Blakely, Fletcher (1783–1862), presbyterian minister, was born 13 May 1783 at Ballyroney, Co. Down, youngest son of Joseph Bleakly, farmer, and was named after the Rev. William Fletcher, the presbyterian minister at Ballyroney. Both his parents died when he was very young; nothing else is known of his mother. He received his early education under Fletcher at Ballyroney and under the Rev. Dr William Bruce (qv) in Belfast Academy. He matriculated at Glasgow University in 1799 and while there is no official record of his graduation he is usually credited with having attained the degree of MA. He was licensed as a probationer of the presbytery of Dromore on 15 October 1804, having subscribed the Westminster confession of faith. The years 1805–9 were spent as assistant master at a private school at Mount Collier in Belfast, which was run by the Rev. Dr W. H. Drummond (qv), minister of the second presbyterian congregation of Belfast. On 19 September 1809 he was ordained by the presbytery of Belfast as minister of Moneyreagh, having subscribed the confession once again.
While his upbringing and early religious influences were of a decidedly Calvinistic nature, his contacts with the Non-Subscribers Bruce and Drummond influenced his thinking, and within a few years of his ordination he too had become a convinced Non-Subscriber and advocate of the sufficiency of Scripture. He is credited with the authorship of two pamphlets at that period, A dialogue on the Bible and other standards of faith (1817) and The battle of two dialogues, being a conversation between a rev. covenanter and a rev. presbyterian on the impropriety of adhering to any standard of faith except the Bible (1818), which indicate his considered opposition to compulsory subscription to creeds or confessions. He also developed views which became progressively more heterodox and more radical than the Arianism which had a number of adherents among the liberal presbyterians of Ulster, becoming an avowed humanitarian or Socinian. It was no coincidence, therefore, that when in 1821 the Rev. John Smethurst was sent to Ulster by the London Unitarian Fund, in the hope of making converts to radical unitarianism, the first of the very few pulpits open to him was that at Moneyreagh.
Blakely was one of the most powerful supporters of Henry Montgomery (qv) in the debates of the late 1820s in the general synod of Ulster, when the liberal or New Light party was challenged by the conservatism of Henry Cooke (qv). When the Non-Subscribers were outvoted there, Blakely with his whole congregation joined the remonstrant secession from the general synod in 1829 and were among the founders of the remonstrant synod of Ulster in 1830. He was to be moderator of that body in 1831–2 and again in 1852–3. When the remonstrant synod itself was divided by controversy in the late 1850s, his sympathies connected him with the more radical group, but he was too frail by that time to take any active part in the disputes.
His experiences as a schoolmaster in his youth left him with a strong belief in the value of education. In 1824 he persuaded his congregation to build its own school, and in subsequent years he was also instrumental in the erection of four other national schools in surrounding districts. As the son of a farmer and the proprietor of a small farm at Spa Mount, Crossnacreevy, which he purchased shortly after his arrival at Moneyreagh, Blakely felt a keen interest in the needs and concerns of the farmers and rural community. He espoused the cause of tenant right and encouraged the introduction of improved methods of farming, being an active supporter of the Royal Society for Promoting the Growth of Flax in Ireland.
He enjoyed the full support of his congregation, both within Moneyreagh and in the venture of establishing a new daughter congregation in 1836, in the neighbouring district of Ravara. Also in that year he was honoured by presentations from within his congregation and, a few months later, from a deputation of ‘friends of civil and religious liberty’, which consisted of a service of plate and purse of gold.
He resigned his charge of Moneyreagh on 22 September 1857, but continued to preach there until the installation of his successor John Jellie on 27 September 1859. Some time later he went to reside with his daughter Jane and son-in-law the Rev. William Cochrane at Cradley, Worcestershire. He died there 25 February 1862 and his remains were brought back to Moneyreagh for interment on 1 March in the family grave beside the meeting house.
Blakely married (2 January 1810) Margaret (d. 23 January 1825), daughter of David Lindsay of Tullyhennan, near Banbridge. They had four children: Jane, as above; Sarah (1814–43); David Lindsay, born 4 April 1816, who was a student for the ministry under the remonstrant presbytery of Bangor, but changed his thoughts of profession in 1839, became an inspector of national schools, and died 17 April 1854; and William Joseph, born 17 April 1818, who was a student for the ministry under the remonstrant presbytery of Bangor, became minister of the general baptist congregation at Billinghurst, Sussex (1838–40) and of the remonstrant presbyterian congregation at York St., Belfast (1840–42), and died 19 March 1842.