When I come to write of this venerable and good man, I am carried back near half a century to my childhood’s tender years, when he, as my Sabbath-school teacher, first taught me to lisp the A, B, C, t the school first organized and kept in Caleb Scudder’s cabinet-shop, on the south side of the State House Square, in the year 1823. Mr. B. came to this place on the 25th of July, 1821. A single man, but rather on the bachelor order, he soon became a great gallant of, and favorite with, the young ladies and belles of the day. The late Calvin Fletcher told many anecdotes of his early gallantry.
He was an inmate of my father’s family soon after his arrival here. The first year of his residence nearly every person was down with fever and ague. Indeed, in many families there was hardly one able to hand another a drink of water. It was a time just such a man as Mr. B. was useful, although shaking nearly every other day with ague himself. He would employ the well days in gathering the new corn and grating it on a horse-radish grater into meal to make mush for the convalescent. Indeed, our family, as well as others, would have suffered for food had it not been for his kind offices in this way, not only because the mush made from the new corn was more palatable, but the old could not be got, as there were no mills nearer than Good Landers, on the Whitewater River.
Mr. Blake has ever been hand in hand with Mr. James M. Ray, Dr. Isaac Cox, and others, in all the benevolent and charitable associations of the day, as well as such public enterprises as would be beneficial and calculated to add to the prosperity of the place. He was never ostentatious in his acts of charity, many of which were unknown to all save himself and the recipient.
I have known him to provide for the wife and family of an intemperate man (who had deserted them) for some time, until they were able to take care of and provide for themselves. This circumstance had slipped my memory entirely until reminded of it a few days since by the man himself.
During the time there was so much sickness in the summer of 1821, my father was suffering for water, and no one was able to draw a bucket. He crept to the door of the cabin and saw a man passing. He beckoned to him and requested him to draw a bucket of water. "Where is your friend Blake," the man inquired. "He, too, was taken sick this morning," was the answer. "What on earth are the people to do now?" said the man. "God had spared him to take care of the people, they would now suffer as they never had before."
He acted upon the precepts of the Bible, and did good and dispensed his blessings as he went along. The first house of worship I ever attended in this place he was there, a young man in the pride and strength of manhood, and in the last (at this writing), where the Rev. Mr. Hammond was officiating, I saw him with his religious zeal unabated, although the frosts of forty-eight additional winters have fallen heavily upon and whitened his head. It was a silent but impressive rebuke to the writer of this humble tribute to his many virtues. It will require no flowers strewn upon his grave to make his memory fresh in the minds of his man friends, who will rather bedew it with their tears.
The late Calvin Fletcher told an anecdote of him. Mr. B. had employed a young lady, of the upper ten of that day, to make him a pair of pantaloons. They were finished, and sent home. On examination they were found all right, except that the waistband buttons were sewed on the wrong side. He showed them to Mr. Fletcher, who told him the young lady intended he should wear them as "Paddy from Cork" did his coat, i. e., buttoned up behind.
Mr. Blake was one of the company that built the first steam mill in this place. He brought the first piano and the first pleasure carriage. It was a two-horse barouche, with leather springs hung over steel, which he drove through from Baltimore with his bride the same year. He was the President of the first State Board of Agriculture, organized in 1835. Was a partner with Samuel Henderson in Washington Hall. He afterwards founded Blakesburg, in Putnam County. He established a factory for clarifying genseng, buying the article in different parts of the State, and shipping it east in quantities. He was one of the foremost in establishing the present rolling mill. He was the first to propose the celebration of the Fourth of July by the different Sunday schools, and was the marshal of the different processions as long as the custom was kept up -- thirty years. Indeed, there are but few enterprises, either public or private, that he is not identified with.
Although he has had a goodly share of earthly prosperity he has never been avaricious, but used the means God placed in his hands to accomplish good, thereby laying up treasure where thieves could not reach it, nor moth nor rust destroy.
“Thus to relieve the wretched was his pride,
And e’en his failings leaned to virtue’s side;
But in his duty, prompt at every call,
He watched, and wept, and prayed for all.”
Mr. Blake’s personal appearance would attract attention quickly in any crowd. He is of a large, well-turned frame, showing that in his younger days he possessed great physical strength; very straight and erect in his carriage, with a step as elastic as most men of thirty years of age, and, although now in his eightieth year, is a man that would not be taken for over sixty.
Mr. Blake is a man of great courage and resolution, and does what he considers his duty without regard to consequences to himself.
“Virtue is bold and goodness never fearful.”
Such is James Blake, one of the first settlers of Indianapolis.
Nowland, John H. B., “Early Reminiscences of Indianapolis, with Short Biographical Sketches of Its Early Citizens, and of a Few of the Prominent Business Men of the Present Day,” 1870, pp. 60-63