in the county during the relevant time period was Archibald (1763-64 – 1845), a son of William and Mary Huston Rankin. If three brothers of Wildcard Jeremiah actually existed, they clearly got the heck out of Dodge early, without bothering to leave significant tracks in the records. All of the David, William, James, and Archibald Rankins who appear in the Franklin Co. records can reasonably be accounted for without any “extras” left over.
  • The family of James Sr. and Jean Rankin lived in the area that eventually became Montgomery Township, Franklin County. James Sr.’s sons William, James Jr. and Jeremiah started appearing on tax lists there in 1778. A wrinkle appeared in 1782, when a second Jeremiah showed up on the same tax list as James Sr. and family. The second Jeremiah is identified as a “freeman,” meaning he was 21 or over, not married, and owned no land. That freeman is obviously not Jeremiah #1 (who died about 1760), Jeremiah #3 (on the 1782 tax list as a landowner), or Jeremiah #4 (who wasn’t born until 1783). Perhaps Annals and History identified Jeremiah the freeman on the 1782 tax list as Wildcard Jeremiah, a son of Jeremiah #3?

That theory doesn’t work. Jeremiah the freeman was too old to have been a son of Jeremiah #3, who was almost certainly born in the early 1750s. Jeremiah, the freeman who first appeared on the 1782 tax list, was born by at least 1761, perhaps 1760.

It is possible that Jeremiah the freeman was Jeremiah #2, son of Jeremiah #1 and Rhoda Craig Rankin. The last appearance I can find in the Franklin records for Jeremiah the freeman is on the 1787 tax list. The first appearance I found for Jeremiah #2 in Fayette County, Kentucky was on the 1789 tax list (although I haven’t had access to Fayette deed records). In other words, the records leave open the possibility that freeman Jeremiah was the same man as Jeremiah #2.

  • The 1790 federal census for Franklin lists a Jeremy Rankin having three males who were 16 and over in his household. The 1800 census makes it clear that the head of household in the 1790 census must have been Jeremiah #3. In the 1800 census, the only Jeremiah was listed in the “over 45” age bracket, born by 1755. That must be Jeremiah #3, son of James and Jean, born during the early 1750s. The 1800 household also includes a male in the age 26 to 45 category, who might be a (highly speculative) Wildcard Jeremiah. The oldest female in the household was also 26 to 45, and there were two females less than 10. Those three females fit the profile for Nancy Rankin (widow of Jeremiah d. 1803) and her two eldest daughters, Nancy C. and Mariah, twins born in 1796. The household also includes a male less than ten who could be James Clark Rankin, whose hazy birth year was 1800 or 1801.

The short of it is that I just don’t rightly know which source is correct. I find myself agreeing with Revolutionary Soldiers for two reasons. First, it’s a pretty tight squeeze to add an extra generation of four sons between Jeremiah #3, who was born in the early 1750s and who was out soldiering on the frontier in 1780-1781, and the death of a Jeremiah with four children in 1803. It is certainly possible, although apparently requiring marriage at an earlier age than was typical of colonial men. Second, Revolutionary Soldiers, written by a woman in conjunction with the Chambersburg D.A.R., has more credible heft than either Annals or History, books churned out for profit for many counties in Pennsylvania, often by the same publishers.

If all else fails, go with a source you trust. I would delete Wildcard Jeremiah and his three alleged brothers from this Rankin family tree. That would make Jeremiah #3 the man who died in 1803, leaving a widow Nancy, three daughters, Nancy, Mariah and Esther, and a son, James Clark Rankin.

See you on down the road. Before I do, I hope one of you will uncover some evidence about those 800 acres. Also, the land located in Ohio when Jeremiah wrote his 1803 will.

Robin

[1] Virginia Shannon Fendrick, American Revolutionary Soldiers of Franklin County, Pennsylvania (Chambersburg, PA: Historical Works Committee of the Franklin County Chapter of the D.A.R., 1969) (copyright 1944), 180.

[2] Biographical Annals of Franklin County, Pennsylvania, Volume I (Chicago: The Genealogical Publishing Co., 1905), 126-28.

[3] S. P. Bates, History of Franklin County, Pennsylvania (Chicago: Warner, Beers & Company, 1887), 68.

[4] Lancaster Co., PA Will Book J: 208, will of Adam Rankin of Lancaster dated and proved in 1747. The will names sons James, William, and Jeremiah and daughter Esther Rankin Dunwoody. For evidence establishing that Adam Rankin’s wife was Mary Steele Alexander, see the text accompanying the footnotes and the citations in notes 5, 6, and 7 of  this article.

[5] Rev. Robert Davidson, History of the Presbyterian Church in the State of Kentucky (New York: R. Carter, 1847), cited in this post this post about Rev. Adam Rankin, a son of Jeremiah #1 and Rhoda. Rev. Davidson’s book is available online as a pdf  at this link.

[6] Jeremiah #2 of Fayette Co., KY had an older brother, Rev. Adam Rankin, who was born in 1755. See link to article in Note 5. The father of Jeremiah #2 and Rev. Adam — Jeremiah #1 — died in 1760. Id. Jeremiah #2 must therefore have been born during 1756 through 1761, inclusive.

[7] Jeremiah #2’s last appearance on the Fayette Co., KY tax lists was in 1803. He had definitely died by 1808, when his son Samuel was identified as a ward in a guardian’s bond.

[8] Franklin Co., PA Will Book A: 345, will of James Rankin dated 1788 and proved 1795. The will names his wife Jean, sons William, Jeremiah, James (Jr.), and David, and daughters Ruth Rankin Tool and Esther Rankin Smith.

[9] Jeremiah #3 was listed in the 1800 federal census for Franklin Co., PA in the over 45 age category, born by 1755.  Jeremiah’s elder brother William was probably born 1746-1750. On balance, a birth year of 1750-1755 is probably a reasonable estimate for Jeremiah #3.

[10] See Mary Belle Lontz, Tombstone Inscriptions of Centre County, Pennsylvania (1984) and Note 11 in  this article.

[11] This Rankin family all lived near Conococheague (or Conogocheague) Cr. in what is now Franklin Co. in southern Pennsylvania, near Greencastle. As nearly as I can tell from the land and tax records, the Rankins stayed in basically the same geographic location for several generations. The jurisdictions in which they resided just changed as new counties and townships were created.

[12] See Note 4.

[13] Adam’s 1747 will named three sons James, William, and Jeremiah Rankin,and a daughter, Esther Rankin Dunwoody. That is likely the correct birth order for the sons.  I don’t know about Esther. Lancaster Co., PA Will Book J: 208.

[14] So far as I know, the only evidence regarding Jeremiah’s #1’s family is oral tradition contained in an 1854 letter and a book about Kentucky Presbyterians, see Note 5. The letter identifies the children of Jeremiah #1 and Rhoda Craig Rankin as (1) Rev. Adam Rankin of Lexington, Fayette Co., KY (the Psalmody fanatic, see Note 5), 1755 – 1827, wife Martha McPheeters, (2) William Rankin, b. 1757, d. 1797 or 1798, Woodford Co., KY, (3) Thomas Rankin, d. Woodford Co., 1808, wife Mary “Polly” Young, and (4) Jeremiah #2 Rankin, d. 1804, Fayette Co., KY. See a transcription of the letter  online here.

[15] See note 8.

[16] Franklin Co., PA Will Book A: 256, will of William Rankin, dated and proved in 1792. I wrote about William and Mary Huston Rankin’s family in this post. Their children were: (1) Dr. Adam Rankin, b. Cumberland, PA b. 1760- 63, d. 1820-30. Went to Henderson Co., KY and married three times. (2) Archibald Rankin, b. 1763-64, d. 1845, Franklin Co., wife Agnes Long. (3) James Rankin, b. 1767-68, d. after 1820. Went to Centre Co., PA. (4) William Rankin, 1770- 1847. Went to Centre Co., PA. Married #1 Abigail McGinley and #2 Susannah Huston. (5) Betsy Rankin, b. abt. 1773. (6) David Rankin, b. 1776-77, d. 1853, Des Moines Co. Wife Frances Campbell. (7) John Rankin, b. 1778-79, d. 1848. Went to Centre Co., PA, married Isabell Dundass. (8) Jeremiah Rankin, 1783 – 1874, moved to Centre Co. Wife Sarah Whitehill.

[17] See Note 1.

[18] The Welsh Run Church is about 4.2 miles southwest of Mercersburg in Montgomery Township, where the family of James and Jean Rankin lived and owned land. Conococheague Cr. crosses PA Highway 995 about a mile NE of Welsh Run. The pewholders named in Revolutionary Soldiers should all be from the line of James d. 1795 and his wife Jean, and are almost certainly their four proved sons. The Presbyterian Church of the Upper West Conococheague, attended by some of the family of William and Mary Huston Rankin, is located in Mercersburg.

[19] Franklin Co., PA Will Book B: 167, will of Jeremiah Rankin of Montgomery Twp. dated 13 Jun 1803 proved 1 Aug 1803. Wife Mary, four minor children, all less than 18: James Clark Rankin, only son; daughters Nancy Rankin, Mariah Rankin and Esther Rankin. Mentions land in Ohio. Executors wife, brother James Rankin, brother-in-law James Clark, brother-in-law David Humphreys.Witnesses John McFarland, David Rankin, John Rankin. Nancy and Mariah were twins, born in 1796. James Clark Rankin was b. 1800-01. Esther was b. 1802.

[20] See Note 3.

Rev. Adam Rankin of Lexington, KY (1755-1827), revised: Psalmody & other controversies

Rev. Adam Rankin of Lexington is associated with some fun Rankin family history issues. He also caused considerable controversy in his denomination during his lifetime. Even aside from genealogical questions, Rev. Adam’s life is a story unto itself.

I’m issuing this revised post to update the YDNA information and to add another important source about Rev. Adam’s family, which I previously excluded due to doubts about its authenticity.

Here are the major issues surrounding Rev. Adam:

  • What was Rev. Adam’s life all about? He is famous for stoking the flames of an uproar about an arcane theological issue. He was rabidly fanatic on the matter, and that may well be an understatement.
  • Who were Rev. Adam’s parents? I have found no evidence of Rev. Adam’s family of origin in traditional primary sources such as county records: deeds, wills, tax lists, marriage records, and the like. Instead, the only evidence of his origins are secondary sources, usually deemed less reliable than primary evidence. In Rev. Adam’s case, however, the secondary sources are unusually credible.
  • What is the YDNA evidence about Rev. Adam’s line? YDNA testing is inconclusive as of May 2019. However, the existing evidence casts doubt on one piece of family oral tradition that affects more than one Rankin line.

Rev. Adam’s theological mess

There is a wealth of evidence regarding Rev. Adam’s personality in history books. George W. Rankin’s 1872 History of Lexington describes Rev. Adam as a “talented, intolerant, eccentric, and pious man, [who] was greatly beloved by his congregation, which clung to him with devoted attachment through all his fortunes.[1]

Even more colorfully, Rev. Robert Davidson’s 1847 history of Kentucky Presbyterianism says that Rev. Adam “appears to have been of a contentious, self-willed turn from his youth … and his wranglings at last ended in a schism. Obstinate and opinionated, his nature was a stranger to concession, and peace was to be bought only by coming over to his positions … his pugnacious propensities brought on at last a judicial investigation.”[2]

An early twentieth-century Kentucky history describes Rev. Adam as “a strange, eccentric man, a dreamer of dreams, a Kentucky Luther, and, perhaps, a bit crazed with the bitter opposition his views received.”[3]

What on earth do you suppose all the fuss was about?

Ahem. The theological issue about which Rev. Adam was fanatical is the so-called “Psalmody controversy.” Psalmody, said Rev. Davidson, was “his monomania.”

The what controversy? I have a friend who is a retired Presbyterian minister, and he didn’t have a clue when I asked him about it.

An article entitled “How Adam Rankin tried to stop Presbyterians from singing ‘Joy to the World’” describes the issue and its origins:

“In 1770 [sic, 1670], when Isaac Watts was 18 years of age, he criticized the hymns of the church in his English hometown of Southampton. In response to his son’s complaints, Watts’ father is reputed to have said, ‘If you don’t like the hymns we sing, then write a better one!’ To that Isaac replied, ‘I have.’ One of his hymns was shared with the church they attended and they asked the young man to write more.

For 222 Sundays, Isaac Watts prepared a new hymn for each Sunday, and single-handedly revolutionized the congregational singing habits of the English Churches of the time. In 1705, Watts published his first volume of original hymns and sacred poems. More followed. In 1719, he published his monumental work, ‘The Psalms of David, Imitated.’ Among those many familiar hymns is the Christmas favorite ‘Joy to the World,’ based on Psalm 98.

For many years, only Psalms were sung throughout the Presbyterian Churches and the old ‘Rouse’ versions were the standard. The first General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States convened at the Second Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia in 1789. One of the Presbyterian ministers of the time, a man by the name of Rev. Adam Rankin, rode horseback from his Kentucky parish to Philadelphia to plead with his fellow Presbyterians to reject the use of Watts’ hymns.[4]

You had to be a virtual lunatic on the issue to ride more than 600 miles from Lexington to Philadelphia, right? Assuming the Reverend’s horse was capable of 12-hour days at an average speed of four miles per hour, that’s a good 12-day trip each way.[5] And we must surely assume that Rev. Adam rested on the Sabbath.

The trip is even more extraordinary because Rev. Adam had no “commission” to attend the Assembly, meaning he was not an official attendee.[6] He simply requested to be heard by the Assembly on the subject of Psalmody. Specifically, he sought a repeal of a 1787 resolution allowingWatts’ hymns to be used in churches. Rev. Adam presented this query to the General Assembly:

 “Whether the churches under the care of the General Assembly, have not, by the countenance and allowance of the late Synod of New York and Philadelphia, fallen into a great and pernicious error in the public worship of God, by disusing Rouse’s versification of David’s Psalms, and adopting in the room of it, Watts’ imitation?”[7]

The Assembly listened to him patiently. Then it suggested (gently, it seems to me) that Rev. Adam behave in a similar fashion by demonstrating “that exercise of Christian charity, towards those who differ from him in their views of this matter, which is exercised toward himself: and that he be carefully guarded against disturbing the peace of the church on this head.”[8]

You can probably guess how well Rev. Adam followed that advice:

“No sooner had he returned home than he began to denounce the Presbyterian clergy as Deists, blasphemers, and rejecters of revelation, and debarred from the Lord’s Table all admirers of Watts’ Psalms, which he castigated as rivals of the Word of God.[9](Emphasis added).

“Debarred from the Lord’s Table” means that Rev. Adam refused to administer communion to his parishioners who disagreed with him about Watts’ hymns. It is hard to imagine a more radical punishment in a Presbyterian church short of, I don’t know, burning dissenters at the stake.[10]

Rev. Adam didn’t mince words. He verbally abused his Psalmody opponents in ways that would make even some partisan politicians cringe. He called them weak, ignorant, envious, and profane, compared them to swine, said they bore the mark of the beast and that they were sacrilegious robbers, hypocrites, and blasphemers. It makes Newt Gingrich’s instruction to his House colleagues circa 1986 to refer to members of the opposing party as “traitors” and the “enemy” seem almost collegial, doesn’t it?

In 1789, several formal charges were brought against Rev. Rankin before the Presbytery to which his church belonged. One charge was that he had refused communion to persons who approved Watts’ psalmody. Apparently attempting to dodge a trial, he made a two-year trip to London. When he returned, his views unchanged (of course), his case was tried in April 1792. Rev. Adam simply withdrew from the Presbytery, taking with him a majority of his congregation.[11]

He then affiliated with the Associate Reformed Church, although that also ended badly. Rev. Davidson wrote that Rev. Adam “was on no better terms with the Associate Reformed than he had been with the Presbyterians; and his pugnacious propensities brought on at last a judicial investigation.” In 1818, he was suspended from the ministry. He and his congregation simply declared themselves independent.

Rev. Adam wasn’t merely stubborn and pugnacious. He may also have been deluded. He claimed early on that he was guided by dreams and visions, convinced that “God had raised him up as a special instrument to reinstate ‘the Lord’s song.’” Eventually, he was led by a dream to believe that “Jerusalem was about to be rebuilt and that he must hurry there in order to assist in the rebuilding. He bade his Lexington flock farewell, and started to the Holy City, but, on November 25, 1827, death overtook him at Philadelphia.”[12]

I find myself wishing he had made it to Jerusalem just to see what happened. Of course, there is no telling what additional trouble we might now have in the Middle East if he had done so.

Rev. Adam’s widow eventually moved to Maury County, Tennessee along with her sons Samuel and Adam Rankin Jr.  She died there, and her tombstone in the Greenwood Cemetery in Columbia reads simply “Martha Rankin, consort of A. Rankin of Lexington, KY.”[13] It was probably no picnic, being a planet in Rev. Adam’s solar system.

Moving on to the next issue …

Who were Rev. Adam’s parents?

As noted, there appears to be no primary evidence available on Rev. Adam’s family of origin. The family oral tradition is that he was a son of Jeremiah and Rhoda Craig Rankin of Cumberland Co., PA. Jeremiah, in turn, was one of the three proved sons of the Adam Rankin who died in 1747 in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and his wife Mary Steele Alexander Rankin.

Family tradition also says that Jeremiah died young in a mill accident. There are no probate records concerning his estate, so far as I have found. One would expect there to be some records, since Jeremiah owned land devised to him by his father Adam. In fact, the only reference I have found to Adam’s son Jeremiah in county records is Adam’s 1747 Lancaster County will.[14] Likewise, I haven’t found any guardian’s records, although Jeremiah’s children were underage when he died. I may have missed something, and it wouldn’t be the first time. If you have seen anything in the county records on Jeremiah, Rhoda and/or their children, please let me know.

Fortunately, there are at least two pieces of credible secondary evidence about this family: (1) Rev. Robert Davidson’s History of the Presbyterian Church in the State of Kentucky and (2) personal family knowledge and oral tradition, preserved in an 1854 letter written by one of Rev. Adam’s sons. Both provide evidence concerning Rev. Adam’s family of origin.

Here is what Rev. Davidson wrote about Adam (boldface and italics are mine):

“The Rev. Adam Rankin was born March 24, 1755, near Greencastle, Western Pennsylvania [sic, Greencastle is in south-central PA]. He was descended from pious Presbyterian ancestors, who had emigrated from Scotland, making a short sojourn in Ireland by the way. His mother, who was a godly woman, was a Craig, and one of her ancestors suffered martyrdom, in Scotland, for the truth. That ancestor, of the name of Alexander,[15] and a number of others, were thrown into prison, where they were slaughtered, without trial, by a mob of ferocious assassins, till the blood ran ancle [sic] deep. This account Mr. Rankin received from his mother’s lips. His father was an uncommon instance of early piety, and because the minister scrupled to admit one so young, being only in the tenth year of his age, he [Rev. Adam’s father] was examined before a presbytery. From the moment of his son Adam’s birth, he dedicated him to the ministry. He was killed in his own mill, when Adam, his eldest son, was in his fifth year. [Rev. Adam] graduated at Liberty Hall [now Washington & Lee University], about 1780. Two years after, Oct. 25, 1782, at the age of twenty-seven, he was licensed by Hanover Presbytery, and, about the same time, married Martha, daughter of Alexander McPheeters, of Augusta county [Virginia].”[16]

The most important thing Rev. Davidson said about Rev. Adam was in a footnote: “[t]his sketch of Mr. Rankin’s early history so far is derived from his autobiography, prepared, shortly before his decease, for his friend, Gen. Robert B. McAfee, then Lieut. Governor of the State.” Rev. Davidson obtained his information information straight from the horse’s  mouth, so to speak, establishing its credibility. Several facts stand out in Rev. Davidson’s sketch:

    • The death of Rev. Adam’s father in a mill accident confirms the family oral history. The date of death is established at about 1760, when Rev. Adam was five.[17]
    • Adam’s mother was, as the family history says, a Craig. There are a number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren in the line named “Rhoda Craig” or “Rhoda C. Rankin,” providing additional circumstantial evidence of her given name.
    • Adam was born in Greencastle, Cumberland County. The county was created in 1750 from Lancaster, where Adam and Mary Steele Alexander Rankin lived. Adam and Mary’s sons James and William began appearing in Cumberland in the 1750s. Rev. Adam’s birth in Greencastle is consequently good circumstantial evidence that he was a son of Jeremiah and grandson of Adam and Mary Steele Rankin.

The other significant piece of evidence regarding Rev. Adam’s family is an 1854 letter written by John Mason Rankin, Rev. Adam’s youngest son. John Mason obviously wrote from personal knowledge as to his father’s generation and their children, all of whom lived in Fayette and Woodford counties, KY. He also had information from the family’s oral tradition as to his earlier ancestry. Because I had been unable to find anyone who had ever seen that letter, I had reservations about its authenticity. Fortunately, Susan Faust, a Rankin researcher, located and communicated with one of the two Rankins who transcribed the 1854 letter and other materials.

You can find the extraordinary 1854 letter  here. There are a couple of interesting things about the letter, in addition to the broad scope of information and detail. There are also some minor and unsurprising errors.

First, John Mason identified the original colonial immigrants in his Rankin family as the brothers Adam (his ancestor), John, and Hugh. This precisely echoes some of the information contained on the famous bronze tablet in the Mt. Horeb Presbyterian Cemetery in Jefferson County, TN. The tablet has a wonderful, colorful story about the Rankin family in Scotland and Ireland which is worth reading. A transcription can be found  in  this post.

The Mt. Horeb tablet also identifies the original Rankin immigrants as the brothers Adam, John and Hugh. It further names Adam’s wife as Mary Steele. It is thus certain that John Mason Rankin and the Mt. Horeb tablet were dealing with the same immigrant family. John Mason claims descent from Adam (d. 1747) and Mary Steele Rankin; the Mt. Horeb Rankins are descended from John (d. 1747, also in Lancaster), who was Adam’s brother according to both family traditions.

The John Mason and Mt. Horeb tablet histories diverge prior to the Rankin immigrant brothers, however. John Mason’s letter does not include the colorful stories of Alexander and William Rankin in Scotland and Ireland. Those legends must also have been omitted from Rev. Adam’s autobiography, or Rev. Davidson would surely have mentioned it. This raises the possibility that the Mt. Horeb stories about the Killing Times in Scotland and the Siege of Derry in Ireland were not part of Rev. Adam’s family’s oral history.

In the interest of full disclosure, here are some of the minor errors or discrepancies in John Mason’s 1854 letter:

  • Adam Rankin (wife Mary Steele Alexander) died in 1747, not 1750.
  • John Mason identified the father of the three Rankin immigrant brothers (John, Adam and Hugh) as Adam. The Mt. Horeb tablet identifies their father as William Rankin. I don’t know which, if either, is correct. There is apparently no evidence either way other than family oral histories.
  • What John Mason called “Cannegogy Creek” appears in the colonial records as “Conogocheague” Creek. In later records, it is spelled “Conococheague” Creek. In any event, John Mason was clearly talking about the creek where Jeremiah’s mill was located. Two Presbyterian churches on or near that creek are where Adam and Mary Steele Rankin’s sons William and James attended. That puts the three proved sons James, William and Jeremiah in close physical proximity, a nice piece of confirming evidence of their family relationship.
  • Jeremiah Rankin, Rev. Adam’s brother, had four sons, not three: Adam, Joseph, Andrew and Samuel.

And that brings us to the last issue …

YDNA evidence concerning Rev. Adam’s line

A proved male Rankin descendant of Rev. Adam and Martha McPheeters Rankin (and probably a descendant of Adam and Mary Steele Rankin) has YDNA tested. He is not a Y-DNA match with descendants of John Rankin (d. 1749 in Lancaster), who is traditionally identified as Adam’s brother. At least six of John’s proved Rankin male descendants have YDNA tested, and they match closely. Further, there is no reasonable doubt as to their descent from  John d. 1749.

This raises two possibilities: either (1) Rev. Adam was not a grandson of Adam d. 1747 and Mary Steele Rankin, despite good secondary evidence; or (2) Adam d. 1747 and John d. 1749 were not brothers, despite family tradition.

I have been in contact with two Rankin men having solid paper trails back to Adam and Mary Steele who have YDNA tested. Neither man matches any other Rankin in the FTDNA database. Nor do they match each other.

There may be some profound genealogical conclusion to be drawn from those results, but it eludes me. In any event, the question whether Adam d. 1747 and John d. 1749 were brothers remains unresolved.

See you on down the road. With, I hope, more enlightening YDNA results in hand.

Robin

[1] George W. Rankin, History of Lexington, Kentucky (Cincinnati: Robert Clarke & Co., 1872), 108-110.

[2] Rev. Robert Davidson, History of the Presbyterian Church in the State of Kentucky (New York: R. Carter, 1847), 95. For “The Rankin Schism,” see p. 88 et seq. The book is available online as a pdf at this link.

[3] John Wilson Townsend and Dorothy Edwards Townsend, Kentucky in American Letters (Cedar Rapids, IA: The Torch Press, 1913), 17.

[4] Staff of the Ebenezer Presbyterian Church, March 20, 2015, “How Adam Rankin Tried to Stop Presbyterians From Singing ‘Joy to the World,’” published online by the Aquila Report here.

[5] Average horse speed stats here.. Distance at Google maps.

[6] Davidson, History of the Presbyterian Church, 82.

[7] Ernest Trice Thompson, Presbyterians in the South, Volume One: 1607-1861 (Richmond: John Knox Press, 1963), 115-116.

[8] Id. at 218-219.

[9] Id.

[10] I was baptized and confirmed in, and currently belong to, a Presbyterian church. I am, after all, a Scots-Irish Rankin. A frequent message at my church, including on its LED marquee, is “ALL ARE WELCOME.” That phrase has several layers of meaning in this era of immigrant hatred, but its most fundamental meaning is that everyone is invited to participate in communion.

[11] Rankin, History of Lexington, Kentucky, 108-110.

[12] Townsends, Kentucky in American Letters,17.

[13] Fred Lee Hawkins, Jr., Maury County, Tennessee Cemeteries with Genealogical and Historical Notes, Vol. 1and Vol. 2(1989).

[14] Lancaster Co., PA Will Book J: 208, will of Adam Rankindated 4 May 1747 proved 21 Sep 1747. To son James Rankin, £ 5 “pencelvaney currancy” plus the “place he is now in possession of being fully given over to him.” Daughter Esther Rankin alias Dunwoody, £ 5. Wife (name omitted), 2/3rd“of all my worldly substance.” Sons William and Jeremiah the remainder, including the plantation to be equally divided betweenthem.

[15] Interestingly, it isn’t clear whether Alexander was her ancestor’s given name or surname. Both occur frequently among the Scots-Irish..

[16] Davidson, History of the Presbyterian Church,95.

[17] I only say “about” 1760 because of the difficulty a small child might have in pinpointing his exact age when his father died.