Some Colonial North Carolina Rankin Lines: an Overview

It is extremely easy to conflate families having the same surname when they lived in the same area at roughly the same time. In North Carolina, all of the Rankin lines first appeared in the area that was originally Anson County. At its formation, Anson included an enormous territory. Its northern border was the Virginia, line until the formation of Rowan County in 1753. It had no western boundary until the formation of Mecklenburg in 1762. Its southern boundary was indeterminate until the survey of the SC line in 1764.

In short, the Rankin families of Rowan, Lincoln, Rutherford, Mecklenburg, Iredell, and Guilford Counties all lived in areas that were originally part of Anson. As if that weren’t bad enough, they all recycled the same male given names ad infinitum: Robert, David, John, Samuel, and William. With that in mind, here is some basic information about several of these colonial Rankin lines. The objective is to help you distinguish among those families when you run across them.

First, a caveat. If you have read my article about the Scots-Irish,[1]  you know that the earliest migrants into the colonies from Ulster arrived around 1700 and settled mostly in New England. Among those were evidently some Rankins. I know absolutely nothing about New England Rankins. What I do know with a modicum of confidence is something about colonial Rankin families of North Carolina. I mucked about the North Carolina records for more than a year, trying to identify the parents of my last conclusively proved Rankin ancestor.

Here are the North Carolina Rankin families briefly sketched in this article: (1) Joseph Rankin of Delaware (1704-1764), two of whose sons went to Guilford County; (2) Samuel and Eleanor (“Ellen”) Alexander Rankin of Lincoln (then Gaston) County; (3) Robert and Rebecca Rankin of Guilford County; (4) David and Margaret Rankin of Iredell County; and (5) Robert Rankin (wives Mary Withrow and Leah MNU)of Rutherford County. Here are brief descriptions of each family.

Joseph Rankin of Delaware (1704-1764) (“Joseph of Delaware”), wife Rebecca MNU. Their sons John and William moved to Rowan/Guilford County.

Joseph of Delaware had definitely arrived in the colonies by 1731, when he acquired a tract in New Castle County, Delaware. He is buried at Head of Christiana Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Newark, New Castle County, where his tombstone survives. Joseph’s wife Rebecca (MNU) and his son William were administrators of his estate. His place of birth is unproved, although a serious gambler would put a lot of money on Ulster. One local history claims he was born in Clyde, Scotland, which is also possible. He had at least seven children. Four sons are conclusively proved (Joseph Jr., Thomas, John, and William), two sons are suggested by circumstantial evidence (Robert and James), and a daughter Ann, d.s.n.p., is proved by the will of her brother, Joseph Jr.

Joseph’s proved sons Joseph Jr. and Thomas remained in New Castle, where both died. Thomas, a Lieutenant in the Delaware militia, is buried in the same grave as his father. The DAR placed a “patriot” marker on the grave, probably giving rise to a claim by one researcher that Joseph (who died in 1764) was a Revolutionary War soldier. If so, he was a ghostly presence.

I have been unable to track Robert or James beyond brief appearances in the New Castle records.

Joseph’s other two sons, John and William Rankin, migrated to that part of Rowan Co., NC which later became Guilford County. John (born 1736, New Castle County, died 1814, Guilford) went to North Carolina first, about 1765-68. His wife was Hannah Carson. William Rankin (born 1744, New Castle, died 1804, Guilford) went to NC about 1768-70, where he married Jennet/Jean Chambers.

John and William are buried at the old Buffalo Presbyterian Church in Greensboro. They each had many children and grandchildren, and their lines were meticulously researched by Reverend Samuel Meek Rankin. His research is documented in his book, The Rankin and Wharton Families and Their Genealogy, originally published in 1931 and now available online in its entirety at at the UNC library website. For the record, Rev. Rankin’s book is dead wrong about Joseph of Delaware being the father of Samuel Rankin, see below.

Two of Joseph of Delaware’s proved descendants have YDNA tested and are a 37-marker match with a genetic distance (“GD”) of 1, a close match. One of the men is a participant in the Rankin DNA Project. Joseph’s line is part of Lineage 1B of the Rankin project, see the chart  here. Joseph’s descendants also match the lines of Robert and Rebecca Rankin of Guilford County and David Rankin of Iredell County. More about them  below. Together, those two families and Joseph of Delaware’s line comprise Rankin DNA Project Lineage 1.

Samuel Rankin (1734 – 1816) of Lincoln Co., NC and wife Eleanor (“Ellen”) Alexander (1740 – 1802)

Thanks to a family legend and YDNA testing, I am reasonably confident that Samuel and Eleanor are my ancestors. I therefore tend to be a bit prissy with respect to misinformation about them. Some researchers claim Samuel and Eleanor were married in Pennsylvania, which is demonstrably incorrect. Eleanor appeared in North Carolina deed and court records with her Alexander family of origin as a child in 1753 and 1755. She married Samuel about 1759-60, almost certainly in North Carolina. Their eldest son, William, was born in North Carolina in January 1761.

Some researchers assert that Samuel was born in Paxtang, Pennsylvania, although there seems to be no evidence for that claim. I think it’s highly improbable. Samuel may be the same man as the Samuel Rankin who appeared on the 1753 tax list for Sadsbury Township in Chester County, Pennsylvania There were no other Rankins on that list.

Samuel and Eleanor lived on Dutchman’s Creek in the part of Lincoln County that later became Gaston County. His nickname, I was charmed to learn, was “Old One-Eyed Sam.” I don’t know how he lost an eye. He and Eleanor had seven sons (William, Samuel, Robert, David, Richard, Alexander, and James) and three daughters (Jane/Jean, Anne, and Eleanor). William, Alexander, James, Jane, and Anne stayed in Lincoln County, or nearby. Richard Rankin died in Mecklenburg County, just east of the Catawba River. You can see Richard’s headstone on Beatty’s Ford Road north of Charlotte in the left foreground in the banner photo on this website. Three of Samuel and Eleanor’s sons (Samuel Jr., Robert, and David) and a daughter (Eleanor Rankin Dickson) went to Rutherford County, Tennessee. David stayed in Murfreesboro, but his three siblings moved on to Shelby County, Illinois.

Two theories about the father/parents of Samuel Rankin (Sr.) still have proponents on the internet. Both of them have been conclusively disproved by Y-DNA testing, see the article at this link. I have found no evidence in colonial records regarding the identity of Samuel’s parents. He is probably the original Rankin immigrant in his line.

Robert and Rebecca Rankin of Guilford Co., NC (“R&R”)

This family arrived in the colonies in 1750 from Letterkenny Parish, Donegal County, Ireland, where their children were probably born. [1] They were in Pennsylvania for only a short while. Robert Sr. and his son George Rankin (or perhaps Robert Jr. and his brother George) were included on the 1753 tax list for West Nottingham Township in Chester County. R&R then came to Guilford County in 1755 as part of the Nottingham Colony, a group of Scots-Irish members of Nottingham Presbyterian Church, now located in Maryland (it was then in Pennsylvania). Here is a map of Chester County in 1712 showing the Nottingham lots, located in disputed territory that wound up in Maryland.

R&R had at least two proved sons who died in Guilford County: George (died in 1760), whose wife was Lydia Steele, and Robert (died in 1795), whose wife’s identity is a matter of controversy among Rankin researchers. Some Rankin family trees and at least one compiled Rankin history conflate the Robert who died in 1795 with his father Robert (husband of Rebecca), who died about 1770-73. The article at this link addresses that issue.

According to Rev. S. M. Rankin, R&R also had a son John who proved to be a research dead end for me, although the Guilford records suggest that is possible. R&R also had a daughter Ann, whose husband was the William Denny who died in Guilford in 1770. R&R probably had other children as well, including two daughters who might be deemed only likely: Margaret (Rankin) Braly or Brawley, widow of Thomas Braly/Brawley,  and Rebecca (Rankin) Boyd, widow of John Boyd. Evidence concerning those daughters is discussed in this article.

All of the above is conventional wisdom so far as I know, except for (1) the identity of the wife of R&R’s son Robert Rankin who died in 1795 (see discussion under David Rankin of Iredell, below), (2) Ann as a daughter of R&R, (3) the two likely daughters Margaret and Rebecca, and (4) the death date of George Rankin, son of R&R. Rev. Rankin said George died in 1761, but that was probably a typo. George actually died in 1760, when his will was both written and probated.

David Rankin of Iredell Co., NC (d. 1789), wife Margaret LNU (“Iredell David”)

David Rankin’s 1789 Iredell will and other records establish a wife Margaret and three children: Robert, James (not explicitly named in the will), and Elizabeth (ditto). Both James and Elizabeth are established by the will, even though it doesn’t provide their given names, and other records.

Iredell David’s son Robert may be and probably is the same man as the “Mystery Robert” who applied for a Revolutionary War Pension from Gibson County, Tennessee in 1832. I made that argument in this article, although my opinion should be deemed somewhat speculative. The identity of Robert’s wife is also a matter of controversy. Some researchers believe his wife was a Jean Denny (1755-1779) from Guilford County. Some Jean Denny definitely married some Robert Rankin in Guilford County in 1775. Other researchers believe that Jean Denny of Guilford married Robert, the son of R&R who died in Guilford in 1795. I disagree, because I believe that Robert (son of R&R) of Guilford was Jean Denny’s uncle. This question requires a fairly lengthy argument which I will save for another day.

In any event, Robert and his wife Jean had two sons: (1) Denny, who married Sarah McMinn, and (2) James, who married Elizabeth McMinn, Sarah’s sister. Both families remained in Iredell. Two of Denny’s sons moved to Gibson County, TN (home of “Mystery Robert”) and then to Shelby Co., TN, where they both died. Many of James and Elizabeth’s descendants remained in Iredell; some are still there today. They are nice folks.

Iredell David’s son James died in the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill in Lincoln Co. in June 1780. His wife was a Miss Alexander (probably Susannah), and they had four children who are proved by Lincoln County guardian records: (1) David Rankin, born by 1781, Lincoln; (2) Margaret (“Peggy”) Rankin who married Thomas Witherspoon in Lincoln, 6 Jul 1801; (3) William Rankin who married. Mary Lourance/Lawrence, 17 Jan 1810; and (4) Jane/Jean Rankin m. William Crays.

Iredell deed records suggest that Iredell David’s daughter was probably  Elizabeth, wife of Samuel McCrary (or McCreary).

For a lengthy chart (including supporting records) on the line of David of Iredell, see the article at this link.

Robert Rankin of Rutherford County, NC (b. 1748-49, d. 1816, Caldwell County, KY), m#1 Mary Withrow, m#2 Leah LNU (“Rutherford Robert”)

Francis Gill did the definitive research on Rutherford Robert and published a book about him and others. I cannot find a copy of his book available for either purchase or loan, or I would buy it.

Rutherford Robert married Mary Withrow in Tryon County, North Carolina in 1769. He owned land on Second Broad River in what ultimately became Rutherford County. He and his future Withrow in-laws may have been listed on the tax list for Aston Township, Chester Co., PA in 1768, before going to NC. Rutherford Robert and Mary Withrow divorced, and he married as his second wife Leah LNU. They wound up in Caldwell County, Kentucky, where Robert applied for tax relief in a document establishing his birth year as 1748-49. He left a will naming his children Margaret, James, John, Rachel and David (children of Mary Withrow) and Elizabeth, Jennet, Jesse and Elias (children of his second wife Leah).  The children evidently scattered to the four winds. At least one of them, Jesse, wound up in Gibson County, Tennessee, see this article about him.

Whew! This article became longer than I expected. Hope this helps a bit in keeping these families straight. One final note: a couple of people who have read my articles say they never look at the footnotes, which just make them too long. I have started omitting them, for the most part. However, if anyone wants a citation to a source for anything in this or any other article, please let me know and I will be happy to provide it.

See you on down the road.


[1] See the article at

[1] John Rankin, a Shaker preacher and grandson of R&R, hand-wrote his autobiography at age 88. These details about the migration of R&R are from that autobiography. See “Auto-biography of John Rankin, Sen.” (South Union, Ky., 1845), transcribed in Harvey L. Eads, ed., History of the South Union Shaker Colony from 1804 to 1836 (South Union, Ky., 1870), Shaker Museum at South Union, Auburn, Kentucky (SMSU), 29-30. For a typescript of Eads’s history, see Shaker Record A at the Special Collections Library, Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green, Kentucky (WKU). The above citation can be found at this link.

16 thoughts on “Some Colonial North Carolina Rankin Lines: an Overview”

  1. Dear Robin: There is a copy of the Book by Francis Gill of Utah in the Willard Library in Evansville, Indiana. My son lives there so I visited and copy all the infor On Rutherford Robert.
    It is not his 800 page book, but about 170 pages. I copied all the Rutherford Robert pages, but did not copy the whole book, because of the cost. I can send you the pages by email or snail mail if you like. Francis had some different theories about who was Rutherford Robert’s Dad and Mom.

    I appreciate all the footnotes, because I am trying to document his accomplishments as a Captain in the Tryon County North Carolina Militia during the Rev War. I am a member of the Sons of The American Revolution thru my Moore lines, but would also like to establish an supplemental thru Rutherford Robert’s line. Roberts Son Jesse married Cynthia Sellers and moved to Gibson County, Tennessee where he died in 1860.

    Thanks for all your work.
    Mike Moore

    1. Michael, I would LOVE to have Francis Gill’s info on Rutherford Robert. How nice of you to offer! Will contact you via email.

  2. Dear Robin: I took my copied pages to a printer so that I can send you a copy. I also printed off what the Genealogy society of Caldwell County sent to me on the Rutherford Robert (1749 – 1816) Actually Francis Gill did not know exactly who Rutherford Robert’s parents were. he suggested it might be David Rankin. I have read papers that said that David was his dad, Samuel was his dad and Robert and Rebecca were his dad.
    So I am not sure. I have taking the Family Tree DNA and Ancestry DNA saliva testsd, but have not yet connected with any one.

    I contacted the genealogy library in Johnston County, North Carolina to ask about my Matthew Moore relative. He was from Bladen County, but there are Moore’s in Johnston county with the same names that are in Bladen County. The librarian was so excited about my taking the DNA Test until it came back and I am not related to any of the Johnston County Moores. Needless to say that I have not been contacted by them since the test. The Librarian suggested that I might have been adopted, thought there is no record.

    Any when I get you address, I will mail the copies.
    Mike Moore

  3. Robin,
    Could it be the third son(John?) of R&R was the brother Rev.R refers to in his Rev Pension.”Campaign in the battle of Ramsour’s-here I lost a brother, killed by the Tories”? Just a thought.
    Again thank you for your work,as info. you provide is so very clear with the footnotes,as well as your corrections as you find new info.
    There is a DAR marker on the grave of Rev. R in Bethel Springs TN,however as you have learned often the DAR marker and records have missing parts..
    I found the Wharton and Rankin papers at Univ.Of NC,very interesting and helpful.
    At present I am trying to work on reading and rereading all your info.
    Thanks again

    1. Aha! I think I can clarify here … there are TWO Revolutionary War pension applications by two (different) Robert Rankins: (1) the 20 May 1833 pension application in McNairy County, TN by the Robert Rankin whose widow was Mary Moody and who is buried with the DAR marker in Bethel Springs; and (2) the 7 Sep 1832 pension application in Gibson County, TN who noted that he lost a brother at the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill in Lincoln Co., NC in Jun 1780. The first Robert (buried in McNairy County) is without question one of the two sons of George and Lydia Steele Rankin of Rowan/Guilford. The SECOND Robert, obviously a different man, is hard to prove. There is no doubt that a JAMES Rankin died at Ramsour’s Mill, and it is highly probable that James was a son of David Rankin of Iredell — who had a proved son Robert. So I think that the Robert who applied for a pension in Gibson Co., TN is the son of David Rankin of Iredell.

      I think I will post these two pension applications on the website because they are obviously confusing!

      Thanks again for the kind words.

  4. James Rankin from Caswell County NC? I am new to Rankin family research and have recently learned that Rankin may indeed be part of my family line through Caty Rankin who married a William Roark and were in Smith County, TN and then Franklin County, TN. Caty’s father is a James Rankin whose probate of 5 Oct 1827 is in Sumner County, TN referring to his daughter Caty Roark (looks like a comma in the wrong place on the probate written record). It appears that this James Rankin and his family were in Caswell County NC, per North Carolina Taxayers, 1679-1790 Vol 2 and 1790 Heads of Families in Caswell County NC. It appears there are Rankin records for this family in Person County NC and Orange County NC, but part of that may be because of how those counties changed. Caty’s sister, Susannah, married John Long and they also ended up in Franklin County TN where Caty and William Roark lived and died.

    Some researchers give this James’ parents as William Rankin (1723-1786) and Victoria Alcorn (1734-1800) — another researcher gives Mary Huston. I have not yet researched the two marriages. The one tree then gives William’s parents as Adam Ranking (of course!) and Mary Steele. I am just now looking at the probate record for a William Rankin 1786 in Caswell County NC witnessed by James Rankin.

    Any insight on this line of Rankin in North Carolina and where it fits in, if it is indeed to Adam and Mary?

    I enjoy your writing style and attention to detail.

    1. Joanna, nice to hear from you! I can say with a fair amount of confidence that James Rankin of Caswell was NOT a son of Mary Huston Rankin, whose son James stayed in PA. William Rankin and Victoria Alcorn are a definite possibility. They do not (no surprise to you!) go back to Adam and Mary Steele Rankin.

      I have never researched the Caswell County Rankins.But the William Rankin who m. Victoria Alcorn (or Acoran) went to ORANGE Co., NC. Sounds like a real possible for you. If they prove out, I’ve got a fair amount of information about them back in Hamilton Township, Franklin Co., PA. Including the will of Victoria Alcorn Rankin’s father. Will be happy to share.

      I have never identified the parents of William m. Victoria, but I am certain he was not a son of Adam and Mary Steele Alexander Rankin. Also, SFAIK, this Rankin line has not yet been Y-DNA tested. Unless perhaps a descendant is one of the Rankin men who have tested and don’t yet match another Rankin in the Rankin DNA Project.

      I will contact you via email, a much better forum for sharing information. Sounds to me like you have a fun project on your hands! I might get involved in researching the Caswell County crew as soon as a health issue gets resolved. Meanwhile, NOBODY has more fun than genealogists do!


        1. David, it would be great if we could find a male Rankin descendant of William and Victoria who would be willing to Y-DNA test. It’s possible he may be connected to the line of Adam and Mary Steele Alexander.

        2. I would be interested in knowing how you connect to William Rankin m. Victoria Alcorn. I connect through Caty Rankin Roark, daughter of James Rankin who lived and died (Oct 1827) in Sumner County TN. James lived in Caswell Co NC. Do you connect through another descendant of William and Victoria?

          1. Joanna, have you identified any (possibly) living male Rankin descendants of William and Victoria Alcorn Rankin? The Rankin DNA Project would dearly love to find someone from that line to Y-DNA test. Thanks for any help you can offer!

  5. Although my Rankin research slowed down, I was able to find a descendant living near Nashville, TN. I have drafted a letter to him. Where do you recommend going for the Y-DNA testing? I’d like to pass on that information when I send my letter to this Rankin.
    Thank you!

  6. I am a descendent of James and Victoria Rankin’s daughter Sarah Ann. Sarah Ann Rankin married William Palmer. Their daughter Sarah Ann Palmer, married Cicero Murphy (grandson of Col. Archibald Murphy). And their daughter, Sarah (Sallie) married Jack McKee. Jack McKee is my great grandfather. I am new to researching the Rankin line and any further information would be great! Thanks

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