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Henry Nichols Blake
Henry Nichols Blake
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 Henry Nichols Blake was the son of James Howe Blake, who was in the eighth generation, son of James and Susannah Conant Blake. James Howe Blake was born at Warwick, Dec. 7, 1804. He came to Dorchester about 1821, and worked for Mr. Tileston at the tide mill a number of years and subsequently purchased a share in the property. James Howe Blake's father James was born at Dorchester and was the son of Jonathan and Sarah (Pierce) Blake. The descent is William-James-James-James-Samuel-Jonathan-James-James Howe Blake.

Henry Nichols Blake was born June 5, 1838 in Dorchester, Massachusetts, the son of James Howe Blake and Mary Nichols. He attended Dorchester High School and Harvard Law School. At that time, in order to attend law school, students had to have either a high school diploma, an undergraduate degree, or experience as a law clerk. Blake graduated from the law school in 1858 and was admitted to the bar June 8, 1859, with Richard H. Dana administering the oath. In contrast, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. had just graduated from Harvard College in 1861 when he enlisted in the 20th Massachusetts ? he attended the Harvard law school after the war. Blake described the early years of his practice:
It was my pleasure to act for unfortunate clients in all the courts of Massachusetts and I waited two months for my first client and case, which is never forgotten by an attorney. A colored lawyer, Robert Morris, the sole representative of his race at the Boston bar, occupied an office in the building above. ? I was sitting alone early in the morning, ?waiting for something to turn up,? when there was a knock on the door and a Negro entered, inquiring for the office of Mr. Morris. I informed him and he returned within 10 minutes, saying Mr. Morris was not upstairs and asking me to defend him in the police court. I quickly and joyfully answered, ?Yes, Sir,? and heard my client relate his side of the case, after which he paid me $5 and departed. The Negro was prosecuted for living unlawfully with a white woman in a criminal region of Boston, commonly called the Black Sea. The testimony was insufficient and I did not ask a question, or say anything, and the defendant was discharged, but I still entertain the suspicion that the witnesses (so-called) for the Commonwealth received the highest fees.
Blake was an active campaigner during the presidential election of 1860, tramping many miles as a member of the ?Wide-Awakes.? These supporters of Abraham Lincoln wore nightcaps and capes and carried a lamp on a staff as they rallied support for the Republican candidate.

After the war ended and his book was published*, a restless Henry Blake headed west. Because of a history of tuberculosis in his family he headed for the ?fresher climate? of the Montana Territory. He started out by panning for gold, but finding this occupation not a rewarding one, he became a newspaper editor in Virginia City where as a vocal Republican he locked horns with the Democratic governor of the territory, the colorful Thomas Francis Meagher of Irish Brigade fame. The Irish patriot challenged crusading editor Blake to a duel, which the latter was able to defuse through tactful use of his editorial column. Meagher did not hold the grudge, however, for the next year [1867], he appointed Blake a colonel in the state militia to fight a minor Indian uprising.

Blake became a U.S. Attorney in 1869, and also served in the territorial legislature. In 1875 he was appointed by President Grant to the territorial Supreme Court, and later served in numerous elected and appointed positions. In 1889 he again was appointed to the territorial Supreme Court, and became Montana?s first elected Chief Justice when the territory achieved statehood that same year. Failing re-election, he returned to private law practice in 1892, continuing until his retirement in 1910, when he and his wife returned to Boston.

In 1913 Blake attended the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. Union and Confederate veterans that had fought near the Rogers House on the second day of the battle gathered once again for picnicking and reminiscing. General Sickles and the widow Longstreet were the guests of honor. Blake lived for another twenty years, dying November 29, 1933. The Boston Herald wrote that he was a member of the first class of Dorchester High School and at his death he was the oldest graduate of the Harvard Law School. Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. was a close second. The byline on his obituary in the New York Times stated:

H. N. BLAKE; RETIRED JURIST
Last Territorial Chief Justice of Montana and
First Under Statehood
Served in the Civil War
With Bride Rode 400 Miles in Stage Coach
To Post in Days of Indian Uprisings

It is not up to Blake?s standards of editorial accuracy but even he might have to admit that the heading is eye-catching.


Henry N. Blake, term served: 1889-1893 as chief justice

First Chief Justice of Montana Supreme Court; previously Associate Justice of Territorial Supreme Court (1875 - 1885); Chief Justice of Territorial Supreme Court (1889)

Published works:

* Henry N. Blake. Three Years in the Army of the Potomac (Boston: Lee & Shepard, 1865)?written by a former captain of the Eleventh Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteers

Memoirs of a Many-Sided Man: The Personal Record of a Civil War Veteran, Montana Territorial Editor, Attorney, Jurist. Memoirs of Henry N. Blake written in 1916. Edited by Vivian A. Paladin and published in Montana, the Magazine of Western History, Autumn, 1964.

Click here to view the pdf version of Blakes's Memoirs.

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Created: December 30, 2010   Modified: December 30, 2010