An old adage says that one must kiss a lot of frogs to find a charming prince. That is true in spades for genealogy. A family history researcher may review dozens of deeds before finding one proving, say, a parent-child relationship. On the other hand, it is also true that one occasionally trips over a missing ancestor in an unexpected location.
This article concerns just such a fortuitous appearance. I ran into James, a probable son of Joseph Rankin of New Castle County, Delaware (1704 – 1764), decades after he last appeared in Delaware. James is not conclusively proved as Joseph’s son, although the circumstantial evidence is sufficient to deem him proved, IMO. I last spotted James in the New Castle records in a 1783 tax list for White Clay Creek Hundred. Then he vanished for more than a half-century before popping up unexpectedly in Washington County, Pennsylvania.
I have written about Joseph and his son James before. Here is a quick summary.
- Joseph probably came to the colonies from Ireland, although he may have been born in Scotland. His likely arrival during the heyday of the “Great Migration” of Scots-Irish from Ulster (1717 – early 1770s), and his residence near the Philadelphia ports where most of the Scots-Irish arrived, combine to make a good circumstantial case for migration from Ulster.
- He may have appeared as a freeman – e., over 21 and not married – in the Chester County, Pennsylvania tax lists of 1728 and 1729. He 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. His tombstone says he died in 1764 at age 60.
- Joseph and his wife Rebecca, maiden name unproved, probably married in Pennsylvania, Maryland, or Delaware. Their six sons (four conclusively proved and two indicated by circumstantial evidence) and one daughter Ann (proved) were born in the colonies, two of them were definitely born in Delaware.
- Their proved sons Joseph Jr. and Thomas, a Lieutenant in the Revolution, remained in New Castle and died there. John and William, also proved, migrated to the area that became Guilford County, North Carolina. The whereabouts of possible son Robert is a question mark; I have been unable to trace him. Probable son James last appeared in New Castle County in 1783 living near, or with, his likely brothers Joseph Jr. and Thomas. He is the subject of this article.
Here’s why I suspect that James Rankin left New Castle County after 1783 and eventually wound up in Washington County, Pennsylvania. I don’t know where he was in the interim. But some James Rankin applied for a Revolutionary War pension from Washington County in May 1835. He was a private on the muster role of Captain Walter Carson’s company of New Castle militia. So were Lt. Thomas Rankin and Private Robert Rankin. James lived in New Castle County, Delaware when he enlisted. He served in the Delaware line.
James signed a loyalty oath on 29 June 1778 in New Castle along with Robert Rankin and Thomas Rankin; Joseph Rankin signed on June 30. James was on the 1782 tax list for White Clay Creek, New Castle, along with Thomas and Joseph. The three men are numbered 146, 147, and 148 on the list. It was not alphabetized, so the three were enumerated at about the same time. That suggests they lived or at least farmed together. James owned no land, while Joseph Jr. and Thomas Rankin owned a tract in common which they inherited from their father.
James was born in 1749, which makes him the right age to have been a younger son of Joseph and Rebecca of New Castle. He died in 1837, leaving a will and an estate account in Washington County, Pennsylvania. The will and account prove sons William, John, and Joseph, and daughters Martha (“Patty,” wife of Alexander Osborne), Mary (“Polly,” wife of Benjamin Boice), and Rebecca.
Some researchers identify this James Rankin as a son of John Rankin and his wife Rebecca of Washington County. That John died and left a will in 1788 naming a son James. John was a son of William Rankin and his wife Abigail of Raccoon Creek, Washington County, and a grandson of David and Jennet McCormick Rankin of Frederick County, Virginia.
James, the son of the John who died in 1788 in Washington County, cannot have been the same man as James, the Revolutionary War veteran who died there in 1837. John’s 1788 will proves that his son James was born after 1767. He was thus too young to have been the Revolutionary War veteran born in 1749.
The fact that James lived in New Castle County at enlistment strongly suggests a family of origin there. Joseph Sr. and Rebecca’s family is one of two identifiable Rankin families in New Castle in the mid-1700s. The second Rankin family is the line of a William Rankin who died in New Castle in 1745, leaving sons John and William. New Castle County and other records did not reveal a James Rankin in that family.
All of that points to the notion that James Rankin, Revolutionary War veteran of Washington County, was the same man as James, son of Joseph and Rebecca Rankin of New Castle. I would place a decent bet on that possibility if anyone cares to wager. Finding a living male descendant of James’s line to Y-DNA test might resolve the issue, assuming there is no NPE in the line.
I have not traced James’s family, however. His sons Joseph and John were in Belmont County, Ohio when James’s estate was probated in 1838. By 1854, William Rankin, executor of his father’s will, was in Delaware County, Ohio. I haven’t done any research in either Ohio County. That’s on the “to-do” list, along with finding a descendant to Y-DNA test.
See you on down the road.
Robin Rankin Willis
 See Bill and Martha Reamy, Genealogical Abstracts from Biographical and Genealogical History of the State of Delaware (Westminster, MD: Willow Bend Books, 2001), saying that “Joseph Rankin was b. near the Clyde in Scotland; to DE with his wife and children long before the Revolutionary War” at 119, citing Genealogical History at 445-446. While the birthplace in Scotland might be correct, it is highly unlikely that Joseph had a wife and children before he migrated to the colonies. He probably married Rebecca in Pennsylvania or Delaware, and their children were born in Delaware. Rev. Samuel Meek Rankin says that their son John Rankin was born in 1736 and his brother William in 1744, both in Delaware. Rev. S. M. Rankin, The Rankin and Wharton Families and Their Genealogy (Salem, MA: Higginson Book reprint, originally published in Greensboro, NC, 1931) 55. Joseph acquired his tract on White Clay Creek, New Castle County, in 1731.
 J. Smith Futhey and Gilbert Cope, History of Chester County, Pennsylvania (Philadelphia: Louis H. Everts, 1881), reproduction facsimile by Chester County Historical Society (Mt. Vernon, IN: Windmill Publications, Inc. 1996).
 There is no 1731 deed to Joseph Rankin listed in the New Castle grantee index. If the deed was recorded, I cannot find it. The only proof of Joseph’s land acquisition is recitations of the provenance of the tract in later deeds.
 The entire pension file is available on Fold3 at Ancestry.com. If you don’t have a subscription, there is a brief abstract of the file by Virgil White, Genealogical Abstracts of Revolutionary War Pension Files (Waynesboro, TN: The National Historical Publishing County, 1991), Vol. III 2811.
 Delaware Archives Revolutionary War in Three Volumes, Volume III (Wilmington: Chas. H. Story Company Press 1919), Volume II 998, Delaware signers of the Oath of Allegiance.
 Ralph D. Nelson, Jr., Catherine B. Nelson, Thomas P. Doherty, Mary Fallon Richards, John C. Richards, Delaware – 1782 Tax Assessment and Census Lists (Wilmington: Delaware Genealogical Society, 1994).
 Joseph and Rebecca’s proved sons John and William were born in 1736 and 1744, respectively. Rev. S. M. Rankin, The Rankin and Wharton Families and Their Genealogy, at 55.
 Will of James Rankin of Smith Township, Washington Co., dated 1834 and proved 1837. Named sons William (who was executor, along with Ezekiel Boice) and Joseph, and daughters Patty, Rebeccah, and Mary (Polly). Washington Co., PA Will Book 5: 370. Probate file # R48 notes payments to Joseph, John, Martha (Patty’s) husband Alexander Osborn, Mary (Polly’s) husband Benjamin Boice, and William Rankin. Rebecca had previously died, so her legacy was distributed to her siblings per capita. Acknowledgements by Joseph and John were executed in Belmont Co., OH in October 1838. In 1854, William, executor of James’ will, resided in Delaware Co., OH.
 Washington Co. Will Book 1: 81, will of John Rankin dated and proved in 1788 naming his wife Rebecca, son James, and daughter Polly. James was less than 21. He was thus born after 1767.
 Joseph and John executed acknowledgments that they had received their share of their father’s estate from Belton County in October 1838. Washington County, PA Wills and Probate Records, File R, Number 48, for James Rankin, 1838. James’ pension file mentions a William Rankin in Delaware Co., OH in 1854. William appeared in the 1850 census in Belmont County, Ohio, and in Delaware County in 1860 and 1880, at age 92.