Revolutionary War Story: Robert Rankin of the Northern Neck (part 4 of 5)

A hoary old joke goes like this: what is the shortest book ever written? Possible answers: Nixon on Ethics or Bill Clinton on Fidelity. A book titled Robert Rankin on His Revolutionary War Service would challenge them for brevity. Everything Robert had to say about himself is contained in nine pages of his 117-page pension file. Many of his words are boilerplate. Worse, some of what he remembered is demonstrably wrong.

You can’t blame Robert for an occasional memory failure, minor error, or uncertainty about his unit assignment. He wasn’t a rear echelon organizational bigshot (there is a precise military term for that, but this is a family blog). He was a sharpshooter, a scout, a guerrilla who harassed British foraging parties, a soldier who guarded his army’s camps and flanks, a brigade forage master, and a line combat officer.

Unfortunately, misinformation provided by Robert and others is compounded by seemingly endless and endlessly confusing military reorganizations. In an effort to promote clarity, I divided Robert’s story into two sections and an “appendix.” The first section is his basic war story. The second section contains Robert’s own words about himself. The appendix explains military reorganizations affecting him.

Section 1: Robert’s war story, CliffsNotes version[1]

Robert enlisted on July 26, 1776[2] as a private in Capt. William Brady’s Company,[3] Col. Hugh Stephenson’s Maryland and Virginia Rifle Regiment (the “Rifle Regiment”).[4] That means Robert was a skilled marksman, because the Rifle Regiment recruited sharpshooters.[5] Robert’s pension declaration said he enlisted for the term of “during the War,” although company records prove he enlisted for three years.[6] Robert was promoted to Sergeant by at least January 1, 1777 and possibly earlier.[7]

The Rifle Regiment was decimated at Ft. Washington on Dec. 16, 1776.[8] His brother William Rankin, also in Capt. Brady’s Company, was taken prisoner there.[9] Robert wasn’t in that battle, although we don’t know why. Captain Brady wasn’t at Ft. Washington, either.[10]

Robert was in winter camp in Morristown, New Jersey in the winter of 1776-77 during the so-called “Forage War.”[11] He was probably in the battles of Princeton and Trenton in December 1776 and January 1777, respectively.[12] Both were spectacular victories for Washington’s army. Trenton was the famous surprise attack at dawn after crossing the icy Delaware River. Robert also fought at Brandywine on September 11, 1777 (a terrible rout by the British) and Germantown on October 4, 1777 (a somewhat less humiliating loss).[13] Amazingly, the only battle Robert named in his pension application was the Siege of Charleston.

Robert spent the winter of 1777-78 at Valley Forge.[14] By the following winter, he was listed on muster rolls as acting Brigade Forage Master in winter camp, located again at Morristown.[15] He was commissioned an Ensign on July 4, 1779, shortly before his original three-year enlistment expired.[16] After that point, he had no “term” of service because commissioned officers serve until they resign or are discharged. Gary, the family military historian, says it is unusual even in wartime for a private to become a commissioned officer.

Less than two weeks later, Robert probably participated in what we would call today an elite temporary unit for a risky mission at Stony Point on July 16, 1779.[17] General “Mad Anthony” Wayne assembled for the assignment a provisional troop of light infantrymen. Wayne and some of the patriots overwhelmed a well-fortified British position with bayonets.

Here’s how they did it.[18] Stony Point was surrounded on three sides by the Hudson River and on the fourth by a marsh. One part of the patriot force feinted a frontal assault across the marsh’s causeway, laying down “a galling fire.” This took place around midnight, at low tide.[19] Two larger parts of the force waded silently through the river to the north and south sides of the hill, carrying unloaded muskets with bayonets affixed. The muskets were not loaded to prevent accidental discharge, which would have ruined the crucial element of surprise. The two patriot forces ascended the hill and overwhelmed the British from both sides. Wow.

In early 1780, Robert’s company was assigned to the enlarged 1st Virginia Regiment. It then began a roughly four-month march to the Siege of Charleston, which was Robert’s last significant military engagement. The siege ended on May 12, 1780 when the entire patriot army defending Charleston surrendered. It was the worst American defeat of the Revolution, with about 6,000 patriots captured.[20]

After the siege, Congress conferred a “brevet” on all participating officers.[21] The brevet designation recognized outstanding service by temporarily promoting an officer to a higher rank. Robert was subsequently promoted to Lieutenant effective January 1, 1780.[22] That is his so-called “date of rank.” Robert thus became a “Brevet Lieutenant” on the date Congress awarded the promotions, but his actual promotion to “Lieutenant” was retroactive to January 1, 1780.

In July 1781, nearly all patriot prisoners in the south were released as part of a prisoner exchange between the United States and Britain.[23] Not long after the exchange, Robert went home on furlough to Frederick County, Virginia. He married his fiancé Margaret “Peggy” Berry there on November 1, 1781.[24]

 After Charleston, the Virginia Line essentially ceased to exist.[25] Robert was “reduced” on January 1, 1783.[26] That means he was listed as a surplus officer having no assignment. In the final “arrangement” of the Virginia Line, Robert was the 37th Lieutenant out of sixty based on the Lieutenants’ dates of rank. Put another way, there were 36 Lieutenants who would have been offered an assignment ahead of Robert. The odds are that Robert never had another duty assignment after the exchange of prisoners from Charleston. He was officially discharged on January 1, 1783.[27]

Along the way, Robert served in Stephenson’s (Rawlings’) Rifle Regiment and the 11th, 7th, and 1st Virginia Regiments. All regimental changes were due to reorganizations. He had five different company commanders we can identify. He only actually changed companies once, and that was when he was commissioned an Ensign.

Here is what Robert himself said …

Section 2: Robert’s pension file declarations

Robert made two sworn declarations, one for a pension and one for a land warrant. He also wrote an unsworn letter supporting the former.

Below is a verbatim transcription of part of Robert’s declaration of July 26, 1828, including a strikethrough in the original. I have omitted boilerplate and material irrelevant to his war story. I inserted footnotes to correct the errors or ambiguous statements noted in boldface.

“ … I, Robert Rankins, of the County of Washington, in the state of Alabama, do hereby declare, that I was an Officer in the Continental Line of the Army of the Revolution, and served as such to the end of the War,[28] and also to the time when the arrangement of the army provided by the Resolves of Congress of the 3rd and 21st of October, 1780, were carried into effect, and was reduced under that arrangement, at which periods I was a Lieutenant in the Third Regiment[29] of the  Virginia line.

“… And I do further declare, that I was one of the officers who served under, and was captured with, Major General Lincoln at the Siege of Charleston, South Carolina, and that every officer in the Army of the said General Lincoln in reward for the signal services rendered by them at that memorable siege Defence was promoted a Grade higher by a Resolve of Congress, but I cannot remember, at this distance of time, whether the Said officers were regularly commissioned, or not. But if my Commission as a Lieutenant, (the grade to which I had been promoted) was ever received, it has, in the long lapse of fifty years, been either lost or mislaid, or destroyed by time or accident, so that it cannot now be produced.

                                        Robert Rankins

Sworn to & subscribed before me this 26th July 1828.” Wm Grimes, clerk of court.

Robert also wrote an unsworn letter dated July 1828 in support of his application with a “few explanatory remarks.” Here are relevant parts.

“… I embarked in the services of the United States, in the capacity of an Ensign in a Regiment of the Virginia Line upon the Continental Establishment (the number of which I do not now distinctly recollect) … A short time after the formation[30] of the said Regiment it was ordered to the South[31] under the command of Majr Gen Lincoln where it was captured, with his whole army, at the surrender of Charleston … [Thereafter, Congress] passed a Resolve raising each officer a grade higher or rather conferring upon them Brevets, and holding them in reserve to fill any vacancies that might thereafter occur in the Army.”

“I have never wanted and never sought relief from my Country, and nothing but the helplessness of age with unlooked for poverty[32] forces me now to ask a portion of the munificence extended by the government.”

Robert made a second sworn declaration in September 1828 in support of a request for a “Bounty Land Warrant.” The underlining and strikethrough are exactly as they appear in the original.

“The State of Alabama

County of Washington

“I, Robert Rankins, aged Seventy five years, do, upon oath, testify and declare, that in the year, one thousand seven hundred and seventy six – I entered the service of the United States for the term of “during the War” in the Third Regiment (to the best of my recollection) under the command of Colonel Hugh Stevenson – of the Virginia Line, and that I continued in the service aforesaid until the close of the War.[33] I do further declare that I entered a private and was afterwards promoted to the rank of Ensign and, before the close of the War, was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant, in which capacity I was disbanded or deranged after the conclusion of Peace.”[34]

“Signed, Robert Rankins”

The clerk’s attestation is dated September 18, 1828.

Finally, for the hard-core military historians, here is how Robert’s units were shuffled.

Appendix: military reorganizations affecting Robert

There were three military reorganizations which made it difficult to track Robert’s service: (1) the reorganization of the Rifle Regiment after the battle of Ft. Washington; (2) the 1778 reduction in the number of Virginia Line regiments from fifteen to eleven; and (3) the 1779 reduction of the Virginia Line from eleven regiments to four.

… the Rifle Regiment and its assignment to the 11th Virginia in February, 1777

Robert and his brother William enlisted in 1776 in one of the four newly recruited Virginia companies in the Maryland and Virginia Rifle Regiment, AKA Stephenson’s Regiment (later Rawlings’ Regiment). As noted, it was not part of a Virginia Line regiment. Stephenson’s regiment also included a veteran Virginia rifle company under Capt. Abraham Shepherd. The four newly created companies of Virginians were commanded by (1) Capt. William Blackwell (Lt. John Marshall, future Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, was second in command, and Robert was not in this company), (2) Capt. Gabriel Long, (3) Capt. Adam West, and (4) Capt. William Brady.

With two exceptions, the Virginia companies in the Rifle Regiment fought and were decimated at Ft. Washington on November 16, 1776. First, Capt. Blackwell’s company (including Lt. Marshall) didn’t reach New Jersey until April 1777, when the main army was in winter quarters at Morristown.[35] Upon arrival, Blackwell’s company was attached to the 11th Virginia Regiment and was never in an engagement as part of the Rifle Regiment. Second, most of Capt. Long’s company did not arrive until after the battle at Ft. Washington.[36]

That left Brady’s, Shepherd’s, West’s, and part of Long’s companies to participate in the awful defeat at Ft. Washington.[37] After that battle, Gen. Washington reorganized the few Rifle Regiment soldiers still fit for service (i.e., alive and not a prisoner). He created two “composite” rifle companies, one composed of Marylanders and the second of Virginians. Capt. Gabriel Long commanded the latter, and Robert Rankin was in his company along with the remainder of his own, Shepherd’s, West’s, and Brady’s companies.[38]

In February 1777, the 11th Virginia regiment was organized. Long’s composite rifle company with Robert Rankin was one of the nine companies assigned to the regiment. Capt. Long’s pay and muster rolls continued to include men identified as being from Shepherd’s, West’s, and Brady’s companies. After Long resigned, Robert remained in the same company under different commanders until he was promoted to Ensign on July 4, 1779. He was then assigned to Capt. William Johnston’s company. He was almost certainly still with Capt. Johnston at Charleston, but there are two more reorganizations to go through before we get there.

… the September 1778 rearrangement of the Virginia Line, effective May 12, 1779.

In response to the expiration of enlistment terms and other manpower losses, the 1778 rearrangement reduced the number of regiments in the Virginia Line from fifteen to eleven. You might want to take a Dramamine here. The 5th, 6th, 8th, and 9th Regiments were combined with the depleted 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Regiments (not in respective order) to restore the latter to full manpower. The former 5th, 6th, 8th and 9th regiments then ceased to exist. The 1st through 4th retained their numbers. The other seven remaining regiments – the 7th, 10th, and 11th through 15th – were renumbered. The 11th Virginia then became the 7th. As a result, Robert Rankin was now serving in the 7th Virginia, where he remained until the next rearrangement. When he was commissioned an Ensign on July 4th, 1779, he was assigned to Capt. William Johnston’s company, still in the 7th Virginia.

… the 1779 rearrangement.

The Virginia Line was reorganized yet again shortly before the march to Charleston. In late 1779, ten regiments of the Virginia Line[39] were consolidated into the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Regiments.  Companies from the regiments formerly designated 5th, 7th, 10th, and 11th were folded into the 1st Virginia Regiment. Ensign Robert Rankin, soon to be Brevet Lieutenant Robert Rankin, was still in Capt. Johnston’s company in the 7th Virginia Regiment as of November 1779.[40] Robert was almost certainly still in Capt. Johnston’s company in the enlarged 1st Virginia Regiment at Charleston. Gary says the odds are slim to none that Ensign Rankin was assigned to any other company or regiment. Capt. William Johnson’s Company in the 1st Regiment of the Virginia Line was among the patriot reinforcements arriving in Charleston on April 8, 1780 and surrendered on May 12.[41]

And that is it for reorganizations. I wish Robert had written his memoirs and provided detail on the battles he was in. While he was at it, he might have identified his parents and siblings. No such luck. We are on our own on that question. Next up: a quest for his family of origin and a look at his family’s oral history.

See you on down the road.

Robin

[1] CAVEAT: Gary and I are not historians, although he published an award-winning history of the unit in which he served in Vietnam (Red Markers, Close Air Support for the Vietnamese Airborne, 1962–1975). We are family history hobbyists fond of obscure records. As for this article, some information is from Robert and Peggy’s pension application file, designated “Rankins, Robert No. W26365 or Rankin, Peggy B.L.Wt. 1380-200” (cited herein as “Robert Rankin’s pension application file”). Evidence also includes muster and pay rolls, other original military records, and published histories.

[2] United States Revolutionary War Rolls, 1775-1783, Familysearch.org, Film/Fiche No. 7197156, image 395. Muster roll dated Sept. 1778 for Capt. Charles Porterfield’s Co., 11th Virginia Regiment, says that Sgt. Robert Rankins enlisted for three years on July 26, 1776. Hereafter, I will cite this simply as War Rolls, identifying the film/fiche and image numbers.

[3] War Rolls, Film/Fiche Number No. 7197155, images 590-591. Payroll dated 1 May 1777 for “pay and subsistence to 1 May 1777.” Sgt. Robert Rankins of Capt. Brady’s company listed on roll for Capt. Gabriel Long’s composite rifle company.

[4] Robert Rankin’s pension application file, declaration dated 18 Sep 1828, says he enlisted in Stephenson’s Regiment as a private. Images of Robert’s entire pension file are available for a fee from Fold.3 at ancestry.com.

[5] Part 2 of this series has information about Stephenson’s Rifle Regiment.

[6] See Note 2.

[7] See Note 3. Robert’s pay was £3 per month, the same as other Sergeants. Since that May 1, 1777 payroll was £12 for four months, he was a Sergeant by at least January 1, 1777. Robert may have become a Sergeant before Brady’s company ever left Virginia, since enlisted men sometimes elected their own non-commissioned officers. E.g., Danske Dandridge, Historic Shepherdstown (Charlottesville, VA: The Michie Company, 1910), p. 80, online here.

[8]  Part 2  of this series has information about Ft. Washington. So does Part 3,  which is about William Rankin’s Revolutionary War service.

[9] Id. See also William Rankin’s pension application. His declaration in support filed Nov. 22, 1833 said he enlisted in Capt. Brady’s Company, Stephenson’s Regiment, and that he was taken prisoner when Ft. Washington surrendered.

[10] War Rolls, Film/Fiche No. 7197160, image 275, “Arrangement of the officers of the 11th Virginia Regiment” (undated, probably about June 1777). It states that “William Brady was a Captain in the 11th Regiment and has never done any duty. Absented himself without leave.”

[11] Tucker F. Hentz, Unit History of the Maryland and Virginia Rifle Regiment (1776–1781): Insights from the Service Record of Capt. Adamson Tannehill (Richmond: Virginia Historical Society, 2007), p. 21, available online at this link. Units which performed skirmishing duties in the first half of 1777 included Gabriel Long’s composite rifle company. Sgt. Robert Rankin was in the composite company during this time. See War Rolls, Film/Fiche Number No. 7197155, images 590-591, payroll dated 1 May 1777 for “pay and subsistence to 1 May 1777.” Sgt. Robert Rankins of Brady’s company is listed on Capt. Gabriel Long’s composite rifle company payroll.

[12][12] Robert’s widow Peggy didn’t include either Trenton or Princeton in a list of Robert’s battles. Nevertheless, it is likely that the remaining soldiers of the Maryland and Virginia Rifle Regiment were engaged in those battles. One “return of the forces” record dated Dec. 22, 1776 appears to include the remnants of the Rifle Regiment “on the banks of the Delaware in the State of Pennsylvania.” Hentz, Unit History of the Mawinterryland and Virginia Rifle Regiment at page 14, note 59. The Battle of Trenton, on the other side of the river, was four days later on Dec. 26, 1776; Princeton was on Jan. 3, 1777. It is almost inconceivable that the soldiers camped on the Delaware River didn’t participate in those two battles. However, the “return” does not identify company captains or enlisted men. It does say there were 108 men fit for combat and two Captains. This profile “fits” with how the two composite rifle companies would have looked after the Battle of Ft. Washington, taking losses into account. The two composite companies were Capt. Alexander Lawson Smith’s (the remaining Marylanders from the Rifle Regiment) and Capt. Gabriel Long’s (the remaining Virginians). Robert Rankin was in Capt. Long’s composite company.

[13] Robert Rankin’s pension application file, declaration of Peggy Rankin of Liberty Co., TX dated March 22, 1844. She said Robert fought at Brandywine, Princeton, Stony Point, and Charleston.

[14] War Rolls, Film/Fiche Number No. 7197155, image 578. A muster Roll for February 1778 for Capt. Philip Slaughter’s company (formerly Capt. Gabriel Long’s company) in the 11th Virginia Regiment stated it was taken at Valley Forge. The list of soldiers includes Sgt. Robert Rankin.

[15] Id., Film/Fiche No. 7197156, image 395. Muster roll for September 1778, Capt. Porterfield’s company, Col. Daniel Morgan’s regiment. Sgt. Robert Rankins was acting as Brigade Forage Master, abbreviated “Act as B.F.M.” For more information, see a resolution of Congress regarding  forage master duties.

[16] War Rolls, Film/Fiche No. 7197160, image 373. Arrangement of the Field Officers and Captains in the 7th Regiment of the Virginia Line states Ensign Robert Rankin’s date of rank was July 4, 1779.

[17] We found no muster roll or other record identifying the soldiers at Stony Point. The only evidence that Robert participated so far as we know is Peggy Rankin’s pension declaration. She had considerable credibility with the judge who took her declaration, who noted her remarkable memory and knowledge of the war.

[18] Samuel W. Pennypacker, “The Capture of Stony Point,” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 26, No. 3 (1902), pp. 360-369, published by the University of Pennsylvania Press.  A PDF   can be downloaded from JSTOR.

[19] Yes, the Hudson River is tidal  from its mouth upstream for 153 miles. Stony Point is 38 miles upstream of the river’s mouth.

[20] Estimates vary of the number of American troops surrendered at Charleston. One source One source says that an army of “roughly 5,000 men ceased to exist” when Gen. Lincoln surrendered. Carl Borick, who seems to be the leading authority on the Siege of Charleston, says some 6,000 Continentals, militia, and seamen were captured when Charleston surrendered. Carl P. Borick, Relieve Us of this Burthen (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2012). “Burthen” is not a typo.

[21] Robert Rankin’s pension application, declaration dated 26 July 1828.

[22] War Rolls, Film/Fiche No. 7197160, image 395-398, numerical list dated Jan. 1, 1783 of the redundant junior officers in each grade in the Virginia Line. Date of commission for Robert Rankins was Jan. 1, 1780. He was number 37 out of 60 Lieutenants based on date of rank.

[23] Mark Berry article  in “The College Today,” the news site of the College of Charleston, June 25, 2015.

[24] Robert’s pension application file, declaration of Peggy Rankin of Liberty Co., TX dated March 22, 1844. She testified that she and Robert, having been previously engaged, married in Frederick Co., VA on 1 Nov 1781. She believed he was then on a furlough of 60 days.

[25] By the end of 1782, only 730 officers and enlisted men remained active in the Virginia Line. That number is roughly normal manning for only one regiment, compared to fifteen regiments comprising the Line at one time. War Rolls, 1775-1783, Film/Fiche No. 7197160, image 391, “Arrangement Review Board Proceedings” dated January 1, 1783.

[26] Robert Rankin’s pension application, declaration dated July 26, 1828.

[27] Id., Film/Fiche No. 7197160, image 449, list of the officers “deranged” (discharged) on Jan. 1, 1783, included Lt. Robert Rankins, due $80 for 1782 and nothing for 1783.

[28] What on earth did Robert mean by “the end of the war”? He was discharged on Jan.1, 1783. See Note 27.  The “Preliminary Anglo-American Peace Treaty” was signed in Paris on November 30, 1782. Gen. Washington issued the “Declaration of the Cessation of Hostilities” (“an extra ration of liquor for every man”!!) on April 18, 1783. The Treaty of Paris was signed September 3, 1783 and ratified by the Senate January 14, 1784. Peggy testified that her marriage to Robert took place on November 1, 1781, “nearly a year before his service expired.” That suggests she thought his service was over by November 1782. My bet is he had come home to stay about then. He had no assignment at that time and probably no expectation that he would receive one.

[29] For a discussion of Robert’s regimental assignment as a Lieutenant, see the text accompanying Notes 39 and 40, infra. The records establish he was in the 1st Regiment rather than the 3rd.

[30] Gary would scold Robert for using the term “formation” in the context of the Virginia Line Regiments that were “ordered to the South” under General Lincoln. Every time I tried to write “newly formed” or “newly created,” Gary got out his red pen. “A regiment by that number already existed,” he would say. “The existing regiment was just enlarged.” The only time “newly created” was appropriate in this article was to describe the four Virginia companies recruited for the Maryland and Virginia Rifle Regiment in 1776.

[31] See text accompanying Notes 39 and 40, infra. In his July 26 declaration, Robert said he was with the 3rd when his service ended. In this letter, also written in 1828, he cannot recall the number of the regiment that was ordered to the south. Ensign Rankin almost certainly marched to Charleston and fought there with the 1st Virginia Regiment, not the 3rd. Likewise, Lieutenant Rankin ended his service in the 1st.

[32] The letter reveals he was suffering “unlooked for poverty” by 1828, a fact confirmed by other documents in Robert’s pension file. One historian says Robert had a financial reversal around 1819-1820, probably in conjunction with land speculation and the panic of 1819. Ann Patton Malone, Handbook of Texas Online, “RANKIN, ROBERT.” Given his brother William’s statement that he (William) engaged in a good deal of land trading, land speculation and plummeting land values seem a likely cause of Robert’s poverty. See William Rankin’s pension application, declaration filed Nov. 22, 1833.

[33] Robert’s use of the phrases “close of the war” and “conclusion of the peace” in this letter raises the same questions as the phrase “end of the War.” See Note 28.

[34] Stephenson’s/Rawlings’ Regiment, AKA the Maryland and Virginia Rifle Regiment, was not part of the Virginia Line. It reported to Congress and was independent of any state regulation. Note that Robert correctly struck through “3rd” in this declaration.

[35] Hentz, Unit History of the Maryland and Virginia Rifle Regiment, pp. 15-16. Blackwell’s company was still in Philadelphia receiving smallpox inoculations in March 1777 after moving up from Virginia. It joined the main army at Morristown in April.

[36] An advance element of 13 men from Long’s company reached New York ahead of the rest. A muster roll of Long’s company in April 1778 states those 13 men were captured. War Rolls, Film/fiche number 7197155, image 551.

[37] A 1778 report by Col. Moses Rawlings (Stephenson’s successor) names Rifle Regiment officers who died or were taken prisoner at Ft. Washington. Hentz, Maryland and Virginia Rifle Regiment, p. 13. Based on other information in that report, Gary estimates that 264 out of 297 riflemen engaged at Ft. Washington were killed or captured.

[38] The muster and pay rolls for Long’s composite company had a strange format. Rolls were titled “Capt. Gabriel Long’s Company,” but each also contained a listing of the names of soldiers in Captains Shepherd’s, West’s, and Brady’s companies — generally not more than a dozen men from each company. From the army’s standpoint, a soldier enlisted in Brady’s company remained in Brady’s company and was thereafter considered (in Robert Rankin’s case, for example) attached to Long’s company.

[39] The remaining regiment in the then 11-regiment Virginia Line was stationed at Ft. Pitt.

[40] War Rolls, Film/Fiche No. 7197152, image 330. Nov. 1779 muster roll of Capt. William Johnston’s Company in the 7th Virginia Regiment, junior officers included Ensign Robert Rankins.

[41] Capt. William Johnston’s Company, 1st Virginia Regiment, 1st Virginia Brigade is listed among patriot reinforcements here.

Revolutionary War Story: William Rankin of Virginia’s Northern Neck (part 3 of 5)

Part 2 of this series ended with the Battle of Ft. Washington on November 16, 1776. William Rankin was captured there and imprisoned in Manhattan. Against the odds, he survived. His elder brother Robert was not in that battle, so far as we can determine.[1] Their war experience diverged after Ft. Washington, despite the fact that they had both enlisted in Captain Brady’s Company of the Maryland and Virginia Rifle Regiment.[2]

Let’s turn to their individual war stories in parts 3 and 4 of this series.  We’ll start with William because there is so much detail in his pension application file. Robert, bless his heart, didn’t have much to say about his war experience.

Private William Rankin[3]

The facts William states in his pension application dovetail with military history to a “t.”[4] His memory is awesome. His military service had been over for fifty-four years and four months when he made his application declaration in November 1833 from Mason County, Kentucky. Here is what his declaration said, in part:

  • He enlisted in July 1776 for a term of three years in Berkeley County, Virginia. He enlisted in Capt. William Brady’s company of Col. Hugh Stephenson’s regiment. He notes that Stephenson soon died and the company was attached to Col. Moses Rawlings regiment. William didn’t say so, but Rawlings was Stephenson’s second-in-command of the Maryland and Virginia Rifle Regiment. The regiment to which William’s company belonged didn’t change after Stephenson’s death, it just got a new commander.
  • William marched first to Philadelphia, then went to Trenton by water, then marched to Princeton.[5] All of his regiment went first to Philadelphia, where Washington was having his men inoculated for smallpox.[6] Next, William marched to Ft. Lee and Ft. Washington. [7] He stated the precise date of the battle at Ft. Washington. I’ll bet he could also have testified to the weather conditions.
  • The British imprisoned William in one of the notorious “sugar houses” in Manhattan before transferring him “after some time” to the British ship “the Duttons.”[8] The majority of British prisoners in New York City – four out of five – did not survive captivity.[9] Instead, they died of starvation or disease. William must have been a pretty tough teenager.

OK, that gets us up to the point in Part 2 where we left William.  In February or March 1777, the British paroled him and he went from New York to Philadelphia. In April 1777, said William, “he was sent home by direction of Gen. Daniel Morgan who happened to be a personal acquaintance.”[10] He was recalled from home a year later to rejoin the remains of Rawlings’ Regiment at Ft. Frederick in Frederick, MD.[11] From there he went to Ft. Pitt in Pittsburgh, where he worked as an “artificer” – someone who constructed fortifications.[12] He was discharged at Ft. Pitt when his three-year enlistment ended in mid-1779.

Now let’s go back to when Morgan sent him home from Philadelphia. Thomas Jones filed an affidavit in support of William’s pension application confirming that Morgan ordered him to take William home to Virginia. Jones said “that in the year 1777 he received from the hand of General Morgan … William Rankin in … Philadelphia, a sick soldier … to convey Rankin to Virginia, his former state of residence.”[13]

Jones took William home in a wagon.[14] In my imagination, William was horizontal on the wagon bed, on top of and under (I hope) some blankets. A John Kercheval also filed an affidavit in support of William’s pension application. Kercheval stated that “he met the said William Rankin returning to Virginia then in a low state of health in the wagon of Thomas Jones who lived in the neighborhood.”[15]

Where the heck was William’s home? He was still a teenager in April 1777, about 18. You would think he was going home to recuperate under the care of his family of origin, wouldn’t you? Inquiring minds want to know who they were …

William leaves us dangling on that question. Kercheval was more helpful. In the middle of his affidavit is this attention-grabber: Kercheval said he understood “from Mr. [William] Rankin’s brother Robert Rankin, who was an officer, that his brother William” was at one time ordered to Pittsburgh. Yes, indeed, William Rankin was once in Pittsburgh, where he was discharged. William’s brother is the man I nicknamed “Lt. Robert” in the first article in this series on these Rankins.

William may not have identified his parents, but at least his file proves a brother, who comprises one clue to his family of origin. There’s more. William also provides the link between the Rankin and Kercheval families. William said that “John Kercheval and his wife Jane Kercheval both know that he did serve in the war of the Revolution and the latter recollects the day he marched from her fathers in Frederick County Virginia.”

John Kercheval’s wife was Jane Berry, daughter of Thomas Berry of Frederick County.[16]  One of Jane Berry Kercheval’s sisters was Margaret “Peggy” Berry, who married Lt. Robert Rankin in Frederick County. Seventeen or 18-year-old William Rankin may have enlisted in Berkeley County, but he went marching off to war from Frederick County – to be exact, from Thomas Berry’s house. I will bet a big stack of genealogical chips that Jane Berry and her sister Peggy, both still single, watched Robert Rankin (who was then engaged to Peggy)[17] and his brother William march off to war from their father Thomas Berry’s house in Frederick County. That is a nice visual image – two sisters and two brothers.[18]

Kercheval also testified that “William Rankins not long after the war was done settled in … Frederick” County, where he was still living when Kercheval moved to Mason County, Kentucky about 1798-1799.[19] That tells us William probably wasn’t living in Frederick County before the war. William was definitely in Frederick by at least 1792, though, because a Frederick County lease and release[20] says William was “of Frederick” in that year. The deeds also prove William had a wife named Mary Ann and a son named Harrison.[21] Thomas Berry was a witness to those two instruments.

There is another tidbit or two in William’s pension file. Kercheval also said that William Rankin was “a very respectable man and entitled to credit in any court or county … he is a wealthy farmer of Mason County Kentucky.” Some of William’s wealth undoubtedly came from land speculation, which may have been the financial undoing of his brother Robert. William said that his discharge papers had been “lost long ago or put in the land office in Virginia to get land warrants.”[22] At that point, his memory fogged up a bit. He said he “could not recollect but possibly the latter.” He probably got land warrants but “having traded so much in that business cannot speak certainly.”

William was certainly wealthy by the standards of the day, when wealth was measured in part by ownership of enslaved persons. The 1836 inventory of William’s estate included twenty enslaved persons.[23] The current account of his estate in November 1839 shows an amount to be distributed of $17,911, after payment of an agreed $1,000 fee to the two estate administrators.[24]

That is all of William Rankin’s story I can tease out of the records I have accessed.[25] He died intestate in Mason County on April 12, 1836, leaving a widow and children to collect the remainder of his pension.[26] Unfortunately, William’s pension file doesn’t name them.[27] William may be buried in the Old Washington Cemetery (AKA the Washington Baptist Church Cemetery) in Mason County. [28] The 1810 through 1830 census records for Mason County suggest he had as many as ten children, although I can only prove three (a number of other Rankins were purchasers at his estate sale, and they probably include some children):

  • Harrison Rankin, who was born by 1792 in Frederick Co., Virginia, is conclusively proved by a lease and release.[29] He is most likely the same man who appeared in the 1850 census in Scott County, Kentucky at age 58. He was a merchant, lived in Georgetown, had at least four children, and last appeared in the Scott County census in 1870.[30]
  • John L. Rankin was one administrator of William’s estate.[31] I have not been able to track him with confidence.
  • Robert P. Rankin was also an administrator. He probably moved at some point to Scott County along with Harrison, although I haven’t found Robert in the census there. Some Robert P. Rankin is buried in the Georgetown Cemetery,  b. 1805 – d. 1892. It is also possible that Robert P. Rankin was the man by that name who married Mary C. Withers in April 1832 in Bourbon Co., KY.

If you have evidence for any other children, please post a comment! It would be wonderful to find a living male Rankin descendant from William’s line who would take a YDNA test.

May you rest in peace, William. And now … on to your famous brother in part 4 of this series.

See you on down the road.

Robin

[1] Gary and I found no military records to prove Robert’s location in 1776 except for the locations mention in William’s pension application. Consequently, we can only speculate why he wasn’t in the battle at Ft. Washington. Perhaps he was one of the Rifle Regiment’s members who remained at Ft. Lee because of sickness? See Tucker F. Hentz, Unit History of the Maryland and Virginia Rifle Regiment (1776–1781): Insights from the Service Record of Capt. Adamson Tannehill (Richmond: Virginia Historical Society, 2007), p. 12, Note 50, at this link. Perhaps Robert was actually in the battle, but was neither killed nor captured? Statistically, that is highly unlikely.

[2] William’s pension application declaration expressly stated that he enlisted in Brady’s company. Robert’s declaration didn’t name a company. Fortunately, muster and payroll records for Gabriel Long’s composite company of Virginia riflemen consistently name remnants of Brady’s company, including Robert Rankin. Those rolls specifically identify Robert as a member of Brady’s company. The remaining members of the other two rifle companies (Captains Shepherd’s and West’s) that were decimated at Ft. Washington also appear on Long’s composite rifle company rolls.

[3] Information about William Rankin’s military history is largely taken from his pension application file, available for a fee at Fold3 on Ancestry.com. I made screen shots of many of the original images at Fold3 (available free at Clayton Library), but they rarely include the page number assigned to each image by Fold3. Accordingly, I have simply cited to “William’s pension application” with a brief description of the document in question.

[4] William’s pension declaration echoes the history of the Maryland and Virginia Rifle Regiment, some of which was the subject part 2 of this series.

[5] Pension file of William Rankin, S.31315 (hereafter, “William Rankin’s pension file”), his sworn declaration supporting his pension application dated 22 Nov. 1833 in Mason Co., KY.

[6] Hentz, Maryland and Virginia Rifle Regiment. See p. 15 re: smallpox inoculations. The Philadelphia location was obviously before the British occupied the city in September 1777 following Washington’s defeat at Brandywine.

[7] William Rankin’s pension file, sworn declaration.

[8] Id.

[9] https://revolutionarywar.us, discussion of “Prisoner of War Facts,” which states “[b]y the end of 1776, there were over 5,000 prisoners held in New York City. More than half … came from the soldiers captured at the battle of Fort Washington and Fort Lee.” Four out of five prisoners died.

[10] Morgan was actually a Colonel when he sent William home, although he ended his career as a General and was undoubtedly referred to with that title by anyone who knew him. Morgan lived on a farm just east of Winchester, Frederick Co., and was apparently acquainted with the Rankin family. https://emergingrevolutionarywar.org/2019/05/27/george-washington-daniel-morgan-and-winchester-virginia-on-memorial-day/

[11] William Rankin’s pension file, sworn declaration.

[12] United States Revolutionary War Rolls, 1775-1783, Familysearch.org, FHL Film/Fiche Number 7197150, image 57, return of Capt. Heth’s Company at Ft. Pitt, listing Private William Rankins as an “artificer.” He must have recovered nicely from his prison ordeal.

[13] William Rankin’s pension file, affidavit of Thomas Jones. I took a few liberties with the affidavit’s spelling.

[14] Id., affidavit of John Kercheval.

[15] Id.

[16] Will of Thomas Berry of Frederick Co., VA dated 20 Feb 1806, proved Frederick Co. 4 Mar 1819. Copy certified and recorded in Mason Co. at Will Book E: 17 et seq. Thomas named his daughter Peggy, who married Col. Robert Rankin (his rank in the KY militia, not the Revolutionary War), and his daughter Jane, who married John Kercheval. Thomas left part of his land in Mason County to Peggy and Jane.

[17] Pension file of Rankins, Robert No. W26365 or Rankin, Peggy B.L.Wt. 1380-200, images of originals available from Fold3.com at Ancestry. Peggy (Berry) Rankin’s declaration dated 16 Feb. 1844 states that she and Robert were married on Oct. 1, 1781 in Frederick County while he was on furlough after his capture at Charleston, they “having been previously engaged.” Peggy’s declaration is at pages 16-19 of their combined Fold3 file.

[18] Presumably, William would not have bothered to mention that Peggy also saw him march off to war. By 1833, she and Robert no longer lived in Mason County and Peggy wasn’t available to provide confirmation. Of course, my mental image of that event is pure speculation.

[19] Id.

[20] A “lease and release” was a two-step land transaction created to circumvent the English Statute of Uses. The two documents were typically executed on consecutive days. Together, they had the effect of a normal conveyance of land in fee simple.

[21] See Frederick Co., VA Deed Book 24A: 152, 155, lease and release (essentially a conveyance) dated 3 Nov 1792 from Fairfax, proprietor of the Northern Neck, to William Rankin of Frederick, 79 acres, part of the “Chestnut Level” in Frederick. Lease for the lives of William Rankin, wife Mary Ann Rankin, and son Harrison Rankin. One witness was Thomas Berry.

[22] William Rankin’s pension file, his declaration of 22 Nov. 1833.

[23] Mason Co., KY Will Book K: 448, inventory of William Rankin’s estate dated 4 June 1836.

[24] Mason Co., KY Will Book L: 538, Nov. 1839 current account of John L. Rankin and Robert P. Rankin, administrators of the account of William Rankin, dec’d.

[25] I haven’t been to the Mason county courthouse or anyplace where one can access land records online. Deeds would probably provide evidence of  William’s land speculation and the identity of other family members who witnessed his deeds or were grantees.

[26] William Rankin’s pension file, letter dated 14 May 1927 from Winfield Scott, Commissioner of the Revolutionary and 1812 Wars (pension?) Section, to an inquiry about William’s record from Miss May Harrison. Scott’s reply noted William’s date of death and failure of his pension file to mention names of wife and children. See also a letter of 17 Sep 1931 responsive to a request about William from Mr. Walter H. Rankins stating the same facts.

[27] I cannot find a distribution in the Mason County will books, which would provide conclusive proof of William’s heirs.

[28] See Elizabeth Prather Ellsberry, Cemetery Records, Mason County, Kentucky, Vol. 1 (Chillicothe, MO: 1965). The contents of that book was the source for the Mason County Cemetery Index database on Ancestry.com.

[29] See Note 21, which should be the 1792 lease for life and & release.

[30] 1850 census, Scott Co., KY, dwelling 20, Harrison Rankin, 58, merchant, Betsey Rankin 48, KY, Martha Rankin 28, Elizabeth Rankin 22, Rufus Rankin 17, and Elizabeth Rankin 8; 1870 census, Georgetown, Scott Co., KY, dwelling 160, Harrison Rankin, 78, b. VA, $5,000/3,000, dry goods merchant, Elizabeth Rankin, 68 KY, Martha Rankin, 44 KY, Rufus Rankin, 35, KY, Lizzie Kenney, 28. Also listed in Harrison’s household: Paul Rankin, 46, doctor, b. KY. Underneath Paul’s name: William Rankin 20, Bettie Rankin 13, and Malvina Rankin 11.

[31] Mason Co., KY Will Book K: 448.

Two Revolutionary War stories: Robert and William Rankin of Virginia (part 2 of 5)

By Robin Rankin Willis and Gary Noble Willis

Sometimes military experience is essential. I enlisted former USAF Captain Gary Willis to help untangle the Revolutionary War records of two brothers from the Northern Neck of Virginia: Robert and William Rankin. They took wildly different tracks in the war, although they enlisted in the same company in 1776.

Our initial objective was to examine the accuracy of family oral history about Robert’s war experience. Somewhere along the research trail, we fell in love with the Rankins’ war stories and the underlying military history.[1] Here they are.[2] This post will be one of three posts (with parts 3 and 4) on the Rankin brothers’ military history. Part 5 will conclude with the vexing last question: the identity of their family of origin.

Background: Hugh Stephenson’s/Moses Rawlings’ Independent Rifle Regiment

The history begins in June 1775, when the Continental Congress directed the raising of ten independent companies of riflemen from Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. “Independent” means that the companies reported to national rather than state authority and were not attached to another state regiment. Two Virginia companies were raised in Berkeley and Frederick Counties, a stone’s throw from where the Rankins lived. They were commanded by Hugh Stephenson and Daniel Morgan, whose names appear in the pension applications of the two Rankins.[3]

Rifle companies had different equipment and roles than other units. Regular infantry soldiers carried British-made smooth bore “Brown Bess” muskets having a range of about 100 yards.[4] They were not very accurate even within that range. However, they were deadly when fired en masse at an oncoming enemy formation. They could be reloaded rapidly: a trained soldier could load and fire one three to four times in a minute. For the conventional warfare of the times – successive massed formations advancing toward opposing massed formations – the Brown Bess was made to order.

In contrast, the rifle companies were equipped with American long rifles (AKA Kentucky long rifles). They were accurate up to 200 yards, but could not be reloaded as rapidly as the Brown Bess. The rifle’s advantages in range and accuracy were also offset by the fact that it could not mount a bayonet and was therefore not effective in close combat.

The rifle companies’ role was different than the musket companies. Riflemen normally provided scouting duties and guarded the main army’s flanks or fixed encampments such as Valley Forge. They were especially effective in patrols that remained out of musket range and harassed enemy foraging parties seeking supplies. As you might expect, rifle company recruits were skilled sharpshooters.

One rather florid history describes the Virginia riflemen and their uniforms like so:

“Volunteers [in the original 1775 Virginia rifle companies] presented themselves from every direction in the vicinity of [Shepherdstown and Winchester, VA]; none were received but young men of Character, and of sufficient property to Clothe themselves completely, find their own arms, and accoutrements, that is, an approved Rifle, handsome shot pouch, and powder-horn, blanket, knapsack, with such decent clothing as should be prescribed, but which was at first ordered to be only a Hunting shirt and pantaloons, fringed on every edge, and in Various Ways.”[5]

In July 1776, the Continental Congress authorized raising six new independent rifle companies. A total of nine companies, including three remaining from 1775 and those raised in 1776, comprised the Maryland and Virginia Rifle Regiment. Five of the nine companies were from the area where the Rankins lived in Virginia.

The regiment was originally commanded by Col. Hugh Stephenson and was commonly called “Stephenson’s Regiment.” When he died in August or September 1776, Lt. Col Moses Rawlings assumed command and the regiment became known as “Rawlings’ Regiment.” Captains Thomas West, William Brady, Gabriel Long, William Blackwell, and Abraham Shepherd commanded the five Virginia companies.

The company commanders are significant because our family history objective required identifying the companies in which William Rankin, Robert Rankin, and John Marshall (the future Chief Justice of the USCT) served. Two of them were easy. One of Capt. Blackwell’s junior officers when the company was formed in 1776 was Lt. John Marshall.[6] Documents in William Rankin’s pension application file state he was in Capt. William Brady’s company.[7] Only Robert Rankin’s company took some digging. Payroll and muster roll records establish he was in Capt. Brady’s company with his brother.[8]

 The rifle regiment’s first significant engagement was the Battle of Ft. Washington on November 16, 1776.[9] The fort was located at a high point near the north end of Manhattan Island. It overlooked the Hudson River to the west, providing an ideal vantage point for artillery harassment of British ships.[10]  Rawlings’ Regiment occupied an outpost north of the main fort. The riflemen repelled several bayonet charges by massed German mercenaries throughout the day. Vastly outnumbered, Rawlings ordered their retreat to the fort. About 2,800 surviving defenders, including 235 in Rawlings’ Regiment, were surrendered. It was a devastating loss in George Washington’s defense of New York. Shortly thereafter, he retreated from a position across the Hudson and began moving his army to northern New Jersey.

Prisoners taken at Ft. Washington suffered horribly. British treatment was brutal. Prisoners were initially crowded into jails, churches, sugar houses, and other large buildings in New York, including Columbia College.[11] Some were transferred to British ships, where conditions were also notoriously bad. By the end of 1776, the British held about 5,000 prisoners (including those from Ft. Washington) in New York City.[12] Approximately four out of five did not survive captivity. Most died of starvation or disease.

 Two of Rawlings’ five Virginia rifle companies did not participate at Ft. Washington.  Capt. William Blackwell’s company (with Lt. John Marshall) didn’t complete recruiting in Virginia until early 1777.[13] By the time Blackwell’s company arrived at the army’s winter camp near Morristown, it was assigned to the 11th Virginia Regiment. It never fought as part of Rawlings’ Regiment.[14] Most of Captain Gabriel Long’s company were still in Virginia on Nov. 21, 1776, days after the battle.[15]

They were fortunate, because the rifle companies which fought at Ft. Washington were decimated.[16] Roughly 90% of the participating riflemen (including men from both Virginia and Maryland companies) were either killed or captured.[17] Captains West’s, Shepherd’s, and Brady’s companies were in New York by November 13, 1776. All three were in in the battle[18].

Capt. William Brady is of particular interest because both William and Robert Rankin were in his company.  He was a bad choice for a commander. Brady was not in the battle himself. He resigned his commission in disgrace in March 1777. A mid-1777 report by Col. Daniel Morgan, who then commanded the regiment that included the remnants of Rawlings’ Regiment, said that Brady “had never done any duty,” “absented himself without leave,” and “is said to have behaved in an infamous manner.”[19] The only reason we can imagine he wasn’t court martialed is that he was back in Virginia.

William Rankin was one of Capt. Brady’s men who was taken prisoner at Ft. Washington.[20] He was 17 or 18 at the time.[21] His brother Robert was not in that battle, although payroll and muster records prove he was also in Brady’s company.[22] Ironically, the fact that William was a Ft. Washington prisoner but Robert was not is the decisive factor that led the Rankins’ war stories to take divergent paths.

With that background, it is time to turn our attention to the two Rankins individually. Parts 3 of 5 (William) and 4 of 5 (Robert) will cover their histories.

See you on down the road.

Robin

[1] This article is based on information obtained primarily from these sources: (1) muster roll and payroll records from the National Archives and Records Administration (digitized images available at FamilySearch.com); (2) Tucker F. Hentz, Unit History of the Maryland and Virginia Rifle Regiment (1776–1781): Insights from the Service Record of Capt. Adamson Tannehill (Richmond: Virginia Historical Society, 2007) at this link; (3) Danske Dandridge, Historic Shepherdstown (Charlottesville, VA: The Michie Company, 1910) online here; (4) Robert K. Wright Jr., The Continental Army (Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, United States Army, 2006); and (5) the original Revolutionary War pension files of Robert/Peggy Rankin and William Rankin.

[2] Neither Gary nor I are historians. As the list of sources in Note 1 suggests, we assemble what we think is credible information from actual histories. The only primary sources we had were payroll, muster, and other records from NARA.

[3] Dandridge, Historic Shepherdstown, p. 78-79. Hugh Stephenson’s name appears in the pension applications of both Robert and William Rankin. Daniel Morgan’s name appears in William’s. Both Stephenson and Morgan were acquaintances of the Rankins and lived in the same general area as they did.

[4] Information on rifles and muskets is from websites here and here.

[5] Dandridge, Historic Shepherdstown, p. 79.

[6] Lt. Marshall was consistently listed on Capt. Blackwell’s pay and muster rolls until Blackwell resigned in January 1778. United States Revolutionary War Rolls, 1775-1783, Familysearch.org, FHL film/fiche number 7197155, image 274 (cited hereafter as “United States Revolutionary War Rolls, FHL film/fiche number ______, image ____.”). Marshall became the commander of Blackwell’s former company by no later than August 1778. United States Revolutionary War Rolls, FHL film/fiche number 7197156, image 223.

[7] Pension Application file of William Rankin, No. 25274, contains notes on the second page in official handwriting that William was a private in Capt. Brady’s company in a regiment commanded by Hugh Stephenson. William’s sworn statement made in Mason Co., KY in 1833 also states he enlisted in Capt. Brady’s company in Stephenson’s Regiment. William Rankin’s Pension Application, Fold3.com at pp. 1, 3. So far as I know, Fold3.com is the only online source for original pension file images. Accessing them requires a premium subscription to Ancestry.com.

[8] See, e.g., muster roll dated 16 May 1777 for Capt. Gabriel Long’s company at camp near Bound Brook, NJ, with detachments from Capt. West’s, Shepherd’s and Brady’s companies, in the 11th VA Regiment commanded by Col. Daniel Morgan. Sergeant Robert Rankin is listed as a member of Capt. Brady’s company, attached to Long’s company. United States Revolutionary War Records, FHL film/fiche number 7197155, image 551. We found no muster or pay rolls for 1776 naming individual soldiers. By May 1777, the remains of Rawlings’ Rifle Regiment were assigned to the 11th Virginia Regiment. The remaining riflemen after Ft. Washington had been assigned to either a composite rifle company (such as the one in which Sgt. Rankin is listed, above), or a provisional rifle company. Both were commanded by Captain Gabriel Long.

[9] There were about 3,000 defenders at Ft. Washington against 8,000 British troops. There is an old painting of Ft. Washington overlooking the river at this link. Gary and our sons Burke and Ryan would put this painting in a general category they call “Ships on Fire.” See, e.g., Édouard Manet’s painting painting  of the 1864 battle between the U.S.S. Kearsarge and the C.S.S. Alabama off the Cherbourg Peninsula, which is the origin of that “category.” It is part of the permanent collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

[10] The site of Fort Washington is now Bennett Park on Fort Washington Avenue between West 183rd and 185th Streets, a few blocks north of the George Washington Bridge. The locations of the fort’s walls are marked in the park by stones. Nearby is a tablet indicating that it is the highest natural point on Manhattan Island, a prime reason for the fort’s location.

[11] Dandridge, Historic Shepherdstown, p. 166-67.

[12] For a discussion of prisoner of wars facts, see  this link.

[13] Hentz, Maryland and Virginia Rifle Regiment, p. 16, Note 67, which says the company “had difficulty recruiting even close to full strength, with the effort extending into early 1777.” Blackwell’s Company did not join the Main Army until April 1777, when the army was still in winter quarters near Morristown. Id. at p. 15.

[14] Id. at p. 16, Note 67. Blackwell’s company arrived at Morristown as the sixth company of the 11th Virginia Regiment, having never “taken up arms” as part of Rawlings’ Regiment.

[15] An advance element of 13 men from Long’s company reached New York ahead of the rest and was captured at Ft. Washington. A muster roll of Long’s company in April 1778 states those 13 men were captured. United States Revolutionary War Rolls, film/fiche number 7197155, image 551.

[16] We found no list of all Ft. Washington prisoners by name. However, a 1778 report by Col. Moses Rawlings about his regiment names company officers who died or were taken prisoner. Hentz, Maryland and Virginia Rifle Regiment, p. 13 (hereafter, “Rawlings’ Report”). The report establishes that West’s, Shepherd’s, and Brady’s Companies were in the battle, as was part of Long’s Company.

[17] Based on information in Rawlings’ Report, Gary estimates that 264 out of 297 riflemen engaged at Ft. Washington were killed or captured.

[18] Rawlings Report states that West’s three junior officers were all taken prisoner, as were Capt. Shepherd and two of his three junior officers. One of Brady’s three junior officers was killed and one was captured. After Ft. Washington, the men in those three rifle companies who were neither killed nor captured were initially attached to a composite rifle company commanded by Capt. Long.

[19] United States Revolutionary War Rolls, FHL film/fiche number 7197160, image 275.

[20] William Rankin’s Pension Application, Fold3.com at p. 3.

[21] Id. William stated he was age 74 when he applied in November 1833.

[22] It isn’t clear why Robert Rankin was not in the battle at Ft. Washington. He may have been across the Hudson River at Ft. Lee. All three of the Virginia companies who fought at Ft. Washington (West’s, Shepherd’s, and Brady’s) were at Ft. Lee on Nov. 13, 1776. A return of Rawlings’ Regiment on that date indicates that 48 out of 293 enlisted men were sick. Hentz, Maryland and Virginia Rifle Regiment, p. 12, Note 50. In any event, it is virtually certain that Robert was not in the battle despite having been in Capt. Brady’s company because (1) was not taken prisoner there and (2) his widow Peggy did not list Ft. Washington as a battle in which Robert participated. Nevertheless, payroll and muster roll records prove he was in Brady’s company.

My hair’s on fire: “just the facts, ma’am,” Lt. Robert Rankin (part 1 of 5)

CORRECTION, May 2020: while doing research for another post in this series, I discovered an error in an article about Robert in the Handbook of Texas Online. He did NOT enlist in the 3rd Virginia Regiment. That error is repeated below in an article in the Handbook of Texas Online, which I quoted in full. He actually enlisted in the Maryland and Virginia Rifle Regiment, a unit which was independent of state control. Thereafter, he served in the 11th, 7th, and 1st Virginia regiments. No military records provide evidence that he ever served Robert in the 3rd Virginia. Likewise, the Handbook article is wrong or at best misleading on when he was promoted to Lieutenant. Actually, his promotion was made retroactive to a date prior to Charleston. For detail on his military history, please see Part 4 of this series.

And so much for my promise that this post contained “just the facts.” Now, back to the original post … ________________________________________

The title of this post doesn’t do justice to the Southern roots of the “hair” idiom. It should be rendered phonetically: “mah har’s on far.”

What does it mean? It is clearly intended to convey a sense of urgency. A feeling of being overwhelmed gets to the essence.

The Rankin families of the Northern Neck of Virginia are guaranteed fire starters in the “overwhelming” sense. There are too many Rankin records in too many counties, with too many interconnected families[1] along for the ride. There is also a prodigious amount of hogwash about at least one of these Rankins.

I flailed about in county records (no hogwash there) for Northern Neck Rankins several years ago. Mah har caught far and I abandoned them on some flimsy pretext. This time around, I vowed to limit my research to Robert Rankin (1753-1837), a Revolutionary War soldier buried in the Texas State Cemetery in Austin. Lieutenant was his highest rank in the Revolution, so I will call him Lt. Robert. My sole objective was to prove his parents. Spoiler alert: hahahahaha! And that vow didn’t last long, as I veered off into Lt. Robert’s military history and his brother William.

As a result, Lt. Robert’s story has several parts. I plan to spread them out over several posts (it now looks like five) along the following lines:

  • This post (part 1), subtitled “just the facts, ma’am,” invokes Sgt. Joe Friday of “Dragnet.”[2] With him in mind, you can take to the bank the facts in this post about Lt. Robert and his children. There are two exceptions: (1) the correction I noted at the top of this article and (2) a legend regarding events that took place in 1936, when Lt. Robert’s remains were removed from Coldspring, Texas to the Texas State Cemetery. Like most oral retellings, it probably contains elements of both truth and fiction. You be the judge.
  • Next, three posts (parts 2 through 4) titled about the military service of Lt. Robert and his brother William. Part 2 will focus almost entirely on the relevant military history. Parts 3 and 4 will cover the brother’s individual war stories. We will see how some claims from the family’s oral history stand up against the military records. If you want to continue believing that George Washington personally handed Lt. Robert his discharge papers and called him “Colonel,” you might want to skip that post.
  • Finally, Part 5, the pièce de résistance: who were Lt. Robert Rankin’s parents? You can decide whether any (or none) of the proposed answers are satisfactory.

Let’s start with an article about Lt. Robert in the Handbook of Texas Online.[3] It succinctly covers the essential facts (with one error, as noted above) and includes some informative links.[4]

 “RANKIN, ROBERT (1753–1837). Revolutionary War veteran Robert Rankin was born in the colony of Virginia in 1753. He entered the service of the Continental Army in 1776 with the Third Regiment of the Virginia line and participated in the battles of Germantown, Brandywine, and Stony Point, as well as the siege of Charleston, where he was captured; he remained a prisoner of war until exchanged, at which time he received a promotion to lieutenant. On October 1, 1781, during a furlough, he married Margaret (Peggy) Berry in Frederick County, Virginia. He returned to active duty on October 15 and served until the war’s end. Robert and Margaret Rankin had three daughters and seven sons, one of whom was Frederick Harrison Rankin. The family moved to Kentucky in 1784. In 1786 Rankin was named by the Virginia legislature as one of nine trustees for the newly established town of Washington, in Bourbon County (later Mason County), Kentucky. In 1792 he served as a delegate from Mason County to the Danville Convention, which drafted the first constitution of Kentucky. He also became an elector of the Kentucky Senate of 1792. The last mention of Rankin in Mason County, Kentucky, is in the 1800 census. The Rankins moved to Logan County, Kentucky, in 1802 and to the Tombigbee River in Mississippi Territory in 1811; the area of their home eventually became Washington County, Alabama. Four of the Rankin sons fought in the War of 1812. The family suffered a severe financial reversal around 1819–20, probably in conjunction with land speculation and the panic of 1819. In July 1828 Rankin first made an application for a pension for his Revolutionary War service.

In 1832 the Rankins moved to Joseph Vehlein‘s colony in Texas, along with the William Butler and Peter Cartwright families. Rankin was issued a certificate of character by Jesse Grimes on November 3, 1834, as required by the Mexican government. He applied for a land grant in Vehlein’s colony on November 13 of the same year and received a league and labor in October 1835.[5] The town of Coldspring, San Jacinto County, is located on Rankin’s original grant. Rankin had the reputation of being a just and diplomatic man. He was a friend of Sam Houston, and his influence with the Indians in the region was well known. Houston reputedly called upon him in the spring of 1836 to encourage neutrality among the Indians during the crucial Texan retreat toward San Jacinto. Toward the end of 1836 Rankin became ill, and he and his wife moved to St. Landry parish, Louisiana, where he died on November 13, 1837.[6] His body was brought back to the family home near Coldspring, in the new Republic of Texas, and buried in the old Butler Cemetery. In 1936 he was reinterred at the State Cemetery in Austin. His widow lived in Texas with her sons, William and Frederick, in Polk, Montgomery, and Liberty counties until her death sometime after December 1852.”

Besides being a Lieutenant in the Revolutionary War, Lt. Robert was a Colonel in the Kentucky militia, commander of a group of scouts.[7] He was a clerk of court in Mason County.[8] Lt. Robert was plainly an accomplished, admired, and well-liked man. The documents in the huge pension file establish that Peggy and her sons were also highly regarded. The couple lived in Frederick County, VA; Bourbon, Mason, and Logan Counties, KY (Bourbon and Mason while they were still part of the “Kentucky District, State of Virginia); Mississippi Territory; Washington Co., AL; Texas Territory when it was still part of Mexico; the Republic of Texas; and St. Landry Parish, LA, where Lt. Robert died.[9] Peggy also lived in the state of Texas after it was admitted to the Union in 1845.

Lt. Robert and Peggy Rankin’s three daughters and seven sons are conclusively proved. The first eight children and their dates of birth are established by a transcribed page from the family Bible that is included in Peggy’s 1844 application for a widow’s pension.[10] Peggy’s will named the two children who weren’t included in the Bible record.[11]  The ten children:

  1. Thomas Berry Rankin (Sr.) was born in Virginia, 17 May 1783; he was named for his maternal grandfather. He and his younger brother Joseph both died in 1813 at Ft. Mims during the Redstick War.[12] Thomas B. and/or Joseph Rankin had sons (and perhaps other children) who also came to Texas prior to its independence from Mexico in March 1836. Character certificates in the Texas General Land Office provide their likely identities: James Rankin Jr. and William Rankin.[13]
  2. Elizabeth Rankin was born 27 Jan 1785, also in Virginia. I have found no further record of Elizabeth. She may have been one of the four Rankin children who had died before Peggy Rankin filed her 1844 pension application.
  3. William Marshall Rankin was born 24 Aug 1786 in Bourbon Co., VA.[14] His wife was Sarah Landrum. Four related Rankin/Landrum families all arrived in Texas in January, 1830:[15] (1) William Marshall and Sarah Landrum Rankin, (2) Sarah’s parents Zachariah and Lettice Landrum, (3) William’s sister Frances Rankin Huburt and her husband M. Huburt, and (4) a second William Rankin, who was almost certainly a son of one of the two Rankins who died at Ft. Mims. William and Sarah Landrum Rankin were in Montgomery Co., TX in the 1850 census.
  4. Joseph Rankin was born 4 Nov 1788 in Kentucky. He died at Ft. Mims.[16]
  5. John Keith Rankin fought in the War of 1812d; he was born 5 Jan 1791 in Kentucky. He and his wife Elizabeth Butler moved from Washington Co., Alabama to Hinds County, Mississippi (later Rankin County, which was not named for John Keith). The couple moved to Texas during the 1840s, lived briefly in Polk County, then moved to DeWitt County. He died there on 17 Nov 1884. He and Elizabeth had eight children: (1) Moses Butler, (2) Mary, (3) Masena, (4) James, (5) Samuel, (6) Mary Ann, (7) Robert, and (8) Malinda Rankin.[17]
  6. James Rankin Sr.[18] was born 27 Jun 1792 in Kentucky. He died in Texas before 26 Apr 1847, when his mother Peggy wrote her will naming her grandchildren John B. Rankin, Berry Rankin, Peggy Rankin, and Rebecca Rankin, children of her son James Rankin, dec’d.[19]
  7. Frederick Harrison Rankin was born Feb. 15, 1794 in Kentucky and died July 2, 1874 in Ellis County, Texas. He received title to land that is now in Harris County as one of Stephen F. Austin’s “Old Three Hundred” colonists. He is on one or more 1826 tax lists in “Austins Colony, Texas Territory” and/or “Austin, Mexicounty Territory.”[20] In 1936, Texas erected a joint monument to Frederick and his wife Elizabeth Smith in the Myrtle Cemetery in Ennis, Ellis Co., TX. Frederick and Elizabeth had eight children: (1) Harriet, (2) Robert S., (3) Napoleon Bonaparte, (4) Emily, (5) Mollie, (6) Alexander, (7) Austin, and (8) a child who died as an infant. [21]
  8. Henry Rankin was born 7 Feb 1796 in Kentucky. I found no further record for Henry. He may have been one of the four Rankin children who had died by 1844.
  9. Massena Rankin McCombs, wife of Samuel McCombs.[22] Her first husband was a Mr. Brown.
  10. Frances Rankin Hubert also came to Texas in 1830.[23]

Finally, I promised a story about the removal of Lt. Robert’s remains from Coldspring, Texas to the Texas State Cemetery in 1936. I heard it from Mary Buller, a serious Rankin researcher descended from Lt. Robert and Peggy through one of their sons who died at Ft. Mims. Mary heard the story in a telephone conversation with a woman I will call “Faye.” If Faye is still alive, she is in her nineties. She is (or was) a local historian in Coldspring, TX.

Faye said that the family’s side of the re-interment project was spearheaded by a “hoity-toity DAR type,” despite opposition from Lt. Robert’s descendants still living in the Coldspring area. The DAR lady was insistent. The descendants capitulated.[24]

Faye told Mary she doesn’t believe that Lt. Robert is actually buried in the Texas State Cemetery. Instead, she thought, his remains probably didn’t make it back to Texas from Louisiana. She explained that during the 1936 disinterment at the Butler Cemetery in Coldspring, the coffin fell open and a skeleton toppled out. Family members and curiosity seekers were there, according to Faye. The men rushed to put the remains back in the coffin. One man, a dentist, opined that the skeleton’s teeth were not those of an 80-year-old man. They were more like the teeth of a man in his thirties, he said.

According to Faye, the family remained silent – in my imagination, they were all dressed in black and had somber, stoic expressions – and the removal continued. Faye thought that lack of refrigeration in 1837 would have discouraged shipping Lt. Robert’s remains from St. Landry Parish to Coldspring, a distance of more than 200 miles. She didn’t have an opinion on who is buried in the Texas State Cemetery, but the dental evidence convinced her it isn’t Lt. Robert.

There is also the possibility of poor grave location records in what was initially a family cemetery.

Take that for what it’s worth: oral history from someone who was old enough to have heard it from a participant. It may be the most colorful family legend I’ve ever heard.

More to come on Lt. Robert. See you on down the road.

Robin

[1] Families connected to the Northern Neck Rankins include Woffendalls (various spellings), Marshalls, Harrisons, Berrys, Keiths, Kendalls, and Keys.

[2] The original “Dragnet” aired during the 1950s. If you didn’t get the reference, you are clearly younger than I. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dragnet_(1951_TV_series)

[3] Ann Patton Malone, Handbook of Texas Online, “RANKIN, ROBERT,” accessed January 31, 2020, https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fra40.

[4] I must comment on the link to the state cemetery in Austin, lest your preconceived notions about Texas get even worse. Andrew Forest Muir, Handbook of Texas Online, STATE CEMETERY, accessed Feb. 18, 2020, https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/les02. The Handbook cites a 1970 article from the Austin American Statesman. The article sounds as though the cemetery is populated entirely by old white men and Confederate soldiers. Although that is substantially correct numerically, it doesn’t include recent notable additions. Governor Ann Richards is buried there, with a characteristically unique, swirly, white marble tombstone. So is Don Baylor, an African-American who was a member of the 1987 World Series champion Minnesota Twins and American League MVP in 1989. Representative Barbara Jordan is also buried there. Her oratory and distinctive voice at the 1974 Watergate hearings in the House Judiciary Committee are unforgettable (“My faith in the Constitution is whole, it is total, it is complete …”). Tom Landry and Darrell Royal are also buried in the State Cemetery, introduction probably not necessary. There is a tombstone for former Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson, still living, and her husband, who died in 2014. A former Harris County GOP bigwig said the Senator was “so tough you could strike a match on her backside.” Having survived the oil and gas business from 1974-1987, it seems to me that is probably a truism for most women our age who worked in non-traditional professions.

[5] “League” and “labor” refer to the acreage in a grant. A labor was 177 acres and a league was 4,428 acres.  https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fau14

[6] All sources agree that Lt. Robert died in November, 1837. However, three different specific dates appear in his pension file, number w26365 (cited hereafter as “Pension File;” images are available online at Fold.3/Ancestry.) Peggy’s 1844 pension declaration gives Lt. Robert’s date of death as November 13.  I would bet she knew exactly what day her husband of 56 years died. Pension File p. 15 et seq.

[7] Robert enlisted in the Revolutionary War as a private, was promoted to Ensign, and ended the war as a Lieutenant. If you don’t have a Fold.3/Ancestry subscription so that you can view the entire Pension File, see Will Graves’ partial transcription at https://revwarapps.org/w26365.pdf. See also Murtie June Clark, American Militia in the Frontier Wars, 1790-1796 (Baltimore: Clearfield Publishing Co., Inc., 1990) at p. 1, identifying a regiment of scouts for Mason Co., KY commanded by Col. Robert Rankin.

[8] See, e.g., Mason Co., KY Deed Book A: 171, deed dated 26 Nov 1789 from the trustees of Charles Town in Mason Co. (including Robert Rankins) to Henry Berry, lots in Charleston. The Clerk of Court was Robert Rankins.

[9] I began inserting footnotes proving that Lt. Robert actually resided in all of those places. It quickly got out of hand, partly because jurisdictions changed even though the location may not have. With one excessively long footnote already (the comments on the Texas State Cemetery), I decided to omit the citations. If anyone needs evidence, you know how to reach me.

[10] Transcription from Rankin Bible. Pension File at p. 24. This was obviously not a verbatim transcription: the transcribed added “Sr.” to the names of Thomas Berry and James Rankin. Those designations would not have been added until a later generation of the family had men by those names.

[11] Will of Peggy Rankin dated 26 Apr 1847, proved 25 Oct 1858, Polk Co., TX, Will Book A: 28. Peggy made bequests to her sons Frederick H. Rankin and William M. Rankin and daughters Frances Huburt and Massena McCombs. She also named grandchildren John B. Rankin, Berry Rankin, Peggy Rankin, and Rebecca Rankin, children of her deceased son James Rankin. She appointed her sons William M. and John executors.

[12] See, e.g., Gregory A. Waselkov, A Conquering Spirit: Fort Mims and the Redstick War of 1813-1814 (Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 2006), Appendix #1, p. 250-51. It identifies Joseph Rankin as a “Tombigbee resident, born in Kentucky, brother of Thomas Berry Rankin.” The book also lists Thomas B. among those who died at Ft. Mims. The book has two errors about the Rankin family. First, it identifies Joseph and Thomas B.’s father as “Richard Robert Rankin.” I’ve never seen a record in which Lt. Robert appears by any name other than Robert, and there are many records for this man. Second, the book names Lt. Robert’s wife as “Margaret Kendall Rankin.” I have found no evidence for that middle name, either. I am 99% certain that both “Richard” and “Kendall” are incorrect.

[13] See Gifford E. White, Character Certificates in the General Land Office of Texas (Austin: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1985). White’s (apparently assigned) No. 1660 says: “San Felipe de Austin, 10 Jun 1830. To Mr. S. F. Austin, Empresario. I have emigrated to this Colony… my name is James Rankin. Age 22 years. Single. My father is dead and I have no parent in this Country to represent me. I removed from Alabama, arrived in this colony in 1827. Occupation farmer. Signed James Rankin Junior.” See also No. 1663, “To Mr. S. F. Austin, Empressario (no date). I have emigrated to this Colony. William Rankin 21 years old. Unmarried. An orphan. From Alabama and arrived in this colony in January 1830.” See also Note 15: William Rankin, age 21, arrived in Texas the same month as his likely uncle William Marshall Rankin, likely aunt Frances Rankin Huburt, and William M. Rankin’s in-laws, Zachariah and Lettice Landrum.

[14] The Handbook of Texas Online (see Note 3) says that the Rankin family moved to Kentucky in 1784, suggesting that William Marshall Rankin, born in 1786, was born there. However, the 1850 census for Polk Co., TX identifies William M.’s birth state as Virginia, muddying the issue. The explanation is that William was born in what was then the state of Virginia but is now Mason Co., KY. See G. Glenn Clift, History of Maysville and Mason County, Volume 1 (Lexington, KY: Transylvania Printing Company, Inc., 1936) p. 56. Two days before William was born, Lt. Robert signed a petition from the town of Washington in “the Kentucky area of Virginia” in what was then Bourbon Co., District of KY, state of Virginia. Thanks to Kevin Thompson for the correct information and the source.

[15] Villamae Williams, Stephen F. Austin’s Register Of Families, From The Originals In The General Land Office, Austin, Texas (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1989). Entry No. 392, M. Hubert, 34, wife Frances (Lt. Robert and Peggy’s youngest child), 32, and 2 daughters came from Alabama and arrived in Texas in Jan. 1830; No. 393, Wm. R. Rankin, 43, wife Sarah, 33, two sons, and 2 daughters came from Alabama and arrived in Texas in Jan. 1830; No. 394, Zachariah Landrum, 64, and wife Lettuce (sic, Lettice), came from Alabama and arrived in Texas in Jan. 1830; and No. 395, William Rankin, 21, single, came from Alabama and arrived in Jan. 1830. Records also available online at Ancestry.

[16] See Note 12.

[17] Information for John Keith and Elizabeth Butler Rankin was provided to Louis Wiltz Kemp, a Texas historian, by May Myers Calloway, John Keith’s great-granddaughter. Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas, Austin, papers of Louis Wiltz Kemp, Box 2R232, General Biographical Notebooks, Ranb-Reavis. Viewed Feb. 8, 2020. Cited hereafter as “Kemp papers, Box 2R232.”

[18] A pension abstract by Virgil White and a transcription by Will Graves both show James in the Bible page transcription as James Junior. The image in the Pension File (page 24) appeared to me that both James Rankin and Thomas Berry Rankin were designated as “Sr.” In any event, James, son of Lt. Robert and Peggy, appeared in all other records I found as “Sr.”

[19] See Polk Co., TX, Will Book A: 28, will of Peggy Rankin naming children of her son James Rankin, dec’d: John B. Rankin, Berry Rankin, Peggy Rankin, and Rebecca Rankin.

[20] Online images of tax lists at Ancestry. Frederick Harrison’s family was listed in Polk County, TX in the 1850 census. In 1860 and 1870, they were enumerated in Ellis County, TX.

[21] Kemp papers, Box 2R232.

[22] See Note 11 and the 1850 census of Polk Co., TX, household of S. McCombs, 60, farmer, b. SC, Mathinia [sic] McCombs, 45, b. KY, Jas. McCombs, 14, Mary McCombs, 12, Elizabeth McCombs, 10, and Martha Brown, 18. All children born in Texas. Martha Brown was Massena’s child from a prior marriage.

[23] See Note 15.

[24] There is correspondence about permission for the re-interment among the Kemp papers. I failed to make notes about it when I looked at them. The next time I’m in Austin, I will remedy that error. It might confirm my strong suspicion about the identity of the hoity-toity DAR type.

Autobiography of John Rankin, Grandson of Robert & Rebecca Rankin of Guilford, NC

I previously promised to reproduce on this blog H. L. Eads’s transcription of Rev. John Rankin’s 1845 autobiography. That’s not going to happen, for reasons described below. Instead, this article reproduces verbatim only the limited genealogical material in the autobiography. It also contains a general overview of the document and additional details about Rev. John’s family.

Rev. John (1757 – 1850)[1] was the elder son of George and Lydia Steele Rankin.[2] He was a grandson of Robert and Rebecca Rankin of Rowan/Guilford Counties, North Carolina.[3] According to the autobiography, Robert, Rebecca and George were originally from Letterkenny Parish, County Donegal, Ireland, when it was still part of the province of Ulster. Robert was the family’s immigrant patriarch.

Here’s why I must retract my promise to type the entire autobiography.[4] It is impenetrably dense prose. It is dreadfully prolix.[5] The content zooms miles past uninteresting and lands squarely in boring. It would surely cause readers to experience MEGO (“My Eyes Glazed Over”). Also, the type is so blurry it is almost unreadable.

My husband Gary described it as “word salad.” He quit reading on page two of twenty. I persevered through the entire document and expect to receive some sort of Rankin Family Research prize for doing so. A quart of Visine would be an appropriate reward.

Rev. John spent the vast majority of the autobiography recounting his education, religious development, opinions, and mental state — beginning at age six. He was 88 when he wrote the autobiography. His self-absorption and memory are mind-boggling. My overall impression was that the autobiography is primarily theological navel-gazing. E.g., at about age nineteen, “my mind preponderated in favor of the newlight [sic, New Light”] scheme, and I greatly desired living religion that would reach my senses and understanding.”

As an adult, he reluctantly bought an enslaved person. He described the purchase in semi-exculpatory detail. He stated the exact date of his marriage but did not even mention his wife’s name! She was Rebecca Rankin, a daughter of John and Hannah Carson Rankin of Guilford County.[6] John Rankin was a son of Joseph Rankin of New Castle County, Delaware (1704 – 1764).[7] YDNA testing establishes that John and Rebecca were genetically related, although definitely not closer than second cousins. The couple’s common Rankin ancestor almost certainly lived on the other side of the Atlantic, either in Ulster or Scotland.[8]

Rev. John also failed to mention the given names of his father George, his only sibling Robert, or the stepfather with whom he grew up. Rev. John’s younger brother was Robert Rankin (1759 – 1840), a Revolutionary War soldier who married (1) Mary (“Polly”) Cusick, then (2) Mary Moody. Robert died in McNairy County, TN in 1840.[9] Rev. John’s widowed mother Lydia Steele Rankin married Arthur Forbis (or Forbes) about 1764, when John was seven.[10]

Rev. John was raised and originally ordained a Presbyterian, of course: he belonged to a family of Scots-Irish immigrants. But he was depressed by Presbyterian doctrine and practices. He longed for something more. He finally had some sort of transformative experience while preaching at a revival meeting in Casper’s River, near the place that eventually became the Shaker colony at South Union, Kentucky. His sermon moved many to tears and trembling. He became a Shaker and was essentially the patriarch of the South Union colony.

If I have unfairly characterized his autobiography, I hope someone who has read it will post a comment.

Here are relevant parts of it, quoted verbatim. My commentary is in italics.

“My parents emigrated from Ireland to the state of Pennsylvania & County of Lancaster in their youth – My Mother Lydia Steele, Jun., in the 13th year of her age under the superintendence of my grandmother Lydia Steele, Sen’r & the then single part of her family, in or about the year of 1746 from the County of Derry & parish of Newton; – the elder branches of the family removed before; and after this period, my eldest uncle John Steele, who was educated in Scotland & settled a Presbyterian preacher in the Town of Carlisle, with pay for life. – My father from the County of Donnegal [sic, Donegal] & parish of Letterkenny, about the year 1750, having then arrived to the year of maturity. [This suggests that George Rankin, Rev. Shaker John’s father, may have been born about 1729. George’s wife Lydia was born about 1733.]

… My Parents after a suitable acquaintance entered into that civil connection natural to the human family, who design living according to the order of the first Adam. After their union, they made preparation & emigrated to North Carolina in the month of July 1755 to lands purchased of Earl of Granville, the British proprietor, by a company in Lancaster County Pa. of which my father was a partner. [The Granville grants to Lancaster Co. Scots-Irish were collectively called “the Nottingham Settlement.” Many of the grantees were members of the West Nottingham Presbyterian Church, then located in Lancaster Co., later located in Rising Sun, Cecil Co., MD after the Mason-Dixon survey of the PA-MD line.[11] Most grantees lived in the disputed PA-MD area known as the “Nottingham Lots.”[12]] This grant of land contained 32 tracts of the first choice & was laid off in so many square miles (with some exception) about the center of Guilford County, & of course in the vicinity of Greensboro. The above mentioned company, who were principally Presbyterians of the old order, about this period emigrated, each to their respective possessions …

… I was born on the 27th of November 1757 two and a half years afterwards my Father was removed by death, & my Mother left a widow with two helpless infants, He left each of us children a tract of the above mentioned land. My Mother remained in her widowhood four years …

… On the 5th of December 1786, I entered a new relation in life & settled myself in a family capacity. [This is the date John and Rebecca married. The marriage bond was issued a few days earlier.]

… [I was licensed as a Presbyterian minister in] the year 1795 … and [went to Sumner County Tennessee at a friend’s invitation] … [where] I found the inhabitants of the Presbyterian denomination comparatively a barren waste in a religious point of view … at the approach of Spring [1796], I returned home attended to my farm, and other secular concerns, received my Presbyterial appointments and fulfilled them through the summer … I concluded, in union with my family to remove to the western country [Tennessee] without any visible prospect of regular settlement or congregational support. I sold my lands, crop & other disposable property and set out on the 6th of October in [1796], in company with Jesse McComb & family & arrove [sic] in the vicinity of Gallatin, Tenn. about the 15th of November; tarried there three months and then removed into the bounds of a small society on the ridge in Sumner County. In this place and two others equally destitute, I continued preaching near two years.

I … removed to this place, now, South Union, in December 1798.

John Rankin, sen. Now in the 88th year of my age.”

Unquote. End of excerpts.

And that’s all the news that’s fit to print about Shaker Rev. John’s autobiography. Other ancestors are tapping on my shoulder.

See you on down the road.

Robin

[1] Jim Small, Shaker Birth and Death Records, South Union Kentucky, accessed 24 Oct 2019 at this link. See also Shaker Union burial records  here.. The latter says, probably incorrectly, that Rev. John Rankin (shown as John Rankin Senior) was born in Pennsylvania. If John’s autobiography has the correct date for his parents’ move from PA to NC, he was born in North Carolina.

[2] See will of George Rankin dated and proved in 1760. He named his wife Lydia and two sons John and Robert. Guilford Co., NC Will Book A: 141. Lydia remarried, and her second husband, Arthur Forbis, named his stepsons John and Robert Rankin executors of his will. Guilford Co., NC Will Book A: 119.

[3] See deed from Robert Rankin and wife Rebecca to George Rankin, 5 shillings for 480 acres. Rowan Co., NC Deed Book 2: 70-73. The token price establishes the conveyance as a deed of gift as well as a family relationship between grantor and grantee.

[4] If you wish to see the typed transcription of the original autobiography, you can obtain one from the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives, Library Special Collections, Western Kentucky University. The first page is headed “Auto-Biography of John Rankin, Sen., Written at South Union, Ky. 1845, & copied here, Aug. 1870 by H. L. Eads.” A handwritten note on the first page describes it as “South Union Shaker Record A.”

[5] The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines “prolix” as (1) “unduly prolonged or drawn out: too long; (2) marked by or using an excess of words.” See it here. My articles are frequently prolix.

[6] Ruth F. Thompson and Louise J. Hartgrove, Volume I Abstracts of Marriage Bonds and Additional Data, Guilford County, North Carolina 1771 – 1840 (Greensboro, NC: The Guilford County Genealogical Society, 1989), marriage bond dated 28 Nov 1786, Rev. John Rankin and Rebecah Rankin, bondsman Robert Rankin. The bondsman was most likely Rev. John’s brother or his uncle, as his grandfather Robert died about 1770. See also Rev. S. M. Rankin, The Rankin and Wharton Families and Their Genealogy (facsimile reprint by Higginson Book Company, Salem, Massachusetts) at 55: Rebecca, a daughter of John and Hannah Carson Rankin, m. Rev. John Rankin in 1786, son of George and Lydia Rankin.

[7] Rankin, Rankin and Wharton Families at 52, 55. Rev. Rankin incorrectly identified Samuel Rankin of Lincoln Co., NC (wife Eleanor “Ellen” Alexander) as a likely son of Joseph Rankin of New Castle, DE. YDNA testing has disproved this, but the error has a life of its own. See discussion in this article..

[8] See discussion of “Lineage 1” in the horizontal “Results” tab of the  Rankin DNA Project.

[9] There is some information about Shaker Rev. John’s little brother Robert Rankin in this article.

[10] See will of Arthur Forbis dated 10 Arp 1789, proved 1794, naming stepsons John Rankin and Robert Rankin executors. Guilford Co., NC Will Book A: 119. The autobiography says that Rev. John’s mother Lydia “remained in her widowhood four years,” so she married Arthur about 1764.

[11] See history of the Mason-Dixon Line, including the PA-MD portion,  here.

[12] You can find information about the Nottingham Lots at this link.

The Robert Rankins of Guilford County, NC

This is a reissue to correct a problem with the original article. I posted it when the Rankin DNA Project website was hosted by WorldFamilies. net. The project’s website had a “Patriarch Chart” containing detailed family trees, names, email addresses, and kit numbers of YDNA participants. All of that was kosher under the website host’s rules.

The original post of this article didn’t have all that information, thank goodness, but it did contain the names of several project participants. That could violate the privacy standards of the current Rankin DNA Project website host. I revisited the article this afternoon to answer a question, and was upset to find those names. Here is a reissue to delete them.

*   *   *   *   *   *  

If you have searched for a Robert Rankin in the records of Guilford County, North Carolina during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, you hit the jackpot. There were at least six Robert Rankins in Guilford during that time. This article is about four of them. Some of what I propose is not mainstream Rankin thought. Here’s what may be controversial:

I have identified three “new” daughters of Robert and Rebecca Rankin of Guilford. One of them may reasonably be deemed proved, one is probably a daughter, and one is unproved. The first one is included in a couple of online trees. The latter two have not been identified in any compiled family history or online sources, so far as I know.

The identity of the wife of the Robert Rankin who died in Guilford in 1795. I disagree about that with darn near every other person who has ever said anything about the Guilford County Rankins.

This article ignores two of the six Robert Rankins who lived in Rowan/Guilford during that time.[1]  Both were grandsons of Joseph Rankin of Delaware (1704-1764), whose sons John and William migrated to Rowan/Guilford.

Here are the nicknames I will use to distinguish among the four Robert Rankins covered in this article.

  1. R&R – Robert Rankin and wife Rebecca.
  2. Robert d. 1795 – a son of R&R.
  3. Rev (short for “Revolutionary,” not “Reverend”) War Robert – a grandson of R&R.
  4. Arkansas Robert – a great-grandson of R&R. 

And here we go, from the top …

R&R – Robert Rankin and wife Rebecca

R&R were the original immigrant ancestors in their Rowan/Guilford line. According to a grandson’s autobiography, they came to Pennsylvania from Letterkenny Parish, County Donegal, Ireland in 1750 along with some of their children, although the autobiography names only their son George.[2] R&R resided briefly in Chester County, Pennsylvania,[3] then settled in part of Rowan County that became Guilford by 1755.[4] According to Rev. Samuel M. Rankin, R&R are buried at Buffalo Church in Greensboro, although no markers for them survive.[5]

Robert died in 1770-1773.[6] He left no will. Other Rowan and Guilford records establish that R&R had proved children (1) George, (2) Robert, and (3) Ann who married William Denny (William Denny Senior, for purposes of this article).[7] Rev. Rankin also named a son John and a  daughter Rebecca who married James Denny. There is circumstantial evidence for a son John, although Rebecca (m. James Denny) is almost certainly wrong.[8] Rev. Rankin omitted Ann Rankin Denny from his list; see information on her at the discussion of her brother Robert d. 1795, below. Rev. Rankin thought that R&R had other children. That seems likely.

Tantalizing probate records in Rowan County suggest two other possible daughters of R&R in addition to Ann Rankin Denny. These two women – Margaret (Rankin?) Braly/Brawley and Rebecca (Rankin?) Boyd – should probably be deemed unproved. Keep reading and judge for yourself …

First, Robert Rankin was a security on the Rowan County bond of Margaret Braly/Brawley and John Braly, administrators of the estate of Thomas Braly. Even better, John Braly witnessed the 1760 will of George Rankin, along with Robert Rankin. Both George and Robert were proved sons of R&R.

The Braly administrator’s bond was dated 8 Jan 1765. Thomas’s noncupative will established that his wife was pregnant, and thus of childbearing age. She therefore belonged to the same generation as R&R’s proved children.[9] Margaret can reasonably be deemed a “probable” daughter of R&R because of her age and the two strong Rankin-Braly connections established by the administrator’s bond and will.

Second, Robert Rankin was also security on the Rowan County administrator’s bond of Rebecca Boyd, widow of John Boyd, in January 1767.[10] Robert’s signature on the original Boyd bond is identical to the signature on the Braly bond, so it was the same Robert Rankin. There is also circumstantial evidence of Boyd/Rankin connections in some Guilford deeds.[11] I think Rebecca Boyd was R&R’s daughter, but still consider her unproved.

On that note, here is a brief chart of R&R’s line, including the four Robert Rankin men covered in this article and adding Ann Denny, Margaret Braly, and Rebecca Boyd as daughters. R&R’s children are not necessarily in birth order; only George’s 1729 birth date is proved.[12] The men who are the subjects of this post are shown in boldface type.

Outline Chart #1

1 “R&R,” Robert Rankin, b. ca 1700, probably Ireland, d. Guilford, NC 1770-73, wife Rebecca LNU.

2 George Rankin, b. 1729, Letterkenney Parish, County Donegal, Ireland, d. 1760, Rowan, NC. Wife Lydia Steele Rankin m. Arthur Forbis after George died.[13]

3 “Shaker” Reverend John Rankin, b. 1757, Rowan, NC, d. 1850, Logan, KY.[14] Married Rebecca Rankin, a granddaughter of Joseph of Delaware, in Guilford in 1786.[15] None of their children married: Shakers practiced celibacy.[16]

3 Robert Rankin, Rev War Robert, more on him below.

2 Robert Rankin d. 1795, more on him below.

3 George Rankin (1767 – 1851), m. Nancy Gillespie, Guilford, NC, in Jan. 1791, d. in McNairy Co., TN.[17]

4 Arkansas Robert Rankin, 1792 – 1845,more on him below. George and Nancy had other children as well.

2 John Rankin, lived in Guilford Co., a possible son suggested by Rev. Samuel M. Rankin. I found limited circumstantial evidence. No children of whom I am aware.

2 Ann Rankin m. William Denny Sr., lived in Guilford Co., more on them below.

2 Rebecca Rankin (unproved) m. John Boyd who d. Rowan, NC in 1767.

2 Margaret Rankin (probable) m. Thomas Braly/Brawley who d. Rowan, NC, Dec. 1764.

Next up: R&R’s son Robert.

Robert Rankin d. 1795, son of Robert & Rebecca

Robert Rankin died in Guilford in 1795 and left a will.[18] I have written about him in another article, see it here. Robert’s 1795 will did not name a wife, indicating that she predeceased him. He identified only one son by name (George). Based on the express language of the will, Robert had four daughters. He identified only two of them by name: Mary Rankin Wilson, who died before Robert wrote his will, and Isabel Rankin, clearly unmarried in 1795. The other two daughters, whose given names Robert did not provide, were apparently already married. One daughter was Rebecca Rankin who married William Denny Jr. I have not identified the other daughter. Robert also named his three Wilson grandsons (William Rankin Wilson, Andrew Wilson, and Maxfield Wilson).

With the information from his will, we can expand Robert d. 1795’s section of Chart #1 as follows:

2 Robert Rankin d. 1795

3 George Rankin (1767 – 1851), m. Nancy Gillespie, Guilford Co., Jan. 1791, d. in McNairy Co., TN.

4 Arkansas Robert Rankin, 1792 – 1845, more on him below. George and Nancy had other children as well.

3 Mary Rankin, d. before 1795, married Andrew Wilson as his second wife.[19]

4 William Rankin Wilson, b. abt. 1788, moved to McNairy Co., TN.[20] Wife’s name was Lydia, reportedly Rev War Robert’s daughter.[21] Ancestry.com claims that W.R. married Lydia in 1807 in Guilford, although I can’t find a marriage record for that couple there.

4 Andrew Wilson, b. abt. 1790, m. Permelia/Pamela Denny in 1812, daughter of William Denny Jr. and Rebecca Rankin.[22] Moved to McNairy Co., TN, then Perry Co., AR to live with his son after his wife died.[23]

4 Maxfield Wilson, b. by 1795, m. Sarah Baily in Guilford Co., NC in 1829. Went to Orange Co., IN.[24]

3 Isabel Rankin, b. before 1795. Probably died single.[25]

3 Rebecca Rankin, b. before 1795, m. William Denny Jr.[26]

3 Daughter Rankin, given name unknown, probably married by 1795, husband unknown.

A number of online trees and at least one compiled Rankin history wrongly conflate Robert d. 1795 with his father, who died 1770-73. But there’s a tougher controversy about Robert d. 1795: the identity of his wife. Many Rankin researchers identify her as Jean (or Jane) Denny. They have good reason to do so. The Guilford County marriage records establish that some Robert Rankin married some Jean/Jane Denny in February 1775. William Denny Sr. (wife Ann Rankin) definitely had an unmarried daughter named Jean/Jane when he wrote his will in August 1766.[27]

A serious problem with the theory that the Robert who died in 1795 married Jean/Jane, daughter of William Denny, is this: Robert was almost certainly Jean’s uncle. We are all accustomed to seeing marriages between cousins, but … an uncle and a niece?

The evidence about Jean/Jane Denny’s parents, William Denny (Sr.) and Ann Rankin Denny, is a Rowan County deed. Here it is. On back-to-back days in April 1755, Robert Rankin Sr. (i.e., R&R) executed deeds to his son George (480 acres) and William Denny (640 acres).[28] The consideration recited in both deeds was 5 shillings, clearly marking them as deeds of gift. Consider this: Robert Sr. paid 10 shillings for the 640A tract he “sold” to William Denny Sr. for 5 shillings.[29]

That gift deed is extremely persuasive proof that William Denny Sr. was part of R&R’s family. There is more. William Denny witnessed the will of R&R’s son George Rankin along with Robert Rankin and John Braly.[30] Further, John Rankin, perhaps a son of R&R, witnessed William Denny’s 1766 will.[31] In my book, that is sufficient evidence to deem Ann Rankin Denny R&R’s proved daughter.

William & Ann Rankin Denny’s daughter Jean/Jane, unmarried in 1766, is the only Jean/Jane Denny I can find in Guilford who might have been the right age to marry some Robert Rankin in 1775. I just don’t believe that the Robert Rankin she married was her Uncle Robert d. 1795. She must have married a different Robert Rankin. Her husband might have been (and probably was) Robert Rankin of Iredell County.[32]

Let’s divert for a moment into the wonderful world of YDNA evidence.

Iredell Robert was a son of David Rankin who died in Iredell in 1789.[33] Two men who are David’s proved descendants are participants in the Rankin DNA project. Two other men in the Rankin project are descended from R&R. The four men are close matches. There is no doubt that Iredell Robert was a genetic relative of the Guilford County line of R&R Rankin.

One cannot state unequivocally that David of Iredell was a son of R&R – although the results don’t preclude a father-son relationship, either. In any event, Iredell Robert Rankin and Jean Denny were genetic cousins of some degree, and their families almost certainly knew each other

Perhaps not coincidentally, Robert Rankin of Iredell and his wife Jean (1755 – 1779, per her tombstone in Centre Presbyterian Church in Statesville) had a son named Denny Rankin.[34] I would be happy to wager that his mother Jean Rankin’s maiden name was Denny. I’ll also bet I won’t have any takers.

Whatever the identity of his wife, Robert d. 1795 has only one proved son. That was George, who married Nancy Gillespie (a daughter of Daniel Gillespie and Margaret Hall) in Guilford in 1791. Note also that George was born in 1767, so he was clearly not the child of a Jean Denny who allegedly married his father in 1775. George and Nancy went to McNairy Co., TN, where George died in 1851. The important thing here is that George and Nancy had a proved son (among other children) named … you can no doubt guess this … Robert. George and Nancy’s son was the man I call Robert of Arkansas, but we haven’t quite gotten to him yet.

Rev(olutionary) War Robert Rankin (1759 – 1840).

Rev War Robert, a grandson of R&R, was one of two sons of R&R’s son George and his wife Lydia Steele.[35] Robert was a Revolutionary War veteran who applied for a pension, which told us when and where he was born and when he moved to McNairy County.[36] Rev War Robert married first Mary (“Polly”) Cusick in Guilford in the early 1780s.[37] He married his second wife Mary Moody in Guilford County in 1803.[38]

Rev War Robert’s children by Polly Cusick – there were seven – are fairly easy to identify. His children by Mary Moody are a tougher nut to crack, and I have identified only two. Here’s how I would expand Rev War Robert’s part of Chart #1:

3 Robert Rankin, Rev. War Robert, b. Rowan, NC, 29 May 1759, d. McNairy, TN on 21 Dec 1840. Buried in Bethel Springs Cemetery in McNairy. Married #1 Mary (nickname “Polly”) Cusick in Guilford, probably in the early 1780s. Married #2 Mary Moody in Guilford in 1803.

Rev War Robert’s children by Mary (“Polly”) Cusick:

4 George Rankin, b. Guilford abt. 1783, d. bet. 1828-1830 in Arkansas Territory. Married Ann McMurray in Guilford, 1803. They were in Arkansas Territory by 1816 and eventually lived in Pulaski Co. May have had as many as six children, but I can only identify three possible sons: Robert, William D., and John J. Rankin.

4 Jedediah Rankin, b. 1785-86, m. Rebecca Rankin in Guilford, 1811. Rebecca was a daughter of George and Nancy Gillespie Rankin. Jed and Becky were both great-grandchildren of R&R and were therefore second cousins. They were in Arkansas by at least 1830, when he was listed in the 1830 Arkansas Territory census.

4 Lydia Rankin, b. Guilford abt. 1789, assuming that she was the Lydia who was the wife of William Rankin Wilson, b. abt 1788. They went to McNairy Co., TN. For some unaccountable reason, online trees ID her as “Lydia Lea Isabella.” I would love to see any evidence for that name, especially since Lydia had a proved sister named Isabel.

4 Isabel Rankin, b. 1791, Guilford, NC, d. 1861, Pope, AR. Married Arkansas Robert Rankin, her second cousin (he was a son of George and Nancy Gillespie Rankin) in Guilford in 1812. They went to McNairy Co., TN and then to Arkansas Territory, Conway and Pope Counties. See more about them, below.

4 John Rankin, b. 1797, Guilford, d. 1846, McNairy Co., TN. Wife Mary Kirby/Kerby.

4 William Rankin, b. 1799, Guilford, m. Isabel Woodburn in Guilford in 1823. They went to McNairy, TN and DeSoto Co., MS. Both are buried in Bethesda Cemetery, Tate Co., MS.

4 Thankful Rankin, b. bet. 1790-1800, Guilford, m. Hance McCain in Guilford, 1818. May have lived in McNairy Co., TN, where Hance appeared in some records. I haven’t found them enumerated there in a census, however.

Rev War Robert’s children by Mary Moody:

4 Thomas M. Rankin, b. 1813-16, Guilford, NC, died without issue, 1885, McNairy.[39]

4 Letha Rankin, b. abt 1820, m. Robert D. Wilson, undoubtedly a relative. Lived in McNairy, TN.[40]

On that note, let’s move on to the last Robert in the line of R&R.

Arkansas Robert Rankin

Here is another case in which YDNA provides compelling evidence. Back up for a moment to Isabel Rankin, a proved daughter of Rev War Robert and his first wife Polly Cusisk.[41] Isabel married some Robert Rankin in Guilford in 1812.[42] A descendant of Robert and Isabel (call him “Joe”) has  YDNA tested and participates in the Rankin DNA project. A problem is that “Joe” can prove that Isabel Rankin is descended from R&R. Of course, Isabel didn’t have a Y-chromosome to pass on. “Joe” inherited that from Isabel’s husband Robert Rankin. The problem is that “Joe” hasn’t been able to prove Robert’s parents via traditional paper genealogy.

Considering all the Robert Rankins floating around Guilford, it’s  understandable that Robert’s parentage is difficult. Don’t forget that there were also two sons of Joseph of Delaware in Guilford … so that Isabel’s husband Robert Rankin may have been from EITHER R&R’s line or Joseph’s line. Or he may have parachuted into Guilford from Mars.

Isabel’s husband Robert was almost certainly not from Joseph’s line, which has been well-documented by Rev. Samuel Meek Rankin. We can heavily discount the Mars theory. That leaves the line of R&R.

YDNA testing and land records to the rescue. George Rankin (son of Robert d. 1795) and his wife Nancy Gillespie Rankin had a son named Robert who is conclusively proved by a deed, although he is unaccountably missing from many lists of George and Nancy’s children.[43] Robert was the right age to be the Robert Rankin who married Isabel. Unfortunately, there is no evidence in the marriage bonds or elsewhere to prove that Isabel’s husband Robert was the same man as George and Nancy’s son Robert. However, that Robert, as far as I can find, was the only Robert Rankin in Guilford available to marry Isabel. Sort of a “last man standing” theory.

More YDNA: a proved descendant of R&R’s grandson George Rankin and his wife Nancy Gillespie is a close YDNA match with “Joe.”  The match establishes that Isabel and Robert’s line and George and Nancy’s line share a common Rankin ancestor fairly recently. The common ancestors, based on the paper evidence, are almost certainly R&R. That’s sufficient YDNA evidence (in my opinion) to establish that Isabel’s husband Arkansas Robert Rankin was the same man as Robert, proved son of George and Nancy Gillespie Rankin.

And that’s it for now. Someday, when it’s too hot to go fishing, too rainy to garden, and the Astros aren’t playing, I will combine the several charts in this table, add a bunch of names, and post a loooonnnnnggggg chart for the descendants of Robert and Rebecca under “Rankin Charts” – see the menu at this website.

See you on down the road.

Robin

[1] Robert C. Rankin, d. Guilford 1853, and Robert Rankin, d. Guilford 1866, were both grandsons of Joseph of Delaware through his sons William Rankin and John Rankin, respectively.

[2] The grandson was “Shaker Rev. John” Rankin (1757-1850), a preacher who wrote his autobiography at age 88 (cited hereafter as “Shaker John’s Autobiography”). He died in Shakertown, Logan Co., KY. See  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). You can obtain a copy of the typescript of Eads’s history from the Special Collections Library, Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green, Kentucky (WKU), where is it designated “Shaker Record A.” The autobiography contains very little of genealogical significance, but what is has is good stuff. Mostly, it chronicles every thought he had about, and events concerning, religion through his long life from youth onward.

[3] George Rankin and Robert Rankin appeared on the 1753 tax list for West Nottingham Township in Chester Co., PA. Rev. Samuel M. Rankin (see note 5) says the family lived in Lancaster Co., but I didn’t find any record of them there. See 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] Shaker John’s Autobiography (see note 2); see also deeds dated April 1755 in which Robert Rankin Sr. gifted land to his son George Rankin and son-in-law William Denny Sr. in Rowan Co. Deed Book 2: 67, 70.

[5] Rev. S. M. Rankin, History of Buffalo Presbyterian Church and Her People (Greensboro, NC: Jos. J. Stone & Co., 1931), cited hereafter as “Buffalo Church History.”

[6] Rev. Rankin says in one place in Buffalo Church History that Robert with wife Rebecca died before the church started keeping minutes, which was in 1773. In another place, he says Robert died about 1770.

[7] Rev. Rankin names George, Robert and John as sons of R&R in his Buffalo Church History. George is proved by a gift deed and Robert is proved by circumstantial evidence in numerous Guilford records. The circumstantial evidence for a son John is thin.

[8] James and Rebecca Denny (née Rankin, according to Rev. Rankin) are buried in the Buffalo Church cemetery. Rebecca was born in 1760 and died in 1816. She was from a later generation that R&R’s proved children and was most likely born too late to be their daughter. Buffalo Church cemetery records are available online at this link.

[9] George Rankin, a proved son of R&R, had two sons born in 1757 and 1759. See Shaker John’s Autobiography and Rev War Robert’s pension application, abstracted in Virgil D. White, Abstracts of Revolutionary War Pension Files, Vol. 3 (Waynesboro, TN: National Historical Publishing Co., 1992). Robert Rankin d. 1795, another proved son of R&R, had a son George born in 1767. See will of Robert Rankin dated and proved 1795, Guilford Will Books A-B, File #312.

[10] Rowan County Court Order Book 2: 667.

[11] E.g., deed of 1 Feb 1780 from James Boyd to William Boyd, both of Guilford, 20 shillings (a deed of gift), 630 acres on Little Troublesome Cr., Granville grant to John Boyd Sr. 15 Jul 1760. This land winds up in Rockingham County. John Boyd Sr., the original grant recipient, is probably the deceased in the 1767 administrator’s bond. Witnesses Robt. Bell, John Rankin, John Bell. Guilford Co. DB 2: 437. See also deed of 18 Oct 1803, James Boyd of Guilford to Henry Fryar, same, £100, 150 acres on waters of North Buffalo. Witnesses William Denney and Rebekah Denney. The witness Rebekah was a daughter of Robert Rankin d. 1795 and a granddaughter of R&R. Guilford Deed Book 8: 230.

[12] Shaker John’s Autobiography.

[13] Id. See will of Arthur Forbis dated 10 Apr 1789, proved 1794, naming as executors his “stepsons John Rankin and Robert Rankin” (Shaker John and Rev War Robert). Guilford Co., NC Will Book A: 119.

[14] Shaker John’s Autobiography.

[15] Frances T. Ingmire, Guilford County North Carolina Marriage Records 1771-1868 Volume III Names O-Z (Athens, GA: Iberian Publishing Co., 1984). Another source for Guilford marriage records is Ruth F. Thompson and Louise J. Hartgrove, Volume I Abstracts of Marriage Bonds and Additional Data, Guilford County, North Carolina 1771 – 1840 (Greensboro, NC: The Guilford County Genealogical Society, 1989).

[16] At least one Rankin researcher at Ancestry.com believes that one of Shaker John Rankin’s children did not convert to Shakerism and that he married and had children. The Logan County census and burial records, however, suggest that all ten children died single in Logan County. There is some information about Shaker John in this article.

[17] Ingmire, Guilford County North Carolina Marriage Records.

[18] Guilford County, NC Wills Books A-B 1771-1838, File #312 (will of Robert Rankin d. 1795).

[19] See id., will of Robert Rankin d. 1795, naming as guardian of his Wilson grandsons Andrew Wilson, Robert’s “former son-in-law;” Buffalo Church History, listing the three wives of Andrew Wilson (Jr.).

[20] See 1850 federal census, McNairy Co., TN, William R. Wilson, 62, farmer, b. NC, Lydia Wilson, 61, b NC, Washington Wilson, 33, NC, Lucinda Wilson, 26, TN, Lydia Wilson, 8, TN, Adaline Wilson, 5, TN, Jesse Wilson, 3, TN, and Louisa Wilson, 1, TN.

[21] Rev War Robert did have a daughter Lydia, who would have been William Rankin Wilson’s second cousin. See Guilford, NC Will Book B: 435, will of William Cusick naming 3 daughters of Robert Rankin (Lydia, Isbel and Thankful) and his deceased daughter Polly Cusick Rankin. Both Lydia and William Rankin Wilson were great-grandchildren of R&R. I’ve found no evidence in the Guilford records that WRW married Lydia, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t marry. This crowd definitely had a penchant for marrying cousins.

[22] Will of William Denny dated 12 Dec 1824 proved Feb 1825 naming daughter Pamela Wilson; see also Ingmire, Guilford County North Carolina Marriage Records.

[23] See 1850 federal census, McNairy Co., TN, Andrew Wilson, farmer, 60, b. NC, dwelling #90, with Parmelia Wilson, 59, NC, Jane Wilson, 30, NC, Maxfield Wilson, 28, NC, Nancy Wilson, 25, NC, Parmelia Wilson, 21, NC, James Wilson, 19, NC, Eli Wilson, 16, NC, and Mary J. Black, 7, MO; 1860 federal census, Perry Co., AR, household of William Wilson, 45, farmer b. NC, with Andrew Wilson, 70, b. NC, also listed in his household.

[24] Thanks to my cousin-by-marriage Peggy Derryberry Gould for that information. See 1860 federal census, French Lick, Orange Co., IN, dwl #1131, Maxfield Wilson, 70, b. NC; Ingmire, Guilford County North Carolina Marriage Records.

[25] Isabel Rankin, daughter of Robert d. 1795, probably died single and without children. She was still single in 1795, when her father wrote his will, and she was probably about 30 at that time. Her father specifically bequeathed a slave to provide for her, which probably means he considered her unmarriageable. I found no marriage record for her in Guilford.

[26] Guilford County will of William Denny dated 12 Dec 1824 proved Feb 1825 naming as executor his “brother-in-law George Rankin” and children Rebecca Black, Pamela Wilson, William, Nancy, Isabel and Allen. 1803 deed from James Boyd to Henry Fryar witnessed by William Denny and Rebeckah Denny, Guilford Co. Deed Book 8: 230.

[27] Will of William Denny (Sr.), Rowan Co. Order Book 3: 200; Rowan Co. Will Book A: 31. An abstractor of this will, Jo White Linn, made (for her) a rare error about three of William Denny’s daughters. Ms. Linn read the will to say that all of William and Ann’s daughters were married, but three of them – Hannah, Agnes, and Jane/Jean Denny – were clearly identified as single in the 1766 will.

[28] Rowan Co. Deed Book 2: 67 and 70.

[29] Rowan Co., NC Deed Book 2: 86, Granville grant to Robert Rankin dated 3 Dec 1753, ten shillings, 640 acres adjacent “Irish Tracts” #14 and #15 (part of the Nottingham Colony grants).

[30] Rowan Co., NC Will Book A: 141.

[31] Rowan Co., NC Order Book 3: 200; Will Book A: 31.

[32] Jean Denny may have and probably did marry Robert Rankin of Iredell Co., son of David Rankin d. Iredell in 1789.

[33] Will of David Rankin of Iredell proved Dec. 1789, original will viewed at the NC Archives in Raleigh, C.R.054.801.11, recorded at WB A: 200

[34] Lois M. P. Schneider, Church and Family Cemeteries of Iredell County, N.C. (1992); Iredell County, NC Deed Book D: 650, deed dated 17 May 1802 from Robert Rankin to his son Denny Rankin.

[35] Rowan County, NC Will Book A: 141, will of George Rankin dated May 1760, proved Oct 1760, naming minor sons John and Robert.

[36] National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Vol. 25, No. 4, December 1937, Revolutionary War Pension Applications.

[37] See Guilford, NC Will Book B: 435, will of William Cusick naming 3 daughters of Robert Rankin (Lydia, Isbel and Thankful) and William’s desceased daughter Polly Cusick Rankin.

[38] Ingmire, Guilford County North Carolina Marriage Records; National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Vol. 25, No. 4, December 1937, Revolutionary War Pension Applications.

[39] See McNairy Co., TN Will Book 1: 53, will of T. M. Rankin of Bethel Springs dated 18 Jun 1885 naming two nieces and a nephew. One niece, M. E. Wilson, was the daughter of Letha Rankin and Robert D.Wilson, according to Melinda’s TN death certificate.

[40] Letha’s Daughter Malinda Wilson Lee was identified as a niece in the McNairy will of Thomas M. Rankin.

[41] Guilford, NC Will Book B: 435, will of William Cusick naming three daughters of Robert Rankin and his deceased daughter Polly Cusick Rankin (Lydia, Isbel and Thankful).

[42] Ingmire, Guilford County North Carolina Marriage Records.

[43] Guilford Co., NC Deed Book 14: 11, deed of 23 Mar 1819 from George Rankin Sr. to his son Robert Rankin Jr., both of Guilford, 110.5 acres on the south side of North Buffalo. George Sr. at that point is George, son of Robert d. 1795 (who devised that tract to George). George Jr. is probably the eldest son of Rev War Robert. Also, Robert Rankin Sr. was Rev War Robert.

Rankin DNA Project: “flange it up!”

If you ever worked in the natural gas pipeline business, you might be familiar with the notion that something needed to be “flanged up.” That originally meant the need to get pieces bolted together to complete a job. Over time, it acquired a more general meaning for those who did not deal with actual steel: the need to improve something in some fashion.

The Rankin DNA project needs to be “flanged up” a bit. The project began in 2006 with just two YDNA test participants. It has come a long way, and has 176 members as of July 2019. About seventy members are YDNA test participants who are either men named Rankin or whose YDNA establishes them as genetic Rankins.[1] YDNA testing has been helpful to many project members when traditional “paper trails” were inadequate or disputed.

Progress notwithstanding, there are still ancestry, website, and relationship issues to be addressed. There are also a number of test participants who don’t yet have a Rankin match in the project. Obviously, a key need is to get more Rankin YDNA test participants. Please note, this is not a criticism of Rankin project administrators … I AM one. We just need to have more YDNA participants. Easier said than done.

In the meantime, here is a summary of Rankin YDNA results to date. The project has three lineages having four or more YDNA participants in each one. They are (no surprise here) designated Lineages 1, 2, and 3. All three lineages also have sub-lineages – distinct Rankin families that are genetically related, even though a Rankin common ancestor has not been identified. The families in these lineages include some that I have written about on this website. If you have read some Rankin articles, many of these names will be familiar.

On that note, let’s jump in …

Rankin Lineage 1

Lineage 1 (“L1”) has two sub-lineages: Robert and Rebecca Rankin of Guilford Co., North Carolina (L1A) and Joseph Rankin of New Castle County, Delaware (L1B). Robert is definitely the original immigrant in his line; Joseph probably is. No common ancestor for the two lines has been found. YDNA results establish a low probability that there is one on this side of the Atlantic. He probably exists around 1400, plus or minus a century, and almost certainly in Scotland.

Robert and Rebecca Rankin came to the colonies in 1750 from County Donegal, Ireland, according to an autobiography of one of their grandsons.[2] See some articles about their family here, here, and here.  There is no known evidence of the origin of Joseph of Delaware.[3] Both Robert and Joseph first appeared in county records in the area around the Philadelphia ports, where most Scots-Irish immigrants landed during the “Great Migration” from Ulster.

Joseph of Delaware arrived in the colonies first, roughly two decades earlier than Robert and Rebecca. He may be the Joseph Rankin who appeared as a “freeman” (unmarried and not a landowner) on a 1729 tax list in London Britain Township in Chester County, Pennsylvania. By 1731, he had acquired a tract on White Clay Creek in New Castle County, Delaware. Joseph had four sons proved by deeds (Joseph Jr., Thomas, William and John), two sons proved by circumstantial evidence (Robert and James), and a daughter Ann proved by a brother’s will. Joseph is buried at Head of Christiana Presbyterian Church in Newark, New Castle County. His 1764 tombstone still exists.

Based on known birth dates, Joseph’s children were born in Delaware. Two of his proved sons – John and William – moved to Guilford County, North Carolina. A descendant of each has YDNA tested and they are a good match.[4] Joseph’s wife was named Rebecca, although there is no known evidence of her maiden name. Nor is there any evidence of Joseph’s family of origin.

Robert and Rebecca’s family first appeared in the records in Chester County, Pennsylvania. Robert and George Rankin (either father/son or brothers) were on the 1753 tax list for West Nottingham Township in Chester. Robert and George received so-called “Nottingham Company” land grants in Guilford (then Rowan) County, North Carolina, near Greensboro. According to a grandson’s autobiography, they migrated to North Carolina in July 1755.

Robert and Rebecca’s children were almost certainly all adults when they arrived in Pennsylvania in 1750. Two sons, Robert and George, are proved. There is good circumstantial evidence in the Rowan and Guilford records for other children, including a son John and daughters Ann Rankin Denny (wife of William Sr.), Margaret Rankin Braly or Brawley (Thomas), and Rebecca Rankin Boyd (John).

David Rankin of Iredell County, North Carolina (died there in 1789) may also be a son of Robert and Rebecca. YDNA results establish that David and Robert were close genetic relatives, although there is apparently no conclusive paper proof of the family connection. David was probably either a son or nephew of Robert and Rebecca. Here is an article about David and Margaret’s son Robert.

Rankin Lineage 2

L2 is the largest group in the project. As of July 2019, there were 22 project participants whose YDNA places them in L2. The family lines represented in the lineage are diverse, although the YDNA results are not. The group members are fairly close matches, suggesting a common ancestor no earlier than 400-500 years ago, probably in Scotland. The immigrant ancestor of many of the L2 members first appeared in Pennsylvania or Virginia during the “Great Migration” of Scots-Irish from Ulster. From there, the L2 Rankins spread west into the Ohio Valley or south and southwest into Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee.

There are three Rankin lines in L2 which have at least four participants each. There are also a number of L2 participants who are “one of a kind,” meaning that each man’s last known Rankin ancestor is not (so far as is known) shared with another L2 member. Some members of L2 are “one of a kind” simply because they have provided no information about their Rankin family trees to project administrators, although they may well belong in one of the three known L2 families.

The L2 family lines are (1) John Rankin who died in 1749 in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania (Lineage 2A), (2) Samuel and Eleanor (“Ellen”) Alexander Rankin of Lincoln County, North Carolina (Lineage 2B), and (3)  two families – both David and Jenette McCormick Rankin of Frederick County, Virginia and William Rankin of Fayette County, Pennsylvania (Lineage 2C). Here is a little bit about each one …

Lineage 2A, John Rankin of Lancaster Co., PA (see articles here and  here).

This is the Rankin family memorialized on the famous tablet in the Mt. Horeb Cemetery in Jefferson County, Tennessee – descendants of John Rankin who died in 1749 in Lancaster Co., PA. His wife is traditionally identified as Mary McElwee, although John’s widow was named Margaret. John’s will named Margaret, two sons (Thomas and Richard), six daughters, and two sons-in-law.[5] All of the L2A members are descended from John’s son Thomas. He briefly appeared in the records of Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, moved to Augusta County, Virginia for a time, then migrated to east Tennessee. No member of the Rankin project self-identifies as a descendant of John’s son Richard, who moved from Pennsylvania to Augusta County and died there.

According to family tradition, the John who died in Lancaster in 1749 was a son of William Rankin and grandson of Alexander Rankin of the Scotland “Killing Times” and the 1689 Siege of Londonderry. Apparently, no one has found (or has publicly shared) any proof that John was a son of William, or that William was a son of Alexander. Records in Ireland are limited, however.

There are two project participants who are probable descendants of Adam Rankin of Lancaster County, whose wife was Mary Steele. Family oral traditions for both Adam and John (the common ancestor of the L2A participants) say that Adam and John were brothers. However, Adam’s probable descendants are not a YDNA match with John’s descendants, indicating that John and Adam were not genetically related through the male Rankin line. There are four or five articles about Adam’s line on this website, see, e.g., two articles here and here.

Lineage 2B: Samuel Rankin of Lincoln Co., NC

L2B is the line of Samuel and Eleanor (“Ellen”) Alexander Rankin of Rowan, Tryon, Mecklenburg, and Lincoln Counties, North Carolina. Several misconceptions  about Samuel and Eleanor persist online. One myth is that Samuel was a son of Robert and Rebecca Rankin of Guilford County (Lineage 1A). Another is that Samuel was a son of Joseph Rankin of Delaware (Lineage 1B). Both possibilities are disproved by YDNA. Some researchers also claim that Samuel and his wife were married in Pennsylvania, although Eleanor’s parents James and Ann Alexander  were in Anson/Rowan County by 1753 at the latest. Samuel and Eleanor were married about 1759, almost certainly in Rowan. There is no evidence of Samuel’s birthplace.

Samuel’s tombstone in the Goshen Presbyterian Cemetery in Belmont, NC no longer exists. A WPA cemetery survey taken in the 1930s transcribed his tombstone inscription to say that he was born in 1734 and died in 1816. His will was dated 1814, but wasn’t probated until 1826. His last appearance  in the Lincoln Co., NC records while he was still alive was in July 1816. He left most of his nine surviving children (his son Richard predeceased him) a token bequest, and devised the bulk of his estate to his son James.[6] Samuel and Eleanor’s children either remained in the Lincoln/Mecklenburg/Iredell area or moved to Arkansas, Tennessee, or Illinois. Here are articles about Samuel and Eleanor’s son Richard and their daughter Jean Rankin Hartgrove.

Lineage 2C

Based on descendant charts provided by participants, L2C has two family lines: (1) David Sr. and Jennett McCormick Rankin of Frederick County, Virginia and (2) William Rankin of Fayette County, Pennsylvania. There is no known common Rankin ancestor for the two lines.

David Sr.’s line is represented by three project participants. He left a Frederick County will dated 1757 naming his wife Jennett and children Hugh, William, David Jr. and Barbara.[7] Many online trees identify David Sr.’s wife as “Jennett Mildred,” although all of the Frederick County records identify Jennett without a middle name. Researchers asserting that Jennett had a middle name may have conflated David Sr.’s wife Jennett with an entirely different woman, a Mildred Rankin who was married to one of David Sr.’s grandsons — also named David.

David Jr. married Hannah Province or Provence, probably in Frederick County. They moved from Frederick to Washington County, Pennsylvania and then to Harrison County, Kentucky, where David Jr. died. His brother William and his wife Abigail also moved to Washington County. William died there in 1799. Both David Jr. and William left large families. Some of Hugh’s line probably moved to Kentucky and then to Ohio. Project administrators are looking for descendants of William and/or Hugh who might be willing to YDNA test.

The second family in L2C is the line of William Rankin of Fayette County, Pennsylvania, who died in 1797. His son, William Jr., died in Fayette in 1807. Many from this line stayed in Fayette County for several generations. Some moved “west,” including to Ohio. There is no evidence of William Sr.’s  origin prior to the time that he began appearing in Westmoreland and Fayette.

Rankin Lineage 3

The common ancestor of the four L3 participants is David Rankin Sr. who died in Greene County, Tennessee in 1802. His will identified seven children but not his wife, who evidently predeceased him. David Sr. was reportedly among the “Overmountain Men” who left what was then Washington County, Tennessee to fight in the Battle of King’s Mountain in South Carolina. That battle was a major defeat for the British in the Southern Campaign.

There is some disagreement among researchers about the identity of David Sr.’s wife or wives. His wife is usually identified as Margart Kerr, Anne Campbell, both, or neither, without a citation to any evidence. Another question is where David Sr. lived before coming to Greene County in 1783. It is possible that David Sr. of Greene is the same man as the David Rankin who received a 1771 land patent in Bedford County, Virginia, although that man was a Quaker. Other researchers believe that David Sr. was a son of the William Rankin who died in 1792 in Franklin County, Pennsylvania (wife Mary Huston). That possibility has been disproved by YDNA results.

Rankin researchers can take comfort in the fact that Flossie Cloyd, the premier Rankin researcher of the 20thcentury, was baffled by David Sr.’s ancestry. He may well be the immigrant ancestor in his line.

Whew! That’s more than enough for right now …

See you on down the road.

Robin

[1] For example, the Rankin project includes men whose surname at birth was Rankin but were adopted by a stepfather after the Rankin parents divorced.

[2] Jonathan Jeffrey at  the Department of Library Special Collections at the University of Western Kentucky sent to me a 22-page transcription  of the autobiography of Rev. John Rankin, a grandson of Robert and Rebecca. For the most part, it is a recount of his faith history. It has very little helpful genealogy.

[3] One history says that Joseph came from “Clyde Scotland,” presumably somewhere near the River Clyde. It also claims that Joseph’s children were born in Scotland, which is demonstrably incorrect. See Bill and Martha Reamy, Genealogical Abstracts from Biographical and Genealogical History of the State of Delaware(Westminster, MD: Willow Bend Books, 2001). The Findagrave website claims that he was born in “Ulster Ireland,” which is undoubtedly a good guess but is unsubstantiated.

[4] Only one of Joseph’s proved descendants is a member of the Rankin DNA Project. He has provided information to project administrators about his YDNA match to another proved descendant of Joseph.

[5] Lancaster Co., PA Will Book J: 211.

[6] Lincoln Co., NC Will Book 1: 37. Given the nature of Samuel’s will, there would have been no rush to submit it to probate.

[7] Frederick Co., VA Will Book 3: 443.

Part 1: Some Rankin Families of Virginia and Pennsylvania

Yes! Getting back to researching and writing about Rankin families feels like coming home. Even better, it turns out there are several Rankin lines in the counties where I’ve been poking around: Frederick Co., VA, Washington Co., PA and Fayette Co., PA.

Here are the Rankin families we’ll talk about, as well as one I will leave for another day …

Not part of this researchthe line of Robert Rankin of Northumberland County, VA and King George County, VA. This line apparently began to scatter after they left King George. Some of them may have appeared in Frederick Co., VA. One record reportedly involving several of them is a Frederick Co. lease dated August 13, 1792 to Benjamin Rankin of Loudon County, VA. The term of the lease was for the life of Benjamin’s brothers Moses and Robert Rankin.[1]

I know nothing about this Rankin family. The early line is covered at this website. The site is unusual because it provides citations to source records, inspiring confidence. If this is your line, and you are a Rankin male, please take a Y-DNA test and join the Rankin family DNA project! So far as I can tell, no member of the Rankin project from this line has tested.

Is part of this researchthe line of David and Jennet McCormick Rankin of Frederick County, VA. Two of their four proved children moved to Washington County, PA. We will follow the David/Jennet line from Frederick to Pennsylvania and wherever the evidence points thereafter.

Also part of this research – the line of Thomas and Eleanor Rankin of Washington County, PA.

Finally, we will also cover the Rankin family of Fayette County, PA. Some researchers think this family is from the line of David and Jennet. I am not so sure.

It looks like this will be a multi-part series.

David and Jennet Rankin of Frederick County, Virginia

Let’s dive right into the Frederick County Rankins. The patriarch of the family was a David Rankin Sr. who had at least four children: Hugh, Barbara, David Jr., and William Rankin. All four are proved by David’s will.[2] County court records establish they were born no later than the 1720s.[3] David’s Sr. wife was Jennet (or Jennett) Rankin, whose given name is also proved by his will.

That brings us to the first two issues in this line, both concerning David Sr.’s wife.

First, Rankin researchers usually identify her as Jennett McCormick. That seems highly likely because of the connections between David Sr. and several McCormicks (or McCormacks, as the name is spelled in David Sr.’s will). David named a McCormick as one of his executors, and two McCormicks were witnesses. Also, David appointed a McCormick to divide land between his sons William and David Jr. and to set off his widow’s dower.[4] All of that is strong evidence that the McCormicks were related to the Rankins.

I haven’t found a marriage record for David Sr. and Jennet, but I haven’t done any research in Ireland or Scotland. Given their ages and location, David Sr. and Jennet may have been the original immigrants to the Colonies in this line of Rankins. Like most Rankins in that general time and place, they were probably Scots Irish from the Ulster Plantations in the northern part of Ireland.

Second, many family trees give Jennet’s name as “Jennet Mildred.” There is no evidence for the middle name in the Frederick records. The only proof of her given name is David Sr.’s will and a deed, both of which called her simply Jennet.[5] However, confusion about her name is understandable because another David Rankin in Frederick County had a wife named Mildred. Fortunately, the records are clear that Jennet and Mildred were married to different David Rankins. David Sr. died before August 2, 1768, when his will (naming his wife Jennett) was proved. In March 1769, a David Rankin of Frederick County executed a lease for the term of his own life, his wife Mildred, and his brother Smith Rankin.[6] David Sr. and Jennet Rankin were clearly a different couple than David and Mildred Rankin. So … who were David, Mildred and Smith Rankin?

Hugh Rankin and wife Jane

That conveniently leads us to the next question: what do we know about David Sr. and Jennett’s son Hugh Rankin? He may have been their eldest child, although I found no evidence for a precise birth year. Hugh was the first of David Sr. and Jennet’s children to appear in the Frederick court records.[7] He was born no later than 1723, possibly earlier.[8] He left no will in Frederick, although he was a landowner. That suggests he probably didn’t die there.

The last record I found for him in Frederick was a November 1767 lease and release from him to William Rankin. The release was signed by Hugh and Jane Rankin and witnessed by David and Solomon Rankin.[9] Rankin researchers give his wife’s maiden name as Smith, probably because Hugh’s 412-acre tract was adjacent to a Smith family and there were several county records involving both Smiths and Rankins.[10] Smith as Jane’s surname sure makes sense in light of the Smith Rankin who witnessed the 1769 lease from David and Mildred Rankin.

Based solely on the 1767 and 1769 deeds, one might reasonably infer (at least as a starting point) that Hugh and Jane Rankin had sons named David, Solomon, and Smith. I haven’t found evidence of any other children, or proof regarding where Hugh’s family moved after Frederick County. The conventional wisdom is that Hugh went to Fayette County, Pennsylvania. I don’t think so, although we will get to that later in this series.

Here is a chart of what we have so far about this Frederick County Rankin family:

1 David Rankin Sr., d. Frederick Co., VA before Aug. 1768, wife Jennet (probably McCormick)

2 Hugh Rankin, b. by 1723, wife Jane (probably Smith)

3 Probably David Rankin, b. by 1748, wife Mildred MNU

3 Probably Smith Rankin, b. by 1748

3 Probably Solomon Rankin, b. by 1748

2 Barbara Rankin

2 William Rankin, more on him later.

2 David Rankin, ditto.

And that’s enough for this installment. See you on down the road!

* * * * * * * * * *

[1] Family History Library Microfilm No. 31, 379, Frederick Co., VA Deed Book 22: 303.

[2] Family History Library VGS No. 7,644,624, Frederick Co., VA Will Book 3: 443, will of David Rankin “the elder” of Frederick County dated 5 Nov 1757, proved 2 Aug 1768. Wife Jennett Rankin, life estate in 1/3rd of 775 acres. Sons David Rankin and William Rankin, 2/3rds of real property in fee simple, plus remainder of wife’s life estate, all to be divided equally. Sons’ land to be divided by Dr. John McCormack and Thomas Provence of Frederick, who are also to set aside wife’s life estate. Son Hugh Rankin and daughter Barbara, 10 shillings each. Grandson David Rankin, son of William, a calf. Executors wife and James McCormack. Witnesses Edward McGuire, John McCormack, Fr. McCormack, and Thomas Provence.

[3] John David Davis, Frederick County Virginia Minutes of Court Records 1743-1745 (Bowie, MD: Heritage Books, Inc., 2001). Abstract of July 1744 court record, p. 139, mentioning a suit against Hugh Rankin, who must have been of legal age to appear as a lawsuit party in his own behalf; Sept 1744 court record, p. 196, Barbara Rankins testified as a witness for Leonard Harper; March 1744/45 court record, p. 328, William Rankin served on a jury; Frederick County Deed Book 2: 48, David Rankin Jr. witnessed a deed in Nov. 1749 along with his brothers Hugh and William.

[4] See Note 2.

[5] Amelia C. Gilreath, Frederick County, Virginia Deed Books 5, 6, 7, 8 1757-1763 (Nokesville, VA: 1990), abstract of Deed Book 5: 398, deed of lease and release dated 2 Mar 1760 from David Rankin Sr. (wife Jannet (sic)) and William Rankin (wife Abigail) to David Rankin Jr., 463 acres of a branch of Opeckon Cr., part of 778 patent of 30 Oct 1756 from Lord Fairfax to David and William Rankin; see also Note 2.

[6] Amelia C. Gilreath, Frederick County, Virginia Deed Books 12, 13, 14 1767-1771 (Nokesville, VA: 1991), abstract of Deed Book 13: 8.

[7] See Note 3.

[8] Id.

[9] Gilreath, abstract of Deed Book 12: 46-48.

[10] See, e.g., Gilreath, abstract of Frederick Co. Deed Book 5: 343, lease and release dated 3-4 Sept. 1759 from William Ranken of Frederick to John Smith, same, 15A, part of a tract of 778 from Lord Fairfax to William and David Rankin dated 30 Oct 1756 on a branch of Opeckon Creek called Turkey Spring. Release signed by Wm Rankin and Abigel Rankin.

Samuel Rankin (abt. 1734 – abt. 1816) m. Eleanor Alexander: YDNA Evidence

In August and September 2016, I posted a two-part article about the possible family of origin of Samuel Rankin (nicknamed “Old One-Eyed Sam”) of Rowan, Mecklenburg and Lincoln counties, North Carolina. His wife was Eleanor (“Ellen”) Alexander. I just reread the posts, and they were tedious, prolix, and packed with trivial information of no possible interest. I apparently have an unattractive propensity to beat dead horses from time to time. Moreover, new YDNA information on the issue has come to light which moots most of one of the posts.

I am going to delete both posts from this website as soon as I figure out how to do that. Here is their replacement, which just cuts to the chase re: old theories of Old One-Eyed Sam’s possible parents. It also provides a brief description of the YDNA evidence to date.

Rankin researchers have had two main theories about the identity of Old One-Eyed Sam’s father:

Theory #1 — his father was Joseph Rankin of White Clay Creek Hundred, New Castle County, Delaware (1704-1764). Let’s call him “Joseph of Delaware.” Two of Joseph’s proved sons who belonged to the same generation as Old One-Eyed Sam moved to Guilford County, NC. The primary source for Theory #1 is Rev. S. M. Rankin’s 1931 book, The Rankin and Wharton Families and Their Genealogy.[1]

Theory #2 — Old One-Eyed Sam’s parents were Robert and Rebecca Rankin of Guilford County, NC. Call them “R&R.” Before migrating to North Carolina in the mid-1750s, Robert and a son appeared on the 1753 tax list for West Nottingham Township, Chester County, PA.

Here’s the bottom line. First, there seems to be no evidence in the records of Delaware, Pennsylvania, North Carolina or any other colony to support either Theory #1 or Theory #2. Second, YDNA tests conclusively prove that both theories are dead wrong.

Here is a bit about the DNA evidence.

The YDNA evidence re: Theory #1

There is a Rankin DNA Project which provides YDNA results (anonymously) online.[2] One member — let’s call him Joe — has a solid paper genealogical trail proving he is descended from Joseph of Delaware. I located another proved descendant of Joseph of Delaware by conventional paper research – let’s call him “Mr. X.” Joe convinced Mr. X to test. Joe was unable to convince Mr. X to join the Rankin DNA Project, but Joe has his genetic profile. Mr. X and Joe  are 37-marker matches with one mismatching marker. Genetic genealogists call that a “37-marker match with a genetic distance of one” (or “GD=1”). That is a darn good match. Furthermore, the two men descend from different sons of Joseph of Delaware, so their close DNA match isn’t a function of having a recent common ancestor. Joseph of Delaware is their common Rankin ancestor.

With two closely matching YDNA samples and two very solid paper trails, there is a high degree of confidence that Joe and Mr. X provide a good picture of the YDNA of descendants of Joseph of Delaware – as well as those who aren’t his descendants.

The Rankin DNA project has two members whose paper trails prove them to be descendants of Samuel and Eleanor Alexander Rankin. None of them is a match – not even remotely close – to Joe. The YDNA evidence thus proves conclusively that Old One-Eyed Sam cannot be a son of Joseph of Delaware. Note: as of 16 April 2019, the Rankin Project has four members who descend from One-Eyed Sam and Eleanor and who have YDNA tested. The conclusion of this paragraph is confirmed by the additional testing.

The YDNA Evidence re: Theory #2

The Rankin DNA Project has two participants whose genealogical paper trail shows they are descended from R&R – Robert and Rebecca Rankin of Guilford. Note: as of 16 April 2019, there are three descendants of R&R in the Rankin DNA project. Again, the conclusion below is affirmed.

The first is Mr. R, whose paper trail conclusively proves that he is descended from R&R’s great-granddaughter Isabel Rankin (her maiden name) and her husband Robert Rankin. Robert’s parents are not conclusively proved. The obvious problem is that Mr. R inherited his YDNA from Robert, not Isabel. So the question is: who are Robert’s parents? The circumstantial evidence convincingly establishes that Isabel’s husband Robert was her second cousin, a proved son of George (1767 Guilford, NC -1851 McNairy, TN) and Nancy Gillespie Rankin. George, in turn, was a proved son of Robert Rankin who died in 1795 in Guilford County. Robert is a proved son of R&R. Thus, Mr. R. is almost certainly a descendant of R&R.

The second relevant Rankin DNA Project participant is Mr. M, whose paper trail leaves no doubt that he is descended from R&R through their great-grandson John D. Rankin, a son of George and Nancy Gillespie Rankin.

Mr. R and Mr. M are a 37-marker match with a GD = 2, a darn good match. For those of you who actually know something about the science of YDNA, the two mismatched markers are at DYS 458 and CDY. My cousins Roger Alexander or Roberta Estes could undoubtedly appraise the quality of the match better than I can.

Whatever. Neither Mr. R nor Mr. M – descendants of R&R – are a YDNA match with the  descendants of Old One-Eyed Sam and Eleanor Alexander Rankin. Their YDNA profiles are not even close. Old One-Eyed Sam therefore cannot be a son of Robert and Rebecca of Guilford.

Case closed. I’m guessing we are going to have to find a Rankin on the other side of the Atlantic to have a clue about Old One-Eyed Sam’s family of origin.

See you on down the road.

Robin

[1] Rev. S. M. Rankin, The Rankin and Wharton Families and Their Genealogy (Greensboro, NC: J. J. Stone & Co., printers and binders, 1931, reprint by Higginson Book Co., Salem, MA).

[2] http://www.worldfamilies.net/surnames/rankin/This website was deleted by WorldFamilies.net in May 2018.

Samuel and Eleanor (“Ellen”) Alexander Rankin: Some Corrections to the Record

Here we are, tilting at windmills again, just for the fun of it. The idea is to correct some frequent errors about Samuel and Eleanor Alexander Rankin, who appeared in the records of Rowan, Tryon, Mecklenburg, and Lincoln Counties. A cousin has asked why I write these “correction” articles. That’s an easy one. Thanks to the ease of “copy and paste” and importing other peoples’ family trees with a few clicks, online genealogy errors have multiplied exponentially, like the Tribbles in the original Star Trek. Also, anything that has appeared in print is taken as gospel. While it is a truism that every family history contains errors, most people presumably  prefer to eliminate them when possible. Thus, cousin, I’m providing a Tribble extermination service here, even though some of these errors are minor. <grin>

So let’s turn again to Samuel and his wife Eleanor.  Another article on this website deals with two erroneous theories about Samuel’s parents, including (1) the notion that Samuel was a son of Joseph Rankin of New Castle County, Delaware, and (2) speculation that Samuel was a son of Robert and Rebecca Rankin of Guilford County, North Carolina. Y-DNA testing has conclusively disproved both theories. So far as I have found, there is no evidence on this side of the Atlantic as to the identity of Samuel’s parents.

On to new territory. Here are my positions on some of the conventional wisdom about Samuel and Eleanor:

  • Samuel was probably born in 1734 (not 1732) and he probably died in 1816 (not 1814).
  • There is no reason to believe that Samuel was born in New Castle County, Delaware. There is no evidence where he was born, so far as I know. I would place a bet on the Province of Ulster, Ireland.
  • He and Eleanor married in Rowan County, North Carolina, not in Pennsylvania.
  • Samuel had arrived in North Carolina by no later than April 1760.
  • His wife’s given name was Eleanor. “Ellen,” the name on her tombstone, was her nickname.
  • Eleanor was born in 1740, not 1743.
  • Eleanor’s father was not the David Alexander who sold Samuel a 320-acre tract on James Cathey’s Mill Creek (aka Kerr Creek). David was her brother. Her parents were James and Ann Alexander.

Let’s start at the top.

What were Samuel’s dates of birth and death?

Date of birth: many Rankin researchers, including a “findagrave” website for the Goshen Presbyterian Cemetery in Belmont where Samuel was buried, say that he was born in 1732.[1] His tombstone has disappeared, or at least my husband and I couldn’t find it when we visited the cemetery in August 2001. I haven’t seen any evidence that he was born in 1732, although that doesn’t mean there isn’t any. So far as I have found, the only evidence of his birth date is on a film titled “Pre-1914 Cemetery Inscription Survey, Gaston Co., prepared by the Historical Records Survey Service Division, Works Progress Administration.”[2] That survey, taken during the Great Depression when the tombstone was obviously still extant, says that Samuel Rankin was born in 1734. Of course, even in the 1930s, the stone was more than a century old and could easily have been worn or misread. Further, Samuel’s children might not have known his actual date of birth – and Samuel wasn’t around to correct them. In any event, the WPA survey is apparently the only available credible evidence.

Date of death: findagrave and many online family trees give Samuel’s date of death as December 16, 1814. That is the date that Samuel signed his will, and the probability that he died the same day is slim to none.[3] In fact, the actual probability is zero, because he appeared in the Lincoln County records in 1816. On July 26 of that year, he conveyed to his son James a tract on Stanleys Creek adjacent James’ brothers William and Alexander (and Thomas Rhyne, see my article about Samuel’s grandson Sam, son of Richard).[4] That is the last entry I found for Samuel in the Lincoln records until his will was proved in 1826.[5] The WPA cemetery survey says Samuel died in 1816.

Where was Samuel born?

Many Rankin researchers claim Samuel was born in New Castle County, Delaware. That is probably because many believed he was a son of Joseph Rankin of New Castle. Since that has been disproved by YDNA, there is no logic for placing Samuel’s birth where Joseph lived. In fact, I found no evidence of a Rankin named Samuel in New Castle County in the relevant time frame, although there are many records concerning Joseph’s proved sons (Thomas, Joseph Jr., John and William) and possible sons (Robert and James). There seems to be no evidence for any place of birth for Samuel, or even any evidence that he was born in the colonies rather than on the other side of the Atlantic. The answer to the question posed is “I don’t know for sure, but I would bet on Ulster.”

Where did Samuel and Eleanor marry, and who were her parents?

The couple undoubtedly married in North Carolina, not Pennsylvania. That is contrary to the published view of Minnie Puett, who wrote a history of Gaston County. Eleanor’s family – her parents James (not David) and Ann and her brothers William, James, John, David and Robert – were in that part of Anson County that became Rowan by at least March 1752, when there was a Granville grant to James Alexander “of Anson Co., Gent.”[6] Eleanor Alexander was the grantee in a Rowan County gift deed of livestock from her father James on January 12, 1753, when she was not quite thirteen. Before they came to North Carolina, the Alexander family was in Amelia County, Virginia. Here is an article about Eleanor’s family.

 When did Samuel come to North Carolina, and from where?

It is possible that Samuel came to North Carolina from Pennsylvania, as many Rankin researchers think. So did many other Scots-Irish settlers of the Piedmont Plateau. If you had to guess, you would probably say that Samuel came to NC from either Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, or Virginia. The only evidence I have found for a man who might be the same man as Samuel Rankin prior to his arrival in NC is in Chester County, Pennsylvania. Some Samuel Rankin is listed as a freeman (i.e., age 21 or over and single) on the 1753 tax list for Sadsbury Township of Chester County.[7] There are no other Rankins on that list, although there are a number of other Scots-Irish whose names will be familiar to Lincoln/Rowan County researchers. There were several Moores, Beatys and Campbells, as well as a McCleary, Erwin and Kerr. The Samuel Rankin taxed as a freeman in 1753 was born by 1732, which might be why some researchers have deduced that birth year for Eleanor’s husband Samuel.

Wherever he came from, the evidence establishes that Samuel was in North Carolina earlier than some researchers believe, including Minnie Puett. His first land acquisition was a purchase from David Alexander in a deed dated July 14, 1760.[8] The tract was on James Cathey’s Mill Creek (also known as Kerr Creek), and not on Kuykendahl/Dutchman’s Creek, where the family eventually settled. The Revolutionary War Pension application of Samuel Rankin’s son William says that William was born in January 1761 in Rowan County, which puts Samuel in NC no later than April 1760.[9] Assuming he took more than a few months to court Eleanor and that William was their eldest child, one would conclude Samuel was in NC by no later than 1759.

Samuel’s wife was named Eleanor and she was born in 1740, not 1743

Her Goshen Presbyterian Cemetery tombstone, which was still intact (although barely legible) when we visited there in 2001, calls her “Ellen.” So did the Rev. Samuel Meek Rankin in his book about the Rankin and Wharton families, probably based on that tombstone.[10] Her family and friends undoubtedly called her Ellen. Almost all Rankin researchers do the same, and I have been corrected more than once for calling her Eleanor. Nevertheless, I persist. <grin> The records establish that her given name was Eleanor. Period. Her father called her “Elener” [sic] in a gift deed.[11] A Rowan County court called her “Elinor.”[12] At least three deeds (one with her signature as “Elender”) do the same.[13] She and Samuel had a daughter and at least five granddaughters, all named Eleanor rather than Ellen.[14] Those facts establish that her given name was Eleanor, or I will eat my hat. Her nickname was Ellen.

Eleanor was almost certainly born in 1740, not 1743. The Rowan County court allowed her to choose her own guardian in 1755.[15] Doing so required her to be fourteen or older, so she must have been born by at least 1741. Two tombstone surveys say the date of birth on her tombstone was 16 April 1740.[16] The date is now so eroded, however, that it could reasonably be read as 1743 – although that date is foreclosed by the court record.

… and that’s it for now. I’m not done with this family, though: there is more to come.

See you on down the road.

Robin

[1] The findagrave.com website  contains several errors about Samuel and Eleanor, mostly minor, some not so minor.

[2] Family History Library Microfilm No. 0,882,938, item 2.

[3] North Carolina State Library and Archives, File Box C.R.060.801.21, will of Samuel Rankin of Lincoln County dated 16 Dec 1814, proved April 1826. Recorded in Lincoln County Will Book 1: 37.

[4] Lincoln County Deed Book 27: 561, conveyance from Samuel Rankin to James Rankin witnessed by William Rankin and Benjamin Hartgrove. The grantor is not Sam Jr., who owned land in Mecklenburg, not Lincoln, and had already sold his Mecklenburg tracts before 1816.

[5] There was no hurry to probate Samuel’s will because he left each of his surviving children $1, except for James, to whom he left the rest of his estate. With nobody anxious for their payout, there was no reason to rush to the courthouse.

[6] Rowan County Deed Book 3: 547, Granville grant of 25 Mar 1752 to James Alexander, 640 acres in Anson adjacent Andrew Kerr. James gifted half of that tract to his son David Alexander, and David sold it to Samuel Rankin in 1760. See Anson County Deed Book B: 314 et seq. for charming gift deeds of land and livestock from James Alexander and his wife Ann to five of their six children, including Eleanor.

[7] 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).

[8] Rowan County Deed Book 5: 272, deed dated 14 Jul 1760 from David Alexander to Samuel Rankin, 320 acres both sides of James Cathey’s Mill Cr. (AKA Kerr’s Cr.).

[9] Virgil D. White, Genealogical Abstracts of Revolutionary War Pension Files, Volume III: N-Z (Waynesboro, TN: The National Historical Publishing Co., 1992).

[10] Rev. S. M. Rankin, The Rankin and Wharton Families and Their Genealogy (Greensboro, NC: J. J. Stone & Co, 1931).

[11] Personal copy of Rowan County Deed Book B: 315 (obtained by mail from the clerk of court), gift deed from James Alexander to his daughter Elener.

[12] Jo White Linn, Abstracts of the Minutes of the Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, Rowan County, North Carolina, 1753-1762 (Salisbury, NC: 1977), abstract of Order Book 2: 90, entry of 22 Oct 1755, David and Elinor Alexander (spelling per abstractor) came into court and chose their mother Ann Alexander as their guardian.

[13] Jo White Linn, Rowan County North Carolina Deed Abstracts Vol. II. 1762 – 1772 Abstracts of Books 5, 6, 7 (Salisbury, NC: 1972), abstract of Deed Book 6: 225, deed dated 31 Aug 1765 from Samuel Rankin and wife Eleanor (spelling per the abstractor) to John McNeeley, 320 acres on James Cathey’s Mill Creek; original of Lincoln Co. Deed Book 1: 703 (viewed by RRW at the courthouse), deed of 26 Jan 1773 from Samuel Rankin of Tryon to Philip Alston, 150 acres on Kuykendall Creek signed by Samuel Rankin and Elender Rankin.

[14] At least five of Samuel and Eleanor Rankin’s children named a daughter “Eleanor” (not “Ellen”), including Samuel Rankin Jr., Jean Rankin Hartgrove, Robert Rankin, David Rankin, and Eleanor (“Nellie”) Rankin Dickson. See, e.g., an image of the tombstone of Eleanor, wife of Joseph Dickson, Ellis Cemetery, Shelby Co., Ill., died 4 Apr 1848, age 62,  here.

[15] Linn, Abstracts of Minutes, abstract of Order Book 2: 90, 22 Oct 1755, David and Elinor Alexander came into court and chose their mother Ann Alexander as their guardian; the court appointed Ann guardian for Robert, about age 12, son of James Alexander, dec’d.

[16] Family History Library Microfilm No. 0,882,938, item 2. See also Microfilm at Clayton Genealogical library titled “North Carolina Tombstone Records, Vols. 1, 2 and 3,” compiled by the Alexander Martin and J. S. Wellborn chapters of the DAR; transcribed lists were filmed 1935 by the Genealogical Society of Utah. Tombstone of Ellen Rankin, b. 16 April 1740, d. 26 Jan 1802.