WASHINGTON COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY (Washington County, Utah)
JAMES GODSON BLEAK
(silversmith, church leader, postmaster)
BIOGRAPHYThe biography of James Godson Bleak (pronounced "Blake") may well typify the people who provided local spiritual and temporal leadership in the pioneer Mormon Church. The best brief remarks on Bleak are by Preston Nibley and the only biography of Bleak is an unpublished thesis by Caroline S. Addy.
James Bleak was born in Southwark, Surrey, England, 15 November 1829 to Thomas and Mary Godson Bleak. His father died when he was fourteen and his mother two years later.
He apprenticed himself to a silversmith for four years until he married Elizabeth Moore in 1849 when he was twenty years old. A year later he was converted by the message of Mormon missionaries and both he and his wife became Latter-day Saints in February 1851. Three years after his baptism he was appointed President of the White Chapel Branch of the Church.
In 1856 the Bleaks began their trek to Zion and into Utah history. Arriving late in the year in Iowa City, they joined the Martin handcart company. Because of the last minute rush to beat the prairie winter, as well as accommodating the unexpected number of emigrants, T. B. H. Stenhouse reports that the carts were makeshift and under provided. As a result of the late start, poor communication with more knowledgeable Church leaders, and an over-zealous reliance on the possibility of miracles, 135 persons of the 575 Saints who began, died in the snows of Wyoming. The Bleaks and their faith survived.
They settled in what is now the North Ogden area, but in 1861 Brigham Young called them to join the Cotton Mission and move to Southern Utah.
Two weeks before his departure, Bleak met Jane Thompson, who became his first plural wife just before her sixteenth birthday. His romantic attraction for her seems to have persisted into old age. Jane had come to the United States when she was nine, lived in Rhode Island with her parents, witnessed a debate between Lincoln and Douglas, and actually talked with Lincoln at a banquet afterwards.
The activity of Jane, Elizabeth, and Bleak's other wife in the construction of Zion is not recorded.
In 1862, Bleak was appointed counselor to the Bishop of the Third Ward. Thereafter he became tithing clerk for the mission and city recorder for St. George and still later he became a member of the High Council. From 1868 to 1872 he was the postmaster of St. George. He was called at the age of forty-three to serve a mission in England, the land of his birth, and during 1872-1873 he edited the Millennial Star. He returned to the red earth of the Cotton Mission, helped complete the St. George Temple and became the Temple's first recorder. There is no record of his persecution by the Federal government, but Bleak must have experienced some contention over his plural marriages. In 1909 he was ordained a Patriarch in the St. George Stake, and he died at 88 years of age on 30 January 1918, in the town he helped build.
Jane Percilla Thompson Bleak
REFERENCESA Biography of James Godson Bleak
"James Godson Bleak, Pioneer Historian of Southern Utah"
Unpublished thesis by Caroline S. Addy.
James Godson Bleak Papers, 1864-1895