James Black was born May 1, 1800, in New Jersey. He died June 22, 1872, in Washington, Arkansas. He trained as a silversmith in Philadelphia when a young boy. He emigrated to the Arkansas frontier about 1820, thus becoming a pioneer of Arkansas and a citizen of a new community where he learned a new trade as a blacksmith, fell in love, raised a family, and became a leader in the community. He is given credit for forging a knife for Jim Bowie who was a frontiersman, a speculator in land, a slave trader, and an Indian fighter.
James's mother died when he was very young. His father then married a woman with whom James could not agree. At the young age of eight, even though he looked much older, he ran away from home and made his way to Philadelphia. Apparently he was picked up by the authorities and then became indentured to a silversmith named Henderson. This arrangement was said to have been approved by his father. It was this training that he received as an apprentice that in later years enabled him to easily work with other metals and learn the trade of a blacksmith in a very short time.
James was released from his silversmith apprenticeship in1818 but due to the British competition in the trade, he decided not to go into that business but instead he decided to go west to the American frontier to seek adventure and fortune. He traveled overland until he reach the Ohio River and then took to the waterways traveling down the big Mississippi River until he reach Bayou Sara in Louisiana. He worked on a ferry boat for a short time. Soon tiring of that, he then hired out as a deck hand on a steamboat going up the Red River. James left the boat at a point which is now know as Fulton, Arkansas. He walked up a trail running northeast for about 14 miles to a crossing of another trail where he found a few folks had already settled.
With little money and no trade that was useful on the frontier, James
had to find employment. With his background in working with metals, he chose
to become a blacksmith and was employed by William Shaw, a man from Tennessee
who already had a shop set up. Daniel W. Jones, former Governor of Arkansas,
states in "The True History of the Bowie Knife and Its Inventor, James
Black" that: "In those days, the village blacksmith was a far
more important man than he is now." In a short period of time, James
had easily mastered the art of making plows, hoes, wagons, and other farm
equipment implements as well as guns and knives. It has been stated that
he was soon recognized as the best blacksmith in the country.