Authors Page

Many people do not know that I am a trained historian and that my Ph.D. is in history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Before coming to Gaston Day thirteen years ago to be Head of School, I was a college professor and administrator at what is now Queens University of Charlotte. Researching and writing history is something that I do naturally, and for me it is an important source of recreation and enjoyment. All my writing is non fiction–mostly history and, increasingly, natural history.

As a graduate student my focus was on the cultural history of the Old South, mainly religion. My book on North Carolina’s Episcopal lay religious belief was an outgrowth of this work.

When I got to Queens, the President of the College commissioned me to write a biography of a trustee from Gastonia, John M. Akers, who was a leader of the American Trucking industry. Also while at Queens, I became increasingly interested in nature and land conservation. North Carolina Nature Writing is an anthology of what people have written about the outdoors throughout the colony and state’s history, and I produced and edited it.

After coming to Gaston Day, my writing focused more on local history and culture and hunting.  My wife’s sister-in-law photographed molasses making at the Frederick Carpenter Farm and I wrote an essay describing the rural folkway. I published a book on a famous hunt club operated by prominent Gastonians on Hilton Head Island from 1917-1967. Then I wrote another book on a private hunt club that the Neisler family from Kings Mountain owns and manages in southeastern North Carolina. Finally, my wife, Sarah Park, published a collection of my local historical essays. Since I came to Gaston Day, Sarah Park has helped design and produce all my books.

I am always researching or writing somethings. Sometimes my research hits a dead end. Sometimes it results in a book or an article. My newest book, which has just been self-published, is a collection of local nature essays.  Below is a list of my major publications.

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John McCorkle Akers: A Life of Enterprise and Service. Charlotte, N.C.: Heritage Printers, Inc., 1992.

Ambivalent Churchmen and Evangelical Churchwomen: The Religion of the Episcopal Elite in North Carolina, 1800-1860. Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1993.

Richard Rankin probes the religious, intellectual, and social lives of North Carolina’s antebellum elite to expose the dramatic effect of religious revival in the first half of the nineteenth century. Rankin uses family letters and church records to document an embrace of evangelism’s emotionalism by the female upper class, a swift objection to evangelism’s egalitarian tenets by the male upper class, and the domestic tension that ensued. Rankin evaluates the revival of the Episcopal church as a male strategy to replace evangelism with a more conservative approach to religion, and he speculates that it was North Carolina’s escalating quarrel with northern states over slavery that effectively convinced women to abandon their religious enthusiasm.

Dispelling the myth of the plantation-era gentleman, Rankin argues that wealthy North Carolina males lived not by Christian doctrine but by an ethic of reason and honor. Similarly, females followed a fashionable social code. Rankin shows that a revival spread, many upper-class women experienced spiritual rebirth, focused their lives on the church rather than on social circles, and attempted to convert their husbands to fundamental Christianity as well as more intimate, caring type of marriage.

Rankin says that upper-class males, however, were determined to resist a force that would upset a social order over which they presided. While rarely becoming full communing members themselves–an act which would have prevented the dueling, drinking, and womanizing that their code of honor allowed–these men encouraged their wives, daughters, and sisters to submit to the “high churchmanship” of conservative Episcopal priests. In chronicling the subsequent growth of the Episcopal church, Rankin credits growing fear of slave unrest and the Abolitionist Movement rather than the male upper class or the Episcopal clergy with squelching religious fervor among North Carolina’s female aristocracy.

North Carolina Nature Writing: Four Centuries of Personal Narratives and Descriptions. Winston-Salem, N.C.: John F. Blair, Publisher, 1996.

The rich and varied landscape of North Carolina has inspired writers from the earliest colonial days up to the present. The natural resources of the state astounded early naturalists such as John Lawson and William Bartram, whose writings described a world teeming with an almost miraculous assortment of wildlife, plants, and trees. Over the years. the landscape of North Carolina has changed, but the beauty of the state’s natural habitats continues to inspire some of the finest nature writers in the United States.

North Carolina Nature Writing collects twenty-six of the most famous, important, and beautiful essays ever written about the natural world of North Carolina. The essays begin with the writings of the early naturalists. whose succinct and descriptive reports cannot hide the sense of wonder they felt at first viewing the state’s natural bounty, and continue in chronological order up to the work of the contemporary writers, who maintain the sense of awe found in those early essays, yet temper it with concerns about the abuse and destruction of North Carolina’s natural habitats. The essays in North Carolina Nature Writing provide a fascinating look at the changing landscape of North Carolina’s natural world, and cannot fail to entertain those that have enjoyed that world for themselves.

A New South Hunt Club: An Illustrated History of the Hilton Head Agricultural Society, 1917-1967. Winston-Salem, N.C.: John F. Blair, Publisher, 2006.

Hilton Head Island is a world-class resort, a playground for the wealthy, and a golfer’s paradise.

Or at least it has been for the last tiny fragment of its long history.

Some very special businessmen-turned-hunters were among the last people to know the South Carolina sea island in its natural state, before it became famous. The Hilton Head Agricultural Company, incorporated in 1917, was comprised of mill owners, bankers, physicians, and other local leaders from three communities: Gastonia, North Carolina; Clover, South Carolina; and Chattanooga, Tennessee. Every year, those men would slough off their high-powered business concerns, pile in their cars, make the long drive to the coast, arrange for a boat to Hilton Head, and traverse the wild island to the simple hunting camp they’d established there.

It was a journey not only across distance but through time as well. The men traded their suits and ties for rough clothing, forswore communications with the outside world, lived communally, and ate only what they managed to kill. The only other humans they were likely to encounter were slave descendants who spoke the Gullah language. The island and its surrounding waters teamed with fish, birds, and game animals to a degree unimaginable today.

A New South Hunt Club tells the story of a time, place, and a way of life that should not be forgotten. Author Richard Rankin conducted personal interviews and sought out papers and photographs from private and company archives to compile this entertaining and eye-catching account.

Gaston and Lincoln Sketches. Gastonia, N.C.: Pipes & Timbrels Press, 2006.

This collection of essays examines episodes of local history in Gaston and Lincoln counties. It begins with a survey of Gaston County’s natural environment. The next five essays deal with Native American, Revolutionary, and antebellum subjects. The next-to-last piece describes the survival of a rural folkway: molasses making. The last sketch is a short biography of the bird painter Ralph Ray, a native of Gastonia. Residents of the area, as well as anyone interested in local history, will find this collection interesting and informative.

Attached to This Place: The Neislers and the Oakland Deer Hunt. Mt. Holly, N.C.: Pipes & Timbrels Press, 2008.

This is an illustrated history of the Neisler Deer Hunt at Oakland Plantation, Bladen County, NC. At Oakland since 1941, the Neisler family has conducted one of the finest private, traditional deer hunts in the American South.

The Margins of a Greater Wildness: Nature Essays About Stanley Creek & Beyond. Mt. Holly, N.C.: Willow Hill Press, 2014.

Richard Rankin is a name that should be familiar to anyone interested in southern landscapes. The important anthology he edited almost two decades ago on North Carolina nature writers was the first of its kind in the South, and his fine account of the legendary Hilton Head Agricultural Company hunt club is one of the best natural and human histories of a southern place. Now with The Margins of a Greater Wildness Rankin takes his place as a first rate essayist as well. These varied and graceful meditations position him with the likes of fellow Carolinians James Kilgo, Janet Lembke, and Bland Simpson. Recommended for anyone with a taste for all things local and wild.
– John Lane
, author of Circling Home                      

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