Line of Adam Rankin d. 1747, Lancaster, PA: Serendipity + Civil War History + Baseball

Many of us have ancestors who served in the Civil War and have some interest in its history. Likewise, many of us have experienced serendipity while conducting family history research – finding something good even though we weren’t looking for it. Having a little major league baseball thrown in is a new one for me, but this article has them all. What next? Hot dogs? Apple pie?


The family in this article belongs to the line of the Adam Rankin who died in 1747 in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, whose wife was Mary Steele Alexander. An earlier article about the same line dealt with the family of William Rankin,[1] one of Adam and Mary’s three sons. William and his wife Mary Huston Rankin had eight children, all named in William’s 1792 will:[2]

    1. Dr. Adam Rankin, b. 1762 – d. 1820 – 1830, Henderson Co., KY
    2. Archibald Rankin, b. 1764, d. 24 Jun 1849, Mercersburg, Franklin Co., PA.
    3. James Rankin, b. 1776, probably d. 1820-1830, Centre Co., PA
    4. William Rankin (Jr.), b. 5 Nov 1770, d. 29 Nov 1847, Centre Co., PA
    5. Betsy Rankin, b. 1774.
    6. David Rankin, b. 1777, d. 1853, Des Moines Co., IA
    7. John Rankin, b. 1779, d. 22 Apr 1848, Centre Co., PA
    8. Jeremiah Rankin, b. 26 Nov 1783, d. 18 Feb 1874, Centre Co., PA

My article on William and Mary’s family initially gave short shrift to their eldest son, Dr. Adam Rankin. That is because I had not been able to track him after 1798. Here is what an early version of that article originally said about Dr. Adam:

Adam Rankin (b. ca 1760 – ?) was a doctor, probably born in the early 1760s. In 1792, he granted his brother Archibald a power of attorney for “as long as I am absent” to “transact all my business.” I don’t know where Dr. Adam went when he was “absent.” In 1796, Archibald sold per the power of attorney the land Dr. Adam had inherited from their father.[3] In 1798, Dr. Adam Rankin was listed on a Franklin County tax list. I can find no record for him after that.

Truth in lending compels me to admit I didn’t look very hard for Dr. Adam, because at that time I was hot on the heels four of his brothers in Centre County. Dr. Adam is (hang in there) a part of this narrative.

The Civil War and baseball parts

Not long after publishing the original article, I was exchanging emails with a Rankin family history researcher and distant Rankin cousin. We were talking about “historical” Rankins. He mentioned a Confederate Brigadier General named Adam Rankin “Stovepipe” Johnson and enclosed an article about him.

Here is Stovepipe’s photograph, probably in his Kentucky calvary uniform.

“Stovepipe” acquired his nickname in July of (probably) 1862 in this fashion:

“With a mere thirty-five men at his command, he crossed the Ohio [River] – he believed it to be the first Rebel “invasion” of the North – and attacked the town of Newburgh, Indiana, on July 18. There were two hundred or more Federals in the town, though mostly convalescent soldiers in hospitals. To bluff them into surrendering, Johnson mounted two stovepipes on an old wagon and paraded it around to look like artillery. The ruse worked, the town gave up, and he became ever after Stovepipe Johnson.”

Stovepipe was born in Henderson County, Kentucky in 1834, but moved to Burnet, Texas when he was twenty. That’s pronounced BURN’-it, with emphasis on the first syllable, for you non-Texans. He went back to Kentucky when the war broke out, made a name for himself as a scout for Nathan Bedford Forrest and as a recruiter, and eventually organized and equipped the 10th Kentucky Calvary. He was accidentally shot in the face by one of his own men in August 1864, lost his eyesight, and was captured and imprisoned at Fort Warren until the end of the war. He returned to Texas, where he founded the town of Marble Falls (nicknamed “the blind man’s town”), worked to harness the water power of the Colorado River, served as a contractor for the Overland Mail, and founded the Texas Mining Improvement Company. Oh, yeah, he also wrote an autobiography that is considered a “must read” regarding certain aspects of the Civil War.

He died in Burnet in 1922, and was reportedly a happy, cheerful man, blind or not. It sure didn’t slow him down much, did it? I’m just sorry he wasn’t fighting against slavery. He is buried in the Texas State Cemetery in Austin. There is a ton of information about him on the internet. Googling “Adam Rankin Stovepipe Johnson” produces a wealth of hits.[4]

An article posted by the Texas State History Association says that Stovepipe had six children.[5] Keep Googling, and you will find that one of them was named Adam Rankin “Tex” Johnson (1888 – 1972). He was a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals during 1914-1918. His ERA in the majors was a very respectable 2.96. Here is a picture of Tex. Look at that tiny glove!

There’s more. Tex had a son named Rankin Johnson Jr. who was a major league pitcher for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1941. He’s a nice-looking fellow, and his tombstone is inscribed “TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALLGAME,” a sentiment I share.[6] Here’s his picture, which makes me smile:

The next time the announcers for the Houston Astros have a trivia question about father-son major league players, I’ll be ready with “Tex” Johnson and Rankin Johnson. I imagine they will be stumped.

The serendipity part

The serendipity was having my Rankin friend drop Brigadier General Adam Rankin “Stovepipe” Johnson’s name in my lap. It doesn’t take too much imagination to deduce that his mother was née Rankin. Yes, indeed, says the Texas State Historical Association summary about Stovepipe. Her name was Julia Rankin, and she was the daughter of … Doctor Adam Rankin of Henderson Co., KY, who was originally from Pennsylvania. There cannot have been too many Pennsylvania Dr. Adam Rankins at that time.

Dr. Adam (son of William and Mary Huston Rankin and brother of Archibald) was evidently “absent” from Pennsylvania in 1792 because he was busy that year marrying Elizabeth Speed of Danville, Kentucky. She was the first of his three wives, by whom Dr. Adam fathered thirteen children — including a daughter Mary Huston Rankin(his eldest child, named for his mother) and an Archibald Rankin (named for his brother and maternal grandfather, Archibald Huston).

There is a biographical article about Dr. Adam’s family from an 1887 history of Henderson County, Kentucky. It has a nice, long exposition of his descendants, and you can see it here..

A proved descendant of Dr. Adam Rankin has Y-DNA tested and joined the Rankin DNA Project. He matches another descendant of Adam and Mary Steele Alexander Rankin. It is not a close match, so the Rankin DNA Project needs another descendant to firm up the line’s Y-DNA profile.

See you on down the road. There are more Pennsylvania Rankins on the horizon than you can shake a stick at.


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[1] See the “Follow the Land” article about Adam and Mary’s son William here.

[2] Will of William Rankin of Antrim Township, Franklin Co., PA, dated 20 Oct 1792, proved 28 Nov 1792. “Advanced in age.” Franklin Co., PA Will book B: 256.

[3] Westmoreland Deed Book 7: 392. The deed recites that Archibald Rankin was of Antrim Township, Franklin Co., the 274-acre tract in Westmoreland was originally granted to William Rankin of Antrim on 27 July 1773, and William devised it to his son Dr. Adam Rankin by will dated 20 October 1792. The deed further recites that Dr. Adam Rankin granted his brother Archibald a power of attorney dated 29 Jun 1792. The POA is also recorded at DB 7: 392.

[4] There is a short article posted by the Texas State Historical Association which includes a citation to Stovepipe’s autobiography here..

[5] Id.

[6] Here is a link to Rankin Johnson’s tombstone.


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