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, 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.  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.
 See the article at https://digupdeadrelatives.com/2018/12/28/reprise-scots-irish-anyway/
 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.