Rankin, Thomas (DNB00)

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RANKIN, THOMAS (1738–1810), methodist divine, and friend of John Wesley, was born in Dunbar, Haddingtonshire, in 1738. His early home training gave his mind a religious bent, but, on the death of his father in 1754, he grew dissipated. Shortly afterwards a troop of dragoons, some of whom had come under the influence of methodist preachers, came to Dunbar, and held religious meetings in the morning and evening. The strangeness of the proceeding brought crowds to the services, and Rankin was greatly influenced by them. Removing to Leith, he heard Whitefield preach his farewell sermon at Orphan-house Yard, Edinburgh, and finally decided to become a preacher. Circumstances delayed the fulfilment of his design. After spending a few months in Charlestown, South Carolina, as agent for a firm of Edinburgh merchants, he was induced by a Wesleyan itinerant preacher in 1759 to visit some methodist societies in the north of England, and during this tour Rankin preached his first sermons. For two years he endured much mental trouble and uncertainty, and at Morpeth, in 1761, sought the counsel of Wesley. After another interview with Wesley in London, Rankin's doubts were removed, and in that year he was appointed to the Sussex circuit. For twelve years he moved through the country, at times accompanying Wesley himself (1769–70). Between the two a close friendship arose, Wesley in his letters always addressing Rankin as ‘My dear Tommy.’

Meanwhile Wesley had become dissatisfied with the conduct of his friends in America, and on 9 April 1773 Rankin left England, specially chosen and commissioned by his chief to reform American methodism. As ‘general assistant and superintendent,’ he called the first conference of American methodist societies in Philadelphia on 4 July 1773. But the jealousy of those whom he had supplanted and his own brusque manners rendered him unpopular, and after the disputes with the American colonies had begun, and there was considerable ill-feeling stirred against Englishmen, he prudently returned to England in October 1777.

In England he resumed his old labours until 1783, when he retired from active work, and was appointed supernumerary of the London district. He was one of those who, after considerable dispute, and with some hesitation on Wesley's part, received ordination at the hands of Wesley in 1789. His uncompromising character again brought him into conflict with some of the methodist leaders, including Charles Wesley, but his sterling honesty was always recognised, if his defective education was never forgotten. The last years of his life were spent in London, where he died, 17 May 1810. He was buried near to Wesley in the City Road Chapel.

[M'Clintock and Strong's Cyclop. Bibl. Lit. viii. 907; ‘Autobiography,’ Armenian Magazine, 1779; Gorrie's Episcopal Methodism; Tyerman's Life and Times of John Wesley.]

J. R. M.