A weird genealogy problem: location fixation error

This is a cautionary tale about being too invested in a particular fact. In my case, the culprit is usually location. If you are convinced Prince Charming lived and died in Perry County, Alabama, you may miss him popping up in Ouachita County, Arkansas. I have made the location fixation error several times, most recently in the case of a Quaker Loyalist from York County, Pennsylvania.

Specifically, I am talking about John Rankin Jr., one of the three sons of John Sr. and Ann ______ Rankin Niblet/Niblit.[1] My last post told the three brothers’ stories. All three were “attainted of treason” in Pennsylvania and fled York County to save their necks during the Revolution, first to Philadelphia then to New York City. Two of the brothers — William and James — wound up in England.

The third brother, John Jr., went to Canada. His “memorial,” i.e., his request for compensation for losses he sustained because he supported the British, mentioned that he had gone to Pennsylvania for “trading” in about 1785. He stated he returned to New Brunswick, and I concluded he died there. An excellent researcher in this family concurred, so I felt comfortable with that conclusion.

Too comfortable. I now believe John Jr. died in Pennsylvania between 1808 and 1810, although I found no estate records. Of course, it is possible he returned to Canada or relocated elsewhere.[2] If so, I would be completely wrong about the same person twice, which isn’t easy to do.

Here’s how the evidentiary trail unfolded.  At any point along the way, the obvious should have become obvious — but for my certainty that John Jr. never lived in Pennsylvania after the Revolution.

The first clue was a 1790 York County deed conveying a one-third interest in four tracts in Newberry Township, York County. The Rankin brothers lived there before the Revolution broke out. That deed was a conveyance from John Sr.’s widow Ann to some John Rankin.[3] Convinced that Ann’s son John Jr. was in Canada, I guessed that the grantee was Ann’s proved grandson John, son of William and Jane Rhodes Rankin — John Jr.’s nephew. The deed described John the grantee as residing in West Chester, Goshen Township, Chester County. It made no sense to me for a convicted traitor to return home to face possible execution, especially since the conventional wisdom was that John died in Canada.

In hindsight, how could I have been so blind? William and Jane Rhodes Rankin had eight children, seven of whom remained in Pennsylvania.[4] Why on earth would Ann pick out only one of those grandchildren for her largesse? Worse, note that Ann conveyed a one third interest in the four tracts to John: who do you suppose the other 2/3rds may have been intended for? Gee, were there by any chance three Rankin brothers having some association with Newberry Township, York County?

Duh. What can I say.

Second, I was doing what Jessica “Gams” Guyer and I call a “blitzkrieg” through the deed records of Chester County, trying to find information on several mysterious Rankins who left tracks there. I ran across some Chester deeds executed during 1792-1803 in which a John Rankin of West Chester, along with his wife Abigail, conveyed land. As you know if you read the prior post about the three Loyalist brothers, John Rankin Jr. married Abigail Rhodes  in 1760.

Those deeds finally aroused a niggling suspicion that I had stumbled across one of the Loyalist Rankins, despite his conviction for treason. I gave short shrift to my suspicion, however. Instead, I again focused on the other John Rankin, the son of William and Jane Rhodes Rankin. “Abigail” was a popular Rhodes name, so it seemed conceivable to me that John Jr.’s nephew John coincidentally had a wife named Abigail.

At this point, I remembered Rule 1: coincidences in genealogy are rare as hen’s teeth.

Belatedly, I consulted Google to learn whether Pennsylvania pardoned Loyalists convicted of treason. And, if so, when.

I didn’t find whether there was ever a general pardon. Instead, I found a 1905 article about five men who were specifically exonerated by the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania, which was charged with considering pardon requests.[5] Here is what it says about John Rankin:

“The last member of this group [of five men] was John Rankin, who settled at the conclusion of the war in the Quaker colony at Pennfield, N. B. [New Brunswick], the lands of which he helped to select, being one of the three agents sent from New York City by an association of Pennsylvania Quakers for the purpose. The vicissitudes which this colony passed through in 1787 and the years just following served to disperse many of the settlers at Pennfield, among them being John Rankin, whose petition must have expressed a deep desire of his heart, when he asked to be restored to the rights of citizenship in Pennsylvania. The Council acceded to his prayer on March 9, 1790.”

It’s not hard to imagine the “deep desire of his heart” that might have swayed the Council to restore John Jr.’s citizenship. His mother was still living in York County in 1790. She must have been about eighty, since her three sons were probably born in the 1730s.[6] John Jr.’s wife Abigail had family in the area as well, including her sister Jane Rhodes Rankin and her children, who had been left behind in Pennsylvania when Jane’s husband William Rankin fled Pennsylvania. Two of James Rankin’s children also still lived in Pennsylvania in 1790.[7]

The vicissitudes of the Quaker Colony at Pennfield in 1787 undoubtedly contributed to the family’s yearning for home. I didn’t do sufficient research to learn much about their troubles, although I read that they were desperately poor and initially supported by contributions from family and friends. I also found a document signed by the Pennfield residents agreeing not to own enslaved persons.[8] John Rankin Jr.’s original signature is included, as is his nephew Abraham’s, a son of John’s brother James.

If I were weaving a story about John, I would have him returning to Pennsylvania in 1788 or 1789 and staying with friends or relatives until his petition was granted. John was not nearly as prominent as his brothers James and William, and after the passage of so much time — John fled Pennsylvania in 1778 — it is unlikely that anyone who hadn’t been close to the family would have recognized them.[9] Surely John and Abigail would have been reasonably safe if they stayed a fair distance from their former residence, which they did: they settled in West Chester, about 70 miles east of their former home in York County, on the other side of the Susquehanna River.

In any event, it didn’t take long after the March 1790 pardon for the Rankins to start making tracks in the records. In June 1790, John bought a 99-acre tract in West Chester. The metes and bounds description of the tract is tortuous, but it is adjacent at some points to High Street and Church Street, both of which run roughly north-south through the middle of town, and Gay Street, which runs east-west.[10] The historic Chester County Courthouse is located on what was probably once John Rankin’s tract. It is bounded by those three streets.

In November 1790, his mother Ann granted John Jr. the undivided one third part of four tracts in Newberry Township, York County.[11] Beginning in May 1792, John began selling town lots and other tracts in West Chester. Because of her dower right, the law required his wife Abigail to acknowledge any conveyance.[12] Three of the tracts John and Abigail sold were identified as town lots on High Street or the south side of Gay Street.

John may be, and most likely is, the John Rankin listed in the 1790 census in Goshen Township, Chester County.[13]The family was likely also enumerated in the 1800 census for Goshen Township in the household adjacent to his nephew Abraham Rankin, who had also been a member of the Pennfield Colony.[14]

Abigail died sometime between 1803, when she acknowledged a sale of land, and 1808, when she was no longer named in a conveyance by John.[15] He probably died by 1810, when he was no longer listed in the census. I would guess he was in his mid to late 70s. I identified only one son, Rhodes Rankin, who I was unable to trace, and two daughters, given names unknown. A descendant of James Rankin identified three sons, although I don’t know their names.

I am still looking for a living male Rankin descendant of the York County Loyalists who might be willing to Y-DNA test. A descendant speculates that John Rankin Sr. had roots in Scotland, which would make the family a solid bet to match one of the existing Rankin DNA Lineages. If you find a male Loyalist descendant with the Rankin surname, please swab his cheek. I’ll pay for the DNA testing, but you are on your own for any legal fees.

See you on down the road.

Robin

                  [1] Ann Rankin, birth surname unproved, married Abraham Noblit after John Rankin Sr. died.

                  [2] I would wager a small sum that John did not return to Canada. If you have evidence that he died there and will share it in a comment, I will publish a post naming you the blog’s Family History Wizard of the year. “Many internet trees” saying John died in Canada do not constitute evidence.

            [3] York Co., PA Deed Book 2G: 81, Ann Noblit, widow of Newberry Twp., to John Rankin of Goshen Twp., Westchester Co. (sic, Goshen Township was in Chester County; the town of West Chester was in Goshen Township), an undivided 1/3rd part of 4 tracts in Newberry Twp.: (1) 100 acres granted to William Rankin in 1762, he sold it to Ann in 1775; (2) 75.5 acres granted to Wm Baxter who sold it to Ann in 1770; (3) 100 acres granted to James Rankin in 1762, who sold it to Ann in 1770; and (4) 100 acres in Newberry Twp. that Ann bought in 1765.

                  [4] York Co., PA Deed Book 3B, deed dated 17 June 1816 naming all the heirs and parties in interest of Jane (Rhodes) (Rankin) Walker, “late widow of William Rankin dec’d.” The deed recited the names of eight children and their locations: (1) James Rankin of Missouri Territory, (2) John Rankin of Newberry Twp., (3) William Rankin of Philadelphia County, (4) Nathan Potts of Newberry Twp. and wife Ann (Rankin) Potts, (5) William Webb of Abington Twp., Montgomery Co., and wife Abigail (Rankin) Webb, (6) Jesse Walker of Wayne Co. and wife Catharine (Rankin) Walker, (7A and 7B), grandchildren, Thomas Robinson and wife Anna and Charles Branson, all of Chester Co., two children of Jane Rankin Walker’s daughter ________ Rankin Branson), and (8) Isaac Walker and wife Mary (Rankin) Walker of Washington Co.

            [5] Wilbur H. Siebert, “The Loyalists of Pennsylvania” (Columbus, OH: Ohio State University, 1905. Available online at this link.

                  [6] James Rankin’s London tombstone says that he was born in 1730. My hunch, based on no evidence whatsoever, is that James was the eldest son.

                  [7] See Note 4 for the children of William and Jane Rhodes Rankin. THe children of James and Rebecca Bennett Rankin who remained in Pennsylvania when James fled were Abraham Rankin (who wound up in Pennfield Colony with John Jr.) and Ann Rankin Nebinger, wife of George Nebinger. James and Rebecca Rankin’s son John died in York County in 1785.

                  [8] Here is the document with John’s signature.

            [9] John Rankin’s “memorial” included an estimate of the value of the estate which he possessed as of 18 March 1778. John’s Memorial begins at image 65 of 235 in this link.

                  [10] Chester Co., PA Deed Book E2: 478 and Deed Book W2: 324.

                  [11] I don’t know what became of that York County land. I need to persuade Gams to ransack the York County courthouse and any county genealogical societies.

                  [12] Other than two Quaker records, I have no information on Abigail Rhodes Rankin other than her deed acknowledgments. Thank goodness for the dower right.

                  [13] The 1790 census entry is 1-1-3-0-0, meaning 1 male 16 or over (John), 1 male < 16, and three women of indeterminate ages, one of whom should be Abigail. John and Abigail had two daughters. If I were continuing to weave a story about this family, I would make one of the women in the 1790 census record a widowed daughter and the remaining male and female her children.

                  [14] The entry for John Rankin in 1800 in Goshen, Chester Co. was 10001-00101, putting John and Abigail in the “over 45” category, with a female age 16 – 26 and a male less than 10. Abraham Rankin, in the adjacent household, was listed as 20010-1001, with the two adults in the age 26 < 45 category and 3 children less than age 10.

                  [15] Chester Co., PA Deed Book W2: 324, deed dated 8 Mar. 1803, John Rankin and wife Abigail of West Chester, tract on the south side of Gay Street, one acre; Deed Book C3: 109, deed dated March 29, 1808, John Rankin of West Chester, conveyance without mention of wife Abigail.

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