William Jefferis Lank was born on February 24, 1831 on a farm near Cool Spring in Sussex County, Delaware. We know little or nothing of his early life and education, although one source indicates that he taught in the public schools, so he must have had a better than average education for the times.
For most of his life he was a farmer, but there is no record of his having owned any land, so we must assume that he was a tenant farmer and probably farmed a number of farms, changing as better opportunities came his way.
He was a large man with a strong voice and sang in his church choirs. He made a considerable name for himself as an auctioneer. He was in great demand for conducting sales and was appreciated not only for his ability to get the best prices for the goods at hand but also for the humor he injected into his selling jargon.
We do not know when he left Sussex County but there is evidence that he spent most of his life in New Castle County. His first two marriages may have been in Sussex County, as the family name of his second wife, Robbins, was and still is a prominent farming family in that county. His third wife, Margaret Melvin, had family ties in the Smyrna area and this may have drawn him north.
He was very active in his church and community where ever he lived. He ran unsuccessfully for sheriff of New Castle County on two occasions. His son, William Nelson, was more successful in this field serving two terms in that office. He was apparently very opinionated in his politics, once falling out with his landowner, Col. H. A. duPont, because the Colonel tried to tell him how to vote.
William married four times. His first wife, Mary Reynolds, died after only seven months of marriage. A year and a half later he married Hannah Robbins. She nursed him through a serious illness only to contract the disease herself and die leaving him with a two month old baby.
Five months after Hannah's death William married Margaret Melvin. We do not know whether Margaret knew Hannah or if she felt deep gratitude for the sacrifice Hannah had made, but her own children felt that Hannah's child, Edwin, enjoyed a favored position in the family.
Margaret was the mother of ten children. When the last child was four months old she too died leaving William with ten children. Her oldest sister, Elizabeth, offered to take the baby provided William would promise not to take her away at some later date. He agreed to this arrangement so Margaret was raised away from her brothers and sisters.
The descendents of Margaret Melvin will be interested to know that her grandmother, Ann Neall George, was the sister of Daniel Neall, a noted Delaware silversmith who went to Philadelphia and became a dentist. He was a friend of the well known abolitionist, Lucretia Mott, and in about 1840 brought her to lower Delaware to speak against slavery. His former friends were so outraged that they tarred and feathered him since they could not attack a lady. His Quaker training stood him in good stead, for he not only forgave them but also invited them to visit him in Philadelphia.
At the time of the Civil War William's church, in recognition of his service to the church and the fact that he had four small children, paid the $300 to hire a substitute for him in the draft. No doubt feeling a strong sense to be of some service to his country in this trying time, he enlisted, at Lipsic, DE in Company F of the 6th Regiment of the Delaware Volunteer Infantry and was sent to guard railroad bridges from sabotage, keeping him out of harms way but satisfying his desire to serve. He served for only nine months, the wartime pressures on the family at home may have been the cause of this short term of service.
William was unable to cope with his large family when his older daughters married and left home. He decided to "join forces" with a widow, Elizabeth Stanton Sapp, who had three children and an invalid mother. They did not expect any more family but three sons were quickly added. Elizabeth had inherited a farm from her former husband but William, sensing that he would be looked upon as marrying her for the farm, refused to go there, so the farm was rented and he continued to tenant farm other land. The older children, William in particular, were helpful in raising the three younger Lanks.
In the early 1800's the call to "Go West" was heard in the family and four of the children responded. Edwin was the first to go and he took up a homestead in Kansas. Mary Elizabeth, "Molly" had married John F. Thompson and they first settled in South Dakota, then after a try in Nebraska they returned to stay permanently near Presho, South Dakota. John took a homestead near Galva, Iowa. James, although handicapped, took a homestead near his sister in South Dakota, but after qualifying for full ownership of the one hundred sixty acres, returned to Delaware.
William continued to tenant farm until he finally sold out in 1899 and moved into Wilmington, probably continuing with his auctioneering activities. He died on November 25, 1911 and is buried in the Mount Salem cemetery in Wilmington.
Story by Dan Harris
another source: Adam Hitch (1658-1731) of Old Somerset in ye Province of Maryland - His Descendants by Mike Hitch (2007) "Francis Langcake (later Lank) and John Cordrey also had familial ties with the Hitch family as will be shown later in this volume. It should also be noted that William Hitch died in 1730 – before Adam Hitch died in 1731 but after his 1728 land allotment and his land was devised to his four (4) sons viz, William (b. 1719), Thomas (b. 1720), John (b. 1722) and Nehemiah Hitch (b. 1724) through his will. All were minors and Thomas Hitch died before 1732 so his share of the land went to eldest brother William." source: http://www.mikehitch.com/Hitchbookexcerpt1.htm
In addition, I am convinced that the father of Francis Lanke (Langcake) was George Langcake from Cumbria, England.
I have a few other sources if interested.