James Bleak (pronounced Blake) was born November 15, 1829 in Southwork, Surrey England. He was the third of six children but was the only child to grow to adulthood. Four of his five siblings died as infants. His father died in 1844 when James was only 14. Two years later, his mother died. Following her death, James and his only living brother, 7-year old John, went to live with an aunt. Both the aunt and his younger brother, John, died within the next two years, leaving 18 year old James alone.
James married Elizabeth Moore in the St. James Church, London, England, in June of 1849. He was 20 years old, she was 21. About two years later, he was invited by a friend, Joseph Lewis Thompson to attend a meeting of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. James was baptized in 1851 and was called to preside over the branch when he was 24 years old. His journal reveals that he frequently visited the sick and helped settle differences among the members.
“For some days past I have been asking the Lord to open my way to go home to Zion,” James wrote in his journal in 1855. He was released as Branch President in 1856 and made preparations to emigrate to America. James sent money to the mission office in Liverpool so that the missionaries returning to assist with the emigration could buy a wagon and ox team for his family. However, the handcart plan was soon announced. James recalled that the plan was “…accompanied by the suggestion that those able to emigrate that season by ox or horse teams would be blessed if they had faith to go by handcart, costing so much less than teams and wagons.” The savings could help emigrate other Saints who did not have the means to come that year.
At first, James was reluctant to give up his wagon. He had four small children: Richard Moore (6), Thomas Nelson (4), James Godson, Jr. (2), and Mary Moore (11 months). He changed his mind, however, when other branch members who were emigrating used his example as a reason to justify traveling by wagon rather than by handcart. James had always strived to set an example in temporal and spiritual matters to those he was called to serve and therefore he promptly wrote to President Franklin D. Richards requesting that his family be added to the handcart list. After receiving approval from President Richards, the change was announced in a public meeting. Eventually, all church members from that branch chose to use the same method of travel.
President Richards published an editorial in the Millennial Star in which he praised presidents such as James Bleak “who have been blessed with means to purchase teams [but] have concluded to cast their lot with the Lord’s poor, and share with their brethren in the handcart companies.”
The Bleaks were joined with the Martin Handcart Company. Even though he suffered great personal loss as a youth, James Bleak was committed throughout his life to setting the right example regardless of personal sacrifice. Even though the entire Bleak family suffered tremendously with everyone else in the Martin Handcart Company, they were miraculously spared from death in the experience.
 Tell My Story, Too at 177, The Price We Paid at 420 (e-book version)
 The Price We Paid at 420-422
 Tell My Story, Too at 179, The Price We Paid at 421