John Rankin – Presbyterian Abolitionist
by Rev. David T. Myers
Picture a family, a Presbyterian family, who happened to be a Presbyterian pastor, along with his wife, and an undetermined number of children, in a row boat crossing the Ohio River, at the end of one year (1822) and the beginning of another year (1823), and you, the reader, will get the picture of an all-but-forgotten Presbyterian hero and his family.
His name was John Rankin. Reared in the Christian and Presbyterian faith by his parents, Richard and Jane Rankin in Jefferson County, Tennessee, John had a religious upbringing in the Calvinist tenor. His mother taught him in home school, including assigning the reading of the Bible as one of his course works. It is safe to say that by the age of eight, he was deeply affected by his home religion,
Coming of age, he enrolled in Washington College in a nearby state, where he sat under the educational training of the Rev Samual Doak, an avowed absolutionist of his day. Marrying his daughter, Jean, John graduated in 1816, and became a minister in the Presbyterian denomination. However his views on slavery were not welcome in hid home state, so he left Tennessee with his wife in 1817. Hearing about an empty pulpit in Carlisle, Kentucky, he stopped and ministered there four years. Again, his anti-slavery position caused him to leave and travel finally to Ripley, Ohio, crossing the Ohio River the last day of December 1822 and the first day of January 1823.
His continued anti-slavery views and actions however, brought slave owners to his house regularly, demanding information about their slaves who had fled from their “ownership.” In 1829, John Rankin moved his family (consisting now of thirteen children) to a house at the top of high hill in Ripley. From there, they could fly a light to signal slaves when it was safe to come to their home, receive food, clorthes, and rest, so as to continue their journey to all points north, guided by his sons.
John Rankin died May 12, 1886 at the age of ninety-three. And his Christian testimony of being a friend of the enslaved continues to this day and age.
Words to Live By:
After the Civil War, a newspaper editor asked noted abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher who abolished slavery, and he responded “The Rev. John Ranking and his sons did.” What, reader, are you known for in your Christian faith and service, by those in your church and neighborhood? Let us each one shine our light into the dark world and live for Christ every day. Let us do good and engage in righteous deeds for Christ daily.