A Centenarian Presbyterian: William Rankin

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Imagine what it would be like to live from the beginning of the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th century. William Rankin, Jr., who served as both a ruling elder and the treasurer of the PCUSA Board of Foreign Missions (for 37 years), did just that.

Born on September 15, 1810, on a farm near Elizabeth, New Jersey, his longevity was such that at the time of his death on October 20, 1912, he was 102 years old, and was then the oldest college graduate in the United States. He took up the study of law, graduating from the Cincinnati Law School, and served as a law partner to Salmon P. Chase, who later became Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court. He was married to wife Ellen (née Smith) for 62 years. Ecclesiastically, he served as ruling elder for the Third Presbyterian Church of Newark, NJ for 15 years and in the same capacity at the Wicliff Church for 11 years. Sixteen times he attended the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church as Commissioner from Newark. He was a trustee for the Bloomfield Theological Seminary; President of the Essex County Bible Society; President of the Newark Library Association; President of the Board of Trustees for the High Street Church; and a member of the Presbyterian Church Extension Committee. He was also a member of the New Jersey Historical Society from 1848 until the time of his death.

His 1857 address to the Synod of New Jersey on the subject of the Board of Missions was published by request of the Synod. He also authored Handbook and Incidents of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. (1893) and Memorials of Foreign Missionaries of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. (1895). These latter two works are valuable resources which cover the history of Presbyterian foreign missions in the 19th century, written by a man who devoted much of his life to aiding the cause of missions worldwide. We have previously alluded to his account of American Presbyterian missionary to India Joseph Owen (1814-1870), and this is but one of many fascinating biographical sketches to be found in his books.

If the history of world missions is of interest to you, take time to visit the William Rankin, Jr. page and read his remarkable books on foreign missions, written by a centenarian Presbyterian who spent his life in the service of God and the church.