EARLE’S CHAPEL: The Community – Part 2

After clearing land and building a family house of logs, Elijah Earle built and operated a water mill on Prairie Branch (Mill Creek) that served an area within a fifteen mile radius.  Such mills, which were used to grind the corn upon which the early settlers depended so greatly, provided a crucial service to the community and like many of their neighbors, the Earle family prospered in the new land they had chosen.  The mill was later sold to members of the Morris family, who continued to operate it into the early twentieth century, as described in Captain H. L. Morris’s obituary in 1902, “…the old mill still doing service…”.

                Most of the early families were farmers who grew corn, wheat, peas and beans, table produce, hogs, cattle, and sheep for their own use, and cotton as a money crop.  According to the 1860 census schedules, some of the farmers had acquired slaves to help with the work but only one landholder, E. B. Ragsdale with seventeen slaves, reported more than two slaves that year.  Most of the early farms in Earle’s Chapel were operated by the large families who lived on them.  Substantial acreage was patented through land grants or otherwise accrued by many of the early families although by the time of the Civil War, these large holdings were beginning to be divided out among sons and daughters who established family farms adjoining those of their parents.

                While some farming was necessary for subsistence and the chief livelihood of most of the early families, there were also craftsmen, laborers and tradesmen among them.  George Clinton Benge (1802 – 1883) was a blacksmith, as was his son, John and they were woodworking craftsmen as well.  A spinning wheel which G.C. Benge fashioned for his daughter, Matilda, who married James C. Earle in 1851, is still in existence.  The Ragsdale brothers, Peter C., Edward B., and William J. were all brick masons.  Edward also went into the mercantile business, first in Old Jacksonville and later in the new town.  According to the 1850 census record, Peter C. Ragsdale was a speculator and two boarders in the Elijah Earle home, D. Lawson and L. Dutton, were ditchers.  Drury Earle and Edward B. Ragsdale were surveyors, a useful skill during a period in which Spanish, Mexican, Indian, and Republic of Texas land grants were finally being settled.

Continue reading :: Earle’s Chapel :: The Community Part 3