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JAMES GODSON BLEAK 1829-1918 (Grandfather of Inez Snow)

 

James Godson Bleak was born on 15 November 1829 in Southwark, Surrey County, England, the third child and second son of Thomas Nelson Bleak and Mary Godson Bleak. His father was born 18 Oct. 1804 at Castle Lyons, Cork Co., Ireland, the son of Thomas Blake and Margaret Nelson Blake. His mother was born 30 Sept 1797 at Rathcornac, Cork Co., Ireland, the daughter of James Godson and Elizabeth Burke Godson. The family moved to England some time before the birth of James.

 

It is not known when the family name was changed from Blake to Bleak (both pronounced the same way), but it is a family tradition that the change was made when the family moved to England. (When James was questioned about the spelling of Bleak he said it was spelled and pronounced like steak.) His granddaughter, Inez, said he always insisted that the family spell it Bleak. Thomas and Mary had 6 children but only 2 lived beyond infancy, James and John. James was tenderly cared for by kind and loving parents and as he grew older was given every advantage and encouragement to store his mind with useful knowledge. He had a cheerful disposition and was loved by his schoolmates and many friends. Being studious he advanced rapidly in his schoolwork. It is not known what vocation Thomas Nelson Bleak pursued but his early death in London, 7 Feb. 1844 at the age of 39 made it necessary for the fourteen year old James to quit school and go to work. This was, the end of his formal education. Two years later his mother died 24 Jan. 1846. James and his brother, John, then went to live with their Aunt Margaret. In 1848 his brother, John, passed away at the age of eleven and his Aunt Margaret also died which left him without a family. (His father's brothers were all in Ireland.) He was then alone indeed, grief stricken and alone. In his later diaries James referred often to his father, mother, and brother always with a great deal of affection. He found work as a helper in an office doing clerk work and later began to learn the Silver Smith and Gold Smith trade. He met Joseph Lewis Thompson there and they became very close friends.

 

A year after the death of his brother, John, in June 1849 James married Elizabeth Moore. The next year he first came into contact with the missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. His conversion was rapid and complete, and he was baptized 8 Feb. 1851 at the age of 22. His wife, Elizabeth, and friend Joseph Thompson were also baptized. James was appointed second councilor to Pres. Armstrong of Whitechapel Branch in 1852. He was set apart as President of Whitechapel Branch 5 Feb. 1854. Then he was appointed clerk of London, England Conference 7 Aug. 1854. At that time the church encouraged the Saints to migrate to Utah and in the spring of 1856 James, Elizabeth, and their four children, Richard, Thomas, James Jr. and Mary, began to make preparations to go to Utah.

 

On March 16 James was baptized into the Law of Consecration and was promised by the Elders of the church that he would bring his family safely to Utah. (The story that was handed down in the family was that this promise was made during a meeting just before leaving England where a woman stood to bear her testimony. As she did, she spoke in tongues and an other woman receiving the interpretation of tongues said that the Lord promised James Bleak that he and his family would arrive safely to Utah.) The Bleak family embarked from Liverpool May 23 aboard the "Horizon." The ship had 856 passengers, all of whom were Mormons traveling to Utah. Edward Martin was captain of the company. After a smooth, uneventful crossing, twenty-six days later they docked at Boston, spent a week there then continued to Iowa City. They stayed there seventeen days preparing to cross the plains by handcart.

 

From James' journal we learn: they left Iowa City July 26. By Aug. 22 they had reached Florence, Missouri, 300 miles. On Aug. 31 they were 992 miles from SLC. They traveled as many as 23 miles a day but on Sept. 5 a violent storm limited them to six miles and some days they were snow bound, not moving a step for days. On Sept 12 they left a cripple behind.  Sept. 15, James took ill with bloody flux. Sept. 23 and 24 were particularly gruesome days for the company passed scattered blood-stained articles, parts of a human body and remains of the Babbit wagon which had been burned by the Indians.

 

Oct 2, sighted Chimney Rock and six days later reached Laramie, Wyoming. Oct. 14 crossed the Platte River and again on Oct. 16...flour rations reduced...James noted it was very cold ... they were immobilized 9 days because of heavy snows. Oct 29 they traveled ten miles. Nov. 1, a great deal of snow and in eight days moved only nine miles. Rations reduced again to 4 oz. of flour for adults and 2 for children. James commented, "... a pound for six of us. Through the blessings of our Father we felt as contented as when we had a pound and a half each." Sunday, Nov 9, the company traveled five miles but nearly all of those on foot were left behind. - However , James walked this distance and as a result his feet were "terribly frozen," so badly that he was handicapped for the rest of his life. He was thus forced to ride the rest of the way to Salt Lake City, and Elizabeth pulled the handcart. Rations raised. Fri., Nov. 21, the company reached the Green River. Here near tragedy struck at the Bleak family. Five year old Thomas fell into the river, and when they recovered him, he appeared to be dead. James, Elizabeth and others of the company worked over him trying to revive him; but it was apparently hopeless and members of the company pled with James to bury the child. James refused. He remembered that he had been promised in England that he would bring his family safely to Utah. Both he and Elizabeth prayed fervently and finally Thomas revived. Finally supplies and wagons came to help them and the company entered SLC Nov. 30, six months one week after they left their home in England. It was two and a half months before James was able to walk again.

 

A story that has been handed down in the family was: One time during the trek, James became very sick. Because of the early snow and thus slow traveling, cold, short rations, etc. many became ill and died. James was so ill they thought he was dead and members of the company told his wife that he must be left behind so the company could keep going. Reluctantly she wrapped her husband in a blanket and left him beside the road. When they pulled into camp that night a sister in the company came to inquire of their well being and when she found out that James had been left for dead back on the trail she reminded them of the promise that had been made when she had spoken in tongues back in England arid the Lord had promised him he'd reach Utah safely with his family. A wagon was sent back for him and they nursed him back to health. The Lord's promise to him was fulfilled.

 

James and Elizabeth made their home in North Ogden and later SLC. He took a second wife, Caroline B. Gosnold, 24 Nov. 1860. At General Conference of the Church held Oct., 1861, a large group of settlers were called to Southern Utah and James G. Bleak and his family were among them. On Sunday, Oct. 20, 1861, in the Historian's Office in SLC, James was set apart, under the hands of Orson Pratt and Church Historian, George A. Smith, and in the presence of Brigham Young and other church leaders, to be clerk and historian of the Southern Mission.

Jane Thompson, daughter of Joseph Lewis Thompson, James' "old time friend and companion", had recently arrived in SLC on 15 Sept. 1861 and was staying with the Bleaks. Before leaving for Southern Utah, Brigham Young suggested that James make the fifteen year old Jane, his third wife. They were reluctant but obeyed his council and were married in the Endowment House in SLC 26 Oct. 1861. 

 

Brigham Young's instructions to the settlers were to go to St. George, which he had just named on Oct. 28, 1861. The site of the proposed city was to be on the slopes north of the junction of the Rio Virgin and the Santa Clara. James began early to take an active part in St. George affairs. He was chosen as a member of the Camp Council. The new city had many problems of organization and the Camp Council took the initiative in getting things going. Over the years he was very active in politics and civic affairs. Before the end of 1862 James was set apart as Counselor in the St. George Third Ward Bishopric. In 1869 he became a Counselor to Stake Pres. John W. Young and held this position until he went on his mission in 1872. In 1881 he was ordained a Bishop. He served many years in the High Council. One of his last jobs in the church in 1909 was that of Stake Patriarch. As part of his duties as clerk of the Southern Mission, James opened the first tithing record in St. George in a little adobe office especially built for this purpose.  This little office was to be James' headquarters for many years to come. He kept tithing records for about twenty-five years. His first tithing record in St. George was Aug. 20, 1862, ...John O. Angus, one pound and a quarter of wool at .37 1/4 --.47..." In the first year St. George was settled the four wards there paid $3,201.61 in tithing.

 

James' family suffered the same difficulties that the rest of the population had; very hard work, heat far more extreme than they had been used to, scarcity of food, especially wheat and flour, lack of forage for the animals, quicksand and bad drinking water, etc.

 

James returned to England as a missionary in 1872. Part of his mission he edited the Millennial Star. When James left for his mission, Jane was expecting her sixth child. In Nov. he wrote in his dairy, "I was awakened this morning by a kiss from a beautiful baby girl, and felt that kiss all through the day." He wrote a letter to his wife, Jane, that day telling of his experience. Another letter bearing the good news of the safe arrival of the baby girl was sent to him from Jane and the letters crossed on the way. When James received the letter he looked back on his diary and found it to be the 29th of Nov. the day Olive was born. 

 

James' fourth wife was Jane's niece, Matilda Young Thompson, 32 years younger than James. They were married in 1882. James had thirty-three children, twenty-seven of whom grew to maturity. His first child was born in 1850; his last in 1901.  As a polygamist, James played a fast game of cat and mouse with the U.S. Deputy Marshals during the latter part of the 1880's.  He took every possible precaution to avoid arrest. When at home he slept in a "specially prepared place" or "on roost." (Mom told us kids about this secret room in the attic of her Grandma Bleak's house that had an opening onto the deck.) Inez: "You couldn't tell it was a door unless you knew. Grandfather did much secretarial work up there on church records. He used to stay in the hidden room when Deputies were around. One night the U.S. Officers came in search for him. They asked for him and Mother, Grandmother and Aunt Rose refused to lead them thru the house to search for him. Aunt Sade said she would and did, but they didn't find him or the secret door." If it was reported that strangers were in town, or if word came by telegraph that the U.S. Deputies had left Silver Reef for the south, he did not go out. Often times, enroute from his home to the temple he sent his children ahead as scouts to warn him of danger. One time James left his home and met one of the marshals at the gate. Without losing his composure James bade the marshal good-day. The marshal asked if this was James G. Bleak's home. James said that it was. Then the marshal asked, "Is he inside?" James said, "No he isn't." The marshal went on inside to inquire while James fled to the temple thanking God that he had not only escaped, but did not have to perjure himself.

 

The temple was James' sanctuary during this period. He recorded that he spent 261 days in the temple in 1887. At one time he spent 128 continuous hours there. On June 14, 1891 he wrote he attended the first public meeting he had been to for twelve months. A number of polygamous stake and temple authorities took refuge in the temple also.

 

The Mormons felt that they were not criminals, but merely claiming the religious freedom guaranteed them under the Constitution. Even after the Manifesto in 1890, polygamist who had been indicted were still being hunted by the U.S. Deputies. In 1892 at the close of the temple session, James went to the altar and prayed to know what to do about his situation. When he finished he bought a round trip ticket to Beaver and surrendered himself to the U.S. Marshal there. In court two indictments under the Edmunds-Tucker Law were read against James. The Judge asked if the allegations were true and James said they were. He was then asked if he supported the Manifesto and James replied that he did. All charges against him were dismissed with a fine of six cents. James rode home in high spirits. James's consuming interest was in the church's temples and their ordinances and he worked for many years in the St. George Temple. The first ordinances for the dead were performed in the St. George Temple on Jan. 9, 1877, and shortly there after James was set apart to do ordinance work in the temple.  Wilford Woodruff was the first temple pres. (He and Wilford Woodruff were very good friends.)

 

In 1880, "he was set apart to officiate in all the ordinances of the temple. He felt that a special honor had come to him and wrote, "...Lord aid me. Give me Thy Spirit that all I do may be done aright" He later became chief recorder of the St. George Temple and when David H. Cannon was made Pres. of the Temple James became his assistant The St. George Temple, being the first temple erected after coming to Utah, became a pioneer in procedures to be followed in the other temples. Thus, its officers were called upon, as other temples were erected to instruct temple officials and workers. James didn't go to Logan but went to the dedication ceremonies of the Manti temple and stayed in Manti to further instruct Manti Temple workers. He had worked on the Manti Temple earlier as a mason and painter. He was also present at the first session of the dedicatory services of the Salt Lake Temple and in preparation for ordinance work there he copied all the temple ceremonies. He was happier in the temple than any place else.

 

James Godson Bleak's life's work was concerned with the Southern Utah Mission (Dixie Mission), which later became the St George Stake and covered the period from 1861 to 1900, and recorded it's history. The mission or stake at that time included the southwest comer of Utah and the adjacent areas in Nevada and Arizona. His conversion and devotion to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints had led him to St George, and it was certainly devotion to the church that kept him there in the first difficult years of its existence. His daughter Rose wrote, "Father filled many responsible and important offices and positions here in St. George. He was private secretary to President Brigham, Historian of the Southern Utah Mission, St. George Stake clerk for many years, was the 1st recorder in the St. George Temple and continued working there for many years in many capacities. Father was kind and gentle, all people loved him for his gentlemanly qualities. He had their interests at heart and loved them all and wanted them to be good and happy. He was a very busy man but never too busy to give a kind and cheering word to all he came in contact with. At home he was kind loving and thoughtful and when possible helped us children in our games and entertainment and was one with us. "After a long busy life of 88 years, he passed away 29 Jan. 1918 in St. George, Utah."

 

A grandaughter, Lila B. Pugsley, writes this about her grandfather James G. Bleak. "Another story he (James G. Bleak) told me was, a group of men and some of the boys in the family who were old enough, would go to the mountains to get wood for the winter. One time when they went some Indians came upon them. The men thought they could talk the Indians out of fighting them, but the leader went up to each one of the men and told them to open their shirts. The leader of the Indians told all the men who were wearing garments they could go on their way, but they took the others who were not wearing the garments away with them and later Grandfather said they found out they had scalped them. The Mormon people were usually good to the Indians so they were willing to leave them alone."

 

History taken from a biography by his daughter, Rose B. Ramsey, A Thesis "James Godson Bleak, Pioneer Historian of Southern Utah" by Caroline S. Addy and family tradition.