Question: What special skill did Benjamin Frederick Blake develop that provided a great service to the early pioneers?
Answer: Benjamin Frederick Blake was born in Blanford, Dorset, England on March 12, 1815 to Isaac and Sophia Wood Blake. After his school days, he was apprenticed to the upholstering and paper-hanging business and later learned to make mattresses and furniture which became his means of livelihood.
At the age of twenty-six, Benjamin met and married twenty-year-old Harriet Hollis on May 31, 1841. Harriet Hollis was born on December 11, 1820 in Bishopstoke, Hampshire, England. After she completed school as a young girl, Harriet obtained an apprenticeship in dressmaking. While she was young, she had poor health and at first her parents didn’t think she should marry, but her health improved as she grew older.
Benjamin and Harriet became the parents of thirteen children, but six died young. In 1842, their first child was born while living in Dounton, Hampshire, England. In the year of 1844, they moved to Blanford, Dorsetshire, England. In 1846, the moved to Salisbury, Wiltshire, England. This is where they first heard the gospel of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In May of 1851, they and their eldest son Frederick, who was nine, joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Benjamin had a prosperous furniture store there in England.
In 1853 Benjamin and Harriet and their five children (ages 11, 7, 4, 3, and an infant), having buried two of their seven children in England, emigrated to America on the ship Falcon. They set sail from England on the 28th of March and seven weeks later, they arrived in New Orleans, Louisiana after a difficult voyage. From there they traveled up the Mississippi River to Keokuk, Iowa where they joined a wagon train in the trek west. They gave up their nice home, good business, and loved ones to be with the Saints in America. They traveled to Salt Lake City, Utah, with the Jacob Gates Company. There were 262 emigrants and 33 wagons in the company when it began its journey from the outfitting post in Keokuk, Iowa.
Benjamin and his family lived in Salt Lake the following seven years, with the exception of one year when they were in American Fork when Johnson’s army came to Utah. The saints were determined that mobs would not move in and live in the homes they had built, as had been the case in Missouri and Illinois. Before moving south, preparations were made to burn Salt Lake City if necessary and leave it barren. This would have been done had not the President of the United States been informed of the true conditions in Utah and intervention made. Benjamin and Harriet had three more children while living in Salt Lake.
In 1861, Benjamin was asked to move to St. George, Utah, and help settle that area. He built a furniture store there, much like the one he had in England. Benjamin was a master in his trade and had charge of the upholstering work in the St. George Temple.
He made many easy chairs, and comfortable sofas and lounges. He was a noted furniture and cabinet maker. He was also known as “Chair Maker Blake.’ He had a row of shops six rooms long on his lot, where he made and sold furniture. He made spindles for the rare spiral staircase in the St. George Tabernacle. His two sons, Frederick and Benjamin, owned two sawmills that provided lumber for his shops, the Temple, Tabernacle, tithing house and homes.
The home of Benjamin Frederick Blake was the center of amusement. The five Blake girls– Caroline, Elizabeth, Emma, Jane and Harriet–were pleasant hostesses for numerous parties which brought in the young people of various ages. Brother Blake played his violin for dancing and his wife Harriet was a clever story teller. They even staged dramatics and spelling matches.
Benjamin and Harriet’s last three children, born in St. George, died as children.
Benjamin died on March 9, 1884 in St. George, and he is buried in the St. George Cemetery. His shops burned completely down in 1911. The city had no fire department and the bucket brigade was no match for it.
Most of all the early day homes in St. George and surrounding towns had furniture made by Benjamin Frederick Blake. Harriet lived another twenty-four years and died in St. George on October 31, 1908, and is buried by Benjamin in the St. George Cemetery.