Black was born near Limington, Maine in 1853. He graduated from Lebanon Academy in West Lebanon, Maine, in 1871. He taught school for several years. He received his bachelor's degree from Dartmouth College in 1875. Later, he was an editor of the Johnstown Journal in New York. Then he moved to Troy, New York and engaged in newspaper work. He was elected as a Republican to the Fifty-fourth Congress and served from 1895 to 1897, when he resigned to become Governor of New York. After his term as governor ended, he resumed the practice of law in New York City. He died in Troy, New York in 1913, aged 60. He is one of two New York governors (along with Nelson Rockefeller) to be cremated, according to Find-A-Grave.com.