Jesse Rankin m. Cynthia Sellers/Sellars: Who Was His Father?

This answer to this question is reasonably straightforward. The only problem is that it leaves another one hanging out there unanswered. Of course it does! This hobby wouldn’t be half as much fun otherwise.

Here’s the background. In January 2018, I posted an article  about some Rankin families I stumbled across in the records of Gibson County, Tennessee.[1] Although the article focused on the Robert Rankin who applied from Gibson in 1832 for a Revolutionary War pension, it also mentioned other Rankin families in the county.

One of the other Gibson County families was Jesse Rankin and his wife Cynthia. Rankin researchers disagree on the identity of his parents. Some claim he was a son of Shaker Reverend John Rankin from the Guilford County, NC line of Robert and Rebecca Rankin. That John died in 1850 in Shaker Village (now “Shakertown”), Logan County, KY. Let’s call him “Shaker John.” Other researchers claim Jesse was a son of the Robert Rankin who lived in Rutherford Co., NC, Pendleton District, SC, and Caldwell County, KY. Call him “Rutherford Robert.”

Jesse of Gibson County was definitely not a son of Shaker John. Good circumstantial evidence establishes that Jesse was a son of Rutherford Robert. See discussion of both possibilities below.

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           Jesse and Cynthia first appeared for certain in the 1840 census for Gibson County. They were probably also enumerated there in 1830, although Jesse’s age group is inconsistent between the 1830 and 1840 censuses.[2] The 1850 census lists the Rankins in Jesse’s household as follows (all four children born in Tennessee):

      • Jesse Rankin, 55, farmer, born KY, District 9, dwelling #1841
      • Cynthia Rankin, 50, born KY
      • James Rankin, 21, farmer
      • Elias Rankin, 17, farmer
      • Williamson Rankin, 15, farmer
      • Madison Rankin, 13

In 1851, Jesse obtained a grant of 48.5 acres in Gibson County.[3] That was the last record I found for him until his will appeared in the Gibson probate records. It was dated November 18, 1851, and named his wife Cynthia and “three youngest sons” Elias, Williamson and Madison. I found no record establishing when the will was proved. Jesse was not listed in the 1860 census, so it is a safe bet that he died sometime between 1851 and 1860.

So far as I can tell, only his son Elias remained in Gibson County, where he appeared through at least the 1880 census.[4] Madison was living in Missouri by 1870. I couldn’t find either Williamson or James after 1850. Both were the right age to have been war casualties.

Knowing that both Jesse and Cynthia were born in Kentucky, the next step was to look in Kentucky marriage records. Turns out they were married on January 7, 1821, in Livingston County, KY.[5]

Jesse of Gibson County was not the son of Shaker John of Logan County, KY. The Logan County records establish that a different Jesse Rankin was a son of Shaker John. Jesse (son of Shaker John) appeared in the census in Shaker Village, Logan County, every decade from 1850 through 1880. Nine other children of Shaker John can also be identified from Shaker Village death records[6] and Logan County federal census records during 1850 – 1880. Jesse Rankin died there, single, in 1882. It is unlikely that Shaker John’s son Jesse ever married or had any children, since the Shakers practiced celibacy.

Well, then … was Rutherford Robert the father of Jesse Rankin of Gibson County? The answer is almost certainly “yes,” for three reasons.

First, Rutherford Robert left a will dated 1808 and proved 1816 in Caldwell County, KY. Robert named a son Jesse. Second, Caldwell County was immediately adjacent to Livingston County in 1821, when Jesse and Cynthia married in Livingston. Jesse’s family almost certainly lived nearby. Third, the only Rankin family appearing in Caldwell and Livingston County records in the first third of the 19th century was the line of Rutherford Robert. Here are some records in those locations:

      • Elias Rankin, another son proved by Rutherford Robert’s will, was listed in the 1820 and 1830 census in Caldwell County. Elias married Matilda Herring there in 1820. Note that Jesse and Cynthia Rankin also named a son Elias, which is not a common name.
      • The “Widow Rankin” (presumably Leah, Rutherford Robert’s wife) was listed in the 1820 census in Caldwell County.
      • Elizabeth and Jennet Rankin, identified as daughters in Rutherford Robert’s will, married in Livingston County to James George (1806) and John Durly (1809), respectively.

The records connecting Jesse, son of Rutherford Robert, to Jesse Rankin of Gibson County may not establish Jesse’s parentage as “conclusively proved.” The circumstantial evidence is sufficiently clear and convincing to accept that conclusion, though.

So much for the question of Jesse’s parents: now for the one that lingers. To which (if any) of the other North Carolina Rankin lines of Rowan County is Rutherford Robert related? Originally, Rowan covered a substantial area, including what would eventually become Guilford, Lincoln, Iredell and Rutherford counties — homes to several colonial Rankin families. Those include Samuel and Eleanor Alexander Rankin of Lincoln, David and Margaret Rankin of Iredell, Robert and Rebecca Rankin of Guilford, and William and John Rankin, two sons of Joseph Rankin of Delaware who migrated to Guilford.

There is apparently no paper evidence connecting Rutherford Robert to any of those families. Francis Gill, the premier researcher on Rutherford Robert’s line, was unable to prove that Robert was related to any other North Carolina Rankin families. We clearly need to turn to Y-DNA testing. So … where is a living descendant of Rutherford Robert? So far as I know, no male descendant from the line of Rutherford Robert Rankin has participated yet in the Rankin Y-DNA project. We need to find one, or – better yet – several.

I’m working on it.

See you on down the road.

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[1] The article titled “The Mysterious Robert Rankin of Gibson County, Tennessee” can be found here.

[2] 1840 federal census, Gibson Co., TN, Jesse Rankin, 2120001-010101. The eldest male is in the 40 < 50 age bracket, or born 1790 – 1800. Compare the 1830 federal census, Gibson Co., TN, Jesse Rankin, 20001-10111. The 1830 census shows the eldest male in the 20 < 30 age bracket, born 1800-1810. The 1830 census is probably wrong.

[3] Barbara, Byron and Samuel Sistler, Tennessee Land Grants (Nashville: Byron Sistler & Associates, 1998).

[4] 1870 federal census, Gibson Co., TN, “Lias” Rankin, 35, farmer, with Lizzie Rankin, 41, Sallie, 11, Mollie, 10, Thomas, 8, Divan, 6, Jeff D., 4, and Ada, 2, all born in Tennessee; 1880 federal census, Gibson Co., TN, listing for E. C. Rankin, 47, wife Elizabeth, 52, daughter Mary E., 20, son Thomas J., 19, daughter L. D., 15, son William A., 14, daughter Ida C., 12, and daughter Nora, 9.

[5] Jordan Dodd, Kentucky Marriages to 1850, online publication at

[6] Shaker Village death records can be found  here..

7 thoughts on “Jesse Rankin m. Cynthia Sellers/Sellars: Who Was His Father?”

  1. The way that I am related to Rutherford Robert is that he married Leah Renolds after divorcing Mary Withrow.

    Rutherford Robert and Leah Reynolds moved to Pendleton district South Carolina Where Jesse Rankin was born in Tryon County in 1795
    Jesse married Cynthia Sellars in Kentucky and then they moved to Tennessee where Robert W. Rankin was born in Sevier County, Tn in 1826. I will call him Sevier Robert Rankin. He married Mary Cedona Cynthia Terrillon 3 Jul 1844 in Gibson County, Tn. They had my great grandmother Serenia Rankin who married my Great Grandfather Elias Hutchinson Moore She was born in Gibson County, Tennessee in 11 Aug 1845 and she died in Carson County, Texas in 1926.

    Elias and Serenia Rankin had my Grandfather Joseph William Moore in Cotton Plant Mo. He died in Pampa, Texas in 1940. Joseph William married my grandmother, Permelia Ann Armstrong in 1900.

    They had my father Jesse Orville Moore in 1915. Jesse Orville married Buna May Harvey in Sayre, Oklahoma in 191938.

    I was born in Long Beach California in 1942. So that is how I am related to Rutherford Rankin.

    I have taken the 67 marker test with Family Tree DAN and the DANA tests and no Rankins or Moore’s have poppred out to claim me.

    Thank you for so much research on the Rankin Family.

    Michael S. Moore

    1. Michael, I have posted your comment although I deleted your mention of that funeral home website — it is LOADED with misinformation about Rankins, mixing up the lines of Rutherford Robert, the Guilford Rankins, and the Lincoln county Rankins, all in one big mush pot. However, I appreciate knowing about your Rankin line. Do you know of any living male Rankin descendants of Jesse and Cynthia, or their son Sevier Robert Rankin? If we could get someone from Rutherford Robert’s line to test, we could establish once and for all which of the NC Rankins he is related to (if any). I would LOVE for you to find and recruit someone!

      And thanks for your kind words.

      1. Hello Robin: The funeral website of the Rankin family was the first thing I found on the Rankin family when I started searching for ancestors. I had a terrible time with it and all the Robert Rankins. I found that it had mixed up the Robert Rankin from Adams County, Illinois with my Robert Rankin of Sevier, Tennessee and all of their children. It took me a long time to get that straight.

        I agree with you, I have only been interested in my direct line to Robert Rutherford and not all the siblings. I realize that that is a mistake and I am trying to rectify that.

        In Two years on Family Tree DNA or AncestryDNA I have not had a match until this last week I got a match on James Rankin, Rutherford Robert’s son with Mary Withrow. The match was moderately confident that I had a 40 percent chance that I was either a 5-8th Cousin. That is the closest I have come from in two years. I sent her a message and hope to hear from her.

        I will start fleshing out Rutherford’s children now. I wrote the Caldwell Historical Society for information and they sent me a lot of Court type documents in cursive and I have not been able to fight my way thru it to understand it yet. I will keep it up though. Thank you

        My Dad, Grandmother, aunts, uncles all moved from the ranch in Hutchinson County, Texas to houses in Pampa, Texas. My cousin Richard Hankins went to Pampa High School in the late 1950’s. I lived over in Amarillo, Texas and never knew who their friends were.
        My Sister lived in Friendswood and then in Alvin, so once a year, I would fly down to Hobby Airport and visit her. She passed away in November. I still have a niece and nephew in Alvin, but I don’t know If I will get down there.

        Michael S. Moore

        1. Michael, so glad you have found a match! Next we will hope to find a Y-DNA match so perhaps we can have a clue how (or whether) Rutherford Robert connects to the other nearby Rankin families.

          I am also trying to trace his descendants to see if I can find a living male. If I do, would you consider asking him to do the Y-DNA test? I’ve found that cousins (even distant ones) are usually more persuasive than someone who isn’t related. And several DNA project administrators have told me that men have better luck than women in convincing another guy to test.

          Best regards,

          1. Dear Robin: Sure, I would contact any one to see if they would take the DNA test. I really would like to find who Rutherford Robert’s father was.

            I am trying to collect enough info to get a supplemental application for the Sons of the American Revolution. Samuel is recognized by the DAR, but not Rutherford Robert.
            I am interested to know the psychology of persuading a person to have a DNA test. I felt strange about it although I am not a criminal, I was a little apprehensive about publicly sharing my DNA

  2. Hello, Robin. Your posting here re Jesse RANKIN, his family & his possible father are of high interest. I’m a direct descendant of Jesse of Gibson Co., Tenn., on my mother’s side. Jesse & Cynthia’s daughter Nancy m. Allen Cornell JAMES (Sr.) in 1850 in Gibson Co. Nancy & Allen’s daughter Mary Ruth m. David Allen HALLIBURTON in 1881 in Dyer, Gibson Co. Mary Ruth & David Allen’s daughter Lottie (a twin b. 1888 in Currie, Gibson Co.) m. James T. SANSOM (b. 1891 in Trimble, Dyer Co. adjacent to Gibson) in 1910. These two are my great-grandparents, whom I actually visited as a boy along with my parents (Mom was Thelma Ruth née SANSOM), in California in the early 1960s.
    I have not done a Y-DNA test (yet). However, I’d be delighted to present you with everything I know about Gibson Co. Rankins, Halliburtons and Sansoms. I live in Nashville, where for some years I worked at TSLA (receptionist-security), which impelled me back into family research. Thanks to this I found out that three direct maternal ancestors fought as Rebels in the War Between the States – two Sansoms & one Halliburton. The latter was David’s father William B., whom I learned was buried in rural Gibson Co. At time of this discovery I was temporarily residing in Clarksville & was enthusiastically observing the Sesquicentennial of the War. So armed with info about the exact location of my Rebel Halliburton’s grave, on 3 June 2013 I drove to Gibson Co., found his grave & paid my respects for my Confederate Memorial Day activity.

    1. Glen, I would bet that Gary and I met you on one of our many visits to TSLA. Love that place! We’ve been going there every other year or so for almost 20 years.

      I’m tickled to make contact with a descendant of Jesse! The Rankin project really needs to find someone from that line (Robert Rankin of Rutherford Co., NC, w#1 Mary Withrow, w#2 Leah) to YDNA test. Your Rankin ancestor is quite a few generations back, though, so the odds are slim that you know a Rankin male cousin. Maybe we could collaborate on finding one? I will send you a private email, much better forum to talk than a comment string.


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