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Pioneer Struggles: Death of a Pioneer

Excerpt from The Neponset Messenger (newspaper), Friday, Feb. 24, 1905, page 1, column 5:

“Isaac Bailey Blake, one of the most prominent residents of Neponset, passed away Monday afternoon. Mr. Blake had been a hale and hearty man and seldom had been sick. Just one week ago, he contracted a severe cold and this, with his advanced age, resulted in his death.

Mr. Blake was born in Peacham, Vermont, on Dec. 3, 1822, and at the time of his death was 82 years, 5 months and 18 days of age. He married Mary J. Pratt in Vermont and in 1856 came to Neponset when it was but a hamlet. He was a founder of the Congregational Church in 1858 and had been an active member until his death.

No one was more prompt and more faithful in service and attendance. For 46 successive years, he was engaged in the lumber business. He held many offices of public trust and responsibility and discharged his duties with marked fidelity and honesty.

Beautiful indeed was the life of the deceased and the Congregational Church was unable to seat all who wished to pay their tributes. The beautiful floral offerings were from the Sunday school classes where he served as superintendent. Every store was closed and school was dismissed.

The students marched in procession from the school to the church. Rev. H.L. Hartwell conducted the services, and the remains were laid to rest in Floral Hill cemetery. Survivors include his present wife, Jennie E. Pettitt, and his five children, Ira A. and Albert H., of Kewanee, and Matthew I., Anna M., and Wilbur G., all of Neponset. He was preceded in death by two wives, Mary J. Pratt and Elizabeth W. Craig and two children Harry L. and Mary A.”

My recent stories have featured pre-Civil War Bureau County families, Methodist Church circuit riders and abolitionists. Some individuals become notable by their obituaries, and I wanted to learn more about this one.

Isaac Bailey Blake’s grandparents were Henry and Molly Blake, who also lived in Peacham, Vermont. Since he was the oldest grandchild, I’m sure he heard war stories about “The Revolution.”

Major Henry Blake fought at the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775 with Colonel Stark’s New Hampshire Regiment. His great-grandfather, a corporal, died of smallpox serving with the Northern Continental Army, Still Water, New York.

Our Revolutionary War lasted six long years and the outcome often was in doubt. Many of Grandpa Henry’s stories have been confirmed by his wartime diary. The positive influence on his 10-year-old grandson unfolds in the rest of his life story.

His Congregational faith was passed down from the earlier Blakes who left England as religious rebels. The New England Genealogical Register confirms great-great grandfather John Blake emigrated from England on the ship Resolution in 1678 to pursue religious freedom. I rather think the families’ independent spirit and confidence may have driven their grandson to the Illinois frontier.

Isaac Bailey Blake was a teacher for a time in Vermont and also learned about carpentry and cabinet making. A cabinet and fancy cherry desk he made are still treasured in the family. So the lumber business was a natural fit for this young entrepreneur.

The huge Barren Grove timber lay to the north and the first railroad had just been built through Neponset. The lumber demand was exploding for brand-new towns and homes, in addition to windows, doors and nails. Timing and luck met knowledge and hard work.

In 1858, Isaac formed a partnership with Joseph Lyford and started the first lumberyard in the area. Lyford had stepped up earlier in 1855 and was the first Neponset mayor. He stayed on as mayor for 20 years until Henry Carse was elected. Carse served for 16 years.

They saw a lot of growth and a Civil War during their 36-year combined tenure. The lumberyard ownership changed hands a few times in 50 years, but Isaac Blake always was the manager. A family member still has the “IB” branding iron that marked the Neponset lumber. This was to promote advertising and discourage theft.

Isaac’s love for learning came alive as the lumberyard office also became Neponset’s first library. I.B. Blake was a director on the first library board and authorized the purchase of 365 books. Talk about a pioneer.

The Blake family’s Revolutionary War service was not lost on later generations. A Kewanee chapter of the Daughters of the Revolution was started in 1897 in one of the original frame homes in town.

In 1915, Georiella B. Blake, Isaac Blakes’ granddaughter was accepted with DAR registration No. 114697. She married Dr. Warren T. Heaps, son of Annawan’s I.G. Heaps who served with distinction in the Civil War’s 27th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment. (see Pioneer Struggles No. 11 – Civil War Hero – in the April 23 Bureau County Republican, page 11)

Revolutionary War Corporal Henry Blake Sr. and Major Henry Blake would pop their uniform buttons to learn of their offspring. Here are just a few: great-great-great-great grandson Col. Ellis D. Blake, Army, World War II and great-great-great-great-great-grandsons Col. Phillip L. Blake, Army; Lt. Col. Douglas B. Blake, Army; Lt. Col. Robert E. Blake, Army; and Lt. Col. Jamie J. Wittmeyer, Marines.

Great-great-great-great-great granddaughter Jani Wittmeyer Wells confirmed and documented eight generations of direct lineage to Revolutionary War soldier Major Henry Blake.

Rebecca Heaton, DAR state regent and Delores Nanninga, Kewanee Chapter, accepting Jani Wittmeyer Wells, standing, application on 7 Nov.  It was also the chapter 125th birthday celebration.

Deborah Coe, DAR state regent and Delores Nanninga, Kewanee Chapter, accepting Jani Wittmeyer Wells, standing, application on 7 Nov.  It was also the chapter 125th birthday celebration. (Photo provided by Dick Wells/)

Wittmeyer Wells presented the DAR application and 41 pages of supporting evidence last month to registrar Gail Ripka of the Kewanee Chapter No. 5064IL. It was approved and has been forwarded to the state and national DAR folks for final review.

A Bureau County pioneer obituary is a good place to begin a local history lesson. The exciting part is seeing how the rest of the life came to be. We can remind ourselves to reflect and respect our family trees and think about how our lives are going to add value. We have today to make a difference. Every day is a gift. That’s why we call it the present.

• Lt. Col. Dick Wells (retired) has an economics degree and master’s degree in military history and is a property owner on the Neponset Great Sauk Trail. He always has been interested in pre-Civil War pioneer history and has been reading several first-person accounts. This is article No. 15 in the series Pioneer Struggles. Next will be Pioneer Education.

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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