Willie G., Part 2 – Nevertheless, They Persisted

Having bombed Tokyo and gotten most of Doolittle’s Raiders to safety with the help of numerous Chinese villagers, I closed the book and turned to Robin. “Anything I can do to help track down this William G. Rankin fellow?”

She laughed. “I hit ‘publish’ about two minutes ago – so, no. On the other hand, it is a good story but with a lot of holes. Let’s see what else we can find.”

Indeed, it is a good story, starting with a Union coat and vest up for auction. A guy comes out of nowhere, gets commissioned as a Captain in the Union Army in 1861, gets breveted to Major and Lt. Colonel on the same date in 1865, maybe carries a brevet Colonel rank in 1867, supposedly leaves the service in 1870, goes to work in Customs in New York City, applies for a veteran’s invalid pension in 1889, and appears in the 1890 schedule of Civil War Veterans — still in New York, although he was born in Pennsylvania.

But the holes are gaping. Where and when was he born? Who were his parents? What was his middle name? What did he do before the War? How did he wrangle a Captain’s commission? What really happened when he was at Fort Buford? Did he marry and/or have children?  As Yule Brenner said in The King and I, “Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.”

Well, by gosh, we persevered and found answers to many of those questions. He was born in 1822 (not 1835) in Mercer County, Pennsylvania. His parents may have been William S. and Martha (birth surname unknown) Rankin. His middle name was Galloway, which is interestingly the name of a single malt scotch. At Fort Buford our man was a conniving, scheming, alcoholic. He did marry – apparently to a woman with lavish tastes but some good sense. She left him. We still do not know about children. He died in 1891 and is buried in the Rankin plot in Mercer Citizens Cemetery, Mercer, Pennsylvania.

If you are interested in how this all came together, here is how the sausage was made. First, I found New York City Directories online at the New York Public Library site. Nicely digitized but non-searchable, not even to skip to a numbered image! Faced with scrolling page by page, I complained to Robin, “Sure would be nice if we were looking for someone named Adams or Bailey instead of Rankin.” She replied, “That is a funny thing to hear coming from a man named Willis!” I laughed and turned back to scrolling. Somewhere around image #900, the 1889-90 Directory lists Wm G Rankin on West 38th Street.[1] That was also Rankin’s location in the 1890 Civil War Veterans’ Schedule. He showed up at the same address in the 1890-1891 directory. And then Bingo — he does not appear in 1891-92. Maybe he moved. Maybe he died. I found the answer in a New York Death Index Extract. It read:

William G. Rankin, died 30 May 1891 in Manhattan, New York, age 69, born about 1822, Death Certificate #18993.

That looks like our guy! Unfortunately, there was no digitized image of the certificate, so we could not learn names of next of kin or parents that might be on that document. In any event, the discovery was a breakthrough. From that point, the search picked up steam.

Then, we found his middle name! A register of United States employees in 1873 listed “W. Galloway Rankin” as Entry Clerk in the Customs Department in New York at an annual salary of $2,200.00.[2] Surely, this is the same man as William G. Rankin who was a temporary Customs Inspector at a later date for $4.00 per day, about half the earlier salary. The 1873 listing showed he was born in Pennsylvania, which also matches our man.

Having that middle name  opened the floodgates to more information. One of the most revealing pieces was an article published in 1969 about drunken officers at forts in the West.[3] Based primarily on official military reports and correspondence, the author exposes Captain (not Colonel) William Galloway Rankin, commander of Fort Buford during the summer of 1867. He was a drunk and a thief who sold Army rations, probably to a nearby village of friendly Sioux. He was assaulted by an equally inebriated subordinate officer who discovered Rankin’s thievery. The article claims that he had a beautiful wife, half French and half Spanish, who left Fort Buford by steamboat for Omaha, apparently enjoying some of the Captain’s illicit wealth. As you might expect, the record does not include the wife’s name!

Despite substantial proof against Captain Rankin, he escaped punishment and was assigned to a coveted job in recruiting. The article claims he was friends with Colonel (later General) Rufus Ingalls, who headed the Army’s Quartermaster Corps. We have not been able to trace the beginnings of that relationship. Was that part of the reason Rankin got his commission in the first place? Was that why he apparently spent a lot of the war at headquarters rather than in battle? Was there any connection related to Rankin’s misappropriation of government supplies? One has to wonder.

In any event, the officer bringing charges against Rankin (and his assailant) was the commander of the U.S. 31st Infantry Regiment.[4] That regiment was formed from one battalion of the 13th Regiment in December 1866. Rankin’s company at Fort Buford was part of the transferred battalion, which explains how he came to be in the 31st during 1867.[5] We can reasonably conclude that whoever “rescued” him from his pending Court Martial and placed him in the recruiting assignment also transferred him back to the 13th, where he ended his service. Rankin apparently had some powerful friends.

Having Willie G.’s middle name also yielded results at Find-A-Grave. William Galloway Rankin’s tombstone is pictured on the site showing birth and death months of June 1822 and May 1891, respectively. That is our man! And a big breakthrough – he is buried in Mercer Citizens Cemetery, Mercer County, Pennsylvania. A Pennsylvania U.S. Veterans Burial Index confirmed our guy (although misspelling the name as Rawkin) – born June 1822, died 30 May 1891, buried in Mercer Citizens Cemetery.

With that information, Robin searched for William Galloway Rankin in Mercer County. Census records in Mercer County identified Willie G.’s possible family of origin.  A William S. Rankin family appeared in 1820, 1840, and 1850 censuses. The 1840 census includes a male born between 1820 and 1825, the right age for Willie G. The 1850 census shows William S. Rankin with wife Martha and several presumed children.[6] William G. Rankin is not listed in the household, which makes sense. He would be 28 years old.

The household, however, does include R. C. Rankin age 34, an attorney. Robin found a reference to a Robert C. Rankin who died in 1855.[7] She also found that William S. Rankin does not appear in the 1860 Census, so he likely died as well.

Next step has to be looking for those two in the probate records at FamilySearch! Hopefully, our Willie G. will be named as an heir or administrator.

Maybe tomorrow.

Cheers, and See you on down the road,

Gary and Robin

[1] To be fair, I could scroll eight pages at a time, so it “only” took about 120 clicks in each directory to get to image 900.

[2] “Register of Civil, Military, and Naval Service Employees 1863-1959,” 1873, Vol. 1, Customs.

[3] John R. Sibbald, “Frontier Inebriates with Epaulets,” Montana: The Magazine of Western History, vol. 19, no. 3, 1969, pp. 50–57. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/4517383. Accessed 29 Jan. 2023.

[4] Id at 51, Colonel Phillipe Regis de Trobriand.

[5] This transfer explains why the 1867 events were not included in the history of the 13th Regiment of Infantry prepared by Lt. J. B. Goe referenced in the earlier article on William G Rankin.

[6] The 1850 Census for Mercer, Mercer County, Pennsylvania lists Wm S Rankin 69 farmer with $9,000 of real estate, Martha Rankin 58, R. C. Rankin 34, Madeline Rankin 28, Martha J. Rankin 20, and James L. Rankin 4.

[7] Robert might have never married. The New Castle Public Library in Lawrence County, adjoining Mercer County, Pennsylvania, lists an obituary for Robert C. Rankin, Esq. No image is available for the obit, which appeared in the Lawrence Journal on 27 Jan 1855. However, the library’s index card does not indicate any spouse named in the article.

Where You Be, Willie G?

I’m stumped.

Addendum, several hours after hitting “publish” on this article: I am no longer stumped, thanks to Gary plowing through Manhattan City Directories. Willie G’s full name was William Galloway Rankin, and he was from Mercer County, PA. We will  publish a follow-up article after doing some due diligence on the Mercer County Rankins.

Back to the original article …

As of January 27, there was a Union Army jacket and vest on the auction block at Winter Fine Art and Antiques.[1] The uniform is attributed to Brevet Colonel William G. Rankin, commander of Fort Buford in what is now North Dakota. Last time I looked at the auction site, it could be yours for $1600 plus a buyer’s bonus of 25%.

Willie G apparently parachuted into the Civil War from Mars, because both his whereabouts when he joined the army and his family of origin are mysteries.

I thought about seeking help from my friend Spade, a shady P.I. with a rep for digging up dead Rankins. But his retainer is a bit steep — $100 plus a fifth of Cutty Sark. His fee has been going up ever since his success with John McGinley Rankin’s parents. My next thought was to ask Jessica “Gams” Guyer for help, but her specialty is deeds. They are recorded at the county level, of course. In Willie G’s case, I don’t even know what state he lived in before the War. I only know he was born in Pennsylvania, probably circa 1835-ish. Big whoop. So were a zillion other William Rankins.[2]

The best possibility for help was my friend Mary “the Bulldog” Buller, the world’s premier expert on mining military records at NARA.[3]  She could locate the official military report, if one existed, on a Brown Bess lost in the Revolutionary War. Unfortunately, I am hopeless in the NARA website labyrinth. Also unfortunately, I have pestered her often, and I hope she is currently busy looking for a home in Texas after a brief exile from Austin to Virginia. My last hope was ex-Captain Willis, USAF, author of two military histories. Unfortunately, his nose is currently in a tome about Doolittle’s Raiders. No chance there.

So I rolled up my sleeves, trying to verify information from the auction website. My friend and cousin Debbie Rankin sent me the link to the auction. In addition to a great description and numerous photos of the coat and vest, the website has a biography of Colonel Rankin. Here are the highlights:[4]

  • He was appointed Captain of the 13th Infantry regiment on May 14, 1861. That suggests he was from a family of some means, because officers had to provide their own horse and other equipment. He was probably, says Gary, in his twenties. Thus my crude estimate that he was born circa 1835-ish.
  • He received two brevetted promotions, to Brevet Major and Brevet Lieutenant Colonel.[5]
  • He was transferred to the 31st Infantry Regiment in September 1866 and then back to the 13th in 1869.
  • He was brevetted as a full Colonel during the American-Indian Wars. Maybe.
  • In 1866, he “founded” and commanded Fort Buford in the Dakota Territory along the Oregon Trail. “Founded” is the wrong word: soldiers don’t “found” forts. The writer probably meant to say “oversaw construction of a new U. S. Army military installation in his role as its first commander.”
  • The fort was attacked by members of the Sioux Nation. Because the garrison was isolated and unable to communicate to report its status, newspapers “inadvertently” created a story of the “Fort Buford Massacre.”
  • He was discharged from the Army in December 1870. That date doesn’t pan out.

Where to start? That is a wealth of information. Or misinformation, if the researcher didn’t know his or her genealogy bidness. In this case, she had a fairly respectable batting average. Probably hired Spade. I hope his hangover wasn’t too bad.

Right off the bat, I’d like to know how one “inadvertently” writes a newspaper story. That skill might be useful to me in writing blog articles.

First research stop: Fold3, an online source of military records. It requires a paid subscription. I don’t care for it, having compared the information on file at NARA for one of my ancestors with what the website has for him. Fold3 didn’t fare well. But it’s a quick-and-easy place to start.

In Willie G’s case, a search on “William G. Rankin” with the filter “Union Army, Civil War” provided many hits, but not much information. He is listed on Union Army Registers for 1861, 1865, 1866, 1868, and 1870. Those registers confirmed that he was commissioned (appointed) on 14 May 1861 as a Captain in the 13th Infantry Regiment. He remained in the 13th Infantry in 1866 and 1867. He was transferred to the 31st Infantry in 1868. He had transferred back to the 13th Infantry by 1870. He received promotions to Brevet Major and Brevet Lt. Colonel on 13 March 1865.

I found no mention of a promotion to Brevet Colonel. However, the coat being auctioned has a fabulous eagle embroidered on the epaulets. An eagle with outspread wings is the traditional uniform marking for a so-called “full bird” colonel, as opposed to a Lt. Colonel, whose rank insignia is a silver oak leaf. Below is a picture of a colonel’s insignia, although the one pictured has silver thread for the eagle. Col. Rankin’s eagle was gold thread. A Brevet Colonel rank might have been appropriate for a fort’s commander, says Gary, even though there may have been only one company originally on site.

I couldn’t find a mention of a discharge date on Fold3. It did have an image for a pension application filed on Sep. 28, 1889 from New York, asserting invalid status.[6] No doubt it was our Willie G. It includes the information that he was a Captain, 13th U. S. Infantry Regiment, Companies F and S.

There should be more information at NARA, such as when his pension (if approved) terminated, which would tell us when he shuffled off this earthly coil. But have I mentioned that I am not competent to find anything on the NARA website? I used up all my NARA brainpower looking at Revolutionary War muster and pay rolls for Bulldog’s Rankin ancestor.

Wading through all those hits on Fold3 did produce three new pieces of information:

  • That is where we learned he was born in Pennsylvania. I.Do.Not.Know.Where.to.Begin.
  • He was living in New York in 1889 and was physically incapacitated in some fashion.
  • He was appointed (or commissioned) from “W.T.” For most of the men listed on those Army registers, there is a standard state abbreviation for where the commission/appointment took place: e.g., “MO” or “PA.” Usually, that means where the soldier physically joined the unit. Where the heck was W.T.?

I rudely interrupted Gary’s perusal of Doolittle’s exploits. “What on earth,” said I, “might W.T. mean? Wyoming territory is out of the question because 1861 is too late.”

He pondered and decided it was probably an incorrect transcription of old handwriting and should be “M.T.,” as in “Missouri Territory.” I rolled my eyes. Missouri became a state in 1821. Translation from Garyspeak: please leave me alone with Col. Doolittle.

I went to the next logical source of information (not counting NARA): the U.S. Army Center of Military History. Specifically, I found historical records for the 13th Regiment of Infantry by Lieut. J. B. Goe at this link. What I hoped to learn was where the 13th Infantry Regiment was recruited, because Willie G and/or his family of origin probably lived nearby in 1860. One usually did not travel hundreds of miles to join the army.

Lt. Goe tells us that 13th Regiment headquarters were established at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri. The original military post was south of St. Louis, Missouri, on the banks of the Mississippi River. It was primarily a supportive military installation overseeing westward expansion and assisting in protecting the early (read: white) settlers.[7] The 13th had recruiting stations in Dubuque, Keokuk, and Iowa City, Iowa: Cincinnati and Bellefontaine, Ohio; and Madison, Wisconsin.

Well, now, isn’t that just fine and dandy! That narrows it down to one of six towns located in six counties in three states, plus St. Louis, the regiment’s HQ. So I searched the 1860 census for anyone named Rankin in the counties where those towns are located. I turned up no leads suggesting Willie G’s location when he was appointed. The arrived-from-Mars theory was gaining traction.

I was clearly on the wrong track. Barking up the wrong tree. Heading down fruitless rabbit trails. Please choose a metaphor which expresses “failing” in a kindly fashion.

What next? Well, the biography on the auction site said the alleged Ft. Buford Massacre became a newspaper story. Next stop: Newspapers.com, an easy to use searchable website, although it also requires a paid subscription. There are a number of stories in April 1867. Here is a sample.

The Delaware State Journal and Statesman story on April 2 was headlined “Another Horrible Massacre.” It said that “Indians … butchered ever [sic] man, woman and child, not one being left to tell the tale. The fort was under the command of Colonel Rankin, and Company C, Thirty-first United States Infantry.”

Yep, that’s our boy, then in the U.S. 31st. The story was reportedly relayed from friendly Sioux.

On April 10, the New York Times article reported this:

“The fate of Col. Rankin and his little garrison at Fort Buford, Dakotah, is still wrapped in uncertainty.” Unable to resist repeating gory details, the Times continued, “A few days since we published a circumstantial account of the massacre by the Indians of Col. Rankin, his wife and child, and eighty soldiers of his command. The account gave the details of the affair, described a three days’ siege, the final assault, the killing of Mrs. Rankin by her husband to prevent her capture …”

The article continues: “From military, but not official sources, we now have a complete denial of the whole story, and a dispatch from St. Louis alleges that Gen. Sherman has received letters from Col. Rankin of date subsequent to that of the alleged massacre.” The paper then went on to excoriate the army for a host of sins, including the vulnerability of remote military installations such as Fort Buford.

Duh. Doesn’t “vulnerable” usually logically follow “remote”?

The same day, The Charleston Mercury had a story headlined “Reported Massacre Unfounded.”

The only new information from those articles was the fact that Col. Rankin may have had a wife and child. Commanders of installations were usually permitted an “accompanied” tour, meaning the officer could bring his family along. If Willie G were married, there is probably a marriage license somewhere. Of course, that is yet another record kept at the county level, and is one more reason to figure out where he had lived before military service.

Getting desperate, I turned to an unusual source. Wikipedia. Since anyone can write anything at all in that forum, it has as much credibility as online family trees. Approximately zero, give or take a small measure. I briefly considered whether I should even admit I consulted it. But the truth is what the truth is.

The article about Fort Buford has no citations to sources whatsoever, except for the article’s sources of information on a nearby friendly Indian settlement. There is not a hint where the author obtained detailed information he/she provided on, e.g., the evolution of the fort’s structure, the repeated attacks on the fort by the Lakota, or the status of the fort’s water wells during the attacks. Please read it for what it’s worth.

Wikipedia identifies Willie G as a Brevet Lieutenant Colonel and says the fort was manned by Company C, 2nd Battalion, 13th Infantry, including three officers, 80 enlisted men, and six civilians. Here is a contradiction: was the fort manned by the 13th or 31st? I’d just like to know more about the six civilians, if that is true. Here’s the Wikipedia link.

In short, the Wiki article doesn’t shed any light on Willie G and I probably should have preserved whatever reputation I may have by omitting it altogether.

Whatever. The former fort is now primarily known as the location where Tatanka Iyotake — more familiarly known as Sitting Bull — surrendered his rifle.[8] He, of course, is famous for defeating Gen. Custer at Little Big Horn. He is less well-known for the siege of Fort Buford, but he was the leader of the Lakota attackers, according to Wikipedia.

Sitting Bull wasn’t my target, though. Willie G was, and I was still coming up empty on his location when he was commissioned. And zilch on his family of origin. So I turned to his post-Civil War adventures, guided by the 1889 pension application from New York. Only two post-war records surfaced …

First, the 1890 federal census (mostly lost) has a “Special Schedule, Surviving Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines and Widows, Etc.” Lo and behold, Willie G was enumerated in New York City. He is identified as “Rankins, William G., Capt., 13th U.S. Infantry, enlisted 14 May 1861, discharged 1873, served 13 years.”

By golly, that is our man, discharged in 1873 rather than 1870. Congress never approved his brevet promotions, since his rank is given as Captain. Since he was still a Captain after thirteen years, he was probably shown the exit from military service in a genteel fashion.  And there is his address: 60 West 38th Street. A multistory building now occupies that address. Perhaps it was a multi-family structure such as an apartment building in 1890?

Surely, thought I, finding more information on him would be a piece of cake. Hahahaha …

I’ve got to clear my throat before identifying the last source of info on Willie G, to wit (I am unable to persuade WordPress to allow single spacing):

OFFICIAL REGISTER OF THE UNITED STATES

CONTAINING A LIST OF

OFFICERS AND EMPLOYÉS

IN THE CIVIL, MILITARY, AND NAVAL SERVICE

ON THE

FIRST OF JULY, 1881;

TOGETHER WITH A

LIST OF SHIPS AND VESSELS BELONGING TO THE UNITED STATES.[9]

Page 188 is headed “TREASURY DEPARTMENT, CUSTOMS SERVICE.”

One William G. Rankin, identified as having been born in Pennsylvania, was a temporary employee in the office of the Customs Service Inspector, employed in New York, at a compensation of $4.00 per diem. Our Willie G. was surely the only William G. Rankin born in Pennsylvania and living in New York in 1881.

And that is all of the flesh I have been able to put on ex-Captain William G. Rankin’s bones: a temporary job as a customs inspector and a subsequent disability, for which he may or may not have received a pension. An address in Manhattan. I cannot find him anywhere in the 1880 census, although he was definitely alive, probably in New York. Where was he from before he joined the Army? Who was his family of origin? I don’t know any of those things. Was there ever a Mrs. Rankin? The only evidence for her existence is those inadvertent newspaper stories. Ergh.

Spade, do you have any of that Scotch left?

An occasional failure is just part of this hobby, but that doesn’t mean one has to like it. Had I been charging someone a fee for this matter,[10] I would write it off.

Somebody who reads this may have a clue about Willie G. I hope so. You know where to find me.

See you on down the road.

Robin

                  [1] I hope the website is still accessible. At last check, the high bid was $1500. Here is the link Debbie sent.

                  [2] There were 422 men of all ages named William Rankin listed in the 1850 census for Pennsylvania.

                  [3] The National Archives and Research Administration. Images of many records are available online.

                  [4] See Note 1.

                  [5] A “brevet” is a temporary promotion that might or might not be made permanent. Above a certain rank, promotions had to be approved by Congress. That is still the case.

                  [6] Civil War Pension Application number 731 201.

                  [7] Here  is more about Jefferson Barracks.

[8] And that fact has a highly credible source: the State Historical Society of North Dakota. See its entry about Fort Buford here.

                  [9] A copy of that undoubtedly weighty tome is owned by the University of Oregon and has been digitized by Ancestry.

                  [10] Just kidding. I have never been compensated for any genealogical research.

Tennessee-Texas migrants, including some Trices and Burkes

When I first started writing this blog, another family history researcher told me that people would prefer stories to my academic, footnoted, law-review-style crapola. In all fairness, she didn’t expressly badmouth my articles. She didn’t need to. The statement that people would prefer to read stories instead of, uh, whatever the heck my stuff might be, is about as subtle as the neon lights in Times Square, except less flattering.

In any event, I’m edging toward stories. Gradually. This post is about some relatives and ancestors who left Tennessee for Texas: two Trice brothers, a young male Burke, and a Trice widow with eight children. They all wound up in Waco, McLennan County, Texas. My original plan was to figure out the reason(s) they chose to migrate and craft a story with motivation as the unifying theme. I couldn’t make it work due to lack of both imagination and descriptive skills. All of them apparently went to Texas looking for wide-open spaces and opportunities.

Now, see, that is exactly the sort of thing people say about Texas that makes everyone hate the place. Since I have already lit that fire, however, I’m going to fan the flames by carrying on about Texas for a bit before getting to the Trices and Burkes. Please stick with me, because there are a couple of anecdotes here that might count as stories. A cross-dressing Trice. A Burke with a pet wild turkey. Annoying quail. A bird dog named Navasota Shoals Jake. Also, some cool old photos.

At one time, it seemed like half of Tennessee was heading to Texas. In the period after Mexico became independent from Spain in 1821, more people migrated to Texas from Tennessee than from any other state. Cheap land was undoubtedly the big draw. I doubt anyone was enticed by the fact that every poisonous snake indigenous to North America has a home somewhere in Texas. All four types — rattlers, copperheads, water moccasins, and coral snakes — appear in Harrison County, the location of a summer camp I attended. Frankly, my mother was more difficult to cope with than the snakes, which have a live-and-let-live approach to coexistence. She was also a native Texan. I wonder if that is a non sequitur.

Some of the guys who died at the Alamo in 1836 were among the early wave of Tennessee migrants to Texas.[1] More than thirty Tennesseans fought there, including Davy Crockett.[2] He is the source of what may be the most fabulous sore loser quote in the entire history of American politics. Accepting his loss for a race for a congressional seat from Tennessee, he famously said, “You may all go to hell, and I will go to Texas.” Unfortunately, that didn’t work out well for him. John Wayne did OK.

The state has inspired other noteworthy quotes. Larry McMurtry (author of Lonesome Dove) said “Only a rank degenerate would drive 1,500 miles across Texas without eating a chicken fried steak.”[3] Someone else said that, back in the covered wagon days, you could leave Beaumont with a newborn son and he would be in the third grade by the time you reached El Paso, which qualifies as primo Texas braggadocio.[4]  A travel writer for some major newspaper voted Texas “the most irritating state.” He didn’t explain why, but it has a whiny undertone, don’t you think? Traffic? Cedar pollen? Bless his heart.

In the same general spirit, two friends who live in California told me last week that they can’t imagine how I tolerate living in Texas. That is both an uncanny coincidence — two people with the same observation — and less-than-fortuitous timing, since the western third of their state is under two feet of water and the eastern third is blanketed by six feet of snow. The California weather competes daily with the war in Ukraine for the lead story in the New York Times and Washington Post. The continuing deluges have given rise to a brand-spanking new meteorological term: “atmospheric river.” And let’s not forget earthquakes that can collapse double-decker freeways. No, thankee, I’ll take the copperheads and humidity.

Back to Texas: the Alamo and the Battle of San Jacinto live on eternally in the hearts of some die-hard Texas natives, including Ida Burke Rankin, now deceased. Her only child had the misfortune to be born in northwest Louisiana, just twenty-seven miles from the border of the promised land. The kid lost count of how many times Ida reminded her to “REMEMBER THE ALAMO!!!! Approximately fifteen minutes after her husband’s Shreveport funeral, Ida packed up and moved back to Texas. Her grandfather Burke had married a Trice. Both are featured in this narrative, eventually.

Sam Houston was undoubtedly the most famous Tennessee migrant to Texas, having become governor of the state. His reputation was launched by a decisive victory at the Battle of Jan Jacinto, where he commanded the Texian forces.[5] Texans later marked the battlefield with a monumental obelisk and stationed the Battleship Texas nearby, just in case Mexico had notions of a rematch. The San Jacinto monument is ten or eleven feet taller than the Washington monument. That was surely no accident, and is yet another in the endless list of reasons why everyone hates Texas. Besides which, ours has a 220-ton star on top.[6]

The Trices and Burkes played in vastly different ballparks than General Houston, of course, being pretty much forgotten to history except perhaps in Waco. The ones featured in this article left Wilson County, Tennessee at different times, although they undoubtedly knew each other’s families. Both the Trices and Burkes owned land on Spring Creek, a lovely little arm of the Cumberland River nestled among gently rolling hills on the south side of the river.

The first two Trices to arrive in Texas, so far as I know, were the brothers William Berry Trice and Sion B. Trice. They arrived in 1853. Here is what a local history book says about Berry:[7]

He “was born in Wilson county, Tennessee, in the year 1834.  His father was a substantial farmer, but never accumulated much property. He was deprived of the advantage of an early training, and never attended school a day in his life.”

“Substantial farmer,” what hooey! Berry undoubtedly contributed that fiction. Truth is, the Wilson County Trices were basically subsistence farmers, as were the Burkes. Neither family accumulated any property other than the land they farmed. Berry’s biography continues:

“In the year 1853 he was convinced beyond a doubt that a good future awaited him, and wanting more latitude for his operations, he concluded to go west.  He left home with thirty-five dollars, and accomplished, in forty-seven days, what very few young men would have thought of undertaking — a journey on foot from Wilson county, Tennessee, to Waco, Texas.  He walked the entire distance. Immediately after his arrival here, instead of seeking the shade and waiting for something to turn up, he hired himself to drive a wagon at $12.50 per month.”

The article doesn’t say so, but my family oral history is that Berry’s brother Sion accompanied Berry on the walk to Texas, a distance of more than 800 miles. Their parents, Edward and Lilly Smith Trice, were still alive when they left. I’m betting Berry and Sion weren’t waiting around for a substantial inheritance, which — as it turns out — wasn’t in the offing. Edward and Lilly had nine children, including Berry, Sion, and my great-great grandfather Charles Foster Trice.

Berry and Sion were involved in the construction of the famous Brazos River bridge in Waco – the first suspension bridge west of the Mississippi[8] (more Texas braggadocio). Trice Brothers Brick and J. W. Mann did the brick work for the bridge, furnishing two million, seven hundred thousand bricks.[9] Berry and Sion became rich as sin in the process, ensuring funding for some impressive Trice monuments in Waco’s old Oakwood Cemetery.

Before making a fortune in bricks, Berry drove a wagon, cut and split rails, and worked in a sawmill. He was elected constable in 1855 and Justice of the Peace eight years later. When he was elected constable, he couldn’t even write his name.[10] His second wife was the widow of a former sheriff named Alf Twaddle, possibly the worst surname on the planet.

In the 1860 and 1870 census, Berry described himself as a “brick maker.” By 1880, he was a “farmer and banker.” At Berry’s death, he was president of Waco National Bank; he was then, or had been, a director. He was, according to The Handbook of Waco, “one of the wealthiest men in our community.” He owned five farms, although I am confident there was no dirt under his fingernails. Nor did Berry miss any meals: he weighed over 400 pounds when he died.[11] The local history book describes him colorfully:

” … Not only is he of great weight in financial circles, but his ponderosity amounts to four hundred and twenty-five pounds, and, in physique, he possesses more latitude and longitude than any man in the county.  He is … surrounded with all the conveniences and comforts of life.”

Ponderosity! I am embarrassed for whoever wrote that. With respect to the comforts of life, the inventory of Berry’s estate included, among many other things, a telescope, a piano, and a gold-headed cane. In the hundreds of estate inventories I’ve seen, that is the one and only telescope.

I’m not sure what Sion did before he and Berry founded the Trice Brothers Brick Yard, or how much he weighed. He is also buried in the Oakwood Cemetery along with more Trices and Trice in-laws than I can count. There is a telling slip of paper among Sion’s probate records describing expenses incurred on behalf of his two daughters: a receipt for “tuition in music to Misses Beaulah and Hattie Trice from Apr. 18 to Oct 1st 1879 … 5 months at $10 per month.”[12] Sion wasn’t nearly as famous as Berry, but he clearly didn’t want for anything, either.

Coincidentally — or not — the first Burke who appeared in Waco found a temporary home with Berry Trice. William “Burks” was listed in the 1880 census in Berry’s household. He was twenty at the time. Farmer was his stated occupation, although I suspect he left Tennessee at least in part to escape farming. His full name was William Logan Burke, the first of a fistful of men in my family with that name.[13] He was my great-grandfather and the eldest son of Logan (full name Esom Logan Burke) and Harriet Munday Burke. Logan and Harriett also owned land on Spring Creek in Wilson County. I’m not sure exactly when William Logan Burke left home, but I’m afraid he bailed out on his widowed mother and four underage siblings after their father died. When Logan died in 1877, his eldest son was still only seventeen. I would bet he was still at home, though I have no evidence. By 1880, he was in Waco.

The first William Logan Burke wasn’t a farmer for long. He became “one of the early Sheriffs” of McClennan County, then a U.S. Marshall or Assistant Marshall. Owing to the plethora of men sharing his name among my Burke relatives, we call the first WLB “the Sheriff.” I know virtually nothing about him except that he was often absent from home. His daughter-in-law (Ida Huenefeld/Hannefield Burke) explained his frequent absences like so: “he was out chasing outlaws.” Here is a formal portrait of him, the only good likeness I have. Too bad he wasn’t wearing a badge.

The Sheriff married a Trice, although not one of the rich ones. She belonged to the third set of my family’s Tennessee migrants to Waco: Elizabeth (Betty) Morgan Trice. Her parents, Charles Foster Trice and Mary Ann Powell, also lived on Spring Creek in Wilson County. Foster was a blacksmith. Mary Ann was a quick-thinking lady who once outfitted him in a woman’s dress and bonnet, sitting him in a rocking chair in front of the fireplace, peeling potatoes, just before Union Army “recruiters” came to call.

Spring Creek wasn’t kind to Foster. He died in 1881 in a cave-in of the creek bank. There was a coroner’s inquest into his death, which was ruled an accident.[14] His land had to be sold because his personal estate was inadequate to pay debts. Foster didn’t make it to Waco, but his widow Mary Ann and eight children moved there some time between 1881 and 1886.

Mary Ann is buried in Waco’s Oakwood Cemetery along with the other Trices, Betty and the Sheriff, and Ida Hannefield Burke’s parents Ella Adalia Maier and John Henry Hannefield. Mary Ann died in 1928, when her great-granddaughter Ida Burke was eighteen. Ida heard the potato-peeling-dress-wearing story directly from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.

Mary Ann’s daughter Betty Morgan Trice Burke was a tiny redhead who could, according to my grandmother, “hold her liquor like a man.” Her only surviving child, the second William Logan Burke, was a dead ringer for his mother. Here she is, in a fabulous dress featuring elaborate ribbon trim, a brooch at her neck, and a fancy watch pinned to the dress.

The Sheriff died of tuberculosis in 1899, when the second William Logan Burke was eleven. The Sheriff’s widow, Betty Trice Burke, married a kind man named Sam Whaley in 1906, although she had been ill for a good while. She died just a few months after she married Sam, when her son was eighteen. Her obituary mentions both the Trice family’s elevated status in the community and the Sheriff. Her memorial in Oakwood Cemetery, a flat marker, is considerably more modest than Berry’s.

She had four children, but only one — her spitting image, my grandfather — survived her. Here he is as a young man:

“Gramps,” we cousins called him, was a genuine, Grade-A, certified Texas character, born in Waco in 1888. He went by W. L., or just “Billie.” I adored him, and vice versa. He taught me how to shoot a BB gun at a moving target by hanging the lid of a Folger’s can on a string from a tree branch. He gave me a fishing rod and reel, never used in my non-fishing family. Every time my grandparents came to Shreveport, he brought me some kind of critter. Baby chickens. Baby ducks. Goldfish. Once, he brought a pair of quail for which my father built a fabulous cage. Unfortunately, they launched into their “bob-WHITE!” calls each day at sunrise. They have surprisingly good lungs for such small birds. Neighbors registered complaints. One night, the quail mysteriously “escaped.” My father often said that he fully expected his father-in-law to bring me an elephant one day.

Sometime in the 1950s, Gramps had a pet wild turkey named Clyde. I am not making this up. When we were visiting my grandparents in Houston, we would all sit outside after dinner in those old uncomfortable slatted metal chairs when it was nice outside, meaning anything over 70 degrees. No air-conditioning in the 1950s. Clyde would sit on the arm of Gramps’s chair and apparently enjoy the conversation, looking at whomever was talking. Once, when we were driving back to Houston from Fredericksburg, Gramps abruptly pulled the car over to the side of the road beside a sorghum field, saying “I’m gonna get some of that good milo maize for my turkey.” Whereupon he climbed over the barbed-wire fence and grabbed a handful. My grandmother didn’t bat an eye, having known him since they were teenagers. I don’t know what became of Clyde, but I know he was spoiled rotten.

Gramps was a polo player and, after he was too old to play, a referee; a hunter who raised bird dogs, including a prizewinner named “April Showers;” a fisherman; and a spinner of tall tales. One of them made it into either the Houston Chronicle or the Post, I don’t know which. Granny cut it out and mailed it to my mother, with a penciled note saying “Your daddy in print with a big one.” It was in a column titled “The Outdoor Sportsman” by Bill Walker. Here is a transcription:

“A roaring gas flame in the big brick fireplace in the Cinco Ranch clubhouse warmed the spacious room and the several members of the Gulf Coast Field Trial Club who gathered there for coffee Saturday morning before the first cast in the shooting dog stake.

“Usually when veteran field trial followers get together the conversations turns to great dogs of yesteryears and this group was no exception.

W. L. “BILLY” BURKE related one about an all-time favorite of ours — Navasota Shoals Jake.

“Burke and the late W. V. Bowles, owner of Ten Broeck’s Bonnett and Navasota Shoals Jake, were hunting birds in the Valley on one of those rare hot and sultry winter mornings. Jake pointed a covey several hundred yards from the two men and out in the open.

“BOWLES suggested they take their time approaching the pointing dog, since he was known to be very trustworthy. When the two hunters did not immediately move to Jake, the dog broke his point, backed away to the cool shade of a nearby tree and again pointed the birds.

“THE COVEY was still hovering in a briar thicket when Bowles and Burke arrived. Navasota Shoals Jake was still on point.

Here is Gramps in his 60s as a polo referee:

I should probably also include a picture or two of his daughter, Ida Burke Rankin, the die-hard Texan who admonished me to “Remember the Alamo!” They wouldn’t let women play polo in her day, of course, although I am confident she would have beat the heck out of everyone. Undoubtedly to show them, whoever “they” were, she used to ride her father’s polo ponies like a bat out of hell whenever she thought he wouldn’t find out. She once fell off on a blacktop road and said she couldn’t sit down for three days. She claims Gramps never knew, but I’ll bet he did. He was nobody’s fool.

And one more, when I was about three:

Next, I might have to write about Granny, a character in her own right.

See you on down the road.

Robin

                  [1] Here is a link to an article about the Battle of the Alamo by the reputable Texas State Historical Association, complete with images of Davy Crockett, William Barrett Travis, and James Bowie. https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/alamo-battle-of-the

                  [2] There were either 31 or 32 or Tennesseans at the Alamo. An authoritative list has the same name twice, and it is unclear whether those names represent one or two men. See the list at this link: https://www.historicunioncounty.com/article/tennesseans-who-died-alamo

                  [3] For the record, 1,500 miles exaggerates both the length or width of Texas. It is 827 miles from Beaumont to El Paso on I-10, and about 850 from Texhoma, OK, on the OK-TX panhandle border, to McAllen on the Rio Grande. This is another reason people hate Texans: bragging about how big the state is.

                  [4] The math doesn’t audit on that bit of hyperbole, either. If mules or horses walk at 3 mph for 8-hour days, the journey would surely take less than six months even with interruptions.

                  [5] Here is a link to an article about the Battle of San Jacinto. It also has a fabulous picture of the San Jacinto monument. https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/san-jacinto-battle-of

                  [6] See a closeup of the star and a photo of the monument here: https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/san-jacinto-monument-and-museum

                  [7] John Sleeper and J.C. Hutchins, The Handbook of Waco and McLennan County, Texas (Waco: Texian Press, 1972), article titled “William B. Trice.”

                  [8] Here is a photograph of the bridge, now a pedestrian walkway. https://www.loc.gov/resource/highsm.29747/?r=-0.163,-0.02,1.362,0.789,0

                  [9] Id., article titled “The Waco Suspension Bridge.”

                  [10] Id., Trice article.

                  [11] John M. Usry, early Waco Obituaries 1874 -1908 (Waco: Central Texas Genealogical Society, 1980), citing the July 16, 1884 issue of the Waco Daily Examiner at p. 2 col. 5, obituary of W. B. (Berry) Trice.

                  [12] Probate packet #671 at the courthouse in Waco, McLennan Co., TX.

                  [13] William Logan Burke, the escapee from Tennessee, was the first with that name. His only surviving child, my grandfather, was also William Logan Burke, who went by “W.L.” or just “Billie.” His only son was the third William Logan Burke, who was called Bill, or “the Kid” in his polo playing days. Bill’s elder son was known as “Little Bill.” He went by William Logan Burke III, although he was actually the fourth in the line. Little Bill’s brother Frank, who just goes by Burke, gave one of his sons that name. That makes five. My elder son’s name, by the way, is William Burke Willis, in honor of my wonderful grandfather.

            [14] Tennessee State Library and Archives, Wilson Roll # B-1407, County Clerk (Loose Records Project) Box 59, Fld. 20 – Box 60, Fld 13. Vol: 1742-1962. This film contains Box 59, Folder 22, which contains an inquest into the death of C. F. Trice. I have a copy around here somewhere …

 

John McGinley Rankin: Too Many Have Lived

by Anonymous

I took a drag on my cigarette and leaned back in my chair. John McGinley Rankin was dead alright. Dead as a doornail. Had been for 187 years. Cholera they said, but I figured it was more likely a bad ticker. The probate records scattered all over my desk told the story. He’d been up to his eyeballs in debt with a wife and nine kids to support. It was a wonder he held on as long as he did.

Yep, John McGinley Rankin was dead, no doubt about it. My job: Find his parents.

Spade’s the name. Not my real name, of course. They call me “Spade” because I dig up dead relatives, mostly Rankins. I’d walked into the office that morning to find a manilla envelope on my desk. Inside was a $100 bill – my usual retainer – and a note that read “There’s more where that came from if you can tell me who his parents were.” There was also typewritten sheet titled “Memories” by a guy named James Doig Rankin,[1] plus a hand-drawn family tree.[2] Both had the name “John McGinley Rankin” circled in red.

I took a quick look at the “Memories.” Up top it mentioned Adam Rankin, son of William, who came to America from Ulster about 1720 with brothers John and Hugh. Adam had married Mary Steele and died in 1747 leaving his property to sons James, William and Jeremiah. So far, so nothing. Every Rankin under the sun claimed either Adam or John as an ancestor.[3] 90% of them were dead wrong, and the DNA evidence said Adam and John weren’t even brothers.[4]

James D Rankin went on to say that Adam’s son James had served under Washington and “for some notable service was given a tract of land at the foot of Two Top Mountain, Franklin County, Pa., a few miles from the present town of Mercersburg.” He’d married Mary McGinley, and John McGinley Rankin was one of his kids.

I chuckled. Every Rankin private dick knew that Adam’s son James was married to Jane Campbell, not Mary McGinley, and his four sons were William, David, Jeremiah and James. Not a “John McGinley” among them. It was easy to see how James D might have got mixed up, though… Guys named “James Rankin” were a dime a dozen.

The rest of the story rang true though. John McGinley Rankin had married a gal named Agnes Burns, “daughter of Hon. John Burns, first cousin and intimate friend of the Scottish poet.” About 1816, “they made their bridal trip in a covered wagon across the Allegheny Mountains, and after a short period in Eastern Ohio settled permanently a mile out of the village of Washington, Pennsylvania. Here they purchased a tavern and connected with it a farm. It stood on the Great Western Highway. The village around their home was called Rankintown. No liquor was sold in the tavern.”

I took a look at the family tree. It told basically the same story right down to the “full cousin of Robert Burns” bit, but also listed all John and Agnes’s kids and their spouses.[5] I flipped it over. It was written on stationary of the General Counsel of the Rock Island & Pacific Railway, a guy named William Thomasson Rankin. I did a double-take. Will Rankin was my own second great grandfather. Suddenly this wasn’t just another Rankin case.

This was personal.

Just then the phone rang. “Spade here… Yeah, I’m on the John McGinley Rankin case… Killed in a thresher accident in Centre County?[6] Nah, you’re barking up the wrong tree pal.” Click. What the hell was that? Some joker trying to send me off on a wild goose chase?

I ran through the list of John M’s kids from William T Rankin’s chart, and they all checked out. Two of them had been born in Warren, Ohio – James Graham in 1821 and John Walker, Will’s dad, in 1823 – so that bit of James Doig Rankin’s story looked OK, but at least one of the older girls had been born in Washington County, PA, according to her obit.[7] I also checked out Agnes’s father, “John Burns.” Turns out his name was really James[8] and he was born in Pennsylvania, so the odds of him being an “intimate friend of the Scottish poet” were just about nil. Agnes’s family had lived just west of Schellsburg, and that’s probably where she was born. That “crossed the Allegheny Mountains” part of the story was starting to look like a bunch of hooey.

I poked around in the records for Washington County for a while looking for some likely candidate for John McGinley Rankin’s father. There were a bunch of Rankins just north of the town of Washington at a spot called Raccoon Creek.[9] I even found a James who was about the right age, but it turned out he’d been ambushed and killed by Seneca on his way home from a trip to Kentucky and left no kids.[10]

So now here I was looking for clues in the probate records[11] for John M who had shuffled off on 4 Aug 1835[12] at his tavern in Canton Township. It was mostly a big pile of called in debts. The Rankintown Tavern practically had to be liquidated to pay it all off, including every barrel of beer and whiskey – so much for it being a “dry” tavern! Somehow, Agnes had managed to keep it all going for another 10 years as the Erie Canal and B&O Railroad slowly dried up traffic on the Old National Pike. She’d even managed to put most her kids through Washington College. Helluva gal.

I sighed. I’d hit a brick wall.

The phone rang again. “Yeah?… You don’t say… I’ll check it out. Thanks doll!”

It was Jess Guyer calling with a hot tip. When it came to deeds and wills, she had a nose like a bloodhound, and great gams to boot.[13] She said she’d found something in Belfast Township, Bedford County, that I might be interested in. I pulled down my dusty copy of Bedford County Deed Book P, turned to page 255, and there it was. In 1825, John M Rankin of Canton Township quitclaimed ground rent on a parcel he’d sold to one James Austin in 1815. That was definitely my boy.

Jess had said there were other deeds for the same property. I flipped back to Deed Book L, page 601. In 1818, John M Rankin, then of Belfast Township, was selling 200 acres to a guy named David Humphreys from Franklin County for 9400 clams. As I went through the details of the agreement, though, something hit me. This was no ordinary sale; this was a bailout!

John M had bought the land in 1813 for 6 grand – 2 grand up front and 4 notes of 1 grand each. It was supposed to have been paid off by the beginning of 1818. But David Humphreys was agreeing to pay off the remaining balance, so John M must have had trouble getting his hands on the dough. Not only that, but Humphreys was taking on $3400 of other debts owed by John M. That was a lot of lucre back in 1818! Besides getting rid of his debts, John M was getting a 120 acre piece of land in Warren, Ohio.

The phone rang. “Yeah?… Yeah, I’m on the case…. Doctor in Piney Township, Clarion County?[14] No, you got the wrong guy, bub.” Click. Joker.

I did a little quick arithmetic… If 200 acres in Pennsylvania was worth $9400, 120 acres in Ohio couldn’t have been worth more than two or three, probably a lot less since the feds were still selling off undeveloped land in Ohio for $2 an acre. But the deed valued it at six grand. I had to scratch my head at that one. Maybe they were trying to make it look like John M wasn’t getting such a raw deal. Anyway, what happened to John M wasn’t much different than what happened to a lot of other small farmers in those days. Everybody had been running up debt speculating on land and they all got left holding the bag when the credit dried up and the whole house of cards came tumbling down in the Panic of 1819.[15] Poor sap.

As my eyes went over the Humphreys deed again, I noticed something I’d missed on the first pass. The land in Ohio was to be transferred to John M Rankin and his father James Rankin! So the family had it right… John M’s father really was named James. Well, that helped a little, but there were so many James Rankins floating around back in those days that you couldn’t spit without hitting one in the eye. Which was John M’s daddy?

The phone rang again. I was just about ready to throw it across the room, but picked it up anyway. “Spade here… Doctor in Kalamazoo?[16] You gotta be kiddin’ me…. No, no, that’s way too late… Yeah, well, same to you.” Click.

Maybe I needed to come at this from another angle. If John McGinley Rankin’s mother was really Mary McGinley, chances are her father was named John McGinley. That’s how the Scotch-Irish liked to name their kids back in those days… give the kid the full name of some friend or relative. All I had to do was find the right guy.

Ten minutes thumbing through Pennsylvania will books and I had it. John McGinley of Adams County, Pennsylvania. Will dated December 12th, 1796.[17] He left 10 pounds each to his four daughters: Mary wife of James Rankin, Margaret wife of Isaac Moore, Sarah wife of James Rankin, and Abigail wife of William Rankin. I blinked and read it again. James Rankin was married to Mary McGinley… and Sarah McGinley?  That had to be a transcription error.[18]

Well, now at least I knew where Mary McGinley came from, but I still didn’t feel any closer to figuring out James Rankin. I started digging into the background of this John McGinley character. Turns out, he was married to a gal named Jane Alexander, and her grandmother was Mary Steele. I blinked. Wasn’t that the name of Adam Rankin’s wife? Yeah, her first husband had been a guy named James “the Carpenter” Alexander according to his will.[19] So Mary McGinley was married to James Rankin, and her father was married to the step-granddaughter of Adam Rankin? My head was starting to spin. Maybe there was something to this Adam Rankin connection after all.

The phone rang again. “This is Spade… Wait, did you say Two Top Mountain?… No kidding… I’ll look into it.” Click.

It was my cousin Ralph. He’d been digging into the Adam Rankin story and had found where Adam’s son James had his farm. It was at a spot called “The Corner,” in Montgomery Township, Franklin County, PA, a little south of Mercersburg, where Punch Bowl Road crosses Licking Creek, and right at the foot of Two Top Mountain, just where James Doig Rankin’s “Memories” had said it was. James’ will had split the property between his four sons, and Ralph had worked out all the property lines, with the easternmost tract going to James Jr.[20]

I started paging through Pennsylvania land warrant applications looking for clues, but the phone rang. Again.

“Spade here… Yeah, I’m on the case… Farmer in Guernsey County, Ohio?[21] No no no no NO! Not the right guy!” Click. What a Nimrod![22]

Back to the land warrants I went, and boy did I get lucky! February 23, 1816.[23] There it was. John M Rankin of Belfast Township applies for a Warrant on a tract at The Corner. And evidence was given by none other than James Rankin, “a disinterested witness”, saying that John M had settled there in March 1812. The survey[24] put the tract just east of James Jr.’s. James Jr had to be John M’s father, but that “disinterested” bit put me off. Could a father be “disinterested”?[25] I was so close I could taste it.

I went back to the deed books. There had to be something there. Finally, I found it! A deed from James Rankin Jr to Charles Kilgore[26] for a tract of land bordered on the east by lands “late the property of said James Rankin & his son John Rankin.” There was my smoking gun!

I now had a solid paper trail proving that John McGinley Rankin, husband of Agnes Burns, was the son of James Rankin Jr, grandson of the Adam Rankin who died in 1747.  James Jr. had married Mary McGinley, his first cousin once removed of the half blood, as the old timers say, and she’d named her son after his granddad. Sometime around 1813, John M had moved to Belfast Township, Bedford County, and met and married Agnes Burns. The first two or three kids must have been born there, not in Washington County, obit notwithstanding. By 1818, with bankruptcy looming, he sold out and they all moved to Warren, Jefferson County, Ohio. After a couple more kids, they sold out again and moved to “Rankintown” in Canton Township, Washington County, Pennsylvania, to open the tavern.

James Doig Rankin and William Thomasson Rankin had got it nearly right after all. They just dropped a generation.

I poured myself a double shot of Cutty Sark and leaned back in my chair again. The phone rang. This time, I picked it up with a smile. “Don’t tell me you’ve got another one?… Died of typhoid in 1898?[27] No, that’s not the guy, but you’ve certainly been very helpful to my investigation.” Click. No amount of kibitzing was going to spoil my drink.

[1] The original copy of “Memories” is in the private collection of a descendant of John McGinley Rankin who provided an abstract to me.

[2] I discovered a hand drawn chart of descendants of William Rankin, including the lines of John McGinley Rankin and James Clark Rankin, among a packet of family papers left by my father.  It is in the hand of William Thomasson Rankin, son of John Walker Rankin and grandson of John McGinley Rankin.  It is on stationary of the Rock Island and Pacific Railroad, so must have been drawn up in about 1900 when Will Rankin was General Counsel.

[3] There are a number of articles on this website concerning Adam Rankin who died in 1747 in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

[4] See “Adam Rankin Who Died in 1747, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania – AGAIN!” here.

[5] These were:  Mary Jane Rankin (~1814-~1843) m. Rev. James Law; Esther Burns Rankin (~1816-1851) m. Rev. James Rolla Doig; Ann Eliza Rankin (~1818-1912) m. Rev. Robert Johnston Hammond; Rev. James Graham Rankin (1821-1868) m. Catherine Pollack; John Walker Rankin Esq. (1823-1869) m. Sara Dupuy Thomasson; Agnes McGinley Rankin (1825-1913) m. Rev. Byron Porter; Rev. Alexander Reed Rankin (1828-1917) m. Vianna Katherine DeGroff; Dr. David Carson Rankin (~1833-~1865) m. Margaret S Speedy; Samuel Murdock Rankin (~1833-?).

[6] John M Rankin (1797-1838), son of William Rankin and Abigail McGinley, died after being injured by a threshing machine.  John Blair Lynn, “History of Centre and Clinton Counties, Pennsylvania” 222 (Press of J. B. Lippencott & Co., Philadelphia), available online.  Abigail McGinley was a daughter of John McGinley, so the man was likely named for his grandfather. See an article about the Centre County Rankins on this website here.

[7] “The Americus Greeting,” Americus Kansas, Thursday, December 12, 1912, Page 1. Obituary for Ann Eliza Rankin “Grandma” Hammond.

[8] Will of James Burns, Bedford County, PA, Will Book Vol. 4: 379, dated 28 Jan 1860, leaving $500 to “Agness Burns intermarried with John Rankin.”  James Burns seems to have been quite a story-teller.  In the 1850 census, he gave his age as 86.  In 1860, he claimed to be 101, the same age written on his headstone when he died in 1863.  His application for a revolutionary war pension was denied because, in spite of the extensive military history it detailed, including wintering with Washington at Valley Forge, the only evidence he provided was a pay record for a different James Burns who had lived in York County.  His own records, he said, had been eaten by a mouse.  Perhaps this was the same mouse whose fate was mourned by the poet Robert Burns, who James claimed as a first cousin.

[9] See “Pennsylvania Rankins: William and Abigail of Washington County” on this website here.

[10] Charles A. Hanna, Ohio Valley Genealogies Relating Chiefly to Families in Harrison, Belmont and Jefferson Counties, Ohio, and Washington, Westmoreland, and Fayette Counties, Pennsylvania (New York: Press of J. J. Little & Co., 1900) 104-105. It is online here.

[11] Pennsylvania Probate Records, File R, 1837-1844, Case 25.

[12] Biography of John Walker Rankin from the “CF Davis Collection” 261, authorship and publication unknown.  A copy of this hand written manuscript is in the possession of the author, and a transcription is available here (Ancestry.com subscription required).

[13] For the record, this is literary license:  I have never met Jess Guyer in person.

[14] Dr. John McGinley Rankin (~1792-1869) of Piney Township, Clarion County, was the son of James Rankin and Sarah McGinley.  His memorial at Find Grave has his middle name as “McKinley,” but there is no photo of a grave marker and no reference.  The cemetery record for his daughter Sarah M. Rankin shows his middle name as “McGinley.”  See “Find-a-grave information — fact or fiction? (e.g., Dr. John M. Rankin, 1833-1909)” on this website at this link for a discussion of name confusion between this Dr. John and a younger Dr. John of Kalamazoo, MI.

[15] See Wikipedia for a discussion of the Panic of 1819.

[16] Dr. John M. Rankin (1833-1909) of Kalamazoo, MI, was the son of James Huston Rankin and Margaret McCurdy.  Huston, in turn, was the son of James Rankin and Sarah McGinley.  Huston likely named his son for his brother, Dr. John McGinley Rankin of Piney Township, Clarion County, PA, as well as for his own grandfather, John McGinley.  See footnote 14 and this article.

[17] York County, PA, Will Books vol. H: 363, viewable here.

[18] But it was no transcription error.  Three McGinley girls married three Rankin boys, two of whom were named “James.”  Sarah and Abigail married brothers James and William respectively, sons of William Rankin (1723-1792) and Mary Huston, while Mary married their first cousin James, son of James Rankin (~1722-1795) and Jane Campbell.

[19] New Castle County, DE, Will Book C: 103.

[20] A copy of Ralph Jefford’s map can be found here.  Ancestry.com subscription required.

[21] John M Rankin (1834-1927) of Guernsey County, OH, was the son of Adam Rankin and Elizabeth Pumphrey.  Adam, in turn, was the son of James Rankin and Mary McGinley, and brother to the John McGinley Rankin who is the subject of this piece.  Adam almost certainly named his son after his brother, as well as his grandfather John McGinley.

[22] Nimrod W Rankin (1862-1952) was the son of John M Rankin (1834-1927) and Elvira Berry.  See footnote 21.

[23] The Franklin County, PA, warrant application is viewable here.  Ancestry.com subscription required.  I’m sure there must be a way to view it that isn’t paywalled, but I’ll be darned if I can figure it out.

[24] Early Land Surveys for Montgomery Township, Franklin County, PA, can be found at a unique Google Earth interactive map located here.

[25] It is possible that the “disinterested” James Rankin was a cousin of John M Rankin, son of his father’s brother William, who lived three farms to the west.

[26] Franklin County, PA, Deeds, Book 12: 230.

[27] John M. Rankin, Jr. (1874-1898) was the son of Dr. John M. Rankin (1833-1909) and Susan C Rankin (her maiden name) of Kalamazoo, MI.  See footnote 16.  Like his father, his middle name was almost certainly McGinley.

A Willis Christmas Thank You Note

Some time ago, I found a ninety-eight year old letter from my grandfather, Doctor Henry Noble Willis of Wilmington, Delaware, to his older sister Mary Clark in Preston, Maryland. The 31 December 1924 letter thanked her for a check, presumably a Christmas gift or a birthday present.[1]

Items like this are a treasure. They reveal our ancestors as real people. The brief note shows Doctor Willis was in poor health but retained a sense of humor. The letter mentions his daughter Mary Willis, his cousin Cora Willis Noble, his wife Jessie (“Boss”), and his son Noble, who was eight years old at the time.

The transcribed letter below is followed by some explanatory comments. A couple of words were unclear. I indicated them with a question mark in brackets:

Envelope Addressed:     Mrs. M. W. Clark        Preston, Md

Postmarked:               Dec 31, 1924, 7 PM         Wilmington, Del.

Dear Sister,

            Your check arrived ok and waited to find out if you were in Preston before thanking you for same.

            Mary leaves us tomorrow for supper in Phila. then on to Yonkers next morning.

            She certainly looks fine … weighs 148 almost as much as her Dad. I think she enjoyed her stay very much.

           We have had quite a cold snap. The weather man has predicted sun but has not arrived yet.

            Don’t kill yourself eating this Xmas with all the fine dinners.

            Cora stopped over between trains[?], think she’s looking better.

            Well, I am doing fine no change in my blood pressure for 6 weeks. Dr. T told me on Monday A M more[?] drainage and he thought I would be good for 5 or 6 years. Sounds good to me, I shall open the office with the New Year starting in slow – avoiding exceptional strain.

            Wishing you a Happy New Year and many of them. Noble had more Xmas in his bones than the rest of us.

           Boss says she will write later.

                                                Your Brother

                                                   H.N.W.

Henry Noble Willis

Henry Noble Willis was 59 years old at the time he wrote this letter. He was born and raised in Preston, Maryland. He graduated from Williamsport College, Pennsylvania in about 1885. After graduating from  the University of Maryland School of Medicine in 1888, he became a doctor like his father, Henry Fisher Willis. The younger Doctor Willis established his practice in Pocomoke City, Worcester County, Maryland. In  1890, he married Mary E. McMaster, daughter of a local physician. Mary died in 1898, leaving two children: Mary Catherine Willis, born in 1891 and Harry McMaster Willis, born in 1893.

In 1899, the widowed Doctor Willis married Jessie Sensor in Pocomoke City. She was a daughter of the Methodist minister who served several communities in the region. The couple had a daughter Grace in 1905. She died of meningitis at age five. Shortly thereafter, they adopted a daughter Kathryn, who had also been born in 1905. In 1908, Henry and Jessie moved to Wilmington, Delaware, where they resided until their deaths. In Wilmington, they had a son, Noble Sensor Willis who was born 1916.

Mary Willis Clark

The recipient of the letter was Doctor Willis’s 64-year old sister Mary.[2] She was born in Sussex County, Delaware, where their father then practiced medicine. About 1863, the elder Doctor Willis family moved Preston, Caroline County, Maryland. In Preston, he took over the practice of a doctor who had joined the Union Army. Mary grew up in Preston and married Joshua Bascom Clark there in 1878.[3] A report of the marriage indicated he was of Seaford, Delaware where he served as junior editor of “The Sussex County Index,” a local newspaper. The childless couple subsequently moved to Georgetown, Sussex County, Delaware where he became publisher and editor of the “Sussan Journal.”

Joshua Clark died in 1892, and Mary managed and edited the newspaper until 1894. She continued to live at her home in Georgetown until her death in 1941.[4] However, Doctor Willis mailed the 1924 thank you letter to Preston, Maryland rather than to her home in Georgetown. He must have known she was traveling, probably visiting relatives during the holidays, and somehow got word that she was in Preston. Mary or her relatives must have been well known in Preston, a town of about 300 people in the early 1900s, because Henry did not include a street address, just her name and the town.

Cora Fisher Willis Noble

Mary Willis Clark and Henry Noble Willis were the surviving children of Doctor Henry Fisher Willis and his wife Emily Rumbold Patton. Their other two children, Cora Fisher Willis and Emma Patton Willis died young … Cora died as a young school teacher in 1875 at age 18, and Emma died in 1863 before her first birthday.

The Cora referred to in the letter is a second Cora Fisher Willis, born in 1879. She was Mary’s and Henry’s first cousin, the daughter of Henry Fisher Willis’s brother James Spry Willis and his wife Mary E. Shufelt. About 1900, Cora married Charles Fulton Noble, son of Isaac Noble. The Nobles were close to the Willis family although this is the first record I have found of a marriage between the two families.

Isaac Noble was a successful carpenter and a neighbor of Henry Fisher Willis in Preston, Maryland. Doctor Jacob L. Noble joined Henry Fisher Willis’s medical practice in Preston. The elder Doctor Willis so admired the Noble family that he adopted their surname as the middle name for his son. It has been used now as a given name in the Willis family through five generations – the doctor’s son, Henry Noble Willis, grandson Noble Sensor Willis, great grandson Gary Noble Willis, great-great grandson Noble Sutherland Willis, and great-great-great grandson Christopher Noble Willis.

Doctor T

I cannot identify the “Doctor T” mentioned in the letter. However, he was overly optimistic about Henry Noble Willis’s expected life span. Henry died 11 April 1926, a little more than two years after this letter, rather than being “good for 5 or 6 years”. I haven’t found a death certificate, so don’t know the official cause of death. I suspect some sort of heart disease based on Henry’s mention of high blood pressure and “drainage.” Maybe some reader can speculate intelligently as to the cause.

Mary Catherine Willis

The Mary referred to in the second sentence of the letter is Mary Catherine Willis, daughter of Henry Noble Willis and his first wife, Mary McMaster. Mary Catherine was working at the time as a secretary at the YWCA in Philadelphia and had obviously come to Wilmington for the Christmas holiday and her father’s birthday. In 1925, Mary applied for a passport to visit Hong Kong, China and Japan. She later served in China as a secretary for a missionary group sponsored by the YWCA, returning to the United States before war broke out. After her years of employment, she retired in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Our family had the pleasure of Mary’s company when she visited Shreveport, Louisiana in the late 1940s. I remember her as an imposing woman. Doctor Willis’s estimate of her weight was far too low by that time. My mother frequently told a story about Mary, who never married or had children, instructing Mom on how to diaper my younger sister, Mom’s third child. Mary complained, “Charlotte, that diaper is too tight. That child is not going to be comfortable.” Mom backed off and said, “Here. You do it.” Mary did so and with a self-satisfied smile placed Barbara in the playpen. Five minutes later, the naked baby was standing in the playpen swinging the not-too-tight diaper over her head!

Noble and “Boss”

Henry’s and Jessie’s son Noble Sensor Willis referred to near the end of the letter was at the age when children are really excited about the magic of Christmas. With his half-siblings half a generation older than he, I can imagine Noble was an exuberant center of attention. Reading Henry’s letter reminded me that later in life Noble adopted some of his father’s habits. As an adult, Noble opened letters with “Dear Sister” and closed with “Your Brother” as did his father. Also, Doctor Willis called his wife Jessie “Boss” in the last line of the letter. Noble referred throughout his married life to his wife Charlotte as “Boss,” when he wasn’t calling her “Imp.” Noble also usually signed notes and messages with three initials rather than a full name. Interesting to note that those patterns all arose with his father.

The letter does not mention adopted daughter Kathryn who was nineteen by 1924 and possibly no longer in the household. She married William New in 1926. In the 1930 census, however, the two resided with the widow Jessie S. Willis and young Noble at Jessie’s home in Wilmington. The couple continued living in New Castle County, Delaware, but had no children.

That is about all I can glean from this letter right now. I have enjoyed re-discovering  more about these people and sharing it. Here’s hoping you can find such treasures among your family memorabilia.

Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!

—–

[1] Henry Noble Willis was born 23 December 1865.

[2] Mary Willis was born 21 January 1860.

[3] Mary Willis and Joshua Bascom Clark married 23 January 1868.

[4] From Newspapers.com – The News Journal, Wilmington, Delaware, 31 Jan 1941, page 20.

Looking for DAR membership via a Virginia ancestor?

You might look in Frederick County, Virginia if you may have an 18th-century ancestor there. The court order books in 1782 are loaded with lists of people who furnished supplies “for Continental use.” The lists even include women.

Here is the definition of membership eligibility for providing supplies from the DAR website:

“Those who rendered material aid and supported the cause of American Independence by furnishing supplies, with or without remuneration, loaning money and/or providing munitions. Some states enacted special tax laws to raise money for supplies. Payment of these “supply” taxes is considered patriotic service.”

You can find the page defining what the DAR deems accepted service at this link. 

You can view microfilm of original court records for Frederick County at FamilySearch.org. Film #7897647 has images of Order Books 18-19, with entries beginning in 1781. All you need to access them is a FamilySearch account, which is free and can be created here. They won’t pester you with emails asking for money or proselytizing. If you aren’t able to access the film, just holler and I will try to help.

Here are some surnames from Frederick County Order Book 18, pages 36 and 37 (image 40 on the microfilm):

Jones, Jacobs, Cryer, Holliday, Hess, Noble, Williams, Dorsey, Morton, Smith, Slaughter, Frost, Brown, Booth, O’Neill, Cheek?, Kendrick, Cantmill?, Aldridge, Brooks, Kisner?, Carrick?, Stone, Seacrist, Johnston, Anderson, Throckmorton, Parker … et al.

There are more names on page 37 and in earlier Order Book pages. There are undoubtedly later entries as well. If you run across anything about a Rankin, please send an email!!!

See you on down the road.

Robin

It’s all about the Benjamins …

… but we aren’t talking $100 bills. Our subjects are four eighteenth-century Virginians named Benjamin who hail from the Northern Neck Rankin Cluster. Two of these men will qualify a descendant for DAR or SAR membership. If that is your thing and you may have a Rankin ancestor in the right area, they might be worth a closer look.

But this Virginia Rankin family is a tough nut to crack. Only one of the Benjamins has proved parents. Precise birth years are nonexistent; we mostly have to settle for a likely decade. I’m hoping for a reader who has a Bible or other evidence to help us with these men …

  • Benjamin Rankin of King George County, Virginia, a proved son of the Robert Rankin who died there in 1747/48. Benjamin was probably born in the 1720s.
  • Benjamin Rankin of Frederick and Berkeley Counties, Virginia (later part of West Virginia). DAR information is that Capt. Benjamin was born circa 1740.
  • Benjamin Rankin of King George/Fauquier/Loudoun Counties, Virginia and Fayette County, Kentucky. He was a Revolutionary War soldier, suggesting he was born in the 1750s or early 1760s.
  • Benjamin Rankin of Loudoun and Frederick Counties, Virginia and Mason County, Kentucky. He was probably born in the 1760s. His probable or possible brothers were Lt. Robert, William, John, Moses, Reuben, and George Rankin.[1]

Here’s what county records reveal about them.

Benjamin Rankin of King George County, Virginia, son of Robert Rankin who died 1747/48

Benjamin first appeared in the Virginia records in 1747/48 when he was named a beneficiary of his father Robert’s will.[2]Benjamin and his siblings Mary Rankin Green, Moses, George, and Hipkins each inherited only one shilling. Sons William, John, and James, probably the three eldest, inherited Robert’s land.[3] Robert’s estate was appraised at less than one hundred pounds sterling, so he didn’t have much wealth to spread among his children.[4] As a general rule, that means his sons weren’t likely to be wealthy, either.

After his father’s will was proved, Benjamin didn’t appear again in the King George records until 1753.[5] He must have been of legal age by then, born by 1732. After 1753, he appeared regularly in the court order books through 1767. In at least two records, Benjamin was involved with one of his brothers. In 1753, Benjamin and Hipkins sued the same man for trespass, assault and battery.[6] In 1763, Benjamin was security for Moses Rankin, a defendant in a suit for debt.[7]Benjamin was a carpenter, as was his brother John.[8]

The King George court slapped Benjamin hard on the wrist once — on the record — for presenting what the justices called a “very extravagant” charge for building several structures at Gibson’s tobacco warehouse.[9] The justices instructed that Benjamin be paid a lesser amount than he charged. Benjamin, bless his heart, didn’t take it lying down. He sued, was awarded a judgment, and obtained a writ of execution against the warehouse. The court instructed that the judgment be paid from the county levy.[10] Score: Little Guy 1 – City Hall 0.

Benjamin was moderately respectable by the norms of the day, something one can’t say with confidence about his brothers. They appeared in grand jury presentments for “failing to attend divine services,”[11] swearing,[12] “vagrancy” (failing to appear for militia drills),[13] or in court records as defendants in lawsuits for debts.[14] Benjamin did not belong to the top tier of the social order, though. He was never identified with the honorific “gent.,” nor did he serve in a county leadership position — justice, vestryman, tobacco warehouse inspector, someone who took tithes, or the like. He was, after all, a carpenter.

Benjamin did appraise at least one estate, a court-ordered position of moderate respect and trust.[15] He served on a couple of juries.[16] He was appointed overseer of a road, an indicator of both probable land ownership and public trust.[17] However, I found no record of any land acquisition in the deed books or Northern Neck grants. I also found no evidence of Benjamin’s family, if any.

After 1767, Benjamin disappeared from King George records. Because I found no probate records for him, I assumed he had moved. Then I started digging into the online images of King George order books. It turns out that there are very few surviving court records from the 1770s, or at least I had limited luck in the FamilySearch.org microfilms. Court records for King George are disorganized after the 1760s. Benjamin may have remained there and died intestate in the 1770s. Or he may have moved away. I don’t know. !!%&@!**&%!!

Capt. Benjamin Rankin of Frederick/Berkeley County, Virginia

Benjamin of Frederick/Berkeley first appeared in the records witnessing a 1765 Frederick County lease.[18] He lived in the Bullskin Creek/Bloomery area in the northern part of Frederick that became Berkeley County.[19] He was a Captain in the Berkeley County militia. The DAR deems him a Revolutionary Patriot, apparently for furnishing supplies.[20] The DAR estimates he was born circa 1740, probably based on information provided by a descendant.

He resigned his Berkeley militia commission in 1779.[21] That same year, he purchased more than 700 acres and thirty-seven enslaved persons.[22] He was clearly a wealthy man. In 1786, he was a trustee of the city of Charlestown, indicating he was also well-respected.[23] He died in 1787, leaving a will naming his wife Judith MNU and daughters Molly (Mary) Rankin and Margaret Helm, wife of William Helm.[24] George Rankin, who was surely a relative, witnessed Benjamin’s 1787 will.[25]

I had a notion that Capt. Benjamin of Frederick/Berkeley might be the same man as Benjamin, son of the Robert Rankin who died in King George County in 1747/48.[26] However, a birthdate circa 1740 for Capt. Benjamin, if close to accurate, precludes that possibility. Robert’s son Benjamin was of legal age by at least 1753, and thus born well before 1740.[27] Also, I have since learned from microfilm of court records in King George that Benjamin, son of Robert, was still appearing in records there in 1767, while Capt. Benjamin of  Frederick/Berkeley was in a Frederick County record two years earlier.

I also wondered whether Capt. Benjamin of Frederick/Berkeley might be the father of Lt. Robert, William, John, Benjamin, Moses, George, and Reuben Rankin.[28] Those seven men were almost certainly brothers.[29] Capt. Benjamin was in the right place at the right time to have been their father. However, his only proved children are the two daughters named in his will. Further, a birth date circa 1740 makes him highly unlikely as a father of at least Lt. Robert, born in 1753.

If you are looking for an entrée to the DAR or SAR, Benjamin’s son-in-law William Helm is a sure bet. The Helms children were identified in the SAR application of a descendant.[30]

Revolutionary War Soldier Benjamin Rankin of King George/Fauquier/Loudoun Counties, Virginia and Fayette, Kentucky

This Benjamin lived as a young man in King George County and died in Fayette County, Kentucky. In between, he spent at least some time in Loudoun and Fauquier Counties, because he signed a letter from each county assigning his benefits as a Revolutionary War soldier to a Francis Peyton.[31] One of the letters states that Benjamin served for three years as a dragoon — a cavalry soldier — in Lt. Col. William Washington’s Regiment.

Col. Washington signed Benjamin’s discharge papers as follows: “Benjamin Rankins soldier in the 3d Regiment of Light Dragoons having served faithfully three years is hereby discharged.”[32] The discharge was dated May 17, 1781, suggesting that Benjamin entered the service about May 1778. He was definitely with the unit by July 1778, when he was on furlough. On that date, the regiment was located in Fredericksburg, less than thirty miles west of the King George county seat.[33] I have no idea why he was on furlough so soon after enlisting, which seems unusual.

In September 1778, the regiment was billeted in barns and houses around Old Tappan, New Jersey.[34] The soldiers’ presence was betrayed by loyalist townspeople to British troops in the area. They were attacked during the night in an event known as “Baylor’s Massacre,” named after Col. George Baylor, who was then the regiment’s commander. More than sixty of the Third Regiment men were bayoneted and died.

Benjamin obviously survived the Massacre, unless he was still absent on a pretty long furlough. He was definitely serving in the cavalry regiment when it made mounted charges at the Battles of Cowpens and Guilford Court House, both of which were major patriot victories in the Carolinas.[35]

According to depositions given in the pension application of Benjamin’s widow Jane Hickey, he was a resident King George County when he enlisted.[36] He may have appeared in King George records in the 1770s, although that is the period when court records are apparently lost. Given his military service during 1778-1781, he was probably born in the 1750s or early 1760s.

The first records I have for him are the two 1783 letters from Loudoun and Fauquier Counties assigning his Revolutionary War benefits to a third party. He moved from that area to Fayette County, Kentucky along with another Rankin, relationship unknown. John Rankin of Clark County, Kentucky gave a deposition in connection with the pension application of Benjamin’s widow. John did not (!!) define his relationship to Benjamin, although they were surely related in some fashion. John merely said that his father, not named, and Benjamin moved to Kentucky in 1784 from Fauquier County.[37]

Jane Hickey testified that she and Benjamin married in 1785. They had more than six children, some of whom were named in the depositions supporting her pension application. Children included Sarah (the eldest, born about 1786, married Charles Hall), William, Frances, John, James, and Thomas. Jane gave her deposition from Jefferson County, Indiana. She and her children probably all moved there. Jane, her daughter Sarah Rankin Hall, and two probable sons of Jane and Benjamin can be found in the 1850 census for Indiana in Clark County (Sarah Rankin Hall and Jane) and Jefferson County (William and James).[38]

It is a reasonable bet that Revolutionary War Benjamin was a grandson of the Robert Rankin who died in King George in 1747/48.[39] As to which of Robert’s sons might have been Benjamin’s father, I haven’t found a scrap of evidence. That is par for the course with the Northern Neck Rankin Cluster.

Benjamin Rankin of Loudoun/Frederick, Virginia and Mason, Kentucky

Lt. Robert, William, and John Rankin — three proved brothers who lived in Mason County at one time — definitely had a brother Benjamin. There is evidence for that in two records, which appear conclusive:

  • In July 1783, William Rankin executed a power of attorney authorizing delivery of William’s Certificate of Service to Robert Rankin in order for the latter to obtain William’s land warrant. William’s military service was certified by Capt. William Brady. Both Lt. Robert and William had enlisted in Brady’s company of Stephenson’s Independent Rifle Regiment in 1776, so it is clear we are dealing with those two brothers. Benjamin Rankin witnessed the power of attorney, good circumstantial evidence of a family relationship.[40]
  • In August 1792, the Northern Neck Proprietor executed a lease to Benjamin Rankin of Loudoun County for the life of Benjamin and his brothers Moses and Robert Rankin. George Rankin, relationship unknown, witnessed the lease. William Rankin, Lt. Robert’s proved brother, had a nearby lease for his life and the lives of his wife Mary Ann and son Harrison.

Benjamin and his brothers Moses, Robert, and William were not sons of the Robert Rankin who died in 1747/48 in King George. That Robert did not name a son Robert in his will. More importantly, Lt. Robert was born in 1753; William was born in 1758. If the Robert who died in 1747/48 was their direct ancestor, he was their grandfather.

Benjamin of Loudoun/Frederick did not leave probate records in Frederick, so he evidently moved on. I believe he is the same man as the Benjamin Rankin who appeared in Mason County along with Lt. Robert, William, John, Moses, and George. Benjamin owned a number of town lots in Williamsburg, name later changed to Orangeburg.[41] My notes also indicate he appeared on a tax list with 100 acres on Cabin Creek and an enslaved person.[42] He married Catherine Stubblefield in 1796.[43] His bondsman was George Rankin, who plays a variety of supporting roles in records concerning the Northern Neck Rankin Cluster.[44]

The last appearance in the Mason County records that I found for Benjamin was in 1803. He was not in the 1810 census there. In 1817, a Catherine Rankin — possibly his widow? — married. I found no probate records for Benjamin.

Need I say that Benjamin and Catherine’s children, if any, are a total mystery? We cannot even be positive that the Benjamin Rankin of Williamsburg/Orangeburg, Mason County is the same man as the Benjamin who leased a tract in Frederick County in 1792. They probably were the same man, since families often migrated together, several other Rankin siblings lived in Mason County, and, of course, the appearance of George Rankin in both Benjamin’s Mason County marriage bond and the Frederick County lease for life.

And that’s all the news that is fit to print about the Benjamins of the Northern Neck Rankin Cluster.

See you on down the road.

Robin

                  [1] There are a number of articles on this website about Lt. Robert, his brothers, and their possible parents. They include Part 1, an introduction to Lt. Robert Rankin’s family, Part 2, relevant military information for Lt. Robert and his brother William, Part 3, William’s war story, Part 4, Lt. Robert’s war story, and Part 5A and Part 5B, two articles seeking to identify their parents.

                  [2] Abstract of King George Co. VA Will Book 1-A: 201, George Harrison Sanford King, King George County Virginia Will Book A-I 1721-1752 and Miscellaneous Notes (Fredericksburg, VA: 1978), undated will of Robert Rankin proved 4 Mar 1747/48. Wife Elizabeth. Sons William, John, and James, all of Robert’s land to be equally divided. Daughter Mary Green and sons Moses, George, Benjamin, and Hipkins, one shilling each.

                  [3] William was definitely the eldest because he was summoned to court to object, if he desired, to the noncupative will of Robert’s widow Elizabeth Rankin. King George Co., VA Order Book 1754-56: 470, order dated 3 Apr 1755. The right to object was accorded only to the eldest son under the rules of primogeniture. The fact that William was the first-named child in the will suggests Robert named his children in birth order. Hipkins, the last-named, was almost certainly the youngest. Order Book entry dated 6 Apr 1753 regarding the lawsuit Hipkins Rankins by Richard Green his next friend v. Thomas Burnett. That is the only court record in which one of Robert’s children was proved to be under legal age.

                  [4] King George Co., VA Order Book 1746 – 1751: 577, inventory and appraisement of the estate of Robert Rankins, dec’d, presented and recorded. His inventory is recorded in Deed Book 6: 28. The estate included one enslaved person, who probably accounted for most of the estate’s value.

                  [5] King George Co., VA Order Book 1751-54: 212, May 1753, Benjamin Rankins was a plaintiff in a lawsuit.

                  [6] Id. Benjamin and Hipkins both sued Thomas Burnett for trespass, assault and battery. The suits almost certainly arose out of the same events.

                  [7] King George Co., VA Order Book 1751-1765: 1065, entry for April 1763, Benjamin Rankins was security for Moses Rankins in a suit for debt.

                  [8] Id. at 781, entry of March 1758 binding Henry Jones as an apprentice to Benjamin Rankins to learn the trade of house carpenter. As for John, see King George Co., VA Deed Book 4: 36, 9 May 1753, a mortgage by John Rankins, carpenter of Hanover Parish, to William Bruce, an enslaved person named Sall or Sarah, witnessed by Richard Green, Mary Green, and Joana Pool. Mary Green was John’s sister, see Note 2.

                  [9] Id. at 903, Jun or July 1760 order concerning Benjamin Rankin’s “very extravagant” account for building several structures at Gibson’s tobacco warehouse.

                  [10] Id. at 1078, court order to pay from county funds to discharge Benjamin Rankin’s execution against Gibson’s warehouse.

                  [11] Moses, George, John, and Hipkins were all summoned by a grand jury at least one time for missing church. King George Co., VA Order Book 1754-56: 594 (Moses and John); Order Book 1751-65: 823 (George); Id. at 924 (John and Hipkins).

                  [12] King George Co., VA Order Book 1746-51: 610, grand jury presentment against James and Moses Rankins for “swearing an oath”.

                  [13] King George Co., VA Deed Book 4: 283, Moses Rankin “vagrant,” not appearing for militia drills. I don’t know whether that was one offense or two.

                  [14] E.g., King George Co., VA Order Book 1754-56: 583 (money judgment granted against James Rankins and George Rankins), 580 (judgment against William Rankins for suit on an account), 582 (default judgment against John Rankins). All of those records were in November 1755. There are more.

                  [15] King George Co., VA Order Book 1751-1765: 971, Benjamin Rankins et al. to appraise the estate of Richard Strother.

                  [16] E.g., King George Co., VA Order Book 1751-1765: 903, Benjamin Rankins on a jury. I have always thought that only freeholders could serve on colonial juries, although both Benjamin and Moses did so. Order Book 1751-54: 143, Moses on a jury. Neither inherited any land from their father Robert, and I found no deed or grant in which either one acquired land.

                  [17] Id. at 694, Benjamin Rankins appointed overseer of a road in place of Samuel Kendall.

                  [18] Amelia C. Gilreath, Frederick County, Virginia Deed Books 9, 10, 11, 1763-1767 (Nokesville, VA: 1989), abstract of Frederick Co., VA Deed Book 11: 12, Benjamin Rankins witnessed a lease dated 5 May 1765.

                  [19] Virginia Genealogical Society, Frederick County [Virginia] Road Orders 1743-1772 (Westminster, MD: Heritage Books, 2007), abstract of Frederick Co., VA Order Book 13: 383, entry of 7 May 1767 appointing Benjamin Rankin overseer of the road “from Bullskin to the Bloomery.”

                  [20] You can search for Benjamin Rankin on the DAR website here. See also William & Mary Quarterly, Series 1, Vol. 13, No. 1 (July 1904), “Soldiers of Berkeley County, W. Va.” 29-36.

                  [21] Berkeley Co., WV Order Book 3: 401, 20 Apr 1779, Benjamin Rankin personally appeared in court and resigned his commission as a captain in the Berkeley Militia.

                  [22] Berkeley Co., WV Deed Book 5: 744, deed of 8 Dec 1779 from Richard and Francis Willis to Benjamin Rankin.

                  [23] William Thomas Doherty, Berkeley County, U.S.A.: A Bicentennial History of a Virginia and West Virginia County, 1772 – 1972 (Parsons, WV: McClain Printing Co., 1972) 36 note 9.

                  [24] Larry G. Shuck, Berkeley County, Virginia Deeds and Wills, Abstracts Deed Books 1-5 (1772-1781), Will Books 1-3 (1772-1805), abstract of Berkeley Co., VA Will Book 1: 441, will of Benjamin Rankin of Berkeley proved 16 Jan 1787. Mentioned land on Bullskin. Witnessed by George Rankin.

                  [25] Benjamin, son of Robert d. 1747/48, had a brother named George. See Note 2. That is one reason I had speculated that Benjamin of Frederick/Berkeley was the same man as Robert’s son Benjamin, although I no longer believe that to be the case. I don’t know for sure who George Rankin might be.

                  [26] See Note 2.

                  [27] See Note 5.

                  [28] See Part B of an article about the possible parents of Lt. Robert here  and one identifying Lt. Robert’s siblings here. The only evidence for Benjamin Rankin as a possible father, so far as I found, is that Lt. Robert Rankin and his brother William enlisted in Col. Hugh Stephenson’s Maryland and Virginia Rifle Regiment from Berkeley County, which typically means they resided there. Benjamin lived near the Stephensons. In other words, he was in the right place at the right time.

                  [29] The first four men (Lt. Robert, William, John, and Benjamin) can be deemed proved. Moses, Reuben, and George are possible.

                  [30] See the SAR application of Standiford Helm, a descendant of William Helm, 1755-1806. His first wife was Margaret Rankin, daughter of Capt. Benjamin of Berkeley. William served in the 3rd VA Regiment of the Continental Line. He lived at “Helms Hill” in Berkeley Co. Standiford’s SAR application identifies the children of William and Margaret Rankin Helm as (1) Benjamin Helm, (2) Thomas Helm m. Eliz. Mort 8 Jan 1806, (3) Elizabeth Helm m. John Mort, (4) John Helm, (5) William Helm, (6) Lucy Helm m. Mr. Jennings, (7) George Helm, (8) Ann Helm m. Mr. Williams, and (9) Erasmus Helm m. Lavinia Oliver. Some of the Helms went to Mason Co., KY, as did Lt. Robert Rankin and his brothers.

                  [31] The originals of Benjamin Rankin’s two letters are in the records of the Library of Virginia, although my links to the online images no longer work. Instead, see Annie Walker Burns, Revolutionary War Pensions of Soldiers Who Settled in Fayette County Kentucky (Washington, D.C.: 1936), available online here. The two letters are at p. 52, and are included in the pension applications of “Hickey, Daniel and Jane.” Jane was Benjamin’s widow; Daniel Hickey was her third husband.

                  [32] Christine L. Langner, Baylor’s Regiment: The Third Continental Light Dragoons (Berwyn Heights, MD: Heritage Books, Inc., 2015) 149.

                  [33] Id.

                  [34] Id. at ix.

                  [35] See a brief history of the 3rd Continental Regiment of Light Dragoons here.

                  [36] Burns, Revolutionary War Pensions 49-52, applications for Daniel and Jane Hickey at this link. One deposition identifies a Benjamin Rankin as the deponent, but that was clearly an error. Ms. Burns transcription indicates that a John Rankin signed the deposition.  The only way the testimony makes sense is if the deponent was a John Rankin who came to Kentucky with his father in 1784.

                  [37] Id.

                  [38] Benjamin’s widow Jane Hickey gave her deposition in Jefferson Co., IN in 1847. Their eldest daughter, Sarah Rankin, married Charles Hall and lived in Bourbon Co., KY briefly before also moving to Indiana. Sarah Hall and her mother Jane Hickey are listed in the 1850 census in Clark Co., IN: Sarah Hall, 64, b. KY, with Jane Hicky, sic, 82, b. NC. William Rankin, age 65, and James Rankin, age 51, were enumerated in Jefferson Co., IN in the 1850 census. They may well be and probably are sons of Benjamin and Jane. Both were born in Kentucky and were the right age.

                  [39] I don’t believe Benjamin, the Revolutionary War Soldier, was a son of John and Sarah Woffendale Rankin, although that is possible. John and Sarah’s son Reuben was born between 1736 and 1741. Benjamin was probably born circa 1760. With this crowd, of course, it is anyone’s guess.

                  [40] See a transcription of the power of attorney letter here. It is not clear from the letter where William was living when he wrote it. Knowing that might help determine which of the several Benjamins was the witness. I believe Benjamin the witness was William’s brother, the grantee in the 1792 lease for life, although he might well have been Capt. Benjamin of Berkeley.

                  [41] Mason Co., KY Deed Book C: 73, 75, deed dated March 1796, Benjamin Rankins of Mason Co. bought three lots in Williamsburg; deed dated March 1794, Benjamin purchased Lot #10 in Williamsburg. My notes also have Benjamin on a tax list showing him taxed on 100 acres on Cabin Cr. and one enslaved person. I failed to note the FamilySearch Film number and now cannot find such an entry.

                  [42] My notes say that FamilySearch films of Mason County tax lists were the source of that information. I cannot find it again. Doing so will require going through the films page by page, a commitment I am not ready to make after my adventures in the King George court order book films.

                  [43] Mason County, Kentucky Marriage Records 1789 – 1833 (Kokomo, IN: Selby Publishing, 1999), marriage bond for Benjamin Rankin and Catherine Stubblefield, 20 Apr 1796, bondsman George Rankin.

                  [44] George, the supporting actor (or some other man named George Rankin), also witnessed the 1787 will of Capt. Benjamin Rankin of Berkeley and Benjamin Rankin’s 1792 lease for life in Frederick.

Trust, but Verify

“Trust, but Verify” was an oxymoronic slogan from the era of nuclear weapons treaties during the Cold War. Diligent researchers understand the value of that approach. Restated and applied to genealogy, the rule is, “Never dismiss out of hand any documentary evidence, including census data, but don’t assume census data is always 100% accurate.”

There is clear rationale for that caution. First, census data is subject to error multiple times. The person supplying information to the census taker can be mistaken as to any number of things such as ages or places of birth of people in the household. The census taker can record the data incorrectly. Further, the data collected was organized and rewritten into a final document. Each reproduction of the census information presented an opportunity to introduce errors, including misreading another person’s handwriting.

In addition, census data was not subject to the same checks and balances as other official documents. For example, original deeds and wills copied into court records benefitted from court oversight of the process. Witnesses attested to the accuracy of those document, heirs could question a misstatement that affected their interests, and neighbors could request resurveys of land boundaries they thought to be in error. No such process accompanied the tabulation and publication of a census. As a result, that data is far more prone to error than other records.

I recently ran across two illustrative errors in the same census entry. Searching for Henry Willis, carpenter of Maryland and Philadelphia (1829-1906), I found the family of John and Rebecca Kilgore Willis of Cecil County, Maryland. They had six sons and four daughters. By 1850, three sons were of age and no longer listed in John’s household. Hoping one of the three might be Henry, I looked for them in the 1850 census. I did not find Henry, but found James Willis and “David” T. Willis living next door to each other. The census entry showed the following:[1]

Family #

     123             Sarah H. Shivery        27 M

James Willis               21 F

Mary                           3  M

Joseph                         1  F

Sarah A.                      27 M

     124             David T. Willis           22 F

Hannah A.                  3  M

George A.                    1  F

Margaret R.                5/12 F

Mary E.                       40  F

     125             Hannah Terry            9  M

The problem with this data is obvious: the genders and ages do not match the named people. Whoever completed the census form moved that information up one line from its proper position. James Willis’s proper age and gender are 27 and M. That data is shown on the form one line above his name. It is incorrectly associated with a child named Sarah H. Shivery who is the youngest daughter of George Shivery in the adjacent family #122.

No problem. To get the correct information, just mentally move the data down one name.

However, that is not the only error. James Willis’s neighbor is supposedly David T. Willis with a wife Hannah A. Willis and several children. However, Daniel Willis, not David, married Hannah Ann Sutton on 15 April 1847.[2] In fact, there was no David Willis in that location in 1850. Whoever entered the data in the census form apparently misread someone else’s handwriting and thought the name Daniel was David. That is not hard to do. A script “n” can easily be mistaken for a “v” and the “el” as a “d.” Try it in your own handwriting to see how easy it is to make the two names look the same.

Of course, the opposite could be true, Maybe it was David Willis who married Hannah Sutton, and there is no Daniel Willis. This is where the “Verify” part of the slogan becomes important. The proof is found in subsequent records. Daniel Willis registered for the civil war draft in 1863[3] and appeared in the 1870,[4] 1900,[5] and 1910[6] censuses. David did not – – because, of course, he did not exist.

So, the message is to confirm the data found in censuses with other sources. Many people on Ancestry.com have not done so. As a result, there is a fictitious David T. Willis running amok on many trees. We all make mistakes. They come with the territory. This is a zillion piece puzzle, and we only have a few thousand pieces available to make sense of the picture. However, diligence can easily eliminate some errors. It is worth the effort.

[1] 1850 Census, Cecil County, Maryland https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HY-XCHQ-7X5?i=109&cc=1401638&personaUrl=%2Fark%3A%2F61903%2F1%3A1%3AMD46-PD2

[2] Cecil County Marriage Licenses 1840-1863, Genealogical Society of Cecil County, August 1990, 20 at https://web.archive.org/web/20150214151843/http://www.cecilhistory.org/virtuallibrary/marriage3.pdf

[3] Civil War Draft Registration 1863-1865. https://www.ancestry.com/discoveryui-content/view/3912656:1666?tid=&pid=&queryId=66dc11368cf6a04f330078b4413841ae&_phsrc=Uwh1&_phstart=successSource

[4] 1870 Census, Cecil County, Maryland. https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HY-D15S-Y4W?i=4&cc=1438024&personaUrl=%2Fark%3A%2F61903%2F1%3A1%3AMN38-D3L

[5] 1900 Census, Cecil County, Maryland. https://www.ancestry.com/discoveryui-content/view/20341258:7602?tid=&pid=&queryId=66dc11368cf6a04f330078b4413841ae&_phsrc=Uwh3&_phstart=successSource

[6] 1910 Census, Cecil County, Maryland. https://www.ancestry.com/discoveryui-content/view/10469167:7884?tid=&pid=&queryId=66dc11368cf6a04f330078b4413841ae&_phsrc=Uwh2&_phstart=successSource

Henry Willis, Carpenter of Maryland and Philadelphia (1829-1906), Part 2

Introduction

In Part 1 we established that Henry Willis, a carpenter born in Maryland in 1829, married Martha Anne (Annie) Stewart in about 1880. They appeared in the 1900 census in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with their children Lola and Harry.[1] The couple lived in Philadelphia during the 1880s. They appeared in a city directory and in records showing the deaths of two children and the baptism of a surviving child. Henry died and was buried in Philadelphia in 1906.

Beyond those few facts, Henry does not exist in records where we would expect to find him. He does not appear in the 1850 through 1880 censuses. There is no record of his marriage. Henry bought no land either in Maryland where he was born or in Philadelphia where he lived.

 Search for a Family of Origin

Finding little record evidence of Henry Willis, I stopped looking for him and searched instead for people who could have been his parents. Since Henry was born in Maryland and family legend says he married in Cecil County, I focused the search there. Because he was a carpenter, I looked for a Willis family that included others of that trade. With those criteria in mind, I went to the usual sources:

    • The standard people-search features of Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org.
    • The Maryland land records at MDLANDREC.net
    • The Cecil County Historical Society at cecilcountyhistory.com with its links to Maryland and Delaware records, and
    • The separate birth, death, marriage, and probate records for Cecil County and neighboring counties in Maryland and Delaware at FamilySearch

Results

The search involved many records, lots of note taking and analyzing, and an interesting but frustrating twist at the end. One family in Cecil County fit the search criteria – the family of John and Rebecca Kilgore Willis who married in Cecil County in 1817.[2] According to the 1830, 1840 and 1850 censuses, they had at least ten children – six sons and four daughters. John Willis and several of his sons were carpenters.

So far, so good. To see if his could be Henry’s family, we dug deeper into the censuses and other records.

 1820 Census

Although married in 1817, John Willis does not appear as a head of household in the 1820 census for Cecil County. He should have been listed with a wife and a daughter under five years of age. He and Rebecca were also not listed with her parents, James and Isabella Kilgore.[3]

1830 Census

John does appear in the 1830 census. It shows John Willis and a female between 30 and 40 years old with six minors — three females and three males. The two youngest males, under five years of age, fit Henry’s later-proved birth year of 1829.[4] This is promising.

1840 Census

The 1840 census shows even more promise. John’s eldest daughter is gone from the household, possibly married. Five earlier listed children remain, and three younger children are added to the family.[5] Henry, at age 11 in 1840, fits the age 10 to 15 reported for one male in that census. The census states one person in the household is engaged in agriculture. Four people are engaged in “manufacturing or the trades,” which includes carpentry.

1850 Census

The 1850 census reveals that John is 53 and Rebecca is 54. The older children, including our possible Henry, are all of age and out of the house. The remaining children are George, 19; Amos, 15; Andrew J., 13; and Rachel R., 10. Those ages track perfectly from the previous census data.[6]  The census lists John, George, and Amos as farmers, not carpenters. However, later records show George as a carpenter and Amos and Andrew as iron mill workers.[7] Separate records prove two adult sons to be James Kilgore Willis and John Thomas Willis. Both are carpenters.[8]

 Deed Records

Deed records reveal more about these families. John Willis’s wife Rebecca Kilgore had an older sister Rachel who married Samuel Burnite in 1810. Gift deeds prove the sisters to be daughters of  James and Isabella Kilgore. In 1826, James and Isabella sold 20 acres of land north of Elkton in Cecil County to John Willis for one dollar.[9] Kilgore had inherited the land from his mother in 1788.[10] In 1827, the Kilgore’s sold about 50 acres to Samuel Burnite for three dollars.[11] Prior to those sales, Willis and Burnite owned no land. We can reasonably conclude they already lived on the lands, probably since the date of their marriages to the Kilgore sisters.

The timing of the gifts seems apparent in retrospect. James was obviously in ill health. The couple liquidated all their assets in 1827. They sold the  8-acre lot that contained their house for $100 and much of their personal property for $86. James died shortly afterwards.

 John and Rebecca Willis lived on their piece the Kilgore land for another 29 years as they raised their family. They sold the place in 1856 for $2,500.[12]

Probate Records

John Willis made a will in December 1857 and died before the end of the year. Probate records do not include the names of any of his children, except the eldest son James. John left his entire estate to his wife Rebecca for her lifetime. The will stated that at or before her death she could dispose of the estate among the heirs as she saw fit.[13]

The estate, all personal property, amounted to $1,456 after debts and expenses. Rebecca loaned $500 to her eldest son James Kilgore Willis, secured by a mortgage on his property, 20 acres located near the former Kilgore place.[14]

On behalf of himself and all the heirs at law, i.e., “the children of John Willis,” James K. Willis sued his mother and Benjamin C. Cowan the co-executor of John’s estate in 1870. James asked that the estate funds be invested under the court’s supervision to protect the money for the benefit of the heirs at law. James claimed the heirs feared the estate would be squandered without the court’s intervention. Rebecca did not object but responded that $500 was already committed to a secure investment – her son’s property. The court agreed and in June 1870 ordered the co-executor to arrange for secure interest bearing mortgage investments of the remaining $956. The court also ordered interest from all investments go to Rebecca for her use.

Unfortunately, the probate files for John’s estate do not include a final distribution of funds identifying the heirs. There is no will or probate file for Rebecca. She died in 1886 at the home of her daughter Isabella and John T. Steele.[15]

Identity of the Six Sons

Our review of census, deed, and probate records to this point revealed six sons and proved the identities of five. The 1850 census proves the three youngest: George, Amos, and Andrew J. Willis. Probate records prove the eldest son James K. Willis. James and John T. Willis appear often in the deed records of Cecil County from 1850 through 1861 – James nine times and John four. Several of those transactions, including short term loans, are between the two of them. That activity is good circumstantial evidence that James K. and John T. are related and likely brothers.

That accounts for five of the six sons. Who is the sixth? Could it be our Henry?

Well, heck no.

The remaining son is Daniel Willis. He appears in several Cecil County records in the 1880s that do not definitively connect him to the family.[16]  However, the 1900 and 1910 censuses do the trick. In 1900, he is in the household of John T. Steele, the husband of John and Rebecca’s daughter Isabella Willis. Daniel is listed as a brother-in-law at age 77. This is the same place Rebecca Willis died in 1886. In 1910, Daniel is listed at age 87 as an uncle in the household of Annetta S. Crossan. She is a Steele daughter who married Samuel Crossan in 1869 and who had no children. Daniel died in 1911. Clearly, Daniel is a son of John and Rebecca Willis.

Conclusion

Our search for Henry Willis turned up a perfectly interesting Willis family of carpenters in Cecil County, Maryland. It just does not include Henry Willis. Below is a table setting out the data from the 1830, 1840 and 1850 censuses for John Willis’s household. The column of names and the information in the last two columns are proved by the census or other sources.

Name 1830 1840 1850 Born Comment
John Willis 30-40 40-50 53 Dec 1796 Carpenter/Farmer
Rebecca Willis 30-40 40-50 54 1796 Married 1817
Female 10-15 1815-20
James K. Willis 5-10 15-20 1821 Carpenter
Daniel Willis <5 15-20 1823 Carpenter
Female <5 15-20 1820-1825
John T. Willis <5 10-15 1827 Carpenter
Isabella Willis <5 10-15 1830 m. John T. Steele ~1849
George Willis 5-10 19 May 1831 Farmer/Carpenter
Amos Willis 5-10 15 1835 Farmer/Iron Mill
Andrew J. Willis <5 13 1837 Iron Mill Worker
Rachel R. Willis <5 10 1840 m. Dennis Dwyer~1858

The table highlights in bold the age range in the 1830 and 1840 censuses that I had mentally reserved for our Henry Willis. Cleary, that slot is occupied by John T. Willis. After this effort, I am convinced that Henry is not a native of Cecil County. So, the search for the will-o-the-wisp Henry goes on …

In any event, I hope that some descendants of John and Rebecca Willis will take DNA tests and join the Willis DNA Project (https://www.familytreedna.com/groups/willis/about) to see where they fit in the broader scheme.

 

Post Script – Part I of the search for Henry Willis was also published in the Spring 2022 edition of Chesapeake Cousins, the semiannual journal of the Upper Shore Genealogical Society of Maryland (USGSMD). I will also submit this Part 2 to them for publication. I recommend USGSMD, now in its 49th year, as a worthwhile organization for any researcher with ties to the Eastern Shore.

[1] 1900 Census Philadelphia, Ward 26, District 0628 at FamilySearch.org

1335 Kick [sic South Hicks] Street

Henry Willis head May 1829 71 M20  MD MD MD Carpenter Rent House

Annie Willis wife Jun 1846     53 M20  4/2 DE DE DE

Lola Willis son [sic Dau] Apr 1882 18  S  PA MD DE

Harry Willis son  Oct 1885 14  S  PA MD DE

[2] Married 28 Jul 1817 per Maryland Compiled Marriages, 1655 – 1850, at Ancestry.com

[3] James Kilgore appears in Cecil County in the 1820 Census at age 45+ with two women. One age 45+ is obviously his wife Isabella. The other woman is age 16-26, the correct age for Rebecca. However, there is no entry for people who could be her husband and/or her child. The indicated woman is likely Rebecca’s younger sister.

[4] 1830 Census Cecil County, Maryland, District 2, John Willis (2 1 – – – 1 – – – – – – –  – 1 – – 1 – – – – – -) https://www.ancestry.com. The household also contains a second female age 30 to 40. We can reasonably assume she is an adult relative of John or Rebecca. She may have been the single female aged 16-26 listed with James Kilgore in 1820, possibly a younger sister of Rebecca.

[5] 1840 Census Cecil County, Maryland, District 2, John Willis (1 2 1 2 – – 1 – – – – – – 1 – 1 1 – 1 – – – – – – ) https://www.ancestry.com. The ages in the census fit a perfect progression from the 1830 census, that is: John and Rebecca are 40-50; two elder sons are 15-20; a remaining elder daughter is 15-20; the third son and a younger daughter are 10-15; two new sons are 5-10; and the youngest daughter is under 5. The household includes four enslaved persons.

[6] 1850 Census Cecil County, Maryland, District 3, https://www.ancestry.com

John Willis M 53 Farmer  DE $1,200 real property

Rebecca       F 54                    MD

George        M 19 Farmer   MD

Amos           M 15 Farmer  MD

Andrew J.   M 13                   MD

Rachel R.    F  10                    MD”

[7] No enslaved persons are associated with the household in 1850. The separate Slave Schedule for 1850 shows no Willis as an owner of an enslaved person. Deed records do not record any manumissions.

[8] 1860 Census Cecil County, Maryland, District 4, https://www.ancestry.com

James Willis M 40 Carpenter MD $,1500 real property $800 personal

Mary               F  30                 MD

Joseph            M  13                MD

Sarah              F  11                 MD

Kate                F   9                  MD

Clara               F    7                  MD

Georgeanna F   4                   MD

Mary               F   1                   MD

1860 Census Cecil County, Maryland, District 4, https://www.ancestry.com 

John T. Wiles (Willis) M 33 MD Carpenter $500 real property, $100 personal

Catherine               F 28         MD

Mary                         F 7            MD

Louisa                      F 4            MD

[9] Cecil County, Maryland Deed Book JS 23:357, “James Kilgore, Esq., of North Milford Hundred, Cecil County, Maryland” sold to “John Willis, Carpenter, of the same hundred, county, and state.” The deed is signed by James Kilgore and his wife Isabella is named as having been privately questioned regarding her approval of the sale. The land was part of a 378-acre tract called Wallace’s Scrawl originally patented in 1737 to Matthew Wallace It was resurveyed and patented again in 1791 at 496 acres to Andrew Wallace. MSA S1194-1063 and S1194-1062, respectively.

[10] Cecil County, Maryland Will Book 5:213, Will signed by Rebekah Kilgore dated 3 Jun 1785, probated 25 Oct 1788, gave 5 shillings each to five sons and three daughters. Daughter Elizabeth Alexander received all Rebekah’s wearing apparel. Son James Kilgore received the family plantation and the remainder of the personal estate.

[11] Cecil County, Maryland Deed Book JS 25:39, on 31 Mar 1827 Kilgore sold 50+ acres to Samuel Burnite for $3.00

[12] Cecil County, Maryland Deed Book HHM 7:304, The deed recites that the 20 acres descended to James Kilgore by will and that Kilgore sold it to Willis, and that the land is part of a tract called “Wallace’s Scrawl.”

[13] Maryland Probate and Guardianship Files, 1796-1940, https://www.familysearch.org

[14] James later sold the land, subject to the existing mortgage, for a tidy profit.

[15] The Midland Journal, Rising Sun, Maryland, 5 Feb 1886, Friday, p. 5. At www.newspapers.com. Mrs. Rebecca Willis widow of the late John Willis died at the residence of he son-in-law John T. Steele on Saturday, the 9th instant (9 Jan 1886) in the 91st year of her age. Her remains were interred at Head of Christiana Cemetery on the Tuesday following (12 Jan 1886).

[16] Daniel Willis married Hannah Ann Sutton on 15 Apr 1847 in Cecil County. They appear in the 1850 census living next door to James Willis. Hannah likely predeceased Daniel because he registered in 1863 for the Civil War draft as a single man at age 41, occupation carpenter. Daniel appears in the 1970 census in a boarding house as a single man, age 45, occupation carpenter. If he had children, he likely would have resided with one of them.

A Willis-Rankin connection … with a foray into history

No, I am not talking about the Willis-Rankin connection in our immediate household. Instead, this is about a man named James Lee Rankin. However, the story begins with Gary’s father, Noble Sensor Willis.

Noble was a native of Wilmington, Delaware, but wound up in the deep south during World War II. On June 13, 1942, he graduated from the Navigation School, Gulf Coast Air Corps Training Center, at Kelly Field in San Antonio, Texas. His “Certificate of Proficiency” was signed by “D. H. Rankin, Captain, A.A.F., Secretary.”[1] “A.A.F.” stands for Army Air Force.

I saw that record for the first time this week. I wondered which (if any) lineage in the Rankin DNA Project could lay claim to Captain Rankin. I started searching for him the easy way – at Ancestry. How to begin with only the information on Noble’s certificate? Well, to have been a Captain in 1942, he was probably about 25 to 30 years old.[2] He was certainly born by 1920, probably in the 1910s. My search criteria were:

     D. H. Rankin, born 1915, plus or minus 5 years, and lived in San Antonio at one time

A “David H. Rankin” was #42 on the list of hits resulting from that search. Hit #42 showed that David was enumerated in the 1950 census in Ft. Worth, Texas. That made him an attractive choice, so I clicked on his name. The sidebar links suggested for him included a marriage record in May 1945 in Ft. Worth for Major David Henry Rankin, Adjutant, Army Air Force Training Command.

Bingo.

Records for him also included census entries for his family of origin,[3] a World War II draft registration card, the information that he graduated from the University of Nebraska, and a Find-a-Grave memorial.[4] The census entries reveal a brother James Lee Rankin (1907-1996), an attorney who also graduated from the University of Nebraska. He went by Lee.

Bells started ringing in my memory. I ran across Lee several years ago and had intended to write an article about his remarkable career. Something intervened. Here we are, better late than never.[5]

Lee Rankin’s career started with a private law firm in Lincoln, Nebraska. He quickly became involved in politics. A moderate Republican, he helped organize the 1948 campaign for Thomas E. Dewey in Nebraska. In 1952, he managed Dwight D. Eisenhower’s presidential campaign in Nebraska. He became assistant attorney general the following year.

In 1956, he became solicitor general, the third-ranking job at the Justice Department. In that capacity, he was instrumental in resolving claims among Western states to Colorado River water, as well as establishing a balance of Federal and state jurisdictions in offshore oil drilling. He developed the Justice Department’s position in lawsuits concerning legislative reapportionment fights that ultimately led to the principle of “one person, one vote.” If you have never had the pleasure of listening to former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, don’t miss this video  in which she and former Justice Stephen G. Breyer discuss Baker v. Carr and Reynolds v. Sims, two cases dealing with the issue.

After his career in the Justice Department, Lee was chief counsel for the Warren Commission, which investigated the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. He represented the ACLU as amicus curiae in the 1962 landmark case Gideon v. Wainwright, which established the right of an indigent person accused of a non-capital crime to legal counsel at public expense.[6] He was former New York City Mayor John Lindsay’s Corporation Counsel from 1966 to 1972, heading a staff of 378 attorneys. Their duties included defending New York City in a wide range of litigation and developing opinions on various municipal issues. Later, Lee taught constitutional law at New York University Law School.

Perhaps the most outstanding part of his career is that he argued dozens of cases before the U. S. Supreme Court in his capacity as solicitor general. The pièce de résistance in that job was his participation in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, a consolidation of five separate cases challenging the constitutionality of school segregation. The Supreme Court issued its unanimous decision in 1954.[7] Brown reversed the 1896 decision in Plessy v. Ferguson, which had held that the constitution permitted separate facilities for Blacks and Whites so long as the facilities were equal.[8] For more than a half-century, Plessy had provided the legal underpinning for de jure segregation — i.e., segregation according to law. Brown eliminated that underpinning. The case is probably best known for the principle that “separate facilities are inherently unequal.” Thurgood Marshall, then the head of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, was the lead attorney for the Plaintiffs.[9]

But Lee Rankin also participated in the argument, which took place over several days. As Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Justice Department’s office of legal counsel in 1953, he supported the argument that Plessy’s “separate but equal” doctrine violated the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment.[10]

His New York Times obituary says this about Lee’s further role:

“In an effort to avoid violence that might arise from the decision, Mr. Rankin argued in a presentation requested by the High Court that the effort to desegregate schools — overturning decades of entrenched practices — should take place gradually. Accordingly, he suggested the plan by which local school districts submitted desegregation plans to Federal judges in their states.”

This was a radical departure from normal practice. Usually, the Court’s decision that a law was unconstitutional required an immediate end to enforcing that law, period. After the decision in Loving v. Virginia, for example, all laws forbidding interracial marriage became unenforceable immediately. In Brown, on the other hand, the Court ordered integration “with all deliberate speed.”[11]

Lee lived until 1996, so he was around to see how “all deliberate speed” played out. I would give my right arm to ask him whether he thought the principle gave rise to unconscionable delay, and whether it successfully avoided violence. What, I wonder, did he think of the need to send the U. S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock to allow the “Little Rock Nine” Black students to enter Central High School? Or the fact that all of Little Rock’s public schools were not fully integrated until 1972?[12]

On to the genealogy question: does James Lee and David Henry Rankin’s ancestry place them into one of the identified lineages of the Rankin DNA Project? The answer is YES. Their line belongs to Lineage 2, so I can happily claim the brothers as my genetic cousins. Their Rankin line is that part of Lineage 2C which descends from David and Jennett McCormick Rankin of Frederick County, Virginia. David, who died in Frederick in 1768, was most likely the immigrant Rankin ancestor in that line.

Here is a brief outline chart for Lee’s and David’s Rankin ancestors. When (!!!) I finally do a full-fledged descendant chart for the family of David and Jennett McCormick Rankin, I will include citations to evidence. Meanwhile, here are the bare names and places:

1 David and Jennett McCormick Rankin of (probably) Ulster, Ireland and Frederick Co., VA.

   2 William and Abigail Rankin of Frederick, VA and Washington Co., PA, see an article about them here. William was one of four proved children of David and Jennett. He and Abigail had ten known children.[13]

      3 John and Rebecca Rankin of Washington Co., PA. John predeceased his father William, who devised some Washington County land to John’s two children, James and Mary Rankin.[14] James moved to Harrison Co., KY.

         4 James Rankin Sr., b. Washington Co., PA, d. Harrison Co., KY. His wife was a Miss Montgomery. Two different men in this extended Rankin family married Montgomery women; Gen. Richard Montgomery was a near neighbor of the Rankins in Washington County. James Sr. and his wife had a son named Richard Montgomery Rankin.

            5 James Rankin Jr. m. Anna Dills of Harrison Co., KY and Menard County, IL.[15]

               6 William L. Rankin of Harrison Co., KY – Springfield, IL and his second wife Susan Jane Primm. [16]

                  7 Herman Primm Rankin of Menard Co., IL – Lincoln, Lancaster, NE and his wife Lois Cornelia Gable.[17]

                     8 James Lee Rankin and David Henry Rankin. [18]

And that is all the news that is fit to print about James Lee Rankin. If I could choose my relatives, Lee would be high on my preferred list. I am tickled pink that he actually IS a distant cousin, and that his brother David certified the passing grades in navigation school for Gary’s father Noble Willis.

In a strange coincidence, today is the anniversary of the date the so-called “Little Rock Nine” Black students first attempted to attend classes at Central High School.[19] Gov. Faubus had the Arkansas National Guard surround the school to prevent their entry.

See you on down the road.

Robin

[1] Noble’s certificate was signed on Captain Rankin’s behalf by E. W. Earnest.

                  [2] When Gary was in the Air Force, it normally took three years from an officer’s initial commission as a Second Lieutenant until a promotion to Captain. In the Army, it took two years. Gary doesn’t know what the standard was during WW II. He says there were some Lieutenant Colonels in their twenties, although he suspects they were typically fighter or bomber pilots. David Rankin was not a combat soldier, so his promotion progress would have been considerably less spectacular.

                  [3] 1920 federal census, Lincoln, Lancaster Co., NE, household of Herman P. Rankin, 42, printer, b. IL, father b. KY, mother b. VA, with wife Lois C., 39, daughters Marta M., 15, Lois C., 14, and Mary J., 10, and sons James Lee, 12 and David H., 5. All children were born in NE. See also the 1930 federal census, Lincoln, Lancaster Co., NE, Herman P. Rankin, 52, wife Lois C. Rankin, 50, sons Lee, 23 and David, 16, daughter Mary Jo, 20, and mother-in-law Josephine Gable, 70. James Lee’s S.A.R. application identifies his father as Herman Primm Rankin, b. 31 Jul 1877, and his mother as Lois Cornelia Gable, b. 20 Mar 1880. It also identifies his paternal grandparents, William L. Rankin, b. 15 Sep 1816, d. 1902, and Susan Jane Primm, b. 20 Mar 1809, d. 1885.

                  [4] David Henry Rankin’s find-a-grave memorial is at this link.

                  [5] For information about Lee Rankin’s career, see obituaries by Robert D. McFadden, “J. Lee Rankin, Solicitor General Who Was a Voice for Desegregation, Dies at 88” (New York Times, June 30, 1996, Section 1, p. 33) and Santa Cruz Sentinel, 29 June 1996, at 1, 12. Lee died in Santa Cruz, CA.

                  [6] Before Gideon v. Wainwright, a criminal defendant was only entitled to legal counsel at public expense if he were accused of a capital offense. For a description of the case, see this link.

                  [7] There is a good discussion of Brown at  at this link; see also the second link in Note 11 concerning “all deliberate speed.”

                  [8] For an example of a case dealing with allegedly equal facilities, see Sweatt v. Painter.

                  [9] A number of important SCOTUS cases concerning segregation and involving Thurgood Marshall are described in Gilbert King, Devil in the Grove (New York: HarperCollins, 2012). The central story in the book is a criminal case in Florida in which some Black men were wrongly accused of rape. The book is a clear-eyed and graphic account of Jim Crow-era treatment of Blacks. It won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction.

                  [10] The fourteenth amendment has two clauses, known as the “equal protection” and “due process” clauses. Section 1 of the amendment reads in part, “[No State … shall] deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” (Emphasis added).

                  [11] See a brief discussion of the “deliberate speed” notion at this link. A more detailed explanation can be found here.

                  [12] Here are a few facts from post-Brown history. One of our acquaintances would refuse to read any of this, saying he will not participate in what he deems “white shaming.” He does not grasp the fundamental difference between recounting the history of an admittedly shameful event and seeking to make someone feel personally shamed about the event. I certainly don’t want anyone to feel ashamed. If you feel as our acquaintance does, please skip this footnote.

Lee Rankin would probably agree that, as a practical matter, “all deliberate speed” facilitated obstruction and delay. In Shreveport, my high school was still all-white when I graduated in 1964, ten years after Brown. It finally integrated several years later. Many churches in the city promptly opened all-white schools. De jure segregation — segregation as a matter of law under Plessy — became de facto segregation, i.e., separation of Blacks and Whites as a result of segregated neighborhoods, economic status, and alternatives to public schools. Shreveport’s experience was undoubtedly typical of many cities.

Further, gradual desegregation did not prevent violence, as the experience of the “Little Rock Nine” illustrates.  This History Channel article has their story. When nine Black students attempted to enter Little Rock’s Central High School on Sept. 4, 1957, they were met by a mob of 400 people shouting racial epithets and threatening violence. One Black female student was surrounded by the mob, which threatened to lynch her. Her stoic visage  and the women screaming at her became an iconic image of desegregation. Although the mob had grown to 1,000 by Sept. 24, the Black students were ultimately admitted after the 101st Airborne was called in. Throughout the school year, they continued to suffer verbal and physical assaults. One student had acid thrown in her eyes; one was pushed down a flight of stairs.

The ultimate iconic image of desegregation is probably the famous Norman Rockwell painting of four U. S. Marshalls escorting a six-year-old pigtailed and beribboned little girl into a classroom. The painting pictures stains left by tomatoes thrown at her, as well as a racial epithet scrawled on the wall. Ruby Bridges was probably Rockwell’s inspiration for the painting. As an adult, she recalled people throwing things and screaming by the hostile New Orleans crowd. Her father lost his job; her grandparents were forced off their land in Mississippi. Information on Ruby’s story can be found at this link. And see Rockwell’s painting here.

                  [13] Washington Co., PA Will Book 1: 206, will of William Rankin of Raccoon Creek identifying ten children, two of whom predeceased him.

                  [14] Will of John Rankin written and proved in 1788 naming his wife Rebecca and children James and Mary. Washington Co., PA Will Book 1 : 81.

[15] Here is a link to James Rankin Jr.’s Find-a-Grave memorial.

                  [16] See Note 3 and William’s Find-a-Grave memorial at this link.

                  [17] See Note 3. Here is Herman’s Find-a-Grave memorial.

                  [18] The Find-a-Grave memorial  for James Lee Rankin has a picture of him from an obituary. See a link to David’s memorial in Note 4.

                  [19] See Note 12.