Adair, James (DNB01)

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ADAIR, JAMES (fl. 1775), historian of the American Indians, was probably an offshoot of the Adair family of Kinhilt, Wigtownshire. He went out to America in 1735, and spent the following forty years of his life as a trader among the Indians of Georgia and the two Carolinas. He was a close and sympathetic observer of Indian life and customs, and in 1775, stimulated by the encouragement of a few intimate friends, such as Sir William Johnson, bart., Colonel George Craghan, George Galphin, and Lachlan M'Gilwray, he determined to throw his notes into the form of a book. He mentions a string of disadvantages under which he laboured, notably the jealousy, secrecy, and closeness of the Indians, but hoped to be able to correct the very superficial notions that prevailed as to their civilisation. His book was called 'The History of the American Indians … containing an Account of their Origin, Language, Manners, … and other Particulars, sufficient to render it A Complete Indian System … with A New Map of the Country ' (London, 4to).

The value of Adair's work as showing the relations between the Indians and the English traders was recognised, and a German translation appeared at Breslau in 1782. It must be admitted that a very disproportionate space is given to the hypothesis that the American Indians are descended from the lost ten tribes of Israel. Thomas Thorowgood, adopting an old idea of the Spanish Las Casas, had first maintained this theory in English in 1650 in his 'Jewes in America.' Both Roger Williams and Jonathan Edwards seemed rather inclined to favour the view, which, as elaborately set forth by Adair, has since found champions in Elias Boudinot ('Star in the West,' 1816) and in Edward King, viscount Kingsborough [q. v.] Among the points of similarity between the Jews and Indians, Adair emphasised the division into tribes, worship of a great spirit, Jehovah, notions of a theocracy, of ablutions and uncleanness, cities of refuge, and practices as regards divorce and raising seed to a deceased brother. The bias imparted by this theory to many of Adair's remarks led Volney to condemn the whole book unjustly in his 'Tableau du Climat et du Sol des Etats-Unis' (p. 433). The second half of the book is more strictly 'An Account of the Katahba, Cheerake, Muskohge, Choktah, and Chikkasah Nations.' Lord Kingsborough reprinted the whole of the first part of Adair's work in the eighth volume of his sumptuous ' Mexican Antiquities' (1830 fol.), with an appendix of notes and illustrations from inedited works by French and Spanish authors, 'affording the most satisfactory proofs of Adair's veracity in the minutest particulars.' Adair's map of the American Indian nations is partially reproduced in Winsor's 'History of America' (vii. 448).

[Adair's History, 1775; Lord Kingsborough's Mexican Antiquities, vols. vi. and viii.; Winsor's Hist. of America, i. 116, 320, 398, 424, v. 68; Field's Indian Bibliography; Bancroft's Native Races, v. 91 (epitomising Adair's views); Allibone's Dict. of English Literature; Biogr. Dict. of S.D.U.K. 1842, i. 267.]

T. S.