Richland county is characterized by her full share of the honored and
faithful element who have done so much for its development and upbuilding
and the establishing of the institutions of civilization in this fertile and
well favored section. In this work are comprised many biographical and
memorial sketches of this class of citizens and it is not in the least too
early to record in print the principal items in the lives of such honest
people, giving- honor to whom honor is due. Among those sturdy pioneers, if
not pioneers in settlement, at least in certain lines of business that have
developed along with the rest of the county, the gentleman whose life
history we now take under review is properly installed, for his eminently
useful career which has now been closed by the inevitable fate that awaits
us all, resulted in incalculable good to this locality as many who revere
his memory can attest.
Thomas Ratcliff. long one of the most widely known business men of the county, but who lived in retirement in the town of Olney for several years prior to his death, was born in the County of Kent, Canterberry, England, April 24, 1824, the son of William and Mary Ann (Miller) Ratcliff, who emigrated to America in 1830, locating at Buffalo, New York, where they remained two years, then moved to Richland county, Illinois. William Ratcliff had previously entered one hundred and sixty acres in what is now Olney township, five miles south of Olney. Here the family located, built a log house and began making improvements, developing a good farm, being among the pioneers. William Ratcliff died on the farm he entered, having reached the age of seventy-nine years, and his good wife passed to her rest a year later at the age of seventy-six. They were the parents of fourteen children, three of whom died in infancy, only one of the number is now living, Elijah, who is residing in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. He was the eighth in order of birth and our subject was the seventh. The family was nine weeks and three days in crossing the Atlantic from Liverpool to New York, making the trip on the "Mount Vernon," an old sailing vessel.
James M. Ratcliff, brother of Thomas, was a soldier in the Civil war, having served three years. Two brothers of the subject's mother, George and John Miller, came to the United States in an early day and became farmers in Richland county, Ohio, where they died.
Thomas Ratcliff was six years old when he came to the United States, and in his fourteenth year when he came to Richland county, Illinois. He was here reared on a farm and attended the subscription schools, such as they were in those early days, and received a good foundation for an education which in later life was supplemented by home reading and contact with the business world. He helped clear and improve his father's farm, experiencing many hardships and privations, remaining at home until 1842 when he began the trade of blacksmith in the village of Olney, in a shop located on the lot owned by the subject until his death. He served an apprenticeship of three years under James Urie, who had come from Ohio and opened a shop here. He received three dollars and fifty cents per month, board and washing. Mr. Ratcliff succeeded his employer in business in a little frame shop. He later erected a twostory brick on the lots and conducted the business for about thirty years with splendid success, after which the work was carried on by his son for several years. In early days he manufactured tools, plows, wagons and many other things used by farmers.
Thomas Ratcliff was united in marriage September 19, 1844, to Catherine Ransted, a native of Vigo county, Indiana, who came with her step-father and mother to Richland county, Illinois, in 1839, her father having died previously. Her mother married Thomas Ellingsworth, a farmer, owning a farm adjoining the village of Olney; he later sold the same and bought a farm in Claremont township, where he died. Her mother died in Olney at the home of her daughter, Mrs. Ratcliff. To Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Ratcliff nine children were born, four of whom are deceased. They are Albert, William F., Luther, John, Oscar, George W., died when young; Caroline, Julia Ann, Ida Eudora, Albert, the eldest child, enlisted in Company B, Ninety-eighth Illinois Volunteer Infantry, and served until the close of the war, without mishap, having been in many engagements. He became a blacksmith and machinist and carried on this business very successfully for many years after his father retired. He later moved to Princeton, Indiana, where he engaged in similar work, and where he died.
After retiring from blacksmithing Mr. Ratcliff was engaged in the sale of agricultural implements for several years. By years of hard work and good management he laid up a comfortable competence.
In politics Mr. Ratcliff was a Republican, and served in several local positions, having been one of the Supervisors at the time the court-house was built, and he was also on the building committee. He also served as Alderman of Olney.
On September 19, 1908, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Ratcliff celebrated the sixty-fourth anniversary of their marriage, one of the leading events in the history of such gatherings in the county. They were then both in good health and in full possession of all their faculties, but the dawning of another year meant the closing of their beautiful lives on earth and the breaking of a new day in the mystic beyond, for death, "like a friend's voice from a distant field," called them hence, only a few days apart, the summons coming to Mrs. Ratcliff on January 8, 1909, and on January 23, 1909, to her honored and faithful husband.
Extracted 21 May 2019 by Norma Hass from 1909 Biographical and Reminiscent History of Richland, Clay and Marion Counties, Illinois, pages 490-492.