Nathaniel Rankin, 1859-1860

by Abbey L. Hardin

       Nathaniel A. Rankin was the mayor of Monmouth from 1859-1860.  The history of Monmouth, Illinois is an extensive one, filled with the stories of laborers, craftsmen, farmers, and politicians. While those who founded Monmouth and pointed her in the direction of the town she is today might seem obscure to townspeople and scholars today, but these are precisely the people one needs to study to understand the history of a small, Midwestern town. This is demonstrated in the life of Nathaniel A. Rankin.

       Nathaniel was born in Henderson County, Kentucky, on the first day of February, 1809.[1] Henderson County, located on the border of Illinois and Kentucky, shares a border with southwestern Indiana as well.[2] His parents were Adam Rankin and Susan Roan Anderson.[3] Adam Rankin was a physician.  Of the marriage with Susan five children were born. Only one of the children of this union survived, that being the first born, Nathaniel A.[4]  

       Nathaniel continued living at his parents’ residence until he was twenty-two years old, when he met and married Miss Ann Louisa Holloway.[5] Ann resided in Bourbon County, Kentucky, and was the daughter of George Holloway.[6] This marriage was sanctified on March 29th, 1831, in Henderson County.[7] However, this marriage was short-lived, as Ann died in just a little over two years, on December 18th, 1833.[8]  

       Nathaniel’s first marriage was quickly followed by his second, to Miss Martha Holloway. She was also the daughter of George Holloway, and presumably Anns sister. This marriage took place on Christmas Day of 1834, in Paris, Kentucky, which is located in Bourbon County. Martha was seven years the junior of Nathaniel, born on December 7th, 1816. Martha came from a family of farmers, and was the fourth of seven children born to her parents.[9]

       Right after Nathaniel’s second marriage he began working to establish himself in the mercantile business in Springfield, Illinois. Following his establishment there, he and Martha moved to Illinois.[10] Nathaniel and Martha set up residence in Springfield, Illinois. Nathaniel’s business affairs continued on prosperously, and the two continued living in Springfield for nearly nine years.[11] After Springfield, the couple moved to Shelbyville, Illinois.[12] While in Shelbyville, Nathaniel continued in the mercantile business for three or so years, before leaving the town and heading north.[13]

       In 1845, Nathaniel and Martha arrived in Warren County, Illinois. They chose the city of Monmouth as their new home, and set up residence in Monmouth Township.[14] Once settled, the couple joined the Christian Church, and continued to worship with that congregation for many years.[15]

       Nathaniel continued working as a businessman once in Monmouth. He set up a general merchandising store where he also sold produce.[16] This general store was well advertised for in both The Monmouth Review and The Monmouth Atlas papers. It appears that weekly advertisements were run in both papers. These advertisements mostly described new items in stock, but also made reference to two methods of payment: cash, or produce trade. Rankin also used his market as a middleman for farmers wishing to sell their harvests, as the following excerpt from The Monmouth Atlas clearly shows. The article reads:

“I wish to give notice to farmers that I am now prepared to receive and store all kinds of Grain, and will give my personal attention to the proper grading and classifying all that is received.”[17]

     One can only assume it was owning a thriving business and the enjoyment Nathaniel gained in running that business that led to his next move: in 1861, Nathaniel purchased eighty acres of land, which he turned into a farm.[18] Nathaniel used this land to grow produce, which he then sold at his place of business. It is stated that, “…at the annual fairs he represents his products, which always take away a share of the laurels.”[19] This statement leads one to believe Rankin not only took pride in his crop, but also had good reason to do so. It is said that he specialized in growing grapes and strawberries.[20]  

       Farming was not the only practice that kept Rankin busy, however. From his two marriages Nathaniel had many children.[21] Of those from his last marriage, seven survived, three girls and four boys.[22]  The following excerpt gives the names and locations of the seven living children in 1886:

“William H. is married and engaged as a furniture dealer in Monmouth, where he resides; Adam is also married and engaged in agricultural pursuits in Johnson Co., Kan; Anna is the wife of D. E. Thompson, a stock speculator, and resides in Los Angeles, Cal.; Mary married William H. Irwin, who is engaged in the real estate business in Dawson Co., Neb; George C. is Clerk of the Circuit Court of Warren County; Belle and Robert reside at home, the latter operating the homestead.”[23]

         This is quite a list, and from this one could assume that these children are all doing quite well in their lives.

       Nathaniel A. Rankin began his career in Monmouth politics in 1852,[24] when he became an alderman. He was one of the first four aldermen on the first city council the town ever had.[25] Politically, Rankin identified himself as a Republican.[26]

This was only the beginning of a long career in public servitude and the politics of Monmouth, Illinois.  

       After his term as an alderman, Rankin decided to try gaining a spot in a higher office. The office Nathaniel sought was mayor. The mayoral elections in Monmouth take place on the first Monday of April.[27] In the spring of 1859, Nathaniel A. Rankin was elected mayor of Monmouth, Illinois, over democratic candidate Moses R. Williams. This election was a close race, with Williams taking the West Ward by a vote count of 100 to 93. Rankin won the East Ward with a count of 114-87, giving him a higher number of votes and the victory. The following picture is of the article that ran in The Monmouth Review posting the election results.[28]

       Rankin was re-elected mayor in the April election of 1860.   This time he defeated opponent J.H. Holt. The results of this election were found in The Monmouth Atlas, and were listed in the following excerpt of an article:[29]

This was, without doubt, a turbulent era as the secession of states rapidly approached and eventually led to the Civil War. As mayor, it appears that Nathaniel’s activities were minimal. He might have been more tied up in his own dealings at home, on the farm, and in the store than in his duties as mayor. This, however, is unlikely, and his minimal activities are better attributed to a lack of documentation in town affairs at the time. The minutes of city council meetings for this time are not available, so to define the concerns and happenings of his term is difficult. The ledgers of ordinances passed by the city council during his term are in existence. However, these too provide little help as to discerning the pertinent concerns of the city. In the Monmouth City Council ledger of ordinances dated, 1858-1891, there was only one ordinance passed during Rankin’s term as mayor.

       This ordinance was numbered “No. 27, Chapter xxvii,” and states as its purpose,“An ordinance relative to the assessment on Real Estate and Personal Property for the year A.D. 1860.” In further detail, this ordinance stated that no property assessments would be considered illegal due to informalities or late completion.   [30]

       Before Rankin’s term, it appears the most newsworthy concerns were focused on bettering the roads and sidewalks of Monmouth. However, one of two things happened during Rankin’s term. The first possibility is that roads and sidewalks were a concern but these concerns were not documented properly or are not still in existence. The other possibility is that perhaps roads and sidewalks were no longer a concern to the city. This could be the case due to improvements that were finished by the time he took office, or the outbreak of the Civil War and all attention being focused on a national level. With the beginning of the Civil War came the division of the nation. Conflict was spreading like disease in the months leading up to the secession of states, and perhaps the townspeople became more concerned about sending their husbands and sons off to fight, than with getting their dresses and pant legs dirty on unsatisfactory roads. This theory is supported by the fact that throughout the years 1859-1865 there were very few ordinances passed by the city council. Also, both the republican and democratic papers of Monmouth were filled with abolitionist sentiments and national political news.

        Nathaniel’s term as mayor ended with the 1861 election, for which he was not on the ballot. However, his public and political career did not end. In 1862 Rankin was given the position of Internal Revenue Assessor for the district, a position that he kept until 1868.[31] According to the Portrait and Biographical Album of Warren County, Illinois, “He served as Supervisor for two years and Justice of the Peace for eight years.”[32]

       After moving to Monmouth, Nathaniel Rankin continued living in the community until his death in 1891.[33] On October 6th, 1889, Nathaniel’s wife Martha died at the age of seventy-two. According to the report filed in the County Clerk’s office upon her death, the cause was “paralysis of the heart,” which was exacerbated by a case of peritonitis that lasted for two weeks. Martha Torrence Rankin was buried on October 8th, 1889, in Monmouth Cemetery.[34]

       Nathaniel passed away two years after his wife. The cause of death listed on his death record was “Concussion followed by compression of the brain.”[35] Rankin died on December 16th, 1891, at 10:06 P.M. He too was buried in Monmouth Cemetery, being put to rest there on December 18th, 1891.[36] The following picture is of Nathaniel around his 77th year. The picture was taken from the county history entitled Portrait and Biographical Album of Warren County, Illinois.  


Abbey Hardin wrote this biography in the fall of 2005 for her historiography class directed by William Urban. Modification were offered in June of 2006 by Phyllis Thomas (, a descendant of Nathaniel's second child, Adam Rankin. She notes that of the seven surviving children, four married and had descendants who are today scattered from coast to coast.

[1] Portrait and Biographical Album of Warren County, Illinois  (Chicago: Chapman Brothers, 1886), 215.

[3] Portrait and Biographical Album of Warren County, Illinois, 215.

[4] Ibid., 215; Phyllis Thomas reports: Dr. Adam Rankin married 1st Elizabeth Speed 1 Nov 1792. She died 15 Aug 1803, after giving birth to six children. He then married Mrs. Ann Bell Gamble 23 Oct 1804, she died 14 Aug 1806, after having one child. His 3rd marriage was to Susan Roane Anderson was on 3 Sep 1807 and produced ten children, seven of whom survived; she remarried to George Shackleford 23 Jan 1822 and died 28 Mar 1842.

[5] Portrait and Biographical Album of Warren County, Illinois, 215.

[6] Ibid., 215.

[7] Ibid., 215.

[8] Ibid., 215.

[9] Portrait and Biographical Album of Warren County, Illinois, 216.

[10] Ibid., 216.

[11] Ibid., 216.

[12] Ibid., 216.

[13] Ibid., 216.

[14] Ibid., 216.

[15] The Past and Present of Warren County, Illinois, (Chicago: H.F. Kett & Co., 1877), 220.

[16] Portrait and Biographical Album of Warren County, Illinois, 216.

[17] Rankin, N.A. “Harvest of 1859,” The Monmouth Atlas, Vol. XIV, No. 11.

[18] Portrait and Biographical Album of Warren County, Illinois, 216

[19] Ibid., 216.

[20] Ibid., 216.

[21] Ibid., 216.

[22] Portrait and Biographical Album of Warren County, Illinois, 216; Phyllis Thomas says that Nathaniel's brother, James Edwin, and his sister, Susan Daniel both married and left descendants.

[23] Portrait and Biographical Album of Warren County, Illinois, 216; the census of 1850 has Nathaniel as 41, a merchant worth $7000, Martha 28, William H. 14, Adam 12, Ann L 11, Mary 2, and Sarah Holloway 19 (presumably a relative); the census of (25 July) 1860 shows him age 50, worth $13,000 in land and $15,000 in possessions, Martha, age 43; Adam 23 a farmer, Mary 12, Belle 6, Robert 5 months; the census of (August 3) 1870 lists in him in Monmouth, age 59, Martha 54, Mary 21, George L 19, Bell 16, Robt 9, and Adam 33, farmer and stock raiser; the census of 1880 lists him living in Monmouth, age 70, a farmer, parents born in Pennsylvania and Virginia, with Martha, age 60, George, age 29, clerk of the Circuit court, Belle, age 26, Robert, age 19, Mary Irvine, daughter, age 32 and her two children, William, 2, and Belle, 1.

[24] Born of the Prairie, Monmouth, Illinois 1831-1981 (edited by Jeff Rankin. Monmouth: Kellogg Printing Company, 1992), 11.

[25] Ibid.

[26] The Past and Present of Warren County, Illinois, 220.  

[27] Ibid., 159.

[28] “The City Election,” The Monmouth Review, Vol. 4, No. 16.

[29] “Charter Election,” The Monmouth Atlas, Vol. XIV, No. 22.

[30] Monmouth City Council Ordinance ledger of 1858-1891, 86.

[31] Portrait and Biographical Album of Warren County, Illinois, 216.

[32] Ibid., 216.

[33] Warren County Clerk’s Office. Death Record of Nathaniel A. Rankin.

[34] Warren County Clerk’s Office. Death Record of Martha Rankin. Phyllis Thomas gives a death date of July 14, 1891, citing the obituary in the Daily Review. She also notes that the correct name was Martha Belle Holloway Rankin, though the newspaper gave it as Martha Torrance Rankin.

[35] Warren County Clerk’s Office. Death Record of Nathaniel A. Rankin. According to family lore, Phyllis Thomas says, he fell through an open door into the cellar (in those days many cellars were entered by doors in the floor, which had to be lifted for access).

[36] Ibid.

[37] Portrait and Biographical Album of Warren County, Illinois.