Locating and Naming|
by Ralph S. Harrelson
April 9, 1997
IN EARLY SPRING of 1821, three men, James Ratcliff, Samuel Leach, and Joel Pace rode from different directions to converge upon the near center of a new county. The focal point was near the log cabin homes of William McLean and John Anderson. These men had been given a commission by the Legislature of the State of Illinois.
Their dress was of that early period, and may have been a combination of homespun and deerskin. Turning our minds back to that time we imagine we can hear the squeak of saddle leather, the clop, clop, of horses hoofs, and the snap of twigs under their feet. We imagine seeing the long barrels of flintlock guns, hunting knives at their belt, and axes tied to their saddles.
At the appointed time they meet at the home of John Anderson and begin their search, their quest; the most desirable twenty acres for a new county seat. Ratcliff traveled from the east, Pace from the northwest, and Leach from the northeast.
As the men search through the heavy timber near the cabin of Dr. McLean, they come upon a beautiful elevation which drains in every direction. We imagine hearing one of them exclaim: "Here she is boys, there is nothing finer in this county for a town."
In unanimous agreement, a suitable tree is sought to mark the center of the plot ... the surveyor will need a starting point. A large black oak spreads its branches over the crown of the low hill, a worthy center piece for any city. So, with the ring of an ax, held in the hands of an experienced woodsman, a large letter C appears on the side of the big black oak.
With a brand upon its side and fresh chips shelled upon th ground at its base, this black oak was destined to become the most important tree in a new county. As Ratcliff, Leach, and Pace looked upon their handiwork they were satisfied. Their commission was fulfilled ... with one exception: What would they name the new town?
While pondering over the enigma, destiny was moving forward. A county seat must have a name worthy of such an important center ... one that had meaning. What notable person, event, or place in history could they honor by giving their name to just a hillock in the timber. That was a difficult decision.
While the Commissioners discussed names, seeking one for a new town, they probably leaned against a tree or sat upon a log. Others were present also. An old gentleman a little wobby from "tanglefoot spirits" had a brilliant idea. He said: "Why not call it McLean's Borough?" After due consideration of the idea, the Commissioners decided to call the new town McLeansborough.
James Ratcliff, one of the members of the commission to locate and name the County Seat of Hamilton County, was from White County. He was a native of Virginia, and located in Carmi a short time previous to 1818. He was clerk of the Commissioners Court, clerk of the Circuit Court, and for a time Postmaster at Carmi, Illinois.
James Ratcliff, because of his great energy, was also known as "Old Beaver." He had erected in 1828, one of Carmi, Illinois' most famous buildings, the Ratcliff Inn. This building is on Carmi's main street. It has been restored and houses the White County Historical Museum.
Joel Pace was another member of the commission that selected the site and name for McLeansboro. From 1819 to 1837 he was both County and Circuit Clerk of Jefferson County, Illinois. Judge Brown of Shawneetown gave Joel Pace his appointment as Circuit Clerk, and procured for him the office of recorder and notary public. He also taught school for a time.
Joel Pace was an excellent and competent man, (though he was once found guilty of assault and battery). He was born in Virginia, but his father, Joel Pace, Sr., soon moved to Woodford County, Kentucky. On reaching manhood Joel went to Frankfort, Kentucky and worked for Thomas Long. He then worked for Owen Riley in Vincennces, Indiana and later in Shawneetown, Illinois. In Shawneetown Joel ledt Riley and went to work for Peoples and Kirkpatrick.
Samuel Leach was the other member of the commission that selected and named the County Seat of Hamilton County, Illinois. He was from Wayne County, Illinois, which county, like Jefferson, is two years older than Hamilton County.
Samuel Leach (or Leech), was prominent in the early government of his county. He held by appointment most of the county offices in the early years of Wayne County, receiving the appointments by, or through, the influence of Judge Brown of Shawneetown, Illinois.
It is said that Samule Leach built the third house in present Fairfield, Illinois. There being no regular tavern (hotel) at that time, Leach kept travelers in his home and thus became the first tavern keeper in his town. He was also one of the first merchants in town, erecting a store building near his home.
Two other men, Thomas F. Vaught, and Jesse B. Brown were on the commission to locate and name the County Seat of Hamilton County. It is indicated by the record that these men did not serve.
The Commissioners were to meet on the first Tuesday of April, 1821 at the cabin home of John Anderson. This meeting I believe would have been on April 3rd. On April 4, 1821, according to history by Goodspeed, the three Commissioners: Ratcliff, Leach, and Pace, signed a document certifying that they had fixed the Seat of Justice on the land of William B. McLean.
Ratcliff received $8.00 for his work on the commission, Pace received $10.00, and Leach $12.00. The distance traveled probably helped to determine the amount paid each Commissioner.
Orginally published in Goshen Trails - Volume 7 - July 1971 - Numbers 3 & 4
(04/09/97 - Copyright 1997 by Ralph S. Harrelson)