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BIOGRAPHY and GENEALOGY
Ireland – Alabama Indian Nation
James Adair (circa 1709-1783) is believed to have been a native of County Antrim, Ireland, who came to North America and became a trader with the Native Americans of the southern states, particularly the Catawba, Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, and Chickasaw. He resided in their country forty years, beginning in 1735, and was almost entirely cut off from the outside world, and from the year 1744, he resided chiefly among the Chickasaw in Alabama.
He dates his entry into the deerskin trade at 1735 when he briefly traded with the Catawba Indians. “Adair, a man of education and ability, quickly caught the attention of those in power, and he was employed by the governor of South Carolina to entice a band of Chickasaw Indians to resettle at New Windsor, near Fort Moore on the Savannah River, to help defend the post—and colony—from attack by Indian allies of the French or Spanish”
“When King George’s War (1744–48) broke out among the major European powers, Adair became embroiled in one of the most interesting and controversial episodes of his long career—an attempt by South Carolina to lure the Choctaw Indians from their French alliance by initiating a trade partnership with them. The plan was the brainchild of South Carolina governor James Glen and others who saw in it the potential to both undermine what they perceived as expanding French influence among the Indians and make an enormous personal profit. Among other activities, Adair worked (under instructions from Glen) to assist the pro-English Choctaw faction in their efforts against the French” The attempt failed and ended his career as advisor and agent.
After the war ended, Adair visited the French at Fort Toulouse so, in South Carolina, it was reported that he defected to the enemy. However, the French arrested him and planned to send him to Mobile to prison but he managed to escape.
In 1751, Adair moved to Laurens County, South Carolina district Ninety-six and resumed trade with the Indians. “By the time of the cession of French Louisiana to Great Britain in 1763, Adair was widely recognized as one of the most reputable and experienced back country traders. In 1760-61, he commanded a band of Chickasaws, receiving his supplies by way of Mobile. In 1769 he visited New York City and probably went to London where he met Benjamin Franklin.
He gave up trading in the early 1770s to pursue publication of his book.” With publishing advice from Benjamin Franklin, whom he met in London, he published a very elaborate work in London in 1775 on the Native American manners, The book was an endeavor to prove they descended from the Jews. It is entitled The History of the American-Indians, particularly those Nations adjoining the Mississippi, East and West Florida, South Carolina, but the work has been distrusted, although Dr. Boudinot, in his Star in the West, has adopted its views.
However, Adair’s book presents “an astounding work on southeastern Indian culture, examining in detail such topics as gender roles, religion, warfare, marriage customs, and language. More importantly, Adair’s intense focus on matters of ritual purity has influenced the interpretative framework developed by modern anthropologists and ethnohistorians.”
Adair is said to have been married and had many children and reportedly died in North Carolina after the Revolution.
- Rose, Hugh James (1857). A New General Biographical Dictionary, London: B. Fellowes et al.
- History of Alabama and dictionary of Alabama biography, Volume 3 By Thomas McAdory Owen, Marie Bankhead Owen
- Braund, Kathryn E. Holland. “James Adair: His Life and History.” In James Adair, The History of the American Indians. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2005, pp. 1–53.
- Hudson, Charles. “James Adair as Anthropologist.” Ethnohistory 24 (Fall 1977): 311–28.
- Kathryn E. Holland Braund Auburn University
- The Dictionary of American Biography
- Encyclopedia Of Alabama
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