This answer to this question is reasonably straightforward. The only problem is that it leaves another one hanging out there unanswered. Of course it does! This hobby wouldn’t be half as much fun otherwise.
Here’s the background. In January 2018, I posted an article about some Rankin families I stumbled across in the records of Gibson County, Tennessee. Although the article focused on the Robert Rankin who applied from Gibson in 1832 for a Revolutionary War pension, it also mentioned other Rankin families in the county.
One of the other Gibson County families was Jesse Rankin and his wife Cynthia. Rankin researchers disagree on the identity of his parents. Some claim he was a son of Shaker Reverend John Rankin from the Guilford County, NC line of Robert and Rebecca Rankin. That John died in 1850 in Shaker Village (now “Shakertown”), Logan County, KY. Let’s call him “Shaker John.” Other researchers claim Jesse was a son of the Robert Rankin who lived in Rutherford Co., NC, Pendleton District, SC, and Caldwell County, KY. Call him “Rutherford Robert.”
Jesse of Gibson County was definitely not a son of Shaker John. Good circumstantial evidence establishes that Jesse was a son of Rutherford Robert. See discussion of both possibilities below.
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Jesse and Cynthia first appeared for certain in the 1840 census for Gibson County. They were probably also enumerated there in 1830, although Jesse’s age group is inconsistent between the 1830 and 1840 censuses. The 1850 census lists the Rankins in Jesse’s household as follows (all four children born in Tennessee):
- Jesse Rankin, 55, farmer, born KY, District 9, dwelling #1841
- Cynthia Rankin, 50, born KY
- James Rankin, 21, farmer
- Elias Rankin, 17, farmer
- Williamson Rankin, 15, farmer
- Madison Rankin, 13
In 1851, Jesse obtained a grant of 48.5 acres in Gibson County. That was the last record I found for him until his will appeared in the Gibson probate records. It was dated November 18, 1851, and named his wife Cynthia and “three youngest sons” Elias, Williamson and Madison. I found no record establishing when the will was proved. Jesse was not listed in the 1860 census, so it is a safe bet that he died sometime between 1851 and 1860.
So far as I can tell, only his son Elias remained in Gibson County, where he appeared through at least the 1880 census. Madison was living in Missouri by 1870. I couldn’t find either Williamson or James after 1850. Both were the right age to have been war casualties.
Knowing that both Jesse and Cynthia were born in Kentucky, the next step was to look in Kentucky marriage records. Turns out they were married on January 7, 1821, in Livingston County, KY.
Jesse of Gibson County was not the son of Shaker John of Logan County, KY. The Logan County records establish that a different Jesse Rankin was a son of Shaker John. Jesse (son of Shaker John) appeared in the census in Shaker Village, Logan County, every decade from 1850 through 1880. Nine other children of Shaker John can also be identified from Shaker Village death records and Logan County federal census records during 1850 – 1880. Jesse Rankin died there, single, in 1882. It is unlikely that Shaker John’s son Jesse ever married or had any children, since the Shakers practiced celibacy.
Well, then … was Rutherford Robert the father of Jesse Rankin of Gibson County? The answer is almost certainly “yes,” for three reasons.
First, Rutherford Robert left a will dated 1808 and proved 1816 in Caldwell County, KY. Robert named a son Jesse. Second, Caldwell County was immediately adjacent to Livingston County in 1821, when Jesse and Cynthia married in Livingston. Jesse’s family almost certainly lived nearby. Third, the only Rankin family appearing in Caldwell and Livingston County records in the first third of the 19th century was the line of Rutherford Robert. Here are some records in those locations:
- Elias Rankin, another son proved by Rutherford Robert’s will, was listed in the 1820 and 1830 census in Caldwell County. Elias married Matilda Herring there in 1820. Note that Jesse and Cynthia Rankin also named a son Elias, which is not a common name.
- The “Widow Rankin” (presumably Leah, Rutherford Robert’s wife) was listed in the 1820 census in Caldwell County.
- Elizabeth and Jennet Rankin, identified as daughters in Rutherford Robert’s will, married in Livingston County to James George (1806) and John Durly (1809), respectively.
The records connecting Jesse, son of Rutherford Robert, to Jesse Rankin of Gibson County may not establish Jesse’s parentage as “conclusively proved.” The circumstantial evidence is sufficiently clear and convincing to accept that conclusion, though.
So much for the question of Jesse’s parents: now for the one that lingers. To which (if any) of the other North Carolina Rankin lines of Rowan County is Rutherford Robert related? Originally, Rowan covered a substantial area, including what would eventually become Guilford, Lincoln, Iredell and Rutherford counties — homes to several colonial Rankin families. Those include Samuel and Eleanor Alexander Rankin of Lincoln, David and Margaret Rankin of Iredell, Robert and Rebecca Rankin of Guilford, and William and John Rankin, two sons of Joseph Rankin of Delaware who migrated to Guilford.
There is apparently no paper evidence connecting Rutherford Robert to any of those families. Francis Gill, the premier researcher on Rutherford Robert’s line, was unable to prove that Robert was related to any other North Carolina Rankin families. We clearly need to turn to Y-DNA testing. So … where is a living descendant of Rutherford Robert? So far as I know, no male descendant from the line of Rutherford Robert Rankin has participated yet in the Rankin Y-DNA project. We need to find one, or – better yet – several.
I’m working on it.
See you on down the road.
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 The article titled “The Mysterious Robert Rankin of Gibson County, Tennessee” can be found here.
 1840 federal census, Gibson Co., TN, Jesse Rankin, 2120001-010101. The eldest male is in the 40 < 50 age bracket, or born 1790 – 1800. Compare the 1830 federal census, Gibson Co., TN, Jesse Rankin, 20001-10111. The 1830 census shows the eldest male in the 20 < 30 age bracket, born 1800-1810. The 1830 census is probably wrong.
 Barbara, Byron and Samuel Sistler, Tennessee Land Grants (Nashville: Byron Sistler & Associates, 1998).
 1870 federal census, Gibson Co., TN, “Lias” Rankin, 35, farmer, with Lizzie Rankin, 41, Sallie, 11, Mollie, 10, Thomas, 8, Divan, 6, Jeff D., 4, and Ada, 2, all born in Tennessee; 1880 federal census, Gibson Co., TN, listing for E. C. Rankin, 47, wife Elizabeth, 52, daughter Mary E., 20, son Thomas J., 19, daughter L. D., 15, son William A., 14, daughter Ida C., 12, and daughter Nora, 9.
 Jordan Dodd, Kentucky Marriages to 1850, online publication at Ancestry.com.