Schemes to quell the Revolution, buried treasure, horses in canoes, and more

Imagine a Pennsylvania Tory writing about his plan to kidnap the Continental Congress. The same man proposed several other schemes to “suppress the Rebellion,” some almost plausible. One of his Tory brothers reportedly buried gold coins and other loot before he fled the country, then made a royal pain of himself seeking restitution in London. And, of course, there were the horses in canoes.

But I’m getting ahead of their stories. Here’s the Cliff Notes version …

There were three brothers in York County, Pennsylvania in the late colonial period: William, James (1730-1803), and John (Jr.) Rankin.[1] They were sons of John Rankin (Sr.) and his wife Ann.[2] They owned a lot of Pennsylvania land and lived high-profile public lives. They were Quakers. Each man was married with children. They became Tories, i.e., Loyalists who supported Great Britain during the Revolution. All were “attainted of high treason” and fled to Canada and England to save their necks. One of them left his wife and eight children behind in Pennsylvania. Each man asked the Crown to compensate him for the loss of his estate, which had been confiscated by Pennsylvania.

The information I have about the Tory Rankins is primarily from their “Memorials” — requests for restitution to the British Commission handling Loyalists’ claims. Images of the original Memorials are available online.[3]

William (d. before 1816)

William was a Justice of the York County Court of Pleas & Quarter Sessions by at least 1771.[4] He was the commander of the Second Battalion of York County militia, holding the rank of Colonel.[5] He was a representative to the Pennsylvania Assembly.[6] His wife was Jane Rhodes, a Quaker, with whom he had three sons and five daughters.[7] He claimed about 2,500 acres of his land in Pennsylvania were confiscated,[8] including a one-third interest owned with his brothers in the “Middletown Ferry.”[9]

William claimed he was originally a staunch supporter of redress for the Colonies against British oppression. He never resigned his commission in the militia. This required some artful tap-dancing when he made his request for restitution. He explained that he changed his mind about supporting the Colonies after what he considered a generous offer by the British to redress grievances, plus his growing perception that the colonists’ objective was complete independence. That was presumably plain by July 1776, even on the Pennsylvania frontier. He would immediately have resigned his commission, he said, except that he was persuaded he might help the British more if he retained command of the militia.

He concluded that was wise, because the militia was soon ordered to destroy the estates of certain Tories in York County. He claims to have carried out the order in some manner that protected the endangered estates.[10] Gary, the military expert in the family, is skeptical — how does one manage that? “Yeah, we burned ’em to the ground, but please don’t go look.”

By 1778, William was making regular proposals to Sir General Henry Clinton after the British captured Philadelphia. The Continental Congress fled Philadelphia, initially to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. They then went to York, where they met in the York County courthouse, virtually under William’s nose. He proposed kidnapping the entire delegation and delivering them as prisoners of war to Philadelphia.[11] Rankin claimed the delegation was guarded by “not more than forty invalids.” The delegation itself was small: by the time it was meeting in York, a mere eighteen delegates were attending.[12]

His strategy was sound, says Gary. Washington’s army was then in camp at Valley Forge. The Susquehanna, rendered unfordable by the spring thaw, lay between Valley Forge and the York courthouse. William proposed taking the captured delegation south to the Chesapeake and delivering the prisoners to a British frigate, presumably a bit north of Baltimore (controlled by the Patriots). The British Navy controlled the Bay.

For reasons William couldn’t fathom, General Clinton did not endorse the plan. Could Clinton have smelled a trap? After all, Rankin was still a Colonel in the York County militia and a member of the Pennsylvania General Assembly in the spring of 1778. Also, Clinton believed — probably correctly — that British efforts should concentrate on defeating General Washington’s army. But Gary would have given the kidnap scheme a thumbs up.

William said he was so demoralized by the rejection of his proposal that he thought about giving up on helping defeat the Revolution. He was persuaded otherwise by a message from Joey Galloway, who had been an influential member of the First Continental Congress but became an opponent of American independence.[13] Galloway, who was the Philadelphia Chief of Police after the British captured the city, encouraged William to continue expanding “the Associators,” a group of Loyalists who took oaths to the Crown and reported to William.

Another scheme of William’s was supported by some in the King’s army. The main supply magazine for Washington’s army was located about midway between York and Carlisle, within spitting distance of William’s residence. It contained substantial stores of beef, pork, gunpowder, guns, and the like. Here, however, Rankin’s tendency to exaggerate and his inevitable request for British help probably doomed the proposal. He claimed that the supply magazine was guarded by 600 people, of whom 400 were “Associators.” Further, he asked for a detachment under British Col. Butler, then in Detroit, to come to Pennsylvania to join up with the Associators, who would seize the depot. Gen. Clinton agreed to the proposal, said William, except he declined to order Butler from Detroit to Pennsylvania.[14] The plan never happened, although it’s hard to understand why the British did not try to capture the supply depot themselves.

The Patriots finally noticed William. In March 1781, he was put in the York Town jail. With the help of friends, he escaped and fled to New York. There, he gave Gen. Clinton a “full account” of the Associators. He claimed a force of the Associators could “put the three provinces of Maryland, Pennsylvania & the Delaware Counties into the peace of the Crown.” Rankin needed only a small detachment of British soldiers and supplies of arms and ammunition for the Associators. Like William’s other proposals, that never took place.

Nevertheless, William persisted. Ultimately, he claimed some 20,000 Associators under his command. By contrast, there were never more than 48,000 men in the Continental Army at any one time.[15] Surely, either William knowingly exaggerated or he was unrealistic.

Gen. Clinton privately expressed his opinion that Col. Rankin was “not much of an officer … but he appears to be a plain sensible man worth attending to.”[16] Perhaps weary of William’s proposals, Clinton sent him to Virginia in May 1781 to present his plans to Gen. Phillips. However, Phillips had died and been replaced by Cornwallis by the time William arrived. Cornwallis also declined to implement any of William’s proposals. One of them required sending a detachment of British troops up the Chesapeake to rescue “upward of 150” Associators who had been betrayed and imprisoned in Maryland.

However, William arrived when Cornwallis was fresh from his purported victory against General Nathaniel Greene’s band of mostly backwoods farmers at Guilford Courthouse in March 1781.[17] The British suffered heavy losses in that battle, prompting a member of Parliament to exclaim that they could not afford any more such victories. Cornwallis cannot have been inclined to use his exhausted forces to rescue some of Col. Rankin’s friends in Maryland.

Having no luck with Cornwallis, William returned to New York. When the British evacuated in November 1783, he went to England, where he lived on a pension of £120 a year and was awarded £2,320 to cover the loss of property confiscated by Pennsylvania.[18]

His mother Ann Noblet helped support William’s wife Jane and eight children during his exile, creating a trust for their use and funding it with land given her by her late husband Abraham Noblet.[19] There doesn’t seem to be a Find-a-Grave memorial for William in London, although he lived in Mill Hill, Hendon Parish, in the County of Middlesex. So did his brother James. His children all remained in America at least through 1816.[20]

James (1730 – 1803)

James was also a delegate in the Pennsylvania General Assembly back when his focus was apparently on acquiring land. When the revolutionary unpleasantness began, he said he “set his face like a Flint” and openly and actively opposed “every measure and step taken by the Seditious leaders.”[21] James claims he broke up “a public Election to constitute a new fangled rebel Provincial Assembly which the populace had conveined [sic] for the purpose … by appearing in person … pointing out to them the illegality of their proceedings and absolutely forbidding them to proceed on pain of having the Court House in which they were then assembled leveled about their Ears.”

Not surprisingly, he says he “soon became the object of Popular outrage and suffered not only every insult hurtful to the feelings of an honest Man and a Man of Spirit but real Injury of his Property and was moreover hourly exposed to emminent [sic] Danger of his person from being considered as the most mischievous Character to the Cause in the part of the Country where he resided.”

His brother John’s Memorial, however, says James “never took any part one side or other,” suggesting that James may not have been the most mischievous character in the area. Or perhaps John Jr. had an agenda: James expressed contempt for his brother in a submission to the Commission, saying John “was never worth £200 in his life.”

In addition to breaking up the election at the York court house, James helped some British soldiers who were imprisoned in York. One of them, a Lieut. Robert Chase, swore that James “always assisted us … for which he fell under the displeasure both of the Committee appointed to sit at York Town as well as the Committee of Safety at Philadelphia.” James was soon sent to jail. He escaped and fled with his family to the British lines in September 1777. From there, he went to Nova Scotia and then to England.

His real work began in earnest in England: convincing the Commission evaluating Loyalists’ claims to pay him more than £74,000 in Pennsylvania currency for his real and personal property. That was then equivalent to £44,000 British sterling. His estate included twenty-two farms and plantations, a fishery, two ferries, a mill, and “seven Negroes.” He was asking for roughly $105,000,000 in today’s U.S. dollars.

He stayed busy in his own behalf. He had (back in the Colonies) boarded a British ship in Chesapeake Bay to ask Lt. Chase to provide evidence of his help to the British prisoners in York. He sought witnesses and dug up old facts — e.g., an arbitration property valuation in 1768 — to bolster his case. He testified to the Commission in person, when (he said) they were “candid” about their view of his claims. One gathers they expressed some skepticism.

Mostly, he bombarded the Commission with letters about his claim. Frankly, he sounds arrogant and entitled. He asked for a speedy hearing because his “allowance is inadequate for support of his family and obliges him to incur debts.” He noted that other claims filed after his had already been considered. He wrote about “a small estate he wants to buy if assured he would participate in the £178,000 granted by Parliament.” He wanted to know if he would come in for payments of 30 or 40% of the last grant for the Loyalists, whatever that means. When the Commission complained that James lacked proper deeds, his reply asked for “Mr. Penn” to testify on his behalf. I can’t figure out who that was, but he sounds like he might be a member of William Penn’s family.

In December 1788, James complained that the amount he had received thus far — £10,772 in total — was “not one half of the real loss” he suffered. The amount received is equivalent to about  £1,889,515.03 in 2013.[22] In 2024 US dollars, that is roughly $2.4 million, which is probably close enough, give or take a million, to explain why James exhausted the Commissioners’ patience.[23] James’s actual award was a substantial multiple of what many others received.[24]

The final straw was apparently James’s letter of 15 March 1790, asking if the Commissioners “had any news” for him about his claim. The Commission responded with asperity a mere two days later: “The Claimant’s case has already undergone a full ______ [unreadable] & the Commissioners have done everything in it which they consider themselves at liberty to do.” With apologies to Peter O’Toole in Becket, one could easily picture a Commissioner saying, “Will no one rid us of this meddlesome claimant?”[25] The documents in James’s file indicate that was his last exchange with the Commissioners.

My friend Jess “Gams” Guyer found an image of James’s will in the prerogative court at Canterbury. James named his wife Ann and eight children, but he probably had another son who had remained in York County and predeceased him. So far as I have found, three children never left in Pennsylvania, one died in the West Indies, one may have returned to Canada from England, and four remained in England.[26] His widow Ann, birth name unknown, was either his second or third wife.[27] And that is all I have found about James Rankin.

John Jr.

Of the three brothers, John Jr. was the least successful financially. He left little information in either his Memorial or York County records. He was a militia Captain, although he doesn’t mention that in his Memorial.[28] His brother William was his agent in John’s claim before the Commission. The information in his Memorial was short and sweet; John claimed two pieces of real property and very little personalty. John said he was living on one of James’s farms at one time. John’s Memorial, bless his heart, identified both James and William as his brothers. I don’t know how much he was awarded for his claim, if anything.

John said that he, too, assisted the British prisoners in York, and thereby “brought upon himself the hatred and Resentment of the Rebels, was obliged to fly for refuge to the Kings Army then at Philadelphia, had his property real and personal sold and his Person proscribed and attainted by High Treason, and is now for Refuge in the Province of Nova Scotia.”

Specifically, John said he “joined the British in March 1778, and remained with them until the evacuation of New York.[29] He came to Annapolis [Canada] in 1783 and settled in New Brunswick.” He went back to Pennsylvania at least once, about 1785, for trading; he was the only one of the three brothers to return, so far as I know.

John’s wife was Abigail Rhodes, sister of his brother William’s wife Jane Rhodes. John and Abigail had three children: two daughters (given names unknown) and a son Rhodes Rankin, a mariner. John also identified himself as a mariner, stating in an affirmation that he owned a schooner named Rebeckah.[30]

Finally, the horses and the canoes: John Rankin Sr., the family patriarch

One of those hoary old histories of Pennsylvania families says that a John Rankin emigrated to Pennsylvania from England before 1735, probably from Yorkshire, and probably by 1730.[31] He is almost certainly the John Rankin who obtained a 1733 grant in what was then Lancaster County on a memorable waterway: Yellow Breeches Creek. The creek location establishes that John’s grant wound up in York County.

Some of the English Quakers, including John Rankin (Sr.), reportedly crossed the Susquehanna from east to west about midway between Lancaster and Carlisle in what is now Middletown, at the mouth of Swatara Creek.[32] That location subsequently became the site of the so-called “Middletown Ferry,” jointly owned by the three Tory brothers. Here’s the canoe story …

“Some of the English Quakers crossed the Susquehanna [in Middletown] as early as 1730.  Five years later a temporary road was opened on the York County side.  Thomas Hall, John McFesson, Joseph Bennett, John Heald, John Rankin and Ellis Lewis from Chester County, crossed the Susquehanna from the mouth of the Swatara, and selected lands on the west side of the river in the year 1732.  It has often been related of them, that when they arrived at the eastern bank of the river, and there being no other kinds of crafts than canoes to cross, they fastened two together, and placed their horses’ front feet in one canoe and the hind feet in another, then piloted the frail crafts, with their precious burden, across the stream by means of poles.”

Glad I didn’t have to help load the horses.

I don’t know anything else about John Sr. except that he died in 1748.[33]  That was the perfect time to insure that his estate administration would fall between the cracks, since York was created from Lancaster in 1748. I didn’t find his estate in either county.

Epilog

 I will be happy to share mostly verbatim transcriptions of the three Memorials with anyone who asks. Will also share my start on an outline descendant tree for this family, just in case someone has a yen to find a living male Rankin who might Y-DNA test.

See you on down the road.

Robin

                  [1] Birth and death dates are proved only for James Rankin, per his tombstone. Online trees show James as the eldest and William as the youngest, with no evidence that I have seen.

                  [2] Ann Rankin’s birth surname is usually given as either Brown or Moore, although I have found no evidence for either. John Rankin Jr. is proved as a son of John Sr. by a Quaker marriage record; John Rankin Jr.’s Memorial (request to the Crown for restitution) proves that James and William were his brothers; and Ann Rankin Noblit/Noblet is proved as William Rankin’s mother by deeds. In short, there is a wealth of evidence establishing the members of this Rankin family.

            [3] If you are interested in the originals, John Rankin Jr.’s Memorial begins at image 65 of 235 in this link. James Rankin’s Memorial begins at image 115 of 482 here. William Rankin’s Memorial can be found in the same link as James’s, beginning at image 234.

                  [4] York Co., PA Deed Book D: 374, 400, 523, all three deeds dated May 1771, each one acknowledged by the grantor before William Rankin, Justice.

                  [5] Colonel William Rankin is listed as commander of the Second Battalion, York Co. Militia here.

                  [6] William Rankin was reportedly a member of the Pennsylvania Assembly from Sept. 30, 1777 to June 27, 1778, see info here.

                  [7] The children of William and Jane Rhodes Rankin were James, John, William, Ann (m. Nathan Potts), Abigail (m. William Webb), Catharine (m. Jesse Walker), Mary (m. Isaac Walker) and a daughter who m. a Mr. Branson. York Co., PA Deed Book 3B: 312.

                  [8] William Rankin’s Memorial lists confiscated properties of about 2700 acres, including his one-third interest along with his brothers in the 300 acres with the Middletown Ferry. He removed a 220-acre tract called “Noblett’s Old Planation” from his claim, noting that his mother had claimed and taken possession of it. A deed proves his mother was Ann (Rankin) Noblett. See York Co., PA Deed Book 2I: 305, 1790 deed from Ann Noblet conveying a tract in trust for the use of Jane Rankin, identified as the wife of Ann’s son William Rankin.

      [9] History of York County, Pennsylvania, John Gibson, Editor (Chicago: F. A. Battey Publishing Co., 1886) 630. The Middletown Ferry, located in Newberry Township, opened in 1738. It was originally called Hussey’s Ferry.  The ferry obtained its present name and was licensed in 1760.

                  [10] The story is repeated in an online article in Encyclopedia.com, citing Carl Van Doren, Secret History of the American Revolution (New York: Viking Press, 1941), at this link.

            [11] William “sent a confidential message to the General [Clinton] proposing that if he would send a Frigate or two (& more would not be necessary) to receive them in the Cheasapeak, he would deliver to him every member of the Congress then sitting & directing the affairs of the Rebellion at the Town of York … he was in his own Mind perfectly convinced that the Attempt would be crowned with Success: Washington’s Army, the whole force of the Rebellion was then at the Valley Forge sixty miles distant from York, a river unfordable at that season lay between his army and York. The place where the frigate was proposed to receive the Congress was about forty miles from the place of their Capture. The associated Loyalists under my command, being reputable farmers of the Country, had provided themselves with horses, arms, & ammunition, & could have delivered the Congress in a few hours to the Captain of the Frigate, which might have been ordered to receive them.”

                  [12] The number of delegates meeting at the York courthouse comes from the Mt. Vernon  website. The reduced delegation nevertheless accomplished some important work, including drafting the Articles of Confederation.

                  [13] Here is an article about Galloway, an impressive character.

                  [14] Christopher Sower, a Pennsylvania Loyalist, told Gen. Clinton that if he would direct that Butler make a raid on the principal rebel supply depot, Rankin and his supporters could not only assist in this operation but could also arm themselves for future action. See this article. Sower was Clinton’s link to the Loyalists in the frontier counties of Lancaster, Northumberland, and York.

            [15] For information on the Continental Army, see article here.

                  [16] Gen. Clinton expressed his opinion of William Rankin in a letter to Gen. Phillips quoted here.

                  [17] The Battle of Guilford Courthouse was a Pyhrric victory for the British and probably the turning point in the Southern Campaign, see this article.

                  [18] See this article for William’s award from the Commission.

                  [19] York Co., PA Deed Book 2I: 305.

            [20] York Co., PA Deed Book 3B: 312, deed dated 17 Jun 1816 from the heirs of Jane Walker (Jane Rhoads Rankin Walker, William Rankin’s wife) to Michael Stormington. The heirs: (1) James Rankin of Missouri Territory; (2) John Rankin of Newberry Twp.; (3) William Rankin of Philadelphia Co.; (4) Nathan Potts of Newberry Twp. and wife Ann (Rankin) Potts; (5) William Webb of Abington Twp., Montgomery Co., and wife Abigail (Rankin) Webb; (6) Jesse Walker of Wayne Co. and wife Catharine (Rankin) Walker; (7A and 7B), two grandchildren, children of Jane Rankin Walker’s daughter ________ Rankin Branson, Thomas Robinson and wife Anna and Charles Branson, all of Chester Co., and (8) Isaac Walker and wife Mary (Rankin) Walker of Washington Co.

                  [21] Here is a link to original images of James’s “Memorial,” available with a subscription on Ancestry. It is undoubtedly also available free at FamilySearch.org, although I have not looked there. James’s claim begins at Image 116 of 482.

            [22] £10,000 sterling in 1788 is equivalent in purchasing power to about  £1,889,515 in 2013.

            [23] £1,889,515 sterling in U.S. dollars = $2,403,211. Wow.

            [24] A mere £1,700 was more than many others received, according to historian Maya Jasanoff. See this article.

            [25] Peter O’Toole said,  as King Henry II, “Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?”  referring to Thomas Becket, played by Richard Burton in Becket.

                  [26] James’s likely eldest son John died in York in 1785; his son Abraham and daughter Ann Rankin Nebinger also probably remained in Pennsylvania. Son William died in Granada in 1820, see info here. Son James Jr. may have returned to Canada. I have no record of the remaining children — Richard, Rebecca, Mary, and a second son John — who may have remained in England.

                  [27] James’s first wife was Rebecca Bennett, named in a family history, see Mary Elizabeth Bennett Durand and Edward Durand, Bennett Family History: William Bennett and Grace Davis (married 1789), their ancestry and their descendants (apparently self-published at Hassell Street Press, 2021). Rebecca reportedly died in 1773. James’s Memorial says he had a wife with him in Nova Scotia after he left NYC in 1783, suggesting he remarried in either Pennsylvania or New York. His Find-a-Grave memorial identifies his widow as Ann, birth name unknown. The transcription of the tombstone says “his tomb is erected by his disconsolate widow as a tribute of respect to his memory and a token of affection to a most tender husband.” See Find-a-Grave memorial here.

                  [28]  Captain John Rankin, 2nd Company, Newberry Twp., 3d Battalion, York Co. militia.

                  [29] On November 25, 1783, Gen. Washington rode into New York City with nearly 800 American soldiers as the British forces evacuated.

                  [30] John Rankin’s statement about the schooner Susannah was erroneously included among the papers filed with James’s memorial.

            [31] Colonial and Revolutionary Families of Pennsylvania: Genealogical and Personal Memoirs (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Co., 1932, Vol. 4, editor Wilfred Jordan) 579. John Rankin Sr.’s son James was born in Pennsylvania according to James’s Memorial. James’s tombstone gives his birth date as 1730. Assuming that is correct, then John Sr. must have been in the Colonies at least by then.

                  [32] History of York County, Pennsylvania  (Chicago: F. A. Battey Publishing Co., 1886, John Gibson, editor) 630.

                  [33] John Rankin Sr.’s intestate estate in Newberry Township, Lancaster County was probated in 1748. There do not seem to be records of the estate in either Lancaster or York, except for an index to Lancaster County letters of administration. FHL Film No. 5534638, Image 117, John Rankin, 1748.

Henry Willis d. 1794 – A Missing Child of Joshua Willis

I recently vowed (again) to get rid of paper by consolidating miscellaneous notes into my “county data tables.” That is where I keep records of pertinent genealogical documents and events.

Almost immediately, some notes from Sandra Willis’s website (here) related to Caroline County, Maryland caught my eye.[1] Her abstracts of estate inventories included the following:

Henry Willis – 1 Feb 1794[2]

John Willis – administrator

Kin listed – Joshua Lucas, Deborah Lucas

Total Inventory – £240/2/0

Further, Sandra’s abstracts of guardian bonds had this information:

9 Jun 1795 – Nancy Willis orphan daughter of Henry Willis – bound to Rhoda Willis. Rhoda Willis made guardian of Nancy Willis[3]

11 Aug 1795 – Rhoda Willis, widow of Henry Willis deceased, guardian to Nancy Willis daughter of Henry Willis – Valuation of lands called “Painter’s Range” containing 222 acres – deduct ¾ for other 3 children (not named).[4]

These cryptic entries show that a Henry Willis died intestate in early 1794, based on the date of the estate inventory.[5]Henry left a widow and one minor child, Nancy, who inherited a one-fourth interest in a tract of land called “Painter’s Range.”

The entries are intriguing. John Willis, administrator of the estate, and Deborah (Willis) Lucas, kindred, were both children of Joshua Willis, a successful planter in Caroline County, Maryland. Also, the land called “Painter’s Range” was connected to Joshua Willis. Henry Willis seems to have been a relative. Was he also Joshua Willis’s child? Initially, I did not think so. An earlier article on the heirs of Joshua Willis found  here established that Joshua had eleven children at the time he died. None of them were named Henry. This led to a series of questions. The answers established — spoiler alert here — that Henry was indeed a son of Joshua Willis. Here are the questions and answers.

How many children did Henry and Rhoda Willis have?

Answer – One.

The guardian bond abstract states there were four children. However, Henry had married “Rhody” Batchelor in Caroline County, Maryland on 12 June 1793.[6] They had only been married about six or seven months when he died. At his death, his wife Rhoda probably was pregnant with their only child, Nancy, who was born in the spring or summer of 1794. If there were other children in the household, they were not Rhoda’s.

Why did Nancy get only one-fourth of the real estate?

Answer – There are a couple of ways this could have happened.

As Henry’s child, Nancy was entitled to his property under the laws of intestate distribution. She would receive less that 100 percent of his property if there were other equal heirs at law — that is, siblings or half-siblings. She clearly was the only child of Henry and Rhoda. Moreover, the 1790 census shows Henry alone, without any children or an earlier wife. If Henry had any children born between 1970 and Nancy’s birth, there should be a record of a guardianship similar to Nancy’s. There is no such record. We can rule out half-siblings.

However, there is another possibility. Nancy would only get a fraction of the land if she were Henry’s sole heir AND he only owned or was entitled to that fraction. That begs the next question.

 Did Henry own “Painter’s Range?”

Answer – No.

There is no record that Henry Willis ever purchased any land, either alone or with partners, much less land called “Painter’s Range.” Instead, the record shows Joshua Willis Sr. purchased 393 acres of land by that name in 1778.[7] There is no record of Joshua selling it before he died in about 1795. Over his lifetime, Joshua acquired more than twelve hundred acres of land in Caroline and Dorchester Counties. He still possessed most of it at his death.

In about 1790, Joshua made a will, which unfortunately has been lost.[8] The earlier article on the heirs of Joshua Willis covered in detail the various documents proving that Joshua made a will devising specific tracts of land. That article also concluded that Joshua had a total of eleven children, none named Henry.

Was that earlier article wrong?

Answer – No and Yes.

No, because the earlier article correctly identifies eleven of Joshua’s children based on the documents underlying that analysis.

Yes, because it missed the documents related to Henry, his widow and daughter, plus land that Joshua clearly owned and almost certainly devised to someone in his will.

What gift of land in Joshua’s will could prove Henry was his son?

Answer – See Occam’s Razor.

The simplest answer is most likely correct. Joshua’s 1790 will most likely devised 222 acres of “Painter’s Range” jointly to his four eldest sons in fee simple, with the common proviso that should any die without heirs, their share would revert to the other devisees.[9] Those sons would include Joshua Jr., Charles, and Thomas, plus Henry Willis.[10] Henry died in early 1794, and his only heir – the afterborn child, Nancy, automatically became an heir under Joshua’s will under the law of intestate descent and distribution.

Joshua Willis Sr. probably died before 9 Jun 1795, when Rhoda Willis was appointed guardian of Nancy Willis. He definitely died before the 11 Aug 1795 land valuation, because by that time Nancy was clearly entitled to one-fourth of the Painter’s Range acreage.

Did Nancy ever get her share?

Answer – No.

In 1800, Joshua Jr. sold part of Painter’s Range without the participation of any of the other heirs.[11] One way that could legally happen was if the other three heirs sold their interests to Joshua Jr. However, there is no record of a sale to Joshua Jr. from any heir, including from Nancy or her guardian. The other way it could legally happen is if the other heirs all died without leaving an heir of their own. In fact, Charles Willis and Thomas Willis both died without issue before 1800.[12]We can conclude that Nancy had also died before reaching the age of six in 1800.

What have we done here?

Answer – A couple of things.

We have presented reasonably conclusive evidence of another son and a grandchild of Joshua Willis Sr. (which will have no bearing on anyone’s ancestry search because Nancy left no descendants).

And we have proven how easy it is to get led astray from good intentions like eliminating paper and consolidating notes. We did, in fact, get rid of three notes, but it took a week to do so! At the time, however, it was bitterly cold outside, so this was undoubtedly the right and fun thing to do.

One final question.

Was there any happy ending to this sad tale?

Answer – Yes.

In 1796, the widow Rhoda Willis married Allen Parker, who happened to be one of the securities on her guardianship bond in 1795.[13] The 1810 census shows Allen Parker in Caroline County. His household appears to include Rhoda and five children — four sons and one daughter, all under the age of ten.[14]

Good Hunting!

____________

[1] Sandra Willis was a fabulous researcher who abstracted many original documents from court houses and the Maryland State Archives. She took the time to share her research notes in a well-organized website. She also provided in her will that the site be maintained so others could benefit from the work she had done. Check it out.

[2] Caroline County Original Inventories, Box 9450 (1792-1799)

[3] Caroline County Guardian Bonds, Liber JR-B, Folio 243

[4] Caroline County Guardian Bonds, Liber JR-B, Folio 253

[5] If he had made a will, an executor rather than an administrator would have been named to handle the estate.

[6] Sandra’s “Index to Caroline County Marriage Licenses by Henry Downes Cranor” at mdwillis.nabiki.com.

[7] Carolina County Deed Book A:269 – Deed dated 24 Mar 1778, filed 23 Apr 1778 – Robert Lloyd Nicols of Talbot County, merchant, sold to Joshua Willis of Caroline County, planter, for sum of 412 pounds 18 shillings 3 pence all of a tract of land part of “Painter’s Range” lying lately in Dorchester County but now in Caroline County containing 393¼ acres more or less.

[8] Not only is the will lost, but there are no estate inventories, administration bonds, or other usual probate records for Joshua Willis. He owned significant real estate in both Caroline and Dorchester Counties. It is likely that his eldest son, Joshua Jr., was executor of the estate and, living in Dorchester at the time of his father’s death, filed the will for probate in Dorchester out of convenience. Unfortunately, those records were lost in the 1851 fire at the County Court House.

[9] Joshua’s will contained a similar provision regarding land devised to Charles, which descended to his brothers Peter and Thomas after Charles’s death in 1797.

[10] The earlier article lists eleven children in likely birth order.

[11] Carolina County Deed Book G:293

[12] Charles died in Dec 1797 based on an estate inventory dated 30 Dec 1797. A deposition of Captain William Haskins dated 5 Nov 1804 states that Charles and Thomas Willis died without issue before that date. There is no probate record for Thomas Willis, but he must have died prior to the 1800 sale of “Painter’s Range.”

[13] Caroline County Court Bonds, 1785-1892, 243 and 253.

[14] Had Nancy lived, she would have been 16 in that census.

The John Willis Family of Dorchester and Caroline Counties, Maryland

Note: Since posting an article years ago about the John Willis Family, several facts have come to light about his origin and descendants. This article replaces the original and incorporates those facts .

John Willis Sr. was born before 1668 in Wantage, (then) Berkshire, England. He grew up with fond memories of this village before emigrating as a young man to the Province of Maryland. There, John gained employment with the Dorchester County Court at Cambridge and married in about 1687. He and his wife initially lived on rented land, raising a family and working off the cost of his passage to the New World. He farmed the rented property as a primary livelihood since the part time nature of the work at court sessions did not provide steady or sufficient income. In 1702, John was able to patent his own property and acquired 50 acres, which he named ‘Wantage’ after his hometown.

By the time the family moved onto Wantage, John and his wife had six children: John Jr., Andrew, Thomas, William, Grace, and Elizabeth. With two teenage boys to help with the land, the Willises primarily raised cattle and hogs. There were plenty of chores for the younger children. The Willises formed a close friendship with the families of neighbour William and Jennet Jones and with John and Dorothy Stevens who resided at ‘Littleworth’.

As the years went by, John Jr. learned the carpentry trade and married Mary (last name unknown). They moved to rented land close by. Andrew married Jennet Jones, the neighbour’s daughter, and rented land near William Jones’ new property on Shoal Creek. Thomas became a cobbler. William, the youngest son, married Judith Seward, and they lived at Wantage with the elder Willises and Grace, Elizabeth, and Thomas. After Thomas married Grace Bexley, he and John Jr. acquired adjoining land in part of Dorchester County that would become Caroline County. William took over running Wantage, while Judith helped care for an ailing Mrs. Willis. Before long, Mrs. Willis passed away leaving William and Judith along with Grace and Elizabeth living at Wantage with John Sr.

 As the health of John Sr. began to fail in 1712, he made a will rewarding William (and his wife Judith), Grace and Elizabeth for their steadfast support. John Jr. contested the will, but it was allowed to stand. John Jr., Andrew, and William each had children. For the next three hundred years, descendants of these three brothers intermarried with families on the Eastern Shore. The family history is a rich and interesting story of women and men. A handful fought in the revolution. Some were instrumental in establishing the early Methodist church in the region. Most were farmers. Some became doctors and Court justices.

This narrative contains some speculative details about John Willis and his family. However, it is consistent with the provable facts. The following part of the article about the family’s humble beginnings in the New World presents that proof.

Birth and Birthplace

The best clue to John Sr.’s home of origin is the name he gave his land. If he followed the custom of some of his peers, the name Wantage likely came from his hometown. A town of that name is located then in Berkshire, now in Oxfordshire, England, about 50 miles west of London and 80 miles from the city of Cambridge. Internet research shows the town is currently home to several Willis families. The parish registers for St. Peter and St. Paul Church at Wantage list marriages and births/christenings from 1538 onwards. Among the marriages are three generations of men named John Willis, the last of whom might be the father of John Willis Sr. of Maryland1. The marriage record shows a John Willis married Elizabeth Chapman on 11 Apr 1664. Among the children baptised by this couple is a John Willis on 3 Jan 1668/9. This is strong circumstantial evidence that John Sr. in Maryland is the child of John and Elizabeth of Wantage.

John Willis Sr. was not the only person from Wantage, England, in the Province. A common labourer named Henry Willis came to Maryland in August 1684 at age 21 on the John & Elizabeth bound to John Moore of London for four years2. The ship’s record names Henry’s father as Leonard Willis3. Evidence that another person immigrated from Wantage supports the theory that John Sr. did as well.

Possible First Appearance – 1694

The possible first appearance in Dorchester County records of John Willis Sr. is in 1694 when a man by that name was an appraiser of the estate of William Pritchett4. A John Willis served as appraiser again in 1700 and 17035. It is logical to assume the appraiser in all three cases is the same John Willis. An appraiser had to be sworn to this duty and served only with the approval of the court. John Sr. served as the Court Crier at the Dorchester County Court and lived on land a few miles from Cambridge, the county capital6. Those connections at Court might have led to his appointment as an appraiser.

Land Acquisition – 1702

John Willis patented land from the provincial land office in 1702, acquiring 50 acres called Wantage on the Blackwater River7. As already discussed, John may have named this tract after his hometown. John Willis appeared on the 1704 rent rolls as a planter, indicating he was a landholder8. Wantage would remain in the family until 1734.

Death of John Willis Sr. – 1712

John Willis made a will on 18 September 1712 and died soon after. The will was presented for probate on 24 November 17129. John Sr. had six children surviving at the time he wrote his will. The will only names four of the six. Eldest son John contested the will in part because two children were not named.

In his will, John Sr. provided that:

    1. Son William and his heirs would inherit all land , a mare, a cow, and three yearlings;
    2. Daughter Grace would inherit a horse, two cows, three yearlings, and all the land if William died without issue;
    3. Daughter Elizabeth would inherit a horse, bed and furniture, and a great chest; and
    4. Son John would inherit 12 pence.
    5. The will named William Jones and Rice Levena as executors.

John Willis Jr., eldest son of the deceased, filed a will contest on 3 December 1712, asking that administration not be granted the executors because there were only two witnesses to the will, there were two more children not mentioned in the will and he did not believe his father to be of sound mind at the time of making the will. William Jones, one of the witnesses to the will and a named executor, appeared in support of John Jr10.

The Court ordered on 20 February 1712/3 that all parties appear in April to give evidence regarding John Sr.’s mental condition at the time he made his will11. I have found nothing resolving the dispute in the Dorchester County court records, nor any reference to the contest in the probate records of the Prerogative Court. However, apparently the Court ruled against the contest because probate continued under the named executors. Had the Court sustained the contest, the Court would have nullified the will and appointed an administrator. Instead, Inventories and Administration Accounts filed by the executors for the estate of John Willis in 1714 and 1715 indicate that probate moved forward12.

A few other comments regarding the terms of the will and its administration are in order. First, the will does not name a spouse of John Willis. We can logically assume that she predeceased John. Were she alive, he likely would have named her in the will with a life estate in the land or otherwise provided for her care by their adult children. Last, the will does not use a married surname for either daughter. We can conclude that they were unmarried in 1712.

Unnamed Children of John Willis

Andrew – Andrew is a proven son.

    1. An inventory of the estate of John Willis filed at the April 1714 Court Session names Andrew as a son13.
    2. Andrew continued to live reasonably close to Wantage and his father-in-law was a former neighbour. William Jones, one of the executors of John’s will, owned land adjacent to Wantage and is the father of Jennet Jones who married Andrew Willis. Also, Andrew Willis and William Jones are noted in the 1718 will of Thomas Ennals and in a 1722 land sale as having had land adjoining each other at the head of Shoal Creek14. The head of Shoal Creek is about three miles from Cambridge (near the current Cambridge-Dorchester Airport) and a mile or so from the headwaters of the Little Blackwater River.
    3. In a 1730 deposition, Andrew Willis, then aged about 40, gave a sworn statement about the location of a boundary marker for a tract of land called “Littleworth” or “Stevens”. Littleworth frequently appears in the land records as having been adjacent to Wantage. Andrew’s knowledge of the boundary would logically derive from having lived at Wantage as a youth15.

Thomas – Thomas is also a proven son.

    1. John Sharp sold a 50-acre tract of land on Marshy Creek Branch above Hunting Creek to John Willis Jr. on 10 March 171716. Less than five months later, Sharp sold an adjoining 50 acres to Thomas Wallis (Willis)17. Clerks frequently varied the spelling of the name Willis, sometimes within the same document. Those variants include Wallis, Wallace, Wallice, Willace, Willes and Willous. In fact, John Willis Sr. appears in early rent rolls as John “Wallis” in possession of “Wantige”18.
    2. Thomas Willis died intestate in 1722. Grace Wallis (Willis) administered his estate in 1722-172419. The 15 Nov 1722 inventory filed by Grace Willis was also signed by Andrew Willis and John Willis as kindred. Their relationship to Thomas is not stated, but certainly they were his brothers.
    3. Andrew Willis and William Willis each named a son Thomas, presumably after their brother.

In conclusion, the John Willis family of Dorchester and Caroline Counties included sons John, Andrew, Thomas and William, and daughters Grace and Elizabeth. Assigning accurate dates of birth to the children is problematic. Andrew was born in about 1690. John Jr. was the eldest son and therefore born at least by 1689. A deposition given sometime between 1746 and 1752 establishes that William was born between 1694 and 170021. Grace was named before Elizabeth in the 1712 will, indicating she was likely the elder of the two. The relative ages of Thomas and William are also uncertain, but I suspect William was the younger. It was not uncommon for the youngest son, the last to leave the household, to serve as a caregiver for ageing or ill parents. Such service would put him in good graces with regard to inheritance. The same could be said of a daughter who remained in the household and unmarried.

Establishing a birth order is not necessary to the analysis, but provides a theoretical picture of the family consistent with the known facts. A feasible order of birth satisfying that criterion is:

1688 – John Jr.                                               1694 – William

1690 – Andrew                                                1696 – Grace

1692 – Thomas                                                1698 – Elizabeth

Disposition of Wantage

William Willis and his wife Judith apparently lived at Wantage until 1734, when they sold it for six pounds to Richard Seward, likely Judith’s brother. However, two weeks prior to that sale, eldest son John Willis sold the same land to Henry Ennalls for 20 shillings.22 The two sales are a puzzle that is not solved by the deed or probate records.

By 1734, John Jr. lived many miles from Wantage in what later became Caroline County and had no apparent claim to his father’s former tract. However, John Jr.’s earlier will contest and the fact he was the eldest son may have created some cloud on the title in the eyes of Richard Seward, the prospective buyer. William or Seward may have asked John to relinquish any claim to the land prior to Seward buying it. John could comply by conveying his interest, if any, in the land to William (or Seward), clearing title so his brother’s transaction could proceed. Such a transaction would account for the very low price paid in John’s deed. The 20 shillings paid to John likely compensated him for his time and travel between his home and Cambridge to complete the transaction23.

However, the puzzle is that John Jr. deeded his interest to Ennalls and not to William or Seward. Something is missing in the record – a power of attorney under which Ennalls was acting on William’s or Seward’s behalf, or a subsequent transaction from Ennalls conveying John’s interest to either Seward or William. Regardless of this mystery, the record is clear that the Willises had no connection to Wantage after 1734 since Richard Seward still possessed the land twenty years later24. William and Judith Willis and their likely son Thomas Willis appeared in later land records of Dorchester County. Those records show them on land some twenty miles west of the Wantage farm. That land was adjacent land owned by Richard Seward’s parents, adding support to the idea that Richard and Judith were related and very possibly brother and sister.

DNA Project

 The Willis DNA Project (at https://www.familytreedna.com/groups/willis/about/news) has 542 members, 214 with paternal lines surnamed Willis. Of these, thirteen are in the “Maryland Group” believed to be descended from John Willis Sr. who came from Wantage. I invite anyone interested in testing to determine if they are related to one of these Maryland cousins to contact the administrator at the above link.

______

  1. W.P.W. Phillimore, editor, Berkshire Parish Registers, Marriages, Volume 1, (London:Phillimore & Co., 1908), I:17, John Willis and Annis Robinson, 31 Mar 1600; I:30, John Willis and Alice Lindsey, 19 Aug 1639; and I:41, John Willis, Junr [?] and Elizabeth Chapman, 11 Apr 1664. Also, John and Elizabeth Willis registered the birth or christening of a son John on 3 Jan 1668/9.
  2. Peter Wilson Coldham, The Complete Book of Emigrants, 1661-1699, (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1990), II:471.
  3. Id. at 471, and Phillimore, Berkshire Registers, I:34, Leonard Willis and Margaret Powell, 8 Sep 1652; I:39, Leonard Willis and Anne Bell, 10 Sep 1659. Henry, born in 1663, fits as a son of either marriage. There is no proven connection between John Willis Sr. and Leonard and Henry of Wantage. However, the names Leonard and Henry appear several times in the descendants of John Willis Sr.
  4. Skinner, Testamentary Proceedings of the Prerogative Court, VII:61. Court Session 1694 – In the probate of the estate of William Pritchett, John Haslewood of Dorchester County exhibited the bond of Hannah Charlescroft, administratrix of William Pritchett. Securities Richard Owen, Jarvis Cutler. Also inventory by appraisers John Frank and John Willis. Probate Book 15C:125.
  5. Skinner, Testamentary Proceedings of the Prerogative Court, VIII:180. Court Session May 1700 – In the probate of the estate of Patrick Donelly, attorneys exhibited the inventory of Patrick Donelly by appraisers David Jenkins and John Willis, Probate Book 18A:62, and XI:4. Court Session Oct 1703 – In the probate of the estate of Daniell Seare of Dorchester County, attorneys exhibited Inventories of the estate of Daniell Seare by appraisers John Willis & William Walker. Probate Book 20:4.
  6. McAllister, Abstracts from the Land Records of Dorchester County, Maryland, Volume 9 (Liber Old No. 13: Liber Old No. 14, folios 1-373),(Cambridge, MD, 1963), IX:36. 14 Old 130, 14 Mar 1746 – Deposition of Thomas Pierson, planter of Dorchester County, aged about 60 years, states that John Willis now living in St. Mary’s White Chappel Parish near Hunting Creek was to the best of deponent’s knowledge the eldest son of John Willis who lived on Blackwater River about 4-5 miles from Cambridge, and who was formerly Cryer of Dorchester County Court.
  7. FHL Film No. 13078, Maryland Land Office, 194. On 10 Sep 1702, John Taylor assigned to John Willis all right, title and interest in 50 acres of land, part of a warrant for 2,389 acres granted to Taylor on 15 Oct 1692, Book CD4/194, and Id. at 194. On 3 Mar 1702/3, the Maryland Land Office issued a survey certificate to John Willis for a tract of 50 acres called Wantage on the Blackwater River, beginning at lowermost bounder of Littleworth, then N 36 deg E 100 perches, N 36 deg W 80 perches, S 36 deg W 100 perches, then straight line to the beginning. Book CD4/194.
  8. Hunt, 1. John Willis is mentioned in the “Quit Rents” of 1704 as being a “planter” on file in the Library of Congress and the The National Archives, London, and Keddie, Leslie and Neil, Dorchester County, Maryland, Rent Rolls 1688-1707 Volume #3, (The Family Tree Bookshop, 2001), 75. Wantige was surveyed for John Wallis on 3 Mar 1702, lying on the Blackwater River beginning at the lowermost bounded tree of “Littleworth”. It encompassed 50 acres and the rental was 8 shillings.
  9. Cotton and Henry, Calendar of Wills, IV:23. Note that the date given in this source for the submission to probate is 24 Nov 1714. This date conflicts with the date John Willis, Jr., filed a protest to the will and the dates of activity in the Prerogative Court records. I conclude the correct date for submission to probate is 24 Nov 1712. Dorchester County Will Book 14:12.
  10. Id. at 23.
  11. http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~mdwillis/DCWillsWillis.htm#John1712, Sandra Willis who abstracted numerous documents from primary records in Dorchester, Caroline and Talbot Counties created this site.
  12. V.L. Skinner, Jr., Testamentary Proceedings of the Prerogative Court, Volume XIII, 1712-1716, (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2008), 113, 124, 132, 153 and 157, Probate Book L22:256, 368, 378, 452 and 456.
  13. F. Edward Wright, Judgment Records of Dorchester, Queen Anne’s and Talbot Counties, (Lewes, DE: Delmarva Roots, 2001), 33. L36A:203, Inventory of John Willis, Dorchester County – £23.14.1 – Appraisers John Kirke, Arthur Smith. Next of Kin: Andrew Willis (son), William Willis (son). FHL 975.2 P28w
  14. Jane Baldwin Cotton, The Maryland Calendar of Wills, IV:167-9. Will Book 14:631, Will of Thomas Ennals dated 7 May 1718 – To Thomas Hayward and heirs, 50 acres part of “Ennalls Purchase” (plantation where Andrew Willis lived), at head of Shoal Creek, and on branch lying between Wm Jones and Andrew Willis’, proved 13 Au 1718, and, James A. McAllister, Jr., Abstracts from the Land Records of Dorchester County, Maryland, Volume 1 (Libers Old No. 1 – Old No. 2), (Cambridge, MD, 1960), I:71. 2 Old 161, 13 Mar 1722 – Land sale from Thomas Hayward to Henry Ennalls, land devised to grantor by Col. Thomas Ennalls, dec’d, at head of Shoal Creek where Andrew Willis lived adj land where William Jones lived, part of “Ennalls Purchase”, 50 acres more or less.
  15. James A. McAllister, Jr., Abstracts from the Land Records of Dorchester County, Maryland, Volume 5 (Libers Old No. 7 – Old No. 8), (Cambridge, MD, 1962), V:145. 8 Old 404, 13 Jun-30 Sep 1730 – Commission to John Hodson, Mark Fisher, Thomas Nevett & Henry Ennalls, Jr to perpetuate bounds of Patrick Brawhaun’s land at the head of Blackwater called “Hoggs Island.” Deposition of Andrew Willis, about age 40, regarding the first bounder of “Littleworth” or “Stevens.”
  16. Id. at 16. 7 Old 51, 10 Mar 1717 – John Sharp of Dorchester Co sold to John Willis, of the same county, carpenter, 50 acres, part of “Sharps Prosperity” on Marshy Creek Branch above Hunting Creek. Wits Thomas Noble, Jane Noble. John Nichols, attorney for John Sharp. (Note that Thomas Noble and John Nicols co-owned “Hampton” located on west side of Hunting Creek, bought from Richard Bennett 15 Jan 1713, 6 Old 230)
  17. Id. at 23. 7 Old 68, no day or month 1717 – John Sharp of Dorchester Co sold to Thomas Wallis, of the same county, 50 acres, part of “Sharps Prosperity” on the south side of the head of Marshy Creek branch out of Great Choptank River above Hunting Creek. Bounded on one side by land sold to John Willis. Wits Jerem? Thomas, J Lookerman. Acknowledged 19 Aug 1718
  18. Keddie, 75.
  19. Skinner, Testamentary Proceedings of the Prerogative Court, XVI:60, 61 and 151. Filings by John Pitts, gentleman, of Dorchester County, bond of Grace Wallis, administratrix of Thomas Wallis, and inventories of the estate of Thomas Wallis, and Skinner, Administration Accounts of the Prerogative Court, Libers 1-5, 1718-1724, (Westminster, MD:Family Line Publications, 1995), 138. L5:38, Account of Thomas Wallis of Dorchester dated 13 Mar 1723 – Account total £12.17.7, Payments totaled £18.5.2 made to Patrick Mackalister, Mr. Charles Ungle, John Sharp, John Pitt, Edward Billeter, William Edmondson. Administratrix Grace Willis.
  20. The land near Hunting Creek was located within St. Mary’s White Chapel Parish. Unfortunately, the church records for that locale that might prove the marital status of Thomas or Grace do not survive.
  21. James A. McAllister, Jr., Abstracts from the Land Records of Dorchester County, Maryland, Volume 10 (Liber Old No. 14, folios 374-741), (Cambridge, MD, 1963), X:74. 14 Old 658, 11 Nov 1746 to 27 May 1752, Commission to perpetuate the bounds of John Harrington’s land called “Rosses Range” and “David Ropies”, and Return. Nine men and women give depositions regarding this land on Hobson’s Creek. Among them are William Willis, age about 52; Judah (Judith) Willis, age about 50; and Mary Seward, age 68.
  22. Maryland Land Records, 9 Old 223, 30 Jul 1730 [or 1734], John Willis of Dorchester County, planter, for 20 shillings to Henry Ennalls, of same, gentleman, “Wantage,” 50 acres, originally taken up by John Willis, dec’d, on Blackwater Riv., adjoining “Littleworth.” Signed by his mark, John Willis. Witnesses: William Murray, Bw. Ennalls. Acknowledged 30 Jul 1734, and 9 Old 214, 15 Aug 1734, William Willis and wife Judith of Dorchester Co., planter, for 6 pounds to Richard Seward, of same, “Wantage,” 50 acres near head of Blackwater River adjoining “Littleworth.” Signed by marks, William Willis, Judith Willis. Witnesses: Henry Trippe, Cha. Lowndes. Dorchester County Court (Land Records) MSA CE46 10, http://mdlandrec.com
  23. I believe the date of John’s transaction to be 30 July 1734, not 1730. The extant deed book is a copy of the original. The recopied document states the date of the deed in words rather than numbers, “One thousand seven Hundred and thirty.” I believe the scribe who recopied it missed the last two words of the date, which under the style of the day should have been “and four”. If John intended his transaction just to clear title for William’s sale, the following logically occurred. John showed up at the Dorchester County Court when it was in quarterly session. Henry Ennalls drafted a deed that John signed (by mark, he could not read or write). The court justices, including Henry Ennall’s brother Bartholomew, witnessed the signing, and John acknowledged the deed in open court, verifying its validity. All this occurred on a single day, 30 Jul 1734, which limited the inconvenience to the citizen who travelled some distance from Hunting Creek to Cambridge. The payment in the deed was for time and expenses. Sixteen days later Richard Seward bought the land from William and Judith Willis with assurance that John would not be able to successfully protest the sale.
  24. 24. James A. McAllister, Jr., Abstracts from the Land Records of Dorchester County, Maryland, Volume 11 (Liber Old No. 15, folios 1 – 368), (Cambridge, MD, 1963), XI:52, 15 Old 247, 11 Aug 1754-15 Mar 1755, Commission to perpetuate the bounds of Richard Soward’s land called Wantage. A deposition of Thomas Soward, about 30 years old, mentions the widow Brawhawn; John Stevens grandfather of the present John Stevens; Richard Soward, brother of the deponent; and a bounded tree of Littleworth and Wantage between Roger Woolford’s plantation and Brawhawn’s, about 15-16 years ago.

Joseph (The Fifer) Willis: Nevertheless, He Persisted

I was minding my own business in early December, thinking only about the upcoming holiday season, when a nephew asked a genealogical question. He is a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and is particularly interested in relatives’ military records. That led him to establish that Richard Willis of Caroline County, Maryland served in the Maryland Militia during the Revolutionary War. Richard was my great-great-great grandfather and the nephew’s 4th great. He enrolled us in the Sons of the Revolution based on “Rev War Richard’s” service .

The nephew then moved on to the War of 1812. He found a Joseph Willis who enlisted in Caroline County as a fifer in a Maryland Militia company commanded by Captain Peter Willis. In 1854 or 1855, “Joseph the Fifer” was granted 160 acres of bounty land for his service. He was about 64 years old and lived in Caroline County at the time of the grant.[1]My nephew wondered if Joseph the Fifer was the same man as the Joseph Willis who married Dorcas Willis in Caroline County in 1818.[2] “Caroline County Joseph” appears in census records from 1820 through 1850. The 1850 census shows him born in 1790, about the same year as Joseph the Fifer.[3]

I volunteered to check it out. It sounded like a classic “follow the land” inquiry. With the complete land records of Caroline County online at MDLANDREC.com, I figured I could simply find the sale of the bounty land at some point after 1855.[4] If the land were sold by Caroline County Joseph or one of his heirs, the sale would prove the fifer’s identity.

Not so fast there, Willis!

I began searching the Caroline County deed books between 1812 and 1860, the year Caroline County Joseph died.[5]There was no reference to a 160-acre tract. However, a Joseph Willis acquired more than 180 acres in smaller parcels between 1812 and 1836.[6] The deed records also show that no Joseph Willis sold any land before 1860 – neither the purchased land, nor the 160-acre bounty tract.

Then It Dawned on Me

After hours looking through grantor/grantee indexes and squinting online at faded, handwritten deeds, the big picture suddenly became clear. The lands mentioned in the records were all adjoining parcels, each part of two larger original tracts.[7] The Joseph Willises named in those records were surely the same person. There was clearly only one Joseph Willis in Caroline County during the period. The Joseph who married Dorcas in 1818 was certainly the same Joseph who in 1855 filed for bounty land. Caroline County Joseph was indeed Joseph the Fifer.

Nevertheless, He Persisted

Having identified Joseph, there was no need to search the land records further — except that I was curious, with an admitted touch of obsessiveness. I had not yet found the 160-acre grant. I persisted. Maybe Joseph’s 1859 will would provide clues.  It divided his land among three of his children for their lifetimes, with the land descending to his grandchildren, as follows:

    1. Joseph’s will devised the home farm and plantation to his widowed daughter Sarah Davis and spinster daughter Jane Willis until they married or died. Afterwards, the will gave the property to Sarah’s children and to the children of a third daughter, Susan Turner. Sarah had three children. Susan had six, including two born after Joseph’s death.
    1. The will gave a second parcel of land to Joseph’s son John R. Willis and after his death to his children. John had two children.

The will named the grandchildren alive at the time Joseph made the will.[8] It did not, however, identify the acreage in either of the two parcels. Was the 160-acre grant part of the total? To find out, I went back to the deed indexes looking for any grandchild’s sale of the land. The first to appear was Sarah’s eldest daughter Willomina Lane (Davis) Perry. Willomina and her husband William E. Perry sold a ten-acre tract in 1869 that she inherited from Joseph.[9]Joseph’s daughters Sarah and Susan had a total of nine children, so Willomina’s share  was one-ninth of the total. That proved the first parcel in Joseph’s will, described as the “farm and plantation,” totaled 90 acres. The second parcel in the will was sold in 1873 by the children of Joseph’s son John R. Willis. That deed states outright the tract amounted to 90½ acres.[10]

The two parcels that Joseph willed to his grandchildren thus totaled 180½ acres — a pretty close tally to the land he acquired between 1812 and 1836. Apparently, that was all the land he owned at the time of his death. Although Joseph had been granted another 160 acres for his war service, he evidently never took possession. Regardless, we can be sure that that Caroline County Joseph and Joseph the Fifer were one and the same.

—-

This abbreviated/modified tree indicates the relationship of the key players (shown in bold) in this article. All children are not shown, and the listing does not necessarily depict the children’s birth order.

1 John Willis (abt 1689 – 1764) m.1 Mary LNU

… 2 Richard Willis (1718 – 1763) m. Rebecca Granger

….. 3 Rev War Richard Willis (1759 – 1823) m. Britannia Gowty

…….. 4 Dorcas Willis (abt 1795 – bef 1840) m. Joseph (the Fifer) Willis

….. 3 Robert Willis (abt 1755 – 1789 ) m. Sarah Rumbold

…….. 4 Joseph (the Fifer) Willis (1790 – 1860) m. Dorcas Willis

………. 5 Jane Willis – Never Married

………. 5 Sarah Willis m. William A. Davis

…………… 6 Willomina Jane Davis  m. William E. Perry, Sr.

…………… 6 Sarah C. Davis

…………… 6 Franklin L. Davis m. Arabella R. Perry

………. 5 Susan Willis  m. William Turner

…………… 6 Celia Turner m. FNU Leigh

…………… 6 Sarah Elizabeth Turner m. William Henry Williams

…………… 6 Joseph Willis Turner m. Frances E. “Fanny” Connelly

…………… 6 William Merrill Turner

…………… 6 Susan J. Turner

……………. 6 Martha J. Turner

………. 5 John Rumbold Willis m.1 Celia Sparklin, m.2 Mary Todd

…………… 6 Thomas Foster Willis  m. Catherine LNU

…………… 6 Mary Todd Willis m. Joseph L. Griffith

… 2 Joshua Willis (1720 – 1797) m. 2) Deborah Greenhawk

……. 3 Captain Peter Willis (1777 – 1834) m. Elizabeth Holmes

[1] Maryland Militia in the War of 1812 – Volume 1 (Eastern Shore Counties) pg. 1-116, WILLIS, Joseph/Fifer, company of Capt Peter Willis, Aug 15 – 30(?) 1813. Mustered into service at Collins Cross Roads. Applied for bounty land May 13, 1854, age 64, residing in Lower Election District of Caroline County; wit: Willis Charles and James Stack, residing in Federalsburg. He applied for bounty land June 9, 1855, age 64, residing near New Hope, Caroline County. Received warrant for 160 acres.

(Captain Peter Willis, later a Colonel and a Caroline County Justice, was Rev War Richard’s first cousin. Peter was Joseph’s first cousin once removed. See abbreviated family tree at the end of the article).

[2] “Maryland Marriages, 1666-1970”, FamilySearch, this link  Joseph Willis, 1816.

[3] 1850 US Census, Caroline County, lists Joseph Willis, age 60.

[4] See this link for instructions on using MDLANDREC.com

[5] Caroline County Will Book B:108. Will made in 1859; probate began 1860.

[6] Caroline County Will Book JR Bi:213, Joseph’s mother Sarah Willis devised an undivided interest in 15½ acres of land to Joseph and his brothers Charles and Peter. Joseph subsequently bought his brothers’ interests, Caroline County Deed Books L:233 and M:582. Joseph acquired other adjoining parcels at Deed Books M:346 and M: 348, 58 acres; T:099, 39+ acres; T:100, 65+ acres; and T:102, about 4 acres.At his death, Joseph had inherited or acquired about 182 acres.

[7] Every record referred to tracts called either Hab Nab at a Venture or Littleton’s Friendship.

[8] Caroline County Will Book B:108. The grandchildren alive when he wrote his will were Willomina Lane Davis, Sarah C. Davis, and Franklin Davis, the children of daughter Sarah who married William A Davis; Sarah Elizabeth Turner, Joseph Turner, Celia Turner, and William H. Turner., the children of daughter Susan who married William Turner; and Thomas Foster Willis and Mary Todd Willis, children of son John R. Willis who married 1) Celia Sparklin, 2) Mary Todd, 3) Elizabeth Stevens,  and 4) Mrs. Ellen Moore.

[9] Caroline County Deed Book 33:301. William E. Perry and wife Willie M. [Willomina] sell 10 acres of land in the Third District to Joseph M. Noble for $133, it being all the land she inherited from her grandfather Joseph Willis, adjacent Zachariah Willis, John W. Covey, J. R. Willis.

[10] Caroline County Deed Book 35:428. John R. Willis and wife Elizabeth, Thomas F. Willis and wife Catherine, and Joseph L Griffith and wife Mary Todd sold 90½ acres of land to Peter Cook of Trenton, New Jersey for $700, it being land willed from Joseph Willis to John R. Willis for his lifetime with the remainder to John’s children Thomas F. Willis and Mary Todd Willis. Because John R. Willis had not yet died, he joined in the sale of the land. Presumably, the entire proceeds went to his children.

William Logan Burke(s): their stories

My mother’s family has produced so many men named William Logan Burke that we had to create nicknames to keep them straight. The first William Logan Burke (1860-1899) was simply “the Sheriff.”

His son, who was inter alia a polo player, was “W. L.” or “Billy” Burke (1888-1961) — AKA “Gramps,” my grandfather.

The next son in line was also a polo player, nicknamed “the Kid” (1914-1975) — AKA “Uncle Bill.”

The Kid’s elder son — our collective imagination failed here — was “Little Bill” (1952 – ?).

The fifth and possibly last of the name is Little Bill’s nephew. He has several brothers, all of whom are grown and might yet produce a sixth William Logan Burke.

They all have stories, with a couple of family legends in the mix. There has been a recent trend toward tragedy. I’m rooting for the most recent of the Sheriff’s namesakes to turn the luck around. As usual, I won’t write about anyone who might still be living.

Here is the Sheriff:

He was born in Wilson County, Tennessee in 1860, the eldest son of Esom Logan Burke and his wife Harriet Munday. Not inclined to be a farmer, he left for Texas shortly before his father died. He wound up in Waco, McLennan County, where he was “an early sheriff” and a U. S. Marshall. He died of tuberculosis at age 39, leaving his widow Betty and their 11-year-old son, the second WLB.

Here is his wife, Elizabeth (“Betty”) Morgan Trice.

According to my grandmother Ida Hannefield Burke, Betty had red hair and “could hold her liquor like a man.” The Hannefields also lived in Waco. Granny told me she always “felt sorry for Mrs. Burke.”

“Why?” asked I.

“Because the Sheriff was gone so much,” said Granny.

“Why was that?”

“I don’t know,” Granny replied. “Out chasing criminals, I suppose.”

Betty Trice’s family also came to Waco from Wilson County, Tennessee. The Burke and Trice families undoubtedly knew each other there, since both owned land on a lovely tributary of the Cumberland River called Spring Creek. Betty’s father, Charles Foster Trice, died in a cave-in of the creek bank in 1881, when she was 18. His estate was insufficient to cover debts and his land was sold, probably providing the impetus for his family to head for Texas.

Before Foster died, though, he and his wife Mary Ann Powell Trice gave rise to a cool family legend. Wilson County is in Middle Tennessee, a part of the state that was not partial to either side in the Civil War. The Union Army had a headquarters nearby and sent a “recruiting” detail around from time to time, looking for “volunteers.” Hearing they were in the neighborhood, Mary Ann dressed Foster up in a woman’s dress and bonnet. She sat him down in front of the fire in a rocking chair, peeling potatoes. The Union soldiers departed empty-handed.

Mary Ann lived to be 95. She died in Waco when her great-granddaughter, Ida Burke, was 18 years old. Ida, my mother, told me she heard that story straight from Mary Ann’s mouth. So it is the gospel truth, in my view.

Berry and Sion Trice, two of Mary Ann’s brothers-in-law, also went to Texas. They walked all the way from Wilson County to Waco — about 900 miles — in 47 days, according to William Berry Trice’s obit. Berry was also famous for weighing 425 pounds when he died, as well as having been a director of the Waco National Bank. Berry and Sion were partners in a Waco brickmaking company. It supplied most of the nearly three million bricks used to build the bridge over the Brazos River in Waco. The bridge was completed in 1870 and was then the longest single-span suspension bridge west of the Mississippi; it was part of the Chisholm Trail. Baylor has some fun photographs and postcards of the bridge at this site.

The Sheriff, his wife Betty Trice Burke, her mother Mary Ann Powell Trice, the Hannefields, and a whole host of other Trices are buried in the old Oakwood Cemetery in Waco. Not surprisingly, Sion and Berry have impressive monuments. Made of marble, not brick.

The Sheriff and Betty had only one surviving child, the second William Logan Burke: the polo player, Billy or W. L. Burke, AKA Gramps. He was an orphan by age 18, when his mother died. He went to live with one of his mother’s sisters, his Aunt Mattie Trice Harmon. Here is Gramps in his sixties as a referee in a polo match:

Gramps was the spitting image of his mother, IMO. Here he is as a young man:

Besides eventually becoming the oldest polo referee in Houston, Gramps was a Grade AAA, certifiable, lovable character. Whenever he came to Shreveport to visit his daughter Ida, he brought gifts for me. He started with an add-a-pearl necklace, undoubtedly Ida’s idea. He soon switched to various livestock: ducklings, baby chicks, and — my favorite — two quail. My father built an elaborate cage for the pair in the back yard. Unfortunately, the quail commenced their characteristic “bob-WHITE!” call just before the first light of dawn. They had extraordinary lungs. The neighbors complained. One night, the quail “escaped.” I don’t recall what happened to the cage.

My father was fond of saying that Gramps would probably bring an elephant one day.

Besides being a polo player, referee, and trainer of polo ponies, Gramps was a hunter and fisherman. He also raised bird dogs, including a prizewinner named April Showers. Gramps taught me how to shoot a BB gun at a moving target by hanging a coffee can lid from a tree limb by a string. The gun was another gift from Gramps, as was a small rod and reel. Never mind that my parents didn’t fish.

The Sheriff’s grandfather back in Tennessee was a John Burke whose first wife was Elizabeth Graves, daughter of Esom Graves and Ruth Parrot. John Burke was known as a teller of tall tales. If that is an inherited talent, Gramps most likely got it from his great-grandfather John. Granny once sent Ida a newspaper article she had torn out of one of the Houston papers, date unknown. Granny had written on the article in pencil, “Your father in print with a big one.” It was in a column titled “The Outdoor Sportsman” by Bill Walker. I have transcribed it on this blog before, but here it is again. Cinco Ranch is west of Houston.

“A roaring gas flame in the big brick fireplace in the Cinco Ranch clubhouse warmed the spacious room and the several members of the Gulf Coast Field Trial Club who gathered there for coffee Saturday morning before the first cast in the shooting dog stake.

“Usually when veteran field trial followers get together the conversations turns to great dogs of yesteryears and this group was no exception.

W. L. “BILLY” BURKE related one about an all-time favorite of ours — Navasota Shoals Jake.

“Burke and the late W. V. Bowles, owner of Ten Broeck’s Bonnett and Navasota Shoals Jake, were hunting birds in the Valley on one of those rare hot and sultry winter mornings. Jake pointed a covey several hundred yards from the two men and out in the open.

“BOWLES suggested they take their time approaching the pointing dog, since he was known to be very trustworthy. When the two hunters did not immediately move to Jake, the dog broke his point, backed away to the cool shade of a nearby tree and again pointed the birds.

“THE COVEY was still hovering in a briar thicket when Bowles and Burke arrived. Navasota Shoals Jake was still on point.”

Gramps’s only son, the third William Logan Burke, was nicknamed “the Kid” by other polo players, presumably in recognition of his father and the family sport — but also for his wild and reckless polo style, according to his sister Ida. That was Uncle Bill.[1]

He was good. According to Ida, West Point recruited him to play polo, but West Point probably wasn’t the Kid’s style. Ida’s best friend Tillie Keidel once shared a rumble seat with him on a trip from Fredericksburg to the dance hall in Gruene. Exhausted from fighting him off, she told Ida it seemed like the Kid had four hands. She rode with someone else on the trip home.

Ida also said the Kid was a mathematical genius, which might be true notwithstanding her propensity for embellishing Burke virtues. All three of the Burke siblings were smart as the dickens. The Kid’s son believes he was valedictorian of his high school class and received a scholarship offer. Bettye, the youngest sibling, was a member of Mensa. She once created a professional set of blueprints for a home she and her husband were building on the shore of Clear Lake. Ida, the eldest sibling, skipped two grades in elementary school, was valedictorian of her high school graduating class in Fredericksburg, and received full-ride scholarship offers from every major university in Texas.

I always thought she was exaggerating about those scholarships. Not so. After she died, I found them, seven in all, among her papers: University of Texas, Texas Technological College, SMU, Southwest Texas State Teacher’s College, Baylor, and TCU. Rice was tuition free, but they had an offer for her, too, because that’s where she went for her Freshman year. Then she switched to the University, where she was a Littlefield Dorm “beauty.”

October 1929 arrived, and she had to quit school to help support her family during the Great Depression. Gramps was a car salesman in Fredericksburg, and you can imagine how many people bought cars in the early 1930s. The family lived on the old Polo Grounds in San Antone for a while, eating so much peanut butter that Aunt Bettye swore off the stuff for life.

I don’t know what the Kid did in the 1930s, but he didn’t go to college, so far as I know. They would not have been able to afford it, even with a scholarship. I assume he also helped support the family during the Depression, as he was only 16 in 1930. He joined the Marines in time for World War II, probably after Pearl Harbor, when everyone enlisted. His tombstone identifies him as a First Lieutenant.[2] I don’t think he was ever stationed overseas. Mostly, he started getting married and kept it up his entire life. I have a tiny photograph of him in his Marine mess dress uniform when he was still a buck Sergeant, probably on his first wedding day. All told, he married four times. Looking at old pictures and remembering him, I can see why: he was an attractive man, with the standard issue navy blue Trice eyes and a charming grin. I thought he resembled JFK, another man with charisma.

Here’s a picture of the Kid with his sister Ida and her only child, who never learned to sit a horse worth a plug nickel:

Spoiler alert: at this point, the William Logan Burke stories take a dark turn. If you want a happy ending, sign off right now with the picture of Ida, Uncle Bill, and the little girl on the unhappy horse.

The last military record for him on Fold3 identifies him as a First Lieutenant on a 1946 muster roll. For as long as I knew him — beginning in the early 1950s —  the Kid worked a blue collar union job in the Dow Chemical plant in Brazoria County. It was one of several plants which manufactured Agent Orange. He died in 1975, only 60 years old, consumed by what Ida called “more kinds of cancer than I ever heard of.” I will refrain from a rant about Agent Orange and just put some information in the footnote at the end of this sentence.[3]

Well, that is a downer of a way to end a story, but you can’t say you weren’t warned. I will demur re: writing about Little Bill, who may still be alive and who has a beautiful daughter out there somewhere. Fortunately, there is definitely another William Logan Burke, the family’s fifth. He is one of the sons of Little Bill’s brother Frank and a grandson of the Kid.

So far as I can tell from our emails, Frank’s nice family is sane, sober, and happy. It is also sizeable, so I’m rooting for a sixth William Logan Burke. Maybe he’ll become a Sheriff, and we will have come full circle.

See you on down the road.

Robin

                  [1] For some reason, Uncle Bill went by William Logan Burke Jr., notwithstanding that he was the third of that name in the line. He first son went by William Logan Burke III.

                  [2] Here is an image of the Kid’s tombstone.

            [3] As early as 1962, the Monsanto Chemical Company reported that a dioxin in Agent Orange (TCDD) could be toxic. The President’s Science Advisory Committee reported the same to the Joint Chiefs of Staff that same year. As you probably know, Agent Orange was used as a defoliant in Vietnam. Many vets who served there have been diagnosed with cancer, but could rarely prove that Agent Orange was the cause. In 1991, the federal Agent Orange Act created a presumption that the chemical caused the cancer of anyone who served in Vietnam. That includes bladder cancer, chronic B-cell leukemia, Hodgkin’s disease, multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, prostate cancer, respiratory cancers including lung cancer, and some sarcomas.

 

A Chart for Adam and Mary Steele Rankin: Part 2 of n, Children of James and Jean/Jane Campbell Rankin.

An outline descendant chart is an example of what some Texans call “Aggie counting:” one, and another one, and another one, and another one … etc.

Likewise, the charts themselves are name/dates/spouse, name/dates/spouse, name/dates/spouse … etc., perhaps leavened occasionally with another fact or two.  I dislike creating the dang things almost as much as I hate reading them. I’m just trying to be a good citizen by sharing what I know (or think I know) about this famous family. An incredible number of people claim to be their descendants. Maybe this will assist someone in locating an ancestor. Or perhaps it will be a dose of cold water. Who knows.

The prior post in this series (“Part 1 of n”) only included information for Adam and his four children – James Sr., William, Jeremiah, and Esther. Adam and Mary are obviously generation number 1 in that chart; their children are each number 2. We pick up in this post with the line of James Sr. and his wife Jean/Jane Campbell. I think James Sr. was a son of Mary Steele Alexander Rankin, although some researchers believe he was a son of a prior wife (for whom there is apparently no documentary evidence — please speak up if you have some!).

James Sr. and Jean/Jane had six children proved by his will: Esther, Ruth, William, Jeremiah, David, and James Jr.[1] I have not listed these children in birth order herein for obscure reasons of my own. The chart includes descendants of all of James Sr.’s children as far as I have tracked them toward the present, with the exception of their son James Jr. He is listed last and his descendants aren’t named (yet). That is because James Sr.’s son James Jr. is Spade’s line, and if I get it wrong, Spade will never let me hear the end of it. James Jr.’s descendants will appear in “Part 3 of n” when I gin up the nerve to publish it.

2 James Rankin Sr. and Jean/Jane Campbell, see Part 1 of n for more info on that couple.

   3 Esther Rankin, 1762 – 1826, Franklin Co. Husband Samuel Smith. [2]

      4 Mary Smith, b. by 1788.

   3 Ruth Rankin m. John Tool.

   3 William Rankin, b. ca 1748, d. ca 1800, Franklin Co., PA. Received half of his father’s 280-acre tract on Licking Cr. and devised that land to his only son James.[3] William married Anne Gillespie on 5 Nov 1771 in the Upper West Conococheague Presbyterian Church. Not surprisingly, he has been confused with other men having the same name, but the records about him are straightforward.

      4 James Rankin, b. abt 1772-1776, Cumberland Co., PA. He was single in 1797 when William wrote his will. The last record I found for James was in an 1809 deed when he sold his father’s Franklin Co. land.[4]

      4 Elizabeth Rankin m. Mr. Ritchie.

      4 Jean Rankin, b. after 1776.

      4 Ann Rankin, b. after 1776.

      4 Ruth Rankin, b. after 1776.

      4 Mary Gillespie Rankin, b. after 1776.

    3 Jeremiah Rankin, b. ca 1752-1756, d. 1803. Jeremiah’s line is subject to controversy. One credible source says that James and Jean Campbell Rankin’s son Jeremiah was the man who married Mary Clark and died in 1803.[5] Two county history books claim that the Jeremiah who died in 1803 was a grandson of James and Jean. I come down on the side of the first argument, see the article at this link.

 Jeremiah inherited half of his father’s 280-acre tract on Licking Cr. He was a revolutionary soldier. He built the allegedly haunted house in the area of Montgomery Township, Franklin County known as “the Corner.” His wife Mary Clark was a daughter of James Clark. Jeremiah’s 1803 will named his wife, only son James Clark Rankin, and daughters Nancy, Mariah, and Esther.[6]

      4 James Clark Rankin, b. 1800, d. 1 Jun 1866.[7] Married Elizabeth Watson (1800 – 1871 or 1875) on 27 Mar 1828. He inherited the house in the Corner built by his father Jeremiah. His will names four children.[8]

         5 Mary J. Rankin, b. abt 1831-32 d. 1860. Husband John C. McNary. Six children, all of whom died in infancy.[9]

         5 Rebecca Vance Rankin, 1831-1865. She predeceased her father and was not mentioned in his will.[10]

         5 Esther Rankin, 1838-1889.[11]

         5 Samuel Johnston Rankin, 1833 – 1891, Montgomery Twp., Franklin.[12] Married Elizabeth H. Knox on 17 Mar 1868.

            6 Elizabeth “Lizzie” Watson Rankin, 19 Nov 1868 – 22 Aug 1959. Lizzie apparently resided in the home which her great-grandfather Jeremiah had built. The house was allegedly haunted.[13] There is undoubtedly a good story out there if I can just persuade Gams, Spade, and Columbo to write it.

         5 John Watson Rankin, b. abt 1836, d. 1872. Wife Mary (“Molly”) Dilworth.[14]

           6 James Clark Rankin, 12 Jun 1868 – 8 Jan 1908. Attorney. [15] Attended the Upper West Conococheague Presbyterian Church. Wife Jenette Forster, 1866 – 1954.

                7 Margaret Elder Rankin, 10 Nov 1898 – 15 Mar 1962. Husband Duffield W. Varden.[16]

            6 Mary M. C. Knight Rankin, b. abt 1871.

          5 Jeremiah C. Rankin, b. abt 1844-45.[17] No further information.

       4 Nancy Rankin, b. 2 Feb 1796, Franklin Co., PA, d. 13 Jul 1883, Beaver Co., PA. Husband John Imbrie. Ten children.[18] Her tombstone identifies her as Nancy Clark Rankin Imbrie, wife of John.[19]

      4 Mariah or Maria Rankin (Nancy Rankin Imbrie’s twin), b. 2 Feb 1796, Franklin Co.. Husband Samuel Johnston.[20]

      4 Esther Rankin, 25 Jul 1802 – 19 Jun 1870. Married Alexander M. Johnston, lived in Mercersburg.[21]

   3 David Rankin, d. Montgomery Twp., Franklin Co. abt. 1833.[22] David inherited part of the land where his parents lived. His wife was Mary (“Molly”), birth surname unknown. The Pennsylvania Archives confused this David with his first cousin David Rankin, son of William and Mary Huston Rankin.[23]

      4 Molly Rankin m. Mr. Sellars.

          5 Mary Elizabeth Sellars, b. by Jun 1829.

       4 James Rankin, b. abt 1799-1800, d. 1879.[24] Wife Elizabeth, birth surname unknown.[25]

         5 Elizabeth Rankin, b. abt 1829, m. Mr. Rhodes.[26]

             6 Hannah E. Rhodes or Rhoades m. Mr. Zuck

             6 David C. Rhodes or Rhoades.

         5 Mary Rankin, b. July 1835.

         5 David Rankin, b. abt 1833-34, d. 1882. Apparently never married. Left everything he owned to his brother J. Hervey Rankin, including land in Montgomery Twp. conveyed to the two brothers by their parents.[27]

         5 Marion Rankin, b. abt 1836, d. bef. 1860.

         5 Sarah Bell Rankin, b. abt. 1840, m. Mr. Hoffeditz. See Find-a-Grave memorial here.

         5 James Henry or Harvey Rankin, 26 Dec. 1841 – 7 Jun 1915. Evidently never married.[28]

        4 Betsy Rankin, born about 1795. Living with her brother James in 1850. Apparently never married.

     3 James Rankin Jr. To be continued in Part 3 of n.

Whew! And that’s it for now. I will return to this chart after I publish one other article that has been running loose in my head.

See you on down the road.

Robin

*   *   *   *   *   *   *

            [1] Franklin Co., PA Will Book A: 345, will of James Rankin Senior of Montgomery Township, Franklin, dated 25 Mar 1788 and proved 20 Oct 1795. The will names his wife Jean, daughter Ruth Tool and SIL Samuel Smith (whose wife was James’s daughter Esther Rankin), and sons David, William, Jeremiah, and James.

[2] Esther Rankin Smith’s memorial is in the Shannon Farm graveyard in Mercersburg.  The Find-a-Grave memorial cites Franklin County Cemetery Records, Vol. 31, 5 for the information on the website. I cannot find a complete citation for this series, a location on the FHL website, or any other means of verifying the information. The only reference I can find to it is at Esther’s Find-a-Grave memorial.

[3] Franklin Co., PA Will Book B: 124, will of William Rankin of Montgomery Twp., Franklin Co., PA, dated 8 Feb 1797, proved 16 Feb 1802. Wife Ann. Son James, not married. Daughter Elizabeth Ritchie. Four daughters not of age: Jean, Ann, Ruth, and Mary Gillespie Rankin. Witnesses Jeremiah Rankin and David Rankin (who were the testator’s brothers). William’s 1797 will was not proved until 1802. However, an Ana Rankin — with the right census profile to be his widow and no adult male in the family — was listed as a head of household in 1800, perhaps indicating William was dead by then. See 1800 census, Montgomery Twp., Franklin Co., PA, Ana Rankin, 00100-02201.

[4] Franklin Co., PA Deed Book 8: 380, deed dated 29 Jun 1809 from James Rankin of Montgomery Twp. to James Buchanan. Deed recitals, in part: in 1771, James Rankin Sr. (s/o Adam) acquired 280 acres from Wm. Marshall. In his will, James Sr. left half to his son William. Then William, by will dated 8 Feb 1797, devised his realty to his son James Rankin, the grantor in the 1809 deed. James conveyed 125 acres plus 6% on Licking Creek.

            [5] Virginia Shannon Fendrick, American Revolutionary Soldiers of Franklin County, Pennsylvania (Chambersburg, PA: Historical Works Committee of the Franklin County Chapter of the D.A.R., 1969) (copyright 1944) 180:  “Jeremiah Rankin, Ranger on the Frontier, served in 1778, under Capt. John McConnell and as Ensign, 1780-81, with Captain Wm Huston; a son of pioneer James Rankin of Montgomery Township. He mar. Mary, dau. of James Clark. His will was dated June 1803 and prob. August 1803, only son James Clark Rankin and three daus.: Nancy; Mariah; Esther. The widow Mary later married Charles Kilgore. James, Jeremiah, David and William Rankin were pewholders in the “Lower Conococheague” or Welsh Run Church. Nancy Rankin mar. John Imbrie, Beaver Co., Penna., 10 children. Maria Rankin mar. Samuel Johnston, son of Thos. and Anne Houston Johnston. Esther Rankin mar. Alex. M. Johnston, son of Thos. and Anne Houston Johnston. Pennsylvania archives fifth series Vol 6 Pages 262, 269, 274, 282, 374.” RRW note: the pewholders James, Jeremiah, David, and William Rankin were the four sons of James Sr. and Jean Campbell Rankin.

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

                  [7] 1850 census, Franklin Co., Montgomery Twp, James C. Rankin, 49, farmer, entire household b. PA, Elizabeth Rankin 49, Mary Rankin 19, Rebecca Rankin 17, Johnston Rankin 16, Watson Rankin 14, Jeremiah Rankin 5; 1860 census, Mercersburg, Montgomery Twp., entire household b. PA, James Rankin, 60, farmer, Eliz Rankin, 59, Mary Rankin, 28, Rebecca Rankin 26, S. J. Rankin (Samuel Johnston) 34 (sic), and Jeremiah Rankin, 16.

                  [8] Franklin Co., PA Will Book G: 162, will of James C. Rankin of Mercersburg dated 9 Jun 1865, proved 1 Jun 1866. Wife Elizabeth, sons S. J. (Samuel Johnston), J. W. (J. Watson), and Jeremiah C. Rankin. Daughter Mary Jane C. McNary of Washington Co., PA. Mentions the “Home Farm,” the Patterson Farm, the Shrader Farm, all in Montgomery Twp., plus a house in Mercersburg. He is buried in the Fairview Cemetery, Mercersburg, with the names of his wife and two of his daughters on the same monument.

            [9] North American Family Histories, image available with an Ancestry subscription at this link.

            [10] Rebecca Vance Rankin is buried in the Fairview Cemetery and shares a memorial with her parents and her sister Esther.

            [11] Esther Rankin is also buried in the Fairview Cemetery and shares a memorial with her parents and sister Rebecca, see prior footnote.

                  [12] 1870 census, Montgomery Twp., Samuel J. Rankin, 36, farmer, $18,000/$2,600, Elizabeth Rankin, 30, Elizabeth Rankin, 1. 1880 census, Johnson Rankin, 46, farmer, wife Lizzie Rankin, 36, daughter Lizzie Rankin, 12, and niece Elizabeth Rankin, 6. Samuel J. and Elizabeth Knox Rankin have a shared monument in the Fairview Cemetery in Mercersburg.

                  [13] See PA death certificate for Elizabeth Watson Rankin, File No. 74957. Resided Mercersburg, PA, Rt #1, Montgomery Twp. Identifies her as a daughter of Samuel J. Rankin and Elizabeth Knox. Born 11/19/1868 in Mercersburg. Died 22 Aug, 1959. Never married.

                  [14] 1870 census, Franklin, Montgomery Twp., J. Watson Rankin, 34, b. PA, Molly D. Rankin, 25, PA, James C. Rankin, 1. Franklin Will Book G: 549, will of J. Watson Rankin dated 27 Feb 1872 proved 1 Apr 1872. Wife Mary D. Rankin, children James Clark Rankin and Mary M. C. Knight, both children under 21.

                  [15] 1900 census, Montgomery Twp., Franklin Co., James Rankin, b. Jun 1868, PA, parents b. PA. Lawyer. Wife Jennette, b. Aug 1868. Married 3 years, one child living. Daughter Margaret Rankin, b. Nov. 1898. James C. and wife Jenette are buried in the Fairview Cemetery, see memorial here.

                  [16] Margaret E. Rankin was baptized 21 Apr 1899 in the Presbyterian Church of the Upper West Conococheague in Franklin Co. The church record identifies her parents as James C. Rankin and Janette Forster, image available here.  See also PA Death Certificate for Margaret E. Varden, which identifies her as a daughter of J. Clark Rankin and Jennette Forster. Born 10 Nov 1898, d. 15 Mar. 1962. Spouse identified as Duffield W. Varden. Image available at this link with an Ancestry subscription.

            [17] 1870 census, Mercersburg, Franklin Co., Elizabeth Rankin, 69, and Jeremiah C. Rankin, 24, reaping machine agent.

            [18] For the names of John and Nancy Rankin Embrie’s 10 children, see a compiled history of the Embrie family  at this link. Requires an Ancestry subscription.

            [19] 1850 census, Beaver Co., PA, household of John Imbrie, 54, Nancy Imbrie 52, DeLorma (m) 26, Mary 24, Nancy F. 22, Robert S. 21, John 14, Euphanus M. (f) 17, Jeremiah 11, and David 9, all b. PA. You can find Nancy’s Find-a-Grave memorial at this link.

            [20] 1850 census, Montgomery Twp., Franklin Co., PA, household of Samuel Johnston, 58, farmer, Maria Johnston, 54, Ann Johnston 23, and J. Rankin Johnston, 14. The same family is listed in the 1860 census for Montgomery Twp., Franklin. The younger child was Jeremiah Rankin Johnston, a minister. He moved to Washington Co., PA, where he can be found in the 1870 and 1880 census.

                  [21] Esther Rankin Johnston is buried in the Fairview Cemetery in Mercersburg, see memorial here.

[22] Franklin Co., PA Will Book D:250, will of David Rankin of Montgomery Twp. dated 6 Jun 1829 proved 22 Jan 1833. Wife Molly, children James and Betsy, granddaughter Mary Elizabeth Sellars, only child of daughter Molly. Executor Andrew B. Rankin. 1830 census, David Rankin in Montgomery Twp is listed adj Jacob Kline and James Rankin. Jacob Kline was mentioned in a deed recorded in Franklin Deed Book 16: 507 conveying land adjacent James Rankin.

            [23] See an article about the David Rankin confusion here.

                  [24] Franklin Co., PA Will Book H: 578, will of James Rankin of Montgomery Twp. dated 24 Jul 1872, proved 10 Apr 1879. Wife Elizabeth, life estate in land, remainder to daughter Mary in fee simple. Daughters Elizabeth Rhoads and Sarah Bell Hoffeditz, cash. Mentions deeds to sons David and James Henry for “mansion farm and a tract of Mountain land.” Witnessed by S. J. Rankin. The witness was probably Samuel Johnson Rankin, son of James Clark and Elizabeth Watson Rankin.

                  [25] 1830 census (00001-10001) lists James Rankin in Montgomery Twp. adj his father David. The 1840 census has a family that fits the profile of David’s son James adj. Mr. Cline. He is identified as James C. Rankin, although the middle initial may not be correct. See 1850 census, Montgomery Twp, James Rankin, 51, $3,000, b. PA, Elizabeth Rankin 39, Elizabeth Rankin 21, Mary Rankin 18, David Rankin 17, Marion Rankin (fem) 14, James Rankin 8, Elizabeth Rankin 55 (undoubtedly his sister because she has $1500), and John Watson. 1860 census, Montgomery Twp, James Rankin, 61, Elizabeth Rankin 48, Mary Rankin 25, David Rankin 23, Sarah Rankin 20, and Harvey Rankin, 18; 1880 census, Montgomery Twp., Elizabeth Rankin, 70, daughter Mary 48, son David 46, son Harvey, and John Watson, 49.

                  [26] Elizabeth Rankin Rhodes/Rhoades had two children identified in an acknowledgement by heirs in Franklin DB 69: 49.

                  [27] Franklin DB 52: 299. Franklin Will Book I: 434, will of David Rankin dated 13 May 1882 proved 16 Nov 1882, J. Harvey Rankin sole beneficiary and executor.

                  [28] 1900 census, Mercersburg, Franklin Co., Harvey J. Rankin, 53, b. Dec 1846, single. Landlord. With sister Mary W. Rankin, b. Jul 1835.

Dr. Henry F. Willis – When the Saints Go Marching In

Did you have a sibling a grade or two ahead of you who made straight “A’s” and was well-beloved by teachers? Not much fun following in her wake, was it?

That’s how I feel about my great-great grandfather, Dr. Henry Fisher Willis. I’ve researched him ad nauseam, looking for the inevitable hint of horse thievery, Civil War desertion, or other juicy story in his background. But no.  The man was apparently a saint, a devoted husband and father, a leader in the community, and a church trustee. All I have for him is just one sainted fact after another. No juicy stories, or really any story at all.

So be it. I’m writing an article about him anyway for my Willis family and any other Willis researchers who might find some helpful information here. It mostly will be a litany of facts, which is like what we call “Aggie counting” in Texas — one, and then another one, and then another one.

First, the Basics

Henry was born on 22 Apr 1831 near Friendship in Caroline County, Maryland, a settlement about ten miles north of Preston.[1] He was the eldest of seven sons of Zachariah Willis of Caroline County and Mary Broome Fisher of Marsh(y) Hope, Delaware. Zachariah farmed his father’s old homestead until he was almost 87. However, Henry got his fill of farming much earlier. He went to school during the winter months and worked on the farm the rest of the year until age fifteen. He then gave up school entirely to work on the farm, but continued self-study. In 1850, he quit farming, began teaching in a country school, and studied medicine as well.[2] Ultimately, Henry left to attend medical school and graduated from Philadelphia College of Medicine in 1854.

Henry’s medical degree has a good story. In the 1960s, my father inherited a large china cabinet. Rattling around in the bottom of the cabinet was a handcrafted metal tube about eighteen inches tall. Inside were a diploma and a license to practice medicine, each more than a century old. The diploma from the Philadelphia College of Medicine, written in Latin, named the recipient “Henricum F. Willis.” What a treasure![3]

Dr. Willis Opens his Practice in Delaware

Henry did not return to Maryland upon graduation. Instead, he became licensed in Delaware in July 1854[4] and began his practice in Millsboro, Sussex County, Delaware, some forty miles east of his childhood home.[5] Why, you might ask? The 1860 census provides an economic explanation.

In 1860,  almost 30,000 residents lived in Sussex County, nearly three times the population of Caroline County.[6] Further, with 2,475 residents, Millsboro was the largest town in its county and had only one doctor. In contrast, only 440 lived near Preston, but the town already had two doctors.[7] Clearly, Millsboro presented a greater opportunity for establishing a successful practice.

Henry’s choice is supported by an 1867 gazetteer, which describes other small towns in Caroline County as “post villages.” It tabulates the number of churches, stores, carpenters, and doctors followed by a list of businesses in the community. However, its entry for Preston is only six words – “A post office in Caroline County.”[8] No listing of businesses or churches. Preston was apparently little more than a crossroads.[9]

Dr. Henry Willis was undoubtedly busy in Millsboro, but he kept ties to his home county. He made the all-day, forty-mile trip to Maryland frequently enough to successfully court a young woman. On 19 Apr 1856, he married Emily Rumbold Patton,[10] the daughter of Zachariah’s neighbors Matthew and Martha Rumbold Patton.[11] Henry and Emily undoubtedly had known each other for years. John Isler’s 1875 map of Caroline County shows the proximity of lands owned by the Pattons and Willises.[12] Both families attended the Friendship Methodist Episcopal Church at the crossroads south of their homes.

Although living out of state, Henry invested both time and money in Caroline County. In late 1857, he and his wife Emily spent $1,000 to purchase eight acres of land in Preston. The land had been owned and was still occupied by Henry’s cousin Richard Willis.[13] The land had been sold in a sheriff’s auction to satisfy a judgment. The auction buyers were Richard’s wife Mary Jane Bailey Willis and John Rumbold. Rumbold was Emily Willis’s grandfather and the source of funds to buy the property. Henry and Emily bought the land from her grandfather and Mary Jane Willis,[14] and sold it less than a year later.[15]

After five years in practice, Dr. Willis was elected Vice President of the Medical Society of Delaware for the 1859-60.[16]Henry and Emily appear in the 1860 Census in Millsboro with two young daughters, Cora and Mary.[17] According to the census, their first child was born in Maryland, and the second in Delaware.[18]

A Return to Caroline County

The family’s good fortune in Millsboro did not continue. In about 1861, Henry contracted malaria and abandoned his practice, returning to Caroline County to regain his health.[19] In 1862, he took over the practice of Dr. Edwin E. Atkinson, who had joined the Union Army as a surgeon.[20] Henry became the only doctor in Preston when Dr. Andrew Stafford also left for the war.[21] As the lone doctor in Preston, Henry was successful. However, he was not immune to personal tragedy. About a year after taking up residency in Preston, Henry’s and Emily’s third child, an infant daughter, Emma Patton Willis, died.[22]

Henry and Emily Willis soon became prominent members of the Preston community. In 1867, they bought 33 acres of land adjoining the village of Preston.[23] Prior to the purchase, they probably rented a house on the property. They subsequently added a two story wing and a kitchen to the original structure.[24] In 1872, the Willises also purchased farm acreage southwest of town.[25] The land was part of a tract called Poplar Grove. It is located on Marsh Creek, where Willis ancestors once owned land.[26] The family gained more property in 1883 when Emily inherited from her father half the land called the “Rumbold Farm.”[27] By 1870, the Willis assets totaled $4,000 of real estate and $1,500 in personal property. In 1870, the family lived on Noble Avenue in Preston, Maryland with daughters Cora and Mary and a son, Henry.[28] They named their son after his father and gave him a middle name – Noble – borrowed from another Preston family.

The Noble Name

Usually, a borrowed surname pops up after a marriage between two families. However, that is not the case here. There was no marriage between a Willis and a Noble until well after the birth of Henry Noble Willis. The name seems to have been adopted out of respect and friendship. The most likely family with whom the Willises had such a relationship is that of Twiford S. Noble.[29] Mr. Noble was a decade older than Henry Willis and may have been a mentor. Both were trustees of Bethesda Methodist Episcopal (now United Methodist) Church in Preston and were possibly friends before that.[30] When Twiford’s son Jacob graduated from medical school in 1876, Dr. Willis took him into his practice for a while before Jacob moved to Dorchester County and established his own practice.[31] Whatever the reason for its adoption, the Willis family has used Noble as a first or middle name for five generations beginning with Henry Noble Willis.[32]

Another Family Tragedy

The year 1875 began with another tragedy for the Willis family. Henry’s and Emily’s eldest daughter Cora had just turned eighteen and had become a teacher at Castle Hall school in the town of Goldsboro north of Denton, Caroline County.  She was a boarder in the household of Dr. Alexander Hardcastle. She retired to her room the evening of February 3rd in apparent good health but was found the next morning dead of some unknown illness.[33] Speculation reported in the newspapers said she possibly died of heart disease.[34]

In 1875, Henry Willis was a member of the Building Committee of Bethesda Methodist that raised  funds to erect the current church building.[35] He also served for a time as a Judge in Caroline County’s Orphan Court, which has primary probate jurisdiction. That must have been a burden, since he resided in Preston but the court was in Denton, the county seat. During the 1880s, Willis was also a witness or executor for half a dozen wills made by people to whom he was not related, a sure indication of the community’s respect for him..

The Willis’s surviving daughter Mary wed Joshua B. Clark of Seaford, Delaware on 23 Jan 1878. A report of the wedding indicated J. B. Clark, of Seaford, Delaware, was Junior Editor of the Sussex County Index, presumably a local newspaper. By 1880, son Henry Noble had become the only child in the household.[36] Young Henry followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming a doctor and establishing a practice outside Caroline County — but that is another story.

As Dr. Willis began to age and his health deteriorated, he invited Dr. Jacob Noble back to Preston to join and then take over his practice.[37] Dr. Henry F. Willis died 27 April 1890, five days after his 59th birthday. Bethesda United Methodist Church honors his life of contribution with a stained glass window dedicated to his memory.

Remarkably, despite his time on the Orphan’s Court, his being an executor or witness to numerous wills, his involvement with his father’s estate who died in December 1889, and knowing he was in bad enough health to invite Dr. Noble to take over his practice, Henry did not make a will. He died intestate.

Administration of his estate by his son Henry N. Willis and son-in-law Joshua B. Clark began in May 1890.[38] Disposal of his real estate provides more information about the family into the 1900’s. Again, a story for another time.

____

[1] Tombstone, Bethesda Methodist Cemetery, Preston, Caroline County, Maryland, Henry F. Willis, MD, 22 Apr 1831 – 27 Apr 1890

[2] Jensen, Dr. Christian E., MD, Lives of Caroline County Maryland Physicians, 1774 – 1984, Printed by Baker Printing Company, Denton, Maryland, 1986, 189. Dr. Jensen described at a  meeting of the Upper Shore Genealogical Society of Maryland the diligent research that went into his book. He accessed historical documents and interviewed people who had first-hand knowledge of the doctors. Having met Dr. Jensen (via Zoom) and listened to his presentation, I cite his work with a lot of confidence.

[3] Diploma from Philadelphia College of Medicine in possession of William Burke Willis of Travis County, Texas as of Nov 2023. Per the website of Philadelphia Architects and Builders, the Philadelphia College of Medicine occupied the Adelphi Building at 214-216 South 5th Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The building was erected in 1829-30. It was home to the Philadelphia Club 1834-35 and the Odd Fellows Club in 1845. The Philadelphia College of Medicine used the building from 1846-59 The building was altered in 1847 to add a Surgical Amphitheater. The website notes that the building was demolished but does not give a date.

[4] Original License to Practice Medicine, in possession of the author.

[5] Jensen, 189.

[6] 1860 U S Census shows 29,615 total population of Sussex County, Delaware and 10,520 for Caroline County, Maryland.­­­

[7] Id, Dr. John Martin in Millsboro, Sussex County; Dr. Edwin E. Atkinson and Dr. Andrew Stafford in Preston, Caroline County per the 1860 census.

[8] Geo. W. Hawes’ Maryland State Gazetteer and Business Directory, 1867-1868, Geo W. Hawes Publisher and Compiler, 45 West Fayette Street, Baltimore, MD, p 134, image 146 of 584, online at ancestry.com

[9] Such directories charged a fee to list a business. Possibly, the Gazetteer had not yet descended on Preston to sell its service. On the other hand, a sales rep might not have had much luck. The Preston region was highly rural with an agricultural economy. It would not make much  sense for a business ­to pay a listing fee if everyone already knew how to find the general store at the crossroads and the carpenter and two doctors who lived just down the road.

[10] “Maryland Marriages, 1666-1970”,  see link here : 16 January 2020, H. Fisher Willis, 1856.

[11] 1850 Census for Caroline County, MD, Mathew Patton, 43, M, Farmer, Martha, 35; Robert, 16; Emily, 14; James B., 10; Lydia, 8; Hugh Grimes, 26, Laborer; and Lydia Patton, 69.

[12] Isler, John B, “Map of Caroline County, Maryland – 1875,” see link here. The map also shows other families connected to the Willises  by marriage — Todd, Nichols, Cochran, Turner, and Covey – but those are stories for another article.

[13] Mitchell, 134. Richard was the son of Dorcas Willis and Joseph Willis, who were first cousins. Their grandfather was Richard Willis, Senior. Dorcas and Zachariah Willis, Henry’s father, were children of Richard Senior’s son Richard Junior.  Joseph was the son of Richard Senior’s son Robert.

[14] Caroline County, Maryland, Deed Book CC: 614. The eight acre property was directly across the road from the Bethesda Methodist Episcopal Church and included two dwellings, an office, a smokehouse, and other outbuildings. It was not uncommon for relatives to purchase property at such auctions in order to keep the property in the family.

[15] Caroline County, Maryland Deed Book RJ 29:112. Dr. Willis paid $1,000 for the property and sold it ten months later for $1,200.

[16] Jensen, 189.

[17] 1860 Federal Census, Sussex County, Delaware, Dagsboro Hundred, Millsboro Post Office, Household of  Henry F. Willis, 29, M, Physician $500 Personal Property, E.R. [Emily] Willis, 24, F, Cora F. Willis, 2, F, Mary Willis, four months, F, born in Delaware, Martha Burton, 15, F, a Black servant.

[18] That might be an error; both might have been born in Delaware.

[19] Jensen, 189. No citation is given for this information. I cannot find a reference to any malaria outbreak during this period in Millsboro, but it was a common disease in the region.

[20] Id, and US Civil War Pension Index, see link here. From 1862 – 1864, Atkinson served as Surgeon US Volunteers, Asst Surgeon 4th Maryland Infantry, and Surgeon 2nd Eastern Shore Maryland Infantry. Filed Invalid Pension 23 Jun 1881 and Widow Pension 22 Apr 1891..

[21] US Civil War Pension Index, see link here. Dr. Stafford, however, did not join the medical corps. He organized a company of infantry and served as its captain for three years. Company E, 1st Eastern Shore Maryland Infantry, and then as Provost Marshall.

[22] Tombstone in Bethesda Methodist Cemetery, Emma P, daughter of Henry F & Emily P Willis died 6 Nov 1863 aged 10y 10m [GNW Note: the stated age is in error. Her age should be 10m 10d]

[23] Caroline County, Maryland Deed Book 32:425. Purchased from James Douglass.

[24] Mitchell, Dora, A History of the Preston Area in Lower Caroline County, Maryland, (Caroline County Historical Society, Inc., 2005), 196.

[25] Caroline County, Maryland Deed Book 34:643. 19 Sep 1872 – James E Douglass and wife Annie E sell for $625 to Dr. Henry F. Willis a tract of 67 acres on the east side of Poplar Road.

[26] In 1879, Willis sold the land under a mortgage (Deed Book 41:172) and got it back in 1882 when the debt went unpaid (Deed Book 45:372). It remained in his name at his death in 1890.

[27] Caroline County, Maryland Will Book B:573.

[28] 1870 Federal Census, Caroline County, Maryland, 4th Enumeration District, Preston Post Office, Household of Henry F. Willis age 39 physician , Emely Willis age 34 Keeping House, Cora F. Willis age 12, Mary M. Willis age 10, Harry N. Willis age 4, Helen D Farguhason age 21 School Teacher, Caroline Chase age 45 Domestic Servant, Mathew Chase age 4, Abraham Camper age 14 Farm Laborer. The last three residents were Black. All residents were shown as born in Maryland.

[29] One Noble family was a Willis neighbor in the 1870 census, Isaac L. and his wife Mary E Noble. I have not found any relationship between the Willises and Isaac Noble.

[30] Email 13 Jun 2012 with Dr. Eric Cheezum, historian at Bethesda Methodist.

[31] Jensen, 118.

[32] These include Henry Noble Willis’s son Noble Sensor Willis, grandson Gary Noble Willis, great grandson Noble Sutherland Willis, and great-great grandson Christopher Noble Willis.

[33]  Mitchell, 196.

[34] “Wilmington Daily Commercial,” 8 Feb 1875, page 4, online at newspapers.com

[35] Bethesda United Methodist Newsletter, see link here.

[36] 1880 Federal Census, Caroline County, Maryland, 4th Enumeration District, Preston,  H.F. Willis 49 Physician, Emmily [sic] Willis 44 Keeping House, Henry N. Willis 14 At School, Bessie Farguharson 24 Milliner, Mary Lake 45 Servant.

[37] Mitchell, 197.

[38] Caroline County Administrations Key, online at Family Search, 169. Widow Emily P. Willis and daughter Mary W. Clark renounced their right of administration. Letters of Administration granted to son Henry N. Willis and son-in-law Joshua B. Clark with bond of $5,000 and securities Jeremiah B. Fletcher and Robert Patton [GNW Note: Robert Patton is Emily’s brother].

Enter Spade and Columbo: Autosomal Evidence

It pays to have friends who excel at family history research and know DNA stuff. In that category, I am lucky to know Spade and Columbo. Y’all have met Spade before at least twice.[1] He is a California guy, famous for slurping Cutty Sark and hanging up on people. I don’t know where Columbo lives or what he drinks, if at all. Like Spade, though, he usually gets his man.

The two genealogy detectives are distant cousins. Both are descended from Adam Rankin who died in 1747 in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and his wife Mary Steele Alexander. Spade has a solid gold paper trail back to Adam and Mary. Columbo’s chart has one, um, interesting link, but it is still golden. Spade is descended from Adam and Mary through their son James and his wife Jean Campbell Rankin. Columbo descends through their son William and Mary Huston Rankin.

That brings us to an article published here on October 29, 2023 concerning Joshua and Mary Rankin Cox and her purported parents, John and Anna Craig Rankin.[2] That article wonders whether there was a relationship between those Rankins and Adam’s line. The article suggests some speculative possibilities — with no evidence as far as the eye could see.

It also pays to admit it when you don’t know nuthin’ and ask for help. Enter Spade and Columbo, both of whom have done autosomal tests, as have three of Columbo’s close relatives. Between them, they have numerous Cox matches. Spade sums up the autosomal evidence as follows:

“There’s zero chance that Mary Rankin Cox was not a very close relative of Adam Rankin d. 1747.”

Of course, we are still in the dark about how Adam and Mary Rankin Cox were related. DNA leaves that for us to figure out. Here are some possibilities:

…  Mary Rankin Cox and Adam Rankin were siblings.

…  Mary Rankin Cox was Adam’s niece; thus her alleged father John and Adam would have been brothers.

…  Mary Rankin Cox was Adam’s daughter.

Here is what Spade has to say:

“Lady, you ask so many questions I’m going to have to demand my usual retainer pretty soon. But this one’s on me: I go with siblings as the relationship between Adam Rankin and Mary Rankin Cox. Her oldest child would have been born about 1726, while Adam and Mary Steele Rankin were also having children in the 1720s. Joshua Cox, Mary Rankin Cox’s husband, died the same year as Adam, 1747, also in Lancaster County.  That looks like Mary and Adam were from the same generation. I think she would have been  Adam’s younger sister. Looks to me like there are too many matches at too many centimorgans to say that the connection extends back another generation.”

Columbo, on the other hand, opines that the John who was allegedly Mary Rankin Cox’s father was Adam’s brother, which puts Mary in the role of Adam’s niece. That theory gets support from the oral family legend that Adam of Lancaster County had a brother John.

The notion that Mary Rankin Cox may have been Adam’s daughter seems like forcing Cinderella’s shoe to fit. The argument in favor is that Mary had a proved brother William, while Adam had a proved son William. The glaring flaw here is that Adam’s will didn’t name a daughter Mary or a son-in-law Cox. Adam did give his married daughter Esther Rankin Dunwoody a cash bequest, so he wasn’t just omitting daughters. If there was ever a surefire way to stir up resentment, or even a will contest, failing to give a child at least a token bequest qualifies.

The other issue with the theory that Mary Cox was Adam’s daughter arises from the plethora of William Rankins in the area. Why pick on Adam’s son William to be Mary Cox’s brother out of all the William Rankin possibilities who appeared in Franklin County? Equally as reasonable — although just as speculative — Adam Rankin and Mary Rankin Cox could well have had a brother William, who would then have been the Rankin named in Joshua Cox’s will.

Spade’s argument sounds more persuasive. My only addition is the fact that Joshua Cox’s will, written in April 1747, provides that his children should be “put to trades” at age sixteen.[3] That suggests some of his children were born in the 1730s. His son John, named an executor, was probably indeed born by 1726. That seems to support Spade’s opinion that Mary Rankin Cox may have been Adam’s younger sister.

In short, there doesn’t seem to be any compelling logic dictating the type of family relationship between Mary Rankin Cox and Adam Rankin. Also, there is the niggling matter of evidence, which is entirely lacking in this matter. Does anyone reading this have any other ideas, evidence, or suggestions? If so, please share!

Meanwhile, I owe you the next installment in Adam and Mary’s descendant chart. Soon.

See you on down the road.

Robin

            [1] See articles written by or featuring Spade here and here.

            [2] See the article about Mary Rankin Cox and her possible parents at this link.. So far as I know, the only evidence of the existence of John and Anna Craig Rankin is a Cox researcher’s letter in a Franklin Co. historical society.

            [3] Lancaster Co., PA Will Book A: 131. The clerk’s transcription twice calls the testator Joshua and once John. In the margin where the deceased’s name is written, “Joshua” is struck through and “John” is written in. This may be the reason many people refer to this man as “John Joshua Cox” or “Joshua John Cox.” In any event, the will names as executors Joshua’s wife Mary and son John, with Joshua’s brother-in-law William Rankin to assist his wife. Joshua left two-thirds of his estate to his children, but identified by name only his sons John and Richard and a daughter Mary. The will also provided that his children should be “put to trades” when they reached age 16. That suggests at least some of the children were born after 1731, since the will is dated 22 April 1747. John, named an executor, was probably of age in 1747 and thus born by 1726.

Imagine that! A chart for Adam and Mary Steele Alexander Rankin (Part 1 of n)

THIS JUST IN!!! A Big Y test and well-documented papyrus trail prove that Adam Rankin, who died in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania in 1747 (wife Mary Steele Alexander), is descended from Adam Rankin of the Garden of Eden (wife Eve, birth surname unknown).

Just kidding. There were no surnames back then.

Enough fun. I’m attempting to construct an outline descendant chart for Adam’s and Mary’s family, including citations to evidence so that readers can evaluate issues for themselves. This will make for copious footnotes, although not for entertaining reading. My hope is that it will be useful reference material. The chart will expand to an unknown number of posts, thus the “Part 1 of n” in the title.[1]

We will begin with Adam, the original immigrant in his line, and the four children he named in his will.

1 Adam Rankin d. 1747, Lancaster Co., PA. Adam arrived in the colonies by at least 1722.[2] His only proved wife was Mary Steele Alexander, widow of James “the Carpenter” Alexander and daughter of John Steele of New Castle County, Delaware. Deeds establish that Adam and Mary married between August 1718 and 1724 in the Colonies.[3]

 The only evidence I have seen for Adam’s acquisition of land is a 1742 warrant.[4] Adam willed that land to his son James Sr., and a deed executed three-quarters of a century later by James Sr.’s son James recited the tract’s provenance.[5] The family probably lived on or near Conococheague Creek (also spelled Conogocheague) close to Greencastle, then in Lancaster County, now Franklin.

Adam’s 1747 will names three sons, a daughter, and a wife, although it doesn’t mention his wife’s given name.[6]  There is evidently no documentary evidence[7] for — take a deep breath here — Adam’s birth year, the birth years of his children, the identity of any wife prior to Mary, where he was born (although it was undoubtedly either Scotland or Ulster), his parents, or any siblings.[8] Anything to the contrary, no matter how “many online trees” claim otherwise, is unproved absent evidence. In that regard, the oral family history and “many online trees” identify a John Rankin who died in Lancaster in 1749 as Adam’s brother, although Big Y testing conclusively negates that claim.[9]

     2 James Rankin Sr. d. 1795, Franklin Co., PA.[10] Adam’s son James Rankin Sr. appeared on the 1751 tax list for Peters Township in Cumberland County, which would then have comprised the southwest part of modern Franklin County (including Peters and Montgomery Townships).[11] James appeared in the records of Peters or Montgomery Townships from 1751 until he died.[12]

Based on his first appearance in county records in 1751, James Sr. may have been born about 1726. Adam’s 1747 will, which states that James was already in possession of some land, suggests an earlier birth year, perhaps 1722.[13]

James Sr.’s wife was Jean/Jane Campbell, daughter of William Campbell.[14] James Sr.’s tract in Montgomery Township was on Licking Creek.[15] He died in 1795 in Franklin County, leaving a will identifying his wife and six children.[16] This family attended the Lower Conococheague  or “Welsh Run” Presbyterian Church.[17]

     2 William Rankin died in 1792 in Antrim Township, Franklin Co., PA. This William is well-known to Rankins, some of whom claim descent from him in error.[18] His wife was Mary Huston (died about 1824), daughter of Archibald and Agnes Huston.[19] Both William and Mary left wills. His named all his children and describes locations of the tracts devised to his sons. That makes it possible to find them thereafter with confidence. Mary’s will named inter alia four grandchildren for whom I have found no other documentary proof.[20] There is also a family Bible containing birth dates of their children and some grandchildren.[21] With those foundations, this is a fun and easy family to track.

William’s birth date is not proved. He began appearing in county records in 1751, when he was named on a tax list for Antrim Township.[22] As with his brother James, that suggests he was probably born by 1726. William lived in Antrim Township until he died.

His Revolutionary War service is deemed sufficiently proved to admit descendants into the S.A.R., although he was probably too old to have been in active military duty. His will proves seven sons and one daughter, as does the family Bible.[23] All of William and Mary’s children were born before Franklin was created in 1784, suggesting they were born in Cumberland Co., the predecessor county. Quite a few members of William and Mary’s family are mentioned in the records of the Upper West Conococheague Presbyterian Church.[24]

William appeared in a plethora of county records, but is never shown with a middle initial, much less a middle name. I have asked a number of people who assert he had one to share any evidence on that issue. So far, no takers. It is a solid gold bet that the middle name “Steele” frequently claimed for him is fiction.

     2 Jeremiah Rankin died in 1760 in what was then Cumberland County in an accident in his mill (or perhaps the family’s mill? I don’t know) on Conococheague Cr. near Greencastle.[25] He married Rhoda Craig about 1754. After Jeremiah died, Rhoda remarried to a Mr. English.

I have found no records for Jeremiah in Pennsylvania except for his mention in his father Adam’s 1747 will. There should be guardian’s records since he left four minor sons, and presumably probate records concerning his land, but I have found neither. Jeremiah and Rhoda’s sons went to Fayette and Woodford Counties, KY.[26]

Fortunately, there is secondary evidence concerning Jeremiah’s family. It includes (1) a letter written in 1854 by John Mason Rankin, a grandson of Jeremiah and Rhoda,[27] and (2) a history of Kentucky Presbyterianism, which includes information about Rev. Adam Rankin, a son of Jeremiah and Rhoda.[28] History is based in part on Rev. Adam’s autobiography, establishing its credibility. It identifies Rev. Adam as a son of a Miss Craig and confirms that his father died in 1760 in a mill accident.

     2 Esther Rankin, the only daughter named in Adam’s 1747 will, married a Mr. Dunwoody. I apologize for my failure to research daughters, including Esther. My focus is on the paternal line in an effort to identify potential Rankin Y-DNA test volunteers. The omission is likely shortsighted, since families frequently intermarried and/or migrated together. The Dunwoody family might provide helpful information. If you are a descendant of Esther’s, I would love to hear from you.

And that’s it for this installment. Next, assuming I don’t get diverted, will be the children of James Sr. and Jean/Jane Campbell Rankin.

See you on down the road.

Robin

            [1] Disclaimer: a friend and blog reader has pointed out my regrettable tendency to promise follow up articles but then fail to do so. My usual excuse is that some cool new puzzle became a distraction. Then life went on and I forgot about the follow up. I will try to do better. No guarantees.

                  [2] Some Adam Rankin, almost certainly the same man as the Adam who m. Mary Steele Alexander, was among the signatories to a 1722 petition to Lord Baltimore saying the petitioners believed they lived in MD, not PA. Calvert Papers, Maryland Historical Society Manuscript Division MS 174, Microfilm No. 6, Document No. 279. Family oral tradition says that Adam came to the Colonies in 1720, although I’m not aware of any records for him prior to 1722.

                  [3] For evidence of Adam and Mary’s marriage date and Mary’s parentage, see the article at this link.

            [4] 11 Nov 1742 warrant to Adam Rankin, 100 acres “situate at Conegocheage between the lands of Samuel Owen, James Swaster?, Samuel Brown and the Blue Mountains.” See the grant  here.

            [5] Franklin Co., PA Deed Book 12: 28, deed dated 27 March 1818 from James Rankin and wife Mary to Jacob Kline, all of Montgomery Twp., conveyance of land including a 107-acre part of a tract of 188 acres surveyed per a warrant to Adam Rankin dated 11 Nov 1742. Adam devised the tract to his son James Rankin Sr., dec’d at the time of the deed, who then devised it to his son James Rankin, the grantor, on March 25, 1788. That is the date of the will of James Sr., proving James the grantor in the deed was a son of James Sr.

            [6] Lancaster Co., PA Will Book J: 208, will of Adam Rankin dated 4 May 1747, and proved 21 Sep 1747. His wife was mentioned although her given name not stated. Sons James, William, and Jeremiah; daughter Esther Rankin Dunwoody. The deed establishes that James was already in possession of some of Adam’s land.  Adam devised the home tract to William and Jeremiah.

            [7] When I say, “there is evidently no documentary evidence,” it simply means I have not found any relevant records, nor have I found anyone who claims to have any.

[8] Family oral history claims Adam first married an Elizabeth May in Ireland. She allegedly died after arriving in the colonies and was reportedly the mother of Adam’s son James. While it is certainly possible that Adam had a marriage prior to Mary Steele Alexander, there is evidently no evidence for a prior wife other than oral family history. Adam’s alleged parents and Rankin grandfather are also identified in the oral history, also despite an apparent lack of evidence. Adam’s purported ancestry is nevertheless cast in bronze in a tablet located at the Mt. Horeb Presbyterian Church cemetery in Jefferson Co., TN. It is therefore cast in concrete in online trees. I don’t find the legend entirely credible, in part because there is evidence that it was a relatively recent creation, probably in the early twentieth century. Also, the fact that the legend is mistaken about Adam d. 1747 and John d. 1749 being brothers is significant. See an article about the legend here.

            [9] There was another John Rankin whose daughter and son-in-law reportedly went to Chester County (predecessor to Lancaster, Cumberland, and Franklin Counties) circa 1720, when Adam also allegedly arrived. That John’s wife was reportedly Anna Craig, or perhaps Mary Craig. Their daughter Mary Rankin m. Joshua Cox. It is possible that John Rankin was Adam’s brother. Alternatively, John and Miss Craig could conceivably have been Adam’s parents. I have found no evidence for either possibility, both of which qualify as rank speculation. Probably the only way to assess them is to find a male Rankin descendant of John and Anna and persuade him to Y-DNA test. See a brief article about John and Anna Craig Rankin at this link.

            [10] Franklin Co., PA Will Book A: 345, will of James Rankin Sr. of Montgomery Twp., will dated 25 Mar 1788, proved 20 Oct 1795.

            [11] FamilySearch.Org Film No. 7856871, Image No. 29, 1751 tax list for Peters Twp., Cumberland Co., PA.

            [12] E.g., Cumberland Court of Quarter Sessions Docket 2: 115, James Rankin, constable in Peters Twp., March 1764; Id. at Docket 5: 270, James Rankin et al. appointed supervisors of roads in Peters Twp., 27 Mar 1778. His 1788 will states that he was “of Montgomery Township,” which had been created in 1781. Franklin Co., PA Will Book A: 345.

            [13] My observation is that colonial men consistently began appearing in county records and/or marrying around age 25. I have no actual evidence for that estimate, just a quarter-century of looking at county and other records. If I were estimating James Sr.’s birth year, I would choose “about 1724” and deem him a son of Mary Steele Alexander Rankin. In that regard, there is an 1854 letter written by John Mason Rankin (son of Rev. Adam Rankin of KY, grandson of Jeremiah and Rhoda Rankin, and great-grandson of Adam and Mary) which asserts that James Sr. was Mary’s son.

                  [14] Cumberland Co., PA Will Book A: 108, will of William Campbell of Peters Twp. dated 16 Aug 1776, proved 16 Mar 1787. William Campbell named inter alia his daughter Jean (Campbell) Rankin and a son Dugal Campbell. Dugal was the father of Frances (“Fanny”) Campbell, who was thus Jean Campbell Rankin’s niece. Fanny married David Rankin, a son of William and Mary Huston Rankin. David was thus James Rankin’s nephew. If I have this straight, one of James and Jean Campbell Rankin’s nieces (her Çampbell niece) married one of James and Jean’s nephews (his Rankin nephew).

            [15] Franklin Co., PA Deed Book 1: 36, deed dated 10 Mar 1785 from James Rankin Sr. of Montgomery Twp., Franklin Co., to William Rankin, son of James Sr., one moiety (i.e., half) of  279 acres, where William now lives, containing 133.5 acres on Licking Cr. by the division line of the original 279-acre part to Jeremiah Rankin. James Rankin’s land was located in part of Montgomery Township now called “The Corner,” south of Mercersburg, at the foot of Two Top Mountain.

[16] Franklin Co., PA Will Book A: 345, will of James Rankin Sr. of Montgomery Twp., will dated 25 Mar 1788 and proved 20 Oct 1795. Wife Jean to live with son David. Sons David, William, Jeremiah, and James; daughter Ruth Tool; SIL Samuel Smith and granddaughter Mary Smith. James Sr. had earlier deeded half of his 280-acre Licking Cr. tract to his son William. See id. In 1809, William’s son James, a grandson of James Sr., sold the tract on Licking Creek. Franklin Deed Book 8: 380.

            [17] Virginia Shannon Fendrick, American Revolutionary Soldiers of Franklin County, Pennsylvania (Chambersburg, PA: Historical Works Committee of the Franklin County Chapter of the D.A.R., copyright 1944) 180, “Jeremiah Rankin, Ranger on the Frontier, served in 1778, under Capt. John McConnell and as Ensign, 1780-81, with Captain Wm Huston; a son of pioneer James Rankin of Montgomery Township … James, Jeremiah, David and William Rankin were pewholders in the “Lower Conococheague” or Welsh Run Church.” James Sr.’s will proves sons James, Jeremiah, David, and William. Franklin Co., PA Will Book A: 345.

            [18] See an article describing some of the confusion about this family at this link.

                  [19] Franklin Co., PA Will Book A: 110, will of Agness Huston, widow of Archibald Huston, dated 15 Nov 1776, proved 14 Mar 1787. She named William Rankin executor and identified him as the husband of her daughter Mary.

            [20] See an article about Mary Huston Rankin’s will here.  I don’t have a citation for this will.

                  [21] A transcription of information in the family Bible can be found on Disk 4 of the so-called “Cloyd tapes,” available from the Tennessee State Library and Archives. I do not have references to the relevant disk page numbers. Wading through Flossie Cloyd’s materials is a daunting task guaranteed to induce glassy eyes. Rev. J. O. Reed, a former pastor of a Presbyterian Church in Opelousas, LA, was a descendant of William and Mary Huston Rankin and owned the family Bible. He sent a transcription of information in the Bible to Ms. Cloyd in a letter dated May 6, 1954.

            [22] FamilySearch.Org Film No. 7856871, Image No. 26.

                  [23] Franklin Co., PA Will Book A: -B: 256, will of William Rankin of Antrim Twp., Franklin, dated 20 Oct 1792, proved 28 Nov 1792. William named his wife Mary and children, in this order: Adam, Archibald, James, William, Betsy, David, John, and Jeremiah. He identified Betsy, John, and Jeremiah as being less than 21 years old.

            [24] E.g., Archibald Rankin died 24 Jun 1845, an entry in the records of the Upper West Conococheague Presbyterian Church. Several other family members also appear in entries, including some children of David Rankin, son of William and Mary Huston Rankin. The original records may be viewed at an LDS Family History Center or with an Ancestry subscription at this link.

                  [25] Here  is an article containing sources for information about Jeremiah.

            [26] Id.

            [27] See a transcription of John Mason Rankin’s letter online at this link.   It is somewhat controversial, not least because the location of the original is a mystery. I for one haven’t communicated with anyone who has seen it. I exchanged emails with a Rankin researcher who talked to someone who claims to have seen the letter. She was informed the letter is in a museum in San Augustine, Texas. However, there is no museum in that city, although there is an historical/genealogical society. Further, the letter has so much information in it that either (1) John Mason had an astonishing memory or a source such as a family Bible, or (2) the letter is an elaborate fraud based on recent research. To the extent I have researched this family, the information in the letter is mostly accurate. It is noteworthy that John Mason’s letter says the father of Adam d. 1747 was named Adam, although the oral family legend claims his name was William. Also, the letter makes no mention of the oral legend’s stories about martyred Rankin ancestors in Scotland and the Siege of Londonderry. Prepare for a broken record here: there is apparently no documentary evidence for those ancestry claims. I believe John Mason’s letter is genuine in part because it is clear the writer was not familiar with the fabulous oral legend. Someone perpetrating a 20th century fraud would surely have included its stories. Also, the letter includes extensive comments about the local economy which suggest a contemporaneous familiarity.

            [28] Rev. Robert Davidson, History of the Presbyterian Church in the State of Kentucky (New York: R. Carter, 1847) 95.

Dr. Seuss again: “Thing 4,” need help!

Sometimes one has to belly up to the bar and admit she hasn’t a clue. This is one of those times.

Also, how could I possibly have omitted Thing 4 from my last post? He is one of the William Rankins who gives some of us gray hair. Or, to be accurate, more gray hair. If you are mystified by the Dr. Seuss and “Thing 4” references, please read the previous article on this website.

There are at least two sources attesting to the existence of Thing 4:

  • The 1747 Lancaster County, Pennsylvania will of Joshua Cox naming as executors his wife (given name not provided) and his brother-in-law William Rankin.[1]
  • A letter dated April 13, 1995 from Lucille Cox Thompson to the Kittochtinny Historical Society in Chambersburg, Franklin County, Pennsylvania. Ms. Thompson identified a John Rankin and Anna Craig as the parents of (1) Mary Rankin who married Joshua Cox and (2) William Rankin. It also says that Joshua and Mary Rankin Cox’s daughter married John Craig.

The letter goes on to say that John and Anna Craig Rankin arrived in the Colonies circa 1720 and settled in “Upland, Pennsylvania.” That borough is now in Delaware County, which was created in 1789 from Chester County.

Here’s the scanty outline chart the above information defines:

1  John Rankin m. Anna Craig

    2 William Rankin

    2 Mary Rankin m. Joshua Cox

      3 Mary Cox m. John Craig

So … who was the William Rankin with a sister Mary Rankin Cox?

I don’t know. The Rankin DNA Project doesn’t have a member who claims descent from William, son of John and Anna Craig Rankin.[2] He could be the same man as the William who married Victory Alcorn in Cumberland County and went to North Carolina, AKA “Thing 1.” Or he could be the same man as the William who married Mary Stewart in Franklin County and went to Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, AKA “Thing 2.” He might even be the same man as “Thing 3,” William Rankin of Indiana County, Pennsylvania. If anyone out there has a theory, please say so.

Here is another question: who was the John Rankin whose wife was Anna Craig?

Again, I don’t know. He was almost certainly not the John Rankin who died in Lancaster County in 1749. That John Rankin’s will named his wife Margaret,[3] while his family’s oral history identifies his wife as Jane McIlwee.

However, the surname Craig – which appears twice in the above minimal chart –  caught my attention. If you are a Rankin researcher or follow this blog, you know that Adam and Mary Steele Alexander Rankin of Lancaster County (created from Chester) had a son named Jeremiah. He died in a mill accident in Cumberland (created from Lancaster) in 1760. Jeremiah Rankin’s wife was Rhoda Craig.

As you undoubtedly know, colonial families frequently intermarried. If you find Rankins and Rankin descendants who married Craigs — e.g., John Rankin/Anna Craig, Jeremiah Rankin/Rhoda Craig, and Mary Cox/John Craig — a reasonable inference is that the Rankins were related. Alternatively or additionally, that the Craigs were related. But how? That, my friends, is the $64,000 question, to use an outdated metaphor.

Jeremiah’s father Adam Rankin allegedly had a brother John, according to an oral family legend that has become the conventional wisdom. Adam’s brother John, claims the legend, was the John Rankin who died in Lancaster County in 1749, two years after Adam died there. The problem with this part of the legend is that Y-DNA tests of both men’s descendants conclusively establish that the Adam who died in 1747 and the John who died in 1749 were not genetically related in the paternal line. They could not possibly have been brothers.

There are several possibilities here. Perhaps (1) the legend is just flat wrong about Adam having a brother John, or (2) the legend identified the wrong (albeit extremely convenient) John Rankin as Adam’s brother.[4] Enter a hoary genealogy maxim: family legends nearly always contain some element of truth, even if the details are frequently in error. What immediately sprang to mind was this: could the oral legend be right that the Adam who died in 1747 had a brother named John, but Adam’s brother was the John Rankin who married Anna Craig rather than the John who died in 1749?

Alternatively, might it be possible that John and Anna Craig Rankin were the parents of Adam died 1747, rather than John and Adam being brothers? The Cox family oral history, which is probably due as much deference as the Rankin family oral history, is that John and Anna’s daughter Mary Rankin Cox and her husband Joshua came to the colonies about 1720, which is supposedly when Adam arrived.

Those theories suggest two alternative speculative short charts for the line of Adam d. 1747:

Theory 1: John and Adam were brothers …

1  Unknown Rankin parents

2 John Rankin m. Anna Craig

2 Adam Rankin m. Mary Steele Alexander

OR Theory 2: John was Adam’s father …

1 John Rankin m. Anna Craig

2 Adam Rankin m. Mary Steele Alexander

2 Mary Craig m. Joshua Cox

2 William Rankin

I am not endorsing these theories, just throwing them out there as food for thought. I hope to find someone having relevant information and/or thoughts to offer on the subject.

See you on down the road.

Robin

            [1] Lancaster Co., PA Will Book A: 131.

                  [2] Not all members of the Rankin DNA Project provide a family tree. One of them could be descended from John and Anna Craig Rankin.

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

                  [4] The fact that Adam d. 1747 and John d. 1749 were not related in the Rankin line is one of several aspects of the legend that make me wonder whether it was created relatively recently — i.e., in the 20th century — rather than having been handed down from generation to generation since the 18th or 19th century. Some of Adam’s and John’s descendants appear never to have heard the legend. Rev. Adam Rankin (son of Jeremiah and Rhoda Craig Rankin and grandson of Adam and Mary Steele Alexander Rankin) was apparently not familiar with the legend. Nor was Richard Duffield Rankin, a great grandson of the John Rankin who died in Lancaster in 1749. See this article about the legend.