James Henry Blake (October 7, 1808 – August 1, 1874) was the City Marshal of Boston from 1840–1845. He was the son of Edward Blake and Sarah (Parkman) Blake and nephew of Dr. George Parkman. The Parkmans and Blakes were two prominent families of the Boston Brahmins who were well respected merchants. Blake established himself as a merchant and real estate broker and also served in the Massachusetts Artillery as Major of Independents Cadets beginning in 1830. In 1831, while conducting business aboard the ship Mentos, two pirates boarded the boat where Blake witnessed their arrest. He testified against the pirates in the first of his many court appearances.
On May 12, 1835, he married Marianne Wildes of Boston and ran his brokerage on State Street. He was appointed City Marshal of Boston on May 1, 1840 at an annual salary of $1,000.00. Blake's term as Marshal was a quiet one and most of his activities involved overseeing July 4 celebrations on the Common, taking a census of buildings, banning illegal hay scales along the wharf, and clearing the streets of snow. He also passed a leash law forbidding large dogs to roam the streets. The most violence he saw was snowball fights, against which he swiftly levied hefty fines. For his due diligence, he received a salary increase of $100 in 1844.
Blake was replaced as Marshal by Ira Gibbons in 1845, and he returned to the more lucrative business of real estate. He opened an office on State Street and later, as his business grew, moved to Congress Street. In 1847, Blake, along with police officer Samuel D. Fuller, helped recover articles stolen from Ebenezer Mann, another merchant. Blake and Officer Fuller would meet again under more serious circumstances.
In May 1849, the City of Boston was growing weary of their City Marshal, Francis Tukey, and 17 citizens petitioned to have Blake return to fill the post, but Tukey held on. Later that year, Tukey was in the unenviable position of coordinating the investigation into the disappearance of Blake's uncle, Dr. George Parkman.
The Disappearance of Dr. George Parkman
On November 23, 1849, Blake's uncle, Dr. George Parkman, never returned home for lunch. The Parkman family asked the doctor's business manager, Charles M. Kinglsey, to search for him, and James and his brother Edward joined the effort. While Edward went to City Marshal Tukey to appeal for police help, James combed the streets of Boston. Tukey sent police officers to drag the river and search the areas the doctor frequented. On November 25, James was standing outside the Harvard Medical College, speaking to police officer Trenholm, when he was approached by one of the professors from the College, John White Webster.John Webster hurriedly approached him, hand outstretched. He was not wearing a coat, even though the weather required it, and it seemed as if he had just come from the College. James was confused as he only had a passing acquaintance with the Professor and yet here was Webster holding his hand while explaining he had a meeting with his uncle on the day he went missing. He never suspected that he was conversing with the man who would later be hanged for Parkman's murder.
After this strange encounter, while still searching, James met William V. Thompson, the City Clerk. Thompson told James that he had seen his uncle the afternoon of November 23, just after 2:00 p.m. He also told him he had spoken to Dr. Webster about George Parkman and Webster told him that Parkman was angry and excited regarding Webster's failure to pay on the outstanding debt to him. On November 30, 1849, Parkman's remains were found by the College janitor in Dr. Webster's privy. James requested his own Medical Examiner, Dr. Charles T. Jackson, be present to examine the remains. There was little doubt they had found his uncle.
James recounted his meeting with Webster in the court trial. At the end of the twelve-day trial, Webster was found guilty. Amid the furor of the verdict, Blake returned to his business.
Blake was involved in other court cases, either as a juror or a plaintiff. Two of his appearances as plaintiff involved the burglary of his clothes. James Henry Blake died on August 1, 1874 in a boating accident in the Boston Harbor.