Two Rankin Revolutionary War Pension Applications

This article is about men from two Rankin families: (1) Robert and Rebecca Rankin of Guilford, North Carolina and (2) David Rankin of Iredell, North Carolina. The families are a good Y-DNA match. David of Iredell could be a son of Robert and Rebecca, although that is unproved. They are undoubtedly at least cousins of some degree. Both belong to Lineage 1 of the Rankin DNA Project.[1]

It is easy to confuse some of the Rankin men who lived in North Carolina and Tennessee in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. That includes two men named Robert, both of whom fought in the Revolutionary War. They were both originally from North Carolina, but moved to Tennessee about 1825-1830. A commentor on our website made it clear that I had done a bad job of distinguishing them.

To clear up the confusion, lets revisit each man briefly to contrast their histories and pension applications. First, the man I call “Rev War Robert Rankin” (“Rev” stands for “Revolutionary,” not “Reverend”), then his fellow soldier “Mystery Robert Rankin.

Rev War Robert Rankin of Rowan/Guilford, NC and McNairy, TN (1749 – 1840)[2]

Rev War Robert was a son of George and Lydia Steele Rankin of Rowan/Guilford County, North Carolina.[3]He married twice: first, to Mary (“Polly”) Cusick, probably in the early 1780s, and then to Mary Moody in 1803.[4]He applied for a pension in McNairy Co., TN on May 20, 1833.[5] Among other things, he testified as follows in his application:

    • He was born in Guilford Co., NC on May 29, 1759. (At that time, it was Rowan County; Guilford wasn’t created until 1770.)
    • He was in the battle of Guilford Courthouse on March 15, 1781.
    • He lived in Guilford until 1830. Then he moved to McNairy County, Tennessee, where he was residing when he applied for a pension.

Rev War Robert died in McNairy County on Dec. 21, 1840.[6] He is buried in Bethel Springs Cemetery; there is an image of his military tombstone at[7]

“Mystery Robert Rankin” of Gibson County, TN (1748 – after 1835)

I refer to the second Robert Rankin as “Mystery Robert” because his family of origin is not conclusively proved. The records of Gibson County, Tennessee, where he applied for a Revolutionary War pension, reveal little about him. He only appeared in the 1830 census, one deed, the pension application, and a few tax records in Gibson County.

One thing, however, is obvious: the Robert Rankin who applied for a Revolutionary War pension from McNairy County, Tennessee (“Rev War Robert”) was not the same man as Robert Rankin of Gibson County, Tennessee (“Mystery Robert”). The two pension applications leave no doubt about that.

Mystery Robert testified in open court on September 7, 1832 in support of his application for a pension. [8]He said the following, inter alia:[9]

    • He was 84 years old, and thus born about 1748.
    • He served in the North Carolina militia. This almost certainly means that he lived in North Carolina when he enlisted.
    • He was in the battle of Ramsour’s Mill, where, he testified, “I lost a brother, killed by the Tories.” That battle took place in June 1780 in Lincoln County, North Carolina.

Most of the patriot troops who fought at Ramsour’s Mill were from Iredell County, NC. The Philip Langenhour papers, owned by the Iredell Genealogical Society in Statesville, establish that one of the dead patriots was named Rankin. Other Iredell and Lincoln County records provide evidence that James Rankin died at Ramsour’s and that he was a son of David and Margaret Rankin of Iredell. David and Margaret also had a son named Robert, proved by David’s will. Robert appeared frequently in the Iredell County records through the early 1820s, then disappeared without leaving any probate or cemetery records. Given the real and personal property ownership among this Rankin family, it is unlikely that Robert died in Iredell. Instead, he probably moved on.

The odds are that he landed in Gibson County, Tennessee. The evidence strongly suggests that Robert, brother of James, son of David and Margaret Rankin of Iredell, moved to Gibson County, where he stated in his pension application that he had a brother who died at Ramsour’s Mill.

I hope you read the pension applications of these two men. The amount of detail these veterans recalled is amazing – usually in 1832 or 1833, a full half-century after their service. I shouldn’t be surprised, though. My husband is a Vietnam vet, and it is clear that a war experience leaves one with very strong memories.

See you on down the road. The Rankins and I are not yet finished with each other …


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[1] See identified Rankin lineages on the project website here.

[2] National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Vol. 25, No. 4, December 1937, Revolutionary War Pension Applications. The pension application of Robert Rankin of McNairy Co., TN gave his date of birth as May 29, 1759. His widow, in her pension application, said he died on Dec. 21, 1840. See also an online transcription of Rev War Robert’s pension application, with additional information from his widow’s application, prepared by Will Graves.

[3] Rowan County, NC Will Book A: 141, will of George Rankin dated May 1760, proved Oct 1760, naming minor sons John and Robert and wife Lydia. See also the autobiography of Rev War Robert’s brother Shaker Rev. John Rankin, “Auto-biography of John Rankin, Sen.” (South Union, Ky., 1845), transcribed in Harvey L. Eads, ed., History of the South Union Shaker Colony from 1804 to 1836 (South Union, Ky., 1870), Shaker Museum at South Union, Auburn, Kentucky. The autobiography identifies Lydia Steele as George Rankin’s wife and the mother of John Rankin. See an article about the autobiography in Chapter 1.

[4] Guilford, NC Will Book B: 435, will of William Cusick naming three daughters of Robert Rankin (Lydia, Isbel and Thankful) and testator’s deceased daughter Polly Cusick Rankin; National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Vol. 25, No. 4, December 1937, Revolutionary War Pension Applications, identifying Rev War Robert’s second wife as Mary Moody, married in Guilford County on Nov. 22, 1803.

[5] See Note 2.

[6] For more information on Rev War Robert and his children, see the article discussing him and three other men named Robert from Robert and Rebecca’s line in Chapter 1.

[7] The site poster claims that Rev. War Robert married Mary (“Polly”) Cusick in 1781. I found no evidence for that or any other specific date.

[8] Mystery Robert’s Gibson Co. pension application states his age, establishing his date of birth as about 1748. He was on the Tennessee pension roll in 1835, and may have been the grantor in an 1837 deed and a taxable on the 1838 Gibson tax list.

[9] Here is another link to Mystery Robert’s pension application, transcribed by Will Graves..


3 thoughts on “Two Rankin Revolutionary War Pension Applications”

  1. Thank you, for all your Great research.I am not sure??? I think I found Mary”Polly Cusick Rankin.
    Like yourself I need evidence,ie land records, pensions or if very lucky a Will .Then my family diary has helped thanks to a dear family member who recorded the travels from Mc Nairy Co.TN. to Calif.
    My interest in Rev. Robert Rankin,is Thankful Rankin McCain,is my Thankful, wife of Hance McCain son of Jennie aka Jennet Forbis who was the daughter of Arthur Forbis married to Lydia Steele Rankin Forbis ( I hope I have listed this correctly),now I have the proof on that bit of info. Thanks to you.
    About that name Thankful any ideas?
    1. I have found a grave on
    Polly Rankin Jan.30 1803,Hopewell Pres.Church cem. Huntersville, Mecklenburg,NC,”died with infant at her breast”,more on stone.Also another grave of a Rankin child.
    How to find proof, any ideas?The name and date is all I have now.
    As you have recorded Rev.Robert married a second time in 1803 to Mary Moody.
    Mary Polly’s father id. his 3 grand children by Polly in his Will as Polly had died earlier.
    Any ideas on how I can search for real evidence this is my Polly?
    2. In reading rereading your info.on George Rankin married to Nancy Gillespie(sp?) buried in Bethel Springs,McNairy Co. TN.I can not find if or how Rev.Robert might be related.The odd thing is Thankful died in ARK. in area of other Rankin’s I have yet to discover Thankful’s grave site.My family Bible records that the day she died she asked Hance to marry her cousin who had been taking cer of her and family,I have that record.
    My interest is after visiting Bethel Springs cem. and then the Center Point Cem TX and Wharton Cem between Kerrville TX. and Center Point TX.I discovered Hance McCain’s sister Lydia McCain Burney,and all the Burney family from McNairy Co.TN.Then on to Wharton Cem and the family of George and Nancy Rankin and another Thankful,plus several others from McNairy Co.TN.
    It was Hance and Thankful’s son, William Anthony R.McCain who left from McNairy county for the travels west.
    I want to THANK YOU again, as I thought I was the Lonely Eagle , when the flight route is over family history and flying in a war zone 99% of the time,as info. on line and “collected ‘in history centers,the local library, tends to be a collection of names.If I ques. and request evidence for info. provided,well!
    I’ll be in DC are again this Spring and plan a trip to the College Park Mil. Archives and Nat.Arch.
    My family did not make it to Monterey ,CA. without a route and map.No members lost in the Donner Party,as my great grandfather,made the travels several times and did not go east or west at the end of summer or early spring they wer enot looking for Gold in CA but land to farm on.
    Oh, one last bit , in helping a friend in CA. find her family history in East TX. I discovered the letter written to the Pres. of US.Johnson 1865,asking for a pardon after the Civil War as he had worked as an att. in San Antonio at the Controllers office from 1862-1865.I found the pardon as well, and what a gift for my friend as the request is hand written.There is NOTHING like original evidence.If we ever meet in person I’ll be sure to tell you why this was so very special for my friend. I am very careful with the internet.
    Thank you over and over again for the family history as well as sharing so the world will know
    Facts ore on Facts with evidence.Happy Days in 2019

    1. Patricia, good to hear from you! I’m happy to say I know the answer to your first question. The Polly Rankin d. Jan 30, 1883 (“infant at breast, 5 disconsolable children and husband” or something like that), Hopewell Presby in Mecklenburg, is Mary “Polly” Dougherty Rankin. Hers is one of the three tombstones that you see on the “banner photo” on this website. She is the middle tombstone. The tombstone on the right is her father, John Doughterty. The tombstone on the left is her brother-in-law, Richard Rankin … my ancestor. Mary/Polly Dougherty was married to Samuel Rankin, who was Richard’s brother. Richard Rankin was married to Susannah Doughterty, Mary/Polly’s sister. Richard and Samuel Rankin were sons of Samuel and Eleanor (“Ellen”) Alexander Rankin of Lincoln Co.

      You just happened to fall right into the midst of my Rankin ancestors.

      I’m a little confused about your second question. Which Rev. Robert Rankin are you talking about? Any dates and locations would be helpful.

      While I’m waiting to hear from you, I will go check out Thankful Rankin McCain in my records. I seem to remember that she was a puzzle to me.

      Thanks for the nice words!

      1. AH! I’ll bet you aren’t talking about a Reverend Rankin, you’re talking about the man I call “Rev(olutionary) War Robert.” Is that right? The man who married Mary (“Polly”) Cusick #1 and Mary Moody #2? Duh … I should have figured that out. I’ll send you an email with an outline descendant chart for what this family looks like (I think!). The George Rankin who m. Miss Gillespie and Rev. War Robert, both of whom died in McNairy Co., TN, were definitely family. Cousins of some sort. Chart should help!

        Sorry for my confusion.

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