By Danella Dickson
William Silling Rankin was born September 15, 1832 in Virginia. He was the son of John Bell Sr. and Elizabeth (Sheets) Rankin. William grew up in Augusta County, Virginia and as a young man worked at his father’s mill. Following the invention of the horse-drawn reaping machine, farmers increased their growth of wheat thus leading to a demand for more mills. William and his brother Andrew Jackson Rankin contracted and built flour mills in Augusta and surrounding counties.
William Silling Rankin married Hester Hannah Jones August 8, 1853 in Augusta County, Virginia. She was the daughter of Preston and Elizabeth Litton Jones. When the 1860 census was taken William and Hester with their three young children, were living at Burke’s Mill, Augusta County. Burke’s Mill was located on the Naked Creek, in the neighborhood of Staunton where William’s family lived.
When Virginia seceded from the Union the young men of Augusta County rushed to enlist. Apparently William was among those eager young men, however few records have been found to document his service. The meager records tell us he enlisted September 4, 1862 in Company D, 1st Regiment Virginia Partisan Rangers which was later transferred to the 18th Virginia Cavalry. The other surviving muster roll dated January – April 1, 1863 describes William as present for duty but detailed as a carpenter as of December 12, 1862. There are no details on what kind of carpentry work he was doing or if he had been detached to another location. A history of the 18th Virginia Cavalry records it’s participation in the Battle of Gettysburg followed by skirmishes with the enemy in Western Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley.
William S. Rankin survived the war and returned to his family in Augusta County. On both the 1870 and 1880 census William and his family were living in Augusta County and his occupation was millwright. Sometime after William was listed in the 1888 Augusta County Gazetteer and Classified Business Directory the couple moved to Roanoke, Virginia where their daughter Isabella is believed to have been living. William Silling Rankin died December 12, 1893 probably in Roanoke, but was returned to Augusta County for burial. His obituary was published in the Augusta County Argus Newspaper on December 26, 1893, “W.S. Rankin, aged 61 years, 2 months, 27 days. Interment was on the 14th at Mount Tabor Lutheran Church Cemetery. Deceased left a widow and nine grown children to mourn their loss. He was a standing member of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, Roanoke, Virginia”. Hester was living with her daughter Cordelia and son-in-law David F. Early in Fauquier County, Virginia at the time of her death in 1907. She is buried in the Cedar Grove Cemetery, Fauquier County, Virginia.
Courtesy of J.B. and Ramona Roberts